Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #224: Under the Nails

No matter who we are, we’re always going to leave something behind to be remembered. This can be our memories—the small acts that we’ve done that accumulate a version of ourselves in someone’s mind. Or the more physical—the objects and locations that will intrinsically tie who we were to those pieces. Ephemera: A Memoir by Briana Loewinsohn takes a look at both of these things—her memories of her mother when she was younger and the home they inhabited—all the while taking us between her past and present.

Ephemera is a story about returning. Loewinsohn comes back to her childhood home to confront the memories that remain there—what she tries to remember of her mother, her sibling, and the garden that surrounded the home. But her memory is imperfect. She can remember scant pieces here and there with some memories coming in clearly while others feel as transient as water on tilled earth. Ephemera is also a story about absence. Her mother was never there. She was just as ephemeral as Loewinsohn’s memories of her at times.

And yet it’s in that absence that she returns to that home that’s been empty for years. No one has been around to tend to the land surrounding it; the greenhouse is in more disrepair than we she was a child; the earth is compact and hard. Despite everything, though, she still loves it. Even with her mother’s absence there now, this is still what connects them together.

Ephemera excels in its silence. So much of Loewinsohn’s panels are filled only with the image. We’re left to sit in the silence she creates. It perfectly reflects the way in which she also sits in this garden with only the sound of ambient nature surrounding her. We’re being asked to join as quiet observers, holding our breaths so as to not disturb the delicate peace of the garden—if we want to call it “peace” as Loewinsohn is still grappling with the memories of her mother and her home there. But there is a strange sense of serenity that still permeates the page. Through the lack of language do we have time to observe and slowly take the panels in as they unfold slowly to reveal what existed between Loewinsohn and her mother that went beyond words. 

Ephemera gives us an opportunity to look at our own imperfect memories and the absences inherent in them. We’re given the space to sit with Loewinsohn in her garden and ruminate together. And that’s what makes the best kind of graphic memoir—the space to form a sympathetic connection exists in what isn’t explicitly between the panels. We see Loewinsohn’s story and, in the silence, take a moment to look at our own. We can see what was left behind for her and can look back to see what we’re leaving behind too. 

Get excited. Get memorial.


Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

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