Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #80 by Drew Barth
I Won’t Make a Duran Duran Joke
Graphic memoirs are one of the most important genres within comics. The interplay between memory and picture can resonate immediately with readers and allows them to better witness the past. And recently, no other graphic memoir has worked with the idea of memories and pictures together quite like Cecil Castellucci’s Girl on Film. As a memoir, it is an unrelenting look at how memory and creativity work together to build the foundations for who we are as creators. As a piece of comic nonfiction, it is one of the most interesting takes on utilizing graphic narratives to create different aspects of the past to paint Castellucci’s life.
What makes Girl on Film so fascinating is that Castellucci is not alone in creating her journey—she is joined by artists Vicky Leta, Melissa Duffy, V. Gagnon, and Jon Berg. The entire memoir centers on two ideas: memory and art. From a young age, Castellucci wanted to be a filmmaker and have her life continuously steeped in art. But wanting to be an artist and becoming one is precarious—her own path is a winding thing that takes her across North America and parts of Europe before figuring out who she is to become. During all of these moments taking place in the past, she also splices in conversations with her father on the nature of memory. Does Castellucci remember the past correctly? For her own memoir, should she represent things exactly how they happened or how they had felt in her memory? She treads the line well by acknowledging that the past is a nebulous thing and representing what she can to the best of her abilities.
What makes Girl on Film such an interesting graphic memoir is what its art is able to do for it. The artists create distinct periods and aspects of Castellucci’s life, from infancy to now, represented by their different styles. Melissa Duffy and V. Gagnon expertly capture those feelings and moments from middle school through the beginnings of college where the world still feels like it’s something you can survive. Jon Berg’s lines create a starker reality as Castellucci’s dreams start collapsing and rebuilding and collapsing again. And it is Vicky Leta that begins and ends the story with the meta-narrative woven throughout—Castellucci’s introduction and afterward to her life as well as the conversations with her father concerning the memory of a memoir. These different artists’ styles create the tone and act as a signal flare to readers to show them the ways the story is changing as they read.
Due to Castellucci’s experiences and relentless commitment to creating art, her voice is something unique to comics. She is able to transfer that love for film to a love for comics—namely when looking at some of her fiction in The P.L.A.I.N. Janes and Shade, the Changing Girl—and that continues in Girl on Film. This is a work that continues the tradition of graphic memoirs becoming some of the most significant works in the graphic canon and, even now, there’s very little else that will ever be like it.
Get excited. Get your memories together.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.