I ran into Leslie Stein right after my interview with Charles Brownstein from the CBLDF, who gave a glowing review of her work. But then, on returning to the show floor, I was immediately lost looking for the Fantagraphics booth. It was total luck that I caught her at the end of the day and picked up her book, Eye of the Majestic Creature. The recommendation was well deserved; this book is phenomenal.
Lovingly brought to my mind by Brownstein, this book emphasizes “show, don’t tell.” With two brief exceptions, there is no external narration. The character, Larry, who is leagues more animatic and expressive than some of the characters around her (no doubt on purpose, as the character leaps out of each panel) is responsible for carrying the entire weight of the narrative through dialog. She does so fluidly, and through nuanced avenues.
The character has a best friend–her guitar. The instrument, Marshmellow, is fully sentient. It speaks, has arms and legs, and drinks like a sailor. There are other players in her life (the friend from afar, the creepy antique store guy, her family back home) but for the most part, it is just Larry and Marshmellow. At one point after saying goodbye to a old friend, Larry exclaims that she hates having people over. She says this, of course, to her anthropomorphic guitar. This exchange is worth more than the sum of its parts, and goes well to show that the character prefers solitude, even if she is a little lonely. Marshmellow is a great character of its own right. When Larry leaves for an extended visit back home, you really feel for the little guy.
And now, the obligatory mention of panels and pacing: One early scene told me exactly how much I was going to enjoy this book. “<3 has a girlfriend,” Larry’s friend proclaims. Panel of silence. Larry’s response, followed by friendly extrapolation that flows openly into the air, up and over Larry’s head. These panels were incredibly profound in the way they showed the internal response to hearing emotionally singificant information. In a quick series of panels, we know more about the character of “<3” than we could have with pages of enunciation (though Stein does go on to indulge us with backstory). It’s a hard thing to get right, but Stein nails it.
I really enjoyed this collection, and I want to see more from this creator. I have a friend who moved out to the country, not unlike Larry, and I could not stop thinking of her when reading this. At every turn, Larry reminded me more and more of a real-life person, someone I knew who left my vicinity a while back, who has described certain issues similar to the ones Larry has gone through in the book. Be it the quasi-autobiographical nature of this volume, or perhaps good, solid storytelling, this comic has reminded me of someone close, and made me smile the entire time. There is significant depth to this fantastic story about a girl, her guitar, and the quirks associated with staying alive. This kind is the art that I prefer to keep around me.
TL;DR: Fun and lighthearted, but not without depth. I thoroughly enjoyed it.