Mental health was always one of those things where people would ascribe moral weakness to describe a mental condition that might have complex or unexplained origins. People used to think sin caused schizophrenia or homosexuality, then they blamed it on masturbation or whatever else made them feel morally superior to people with different mentalities. Depression still gets that kind of treatment. "Stop being so depressed, you're such a whiner!"—for its part, depression is typically thought of as a temporary sadness that only miserable losers prolong by dwelling on problems. It's a lot more complex than that, obviously. There are some people who just have a bad day, and then there's others whose brains are literally a different shape because of depression, leading to a chronic diagnosis. It's a spectrum, really, not an either/or deal. Still, even the guys who need medication just to get out of bed get tagged as people who just need to man up and stop being a "pussy". I guess I bring it up because art is a big way of expressing emotion, and a lot of small artists are willing to put their hearts out on webcomics or individual projects for everyone to see. KC Green's Horribleville was basically a journal for him to vent his worries, for example. Teylor Smirl's Flightless Birds is very much the same way, a venue for her to practice her art as well as get some things off her chest. Even in the first pages of volume 1 she's not shy about her existential issues, so your first reaction to her work might be, "Wow, you need a therapist." Me, I've been through therapy, so I don't really mind it. In fact that's probably the reason why I like her work. Still, judging by the subject matter she talks about, I probably had it better than her growing up; all the more reason I sympathize, even if I can't relate to her situation. Besides, some of the best work comes from recounting hardship.
Flightless Birds volumes 1 & 2 are the parts of her journal she was open enough to share with us, and Wild Turkey is a story she tells of what it was like for her growing up. The volumes are short, prone to wandering, occasionally funny. I like the writing, though, because she's just speaking from the bottom of her brain. The most honest words are the ones that flow the freest, since they're not contrived.
Her subject matter, as said before, is mostly existential in nature, with her go-to avatar—a penguin—talking about whatever comes to her head. When she muses tearfully of the plight of a tray of eggs, she's both amusing and slightly sad, and I felt both emotions in it. She's not trying to pound your face in with raw emotion, but she does want you to feel a little bit.
Wild Turkey is an interesting story about alcohol that has that dual nature too—on one hand, talking about how alcohol stressed her blue-collar family's health, and on the other, the way it was a cure for ailments and a sign of maturity. Kind of a weird love note to it, in a way. Also a public service announcement about how to be responsible with beer. If there's one thing that shines through consistently, though, it's the nostalgia of first discovery. That, I think, manages to stick a positive note at the end of the tale, which has a couple dark moments. It's not terribly dark, but there is a warning in there. As far as humor goes, some of it is a little flat, some of it made me chuckle. It's a mixed bag.
The art style in FB 1& 2 is a little bit Calvin and Hobbes—well, if Bill Watterson lived in an apartment in Brooklyn and was a bit less of a recluse, I guess. All black and white and contemporary, a mixture of authentic and iconic. Adults are drawn in serious proportions, but our penguin narrator and children are more cartoony. A flurry of lines and black dots helps add flair and a sense of action to any scene. She loves the little details too, cramming beer bottles and bananas into negative space. The penguin is adorable of course, even when she's drowning her miseries in alcohol. Her existence is meant to soften the blow of her writing, and it kind of brightens the mood, even though that mood is dark sometimes.
Overall I think she does a good job with dark humor. I would definitely like to see more of it. It's a little whimsical, a little cynical, and the art buzzes with activity and dramatic pauses.
There is kind of a fine line though, whether it's politics or emotional problems—use it too much in your chosen format and that's all people see, and then people start looking less at the overall comic and more at the message. I think she leans a little too far on the side of wearing her heart on her sleeve, but it doesn't ruin it. I think if she can strike a balance between the laughing and the crying, then she'll have smoothed the edges over. Otherwise I think it's pretty solid. Stuff that comes from real life typically is.
TL;DR: If you like existential humor in small doses, this is a pretty decent shot.
Flightless Birds volumes 1 & 2 and Wild Turkey are written and illustrated by Teylor Smirl. Check her stuff out here.
Copies of Flightless Birds and Wild Turkey were graciously donated to Spandexless by the creator at MoCCA 2013.