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The Assassin and the Whiner #10-11
posted December 31, 2000
After the flush of autobiographical comics that appeared in the early '90s and the outpouring of writing that followed, it's doubtful there are unexplored facets to comics as autobiography. Still, reading two issues from Carrie McNinch's long-running Assassin and the Whiner
series one is reminded of the interesting dichotomy that existed in such comics between confession and self-invention. Unlike the best of that type, which played against self-invention by either deconstructing the main figure or giving in to fictionalizing the stories involved, McNinch seems more than happy to present herself as a plucky comic book alt.-heroine. In her embrace of what has to be, on some level, a false persona, one is reminded of those stories about talk show hosts who as children practiced celebrity interviews with record players and tape recorders. McNinch is right where she wants to be.
There’s a strong nostalgic pull to the comic given its subject matter, particularly as the next few years will find popular culture awash in early ‘90s references. All the standard explications of form are here: the comic essay, the encounter with real-life undesirables, and voice-overs given supporting characters whether or not appropriate (her cat). The period covered in these two issues detail McNinch’s move from L.A. to small-town Maryland in order to be with her girlfriend. There are two gross limitations on how this actually makes for effective stories. First, McNinch's reliance on the first-person essay means we get told about the progression in the relationship rather than experience it. Second, things end rather suddenly for the reader, yet not in a way that replicates McNinch's experiences, at least not according to testimony. In many ways, this being left out of the loop becomes the most interesting part of the work, as there is some attempt by the reader to fill in the blanks.
McNinch knows how to put ink on the page -- her art is clear and uncluttered. The best sequences are scene-setting pages, combining slightly more detailed art with writing that's usually evocative rather than simply explicative. On those pages, one feels like McNinch is trying to communicate rather than convince. Assassin and the Whiner
is interesting as one of the few ongoing autobio projects, with all the headaches one remembers from their brief time in the sun. As such, it fulfills the need for self-expression highly valued in certain mini-comics circles, even if that doesn’t leave the reader much leeway for an artistic experience of their own.
Originally published in The Comics Journal #223.