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There You Were
posted July 11, 2005
12 pages, $3, www.speedlines.com
I like the look and feel of the mini-comics I've seen from cartoonist Diana Tamblyn. There's something attractively forthright about them: a simple, clean presentation that flatters the stories within. In fact, the mini-comics themselves are frequently something less than a story. They read like a scene or three, with very basic dramatic set-ups, "What will happen when X does Y?" They conclude soon after that question is answered, or at least brought to a silent moment where the question might be reconsidered. It's a smart way to work; Tamblyn seems to be building her skills scene by scene rather than plunging into a more sophisticated narrative that might spiral away from her. For all of that, the minis are generally satisfying, like unexpectedly affecting short films caught on late-night cable. They catch your eye, then go away.
Her latest, There You Were
, proves to be a leap forward almost solely for the choice of subject matter. We follow office worker Josie and her relationship with another co-worker, Tom, in terms of how it allows for Josie to become more accepted into the workplace mainstream. That's a lovely topic, and as many of the most skilled cartoonists lack experience in the kind of dehumanizing office set-up that would make it a natural subject, or choose to go after the more absurd, depressing aspects, Tamblyn might be the first to do a comic in this vein. Tamblyn has yet to find a way to make her comics flow from panel to panel; some of the scene work seems inauthentic and heavy-handed, particularly when they involve wider office culture. The dialogue as well can be stilted and a bit affected, admittedly a difficult task when dealing with office culture. The cartooning becomes really important as there are no twists here, no surprising reactions -- There You Were
marches towards its conclusion with great certainty, with nothing wasted along the way. The inevitability of the exercise cries out for something noteworthy in the execution, and Tamblyn isn't quie there yet. Still, the relationship between the two leads is undersold in a manner that allows it a spark of something offbeat and true: people being generous with one another for no particular reason, the delicious ambiguity of what makes one person react to another in a specific setting.