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Escape From "Special"
posted March 19, 2007
 

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Creator: Miss Lasko-Gross
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics Books, softcover, 136 pages, January 2007, $16.95
Ordering Numbers: 156097804X (ISBN), 9781560978046 (ISBN13)

The great achievement of Miss Lasko-Gross' massive, jumbled reminiscence of growing up Escape From "Special" is the sensual effect her cartooning has in duplicating the overwrought absurdities of growing up smarter than your surroundings and aware of this fact. She creates mood by placing her figures in a series of realistic and unremarkable backgrounds almost oppressive in their ordinariness and clearly has a first-rate sense of variation within character design. Not only are the various characters we meet memorable and interesting just as drawings, the way Carol Tyler makes you lean in to squint at details of a design to figure out exactly where that person is coming from, Lasko-Gross' ability to depict her semi-autobiographical protagonist in a range of unattractive versions in practically Crumbian in scope. Exactly which Crumb it recalls (Robert? Aline? Sophie? Max?) I keep going back and forth on, and I'm not certain I'll ever know for sure. And, just to close the circle on legendary cartoonist comparisons, the book's relentless assault of anecdotes and intense moments of drama that mirror the emotional state of its narrator suggests a younger, severely scattered Phoebe Gloeckner.

All that said, Escape From "Special" remains one of those books for which you bring in such lofty names for comparison of individual effects rather than overall impact. The stories tumble from its pages in a way that suggests the author herself isn't sure what they mean in relation to one another, and as with many comics, one gets the impression it was nearly impossible to edit because it's the final effect of each completed story that are its building blocks. There are also times when the cartoonist's occasional admissions of knowledge of how such stories work, even those implicit with the presentation, may make the reader wonder how much they read is expression and how much is performance. There's nothing wrong with that kind of ambivalence generally, but the intensity of the book and its loose form beg for an anchor, some sort of tossed rope by which the reader might be able to bring things into tighter focus. It's like watching a musical with intermittent periods of jaw-dropping music and practically no "book" whatsoever. If I could be convinced the intensity and idiosyncratic nature of the stories here held greater significance, that might not matter either, but the stakes never get raised past the contortions and flailing about that you see on the page.

In the end, I don't know what the hell to do with this book. Of course, I never knew how to deal with people like the narrator when I was growing up, either, beyond feeling a slight kinship.