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The Sky In Stereo
posted June 20, 2012

imageCreator: Mardou
Publishing Information: Comic Book, Self-Published, 52 pages, 2012, $5
Ordering Numbers: Available Here

I keep returning to Mardou's quiet comic book The Sky In Stereo despite fairly powering through it the first time I picked it up. It's the story of a young woman named Iris in early- to mid-1990s Manchester, focusing on her time spent in a fast-food job and a relationship she has with a boy that works there. The two dominant modes with which people engage comics informed by real-life experience are to dismiss them as boring or to embrace them for their engagement of themes and frames of mind in which the reader might see themselves. I don't have either of those two avenues open to me with this comic. There's nothing more fascinating to me that the plain details of someone else's life, like a conversation in The Sky In Stereo about which person at her job gets which shifts to work. I also can't relate at all to the emotional framework described, having never experienced this particular brand of disassociation or a relationship this alternatively slippery, then engaged.

I think why The Sky In Stereo continues to work on me is testament to comics' ability to methodically insist on a way of seeing the world, something that's easy to forget when you're reading someone whose work is as tempered as Mardou's is here. This comic is over 50 pages, and I think what I like about it wouldn't penetrate in eight, or 16, or 24. In that way it mirrors its narrator's personal dilemma, the lack of connection she claims to feel while at the same time cutting into very specific things about her life. She's curating what we see, though; we don't get a look at her university work, or much of her relationships at home, or even nuances of her female friendships. There's not a lot that's self-critical, either, beyond some gentle admonishment about her social shortcomings. After a while, it's kind of like being at a party but noticing someone sitting by themselves that seems totally out of synch with everyone else; you may find yourself adjusting to them, like it or not, and soon it's everything else that seems outsized and out of sorts.

Great comics do this, of course, routinely. Sometimes the superior ones do this with a terrifying ease that can settle into place with a single panel, or even a line -- Petey Otterloop's favorite Little Neuro panel; something that Schulz does in a Sunday dropped panel with Charlie Brown staring off into the ocean, a lot of Gabrielle Bell's best work. I don't want to make too big a deal of the version we get here. Mardou's story proceeds with conventional charm, introducing a layer of dread through the focus of her attention apparently getting involved with drugs in a way she's only exposed to haphazardly. A lot of what happens next will either crystallize or diminish the virtues of what's been seen thus far. I'll read that comic the moment I lay hands on it, though. I'm in.