Carolyn Nowak tells interesting stories, only she illustrates hers with explosions of neon colors and dazzling fashion-forward sensibility. She also draws cars and furniture that looks like big balloons and cotton candy, important things that really help make a comic fun to look at. Unlike so many of her peers, however, Carolyn’s stories tend to focus more on those smaller parts that build to larger pictures, with undercurrents of feminism delights and LGBTQA acceptance running throughout. The world she creates exists slightly outside our own, a place where magical realism and sentimentality coexist alongside love robots and supernatural vegetables.
Girl Town, her first collection of mostly republished webcomics (most of which have been improved with above-mentioned colors) includes five original stories about – surprise! – women and their unique perspectives on the world. The title says it all: Carolyn loves girls (and women!) in all their amazing and diverse forms, drawing them with nary a man to be found on any of these pages.
“Girl Town” is a strange, but entirely apropos intro to her unconventional narrative and structural style. A group of neighbor frenemies who’ve been “kicked out of astronaut school for being too good-looking to be sent to space” now plan sneak attacks on each other – when they’re not group watching murder mysteries on TV. There are no easy answers, or answers at all sometimes. Best settle in now, because it only gets wilder from here on.
Fans of accolades and awards should rejoice as both of Carolyn’s Ignatz Award-winning webcomics are included here. 2015’s “Radishes” is completely colorized and looking better than ever, a pure fantasy of escapism where two friends skip out on their responsibilities for a full day of fashion fun and tasty treats. Oh, and you better believe they squeeze in some tiger time! Carolyn uses a style here reminiscent of Jeff Smith’s Bone series, only with a more whimsical outcome.
2016’s “Diana’s Electric Tongue” is even better – the collection’s centerpiece really. More a novella than standard comic, it’s also the largest and most mature piece she’s published (yet). A newly-single woman buys a robot escort – Harbor – to help deal with the loneliness after breaking up with her famous ex – a voice actor who just happened to be the voice for her favorite cartoon mouse growing up. She’s also a little robotic herself, her original tongue lost in an accident and replaced with an artificial one.
For a story about a story about a lonely woman and her “love” robot things remain pretty chaste – not quite Disney-level, but earning a definite hard PG-13 if we’re being honest. More than any of the stories collected here, Carolyn demonstrates she’s able to take what might have been an absurd premise with a sustained plot and mature introspection. As pretentious as it might sound, this could signal we’re about to see an emerging talent about to really break out.
Others, like the illustrated podcast-come-alive “The Big Burning House”, showcases a cartoonist taking chances and experimenting with the form. “Please Sleep Over” is a fine capstone for a fine collection, a short and soulful examination of finding acceptance by confronting the past. It’s also the most recent of the stories, meaning its inclusion here is probably the first time her fans will have seen it.
Girl Town is a quick, interesting introduction to an artist that deserves your attention. True, you could easily read many of these stories on her readily available website and save a few bucks…but don’t do that. You’d be missing out on cool stuff like freshly colorized panels and the chance to support a working artist who would really appreciate it. And for those curious men who might think the book’s title and subject matter would seem to indicate you’re not welcome…? You totally are!