Review: ‘French Milk’ by Lucy Knisley
By Lucy Knisley
Touchstone, October 2008, $15.00
The first thing to know – and to keep in your head – is that Lucy Knisley is twenty-two years old. That’s fantastically young to be planning and executing a nearly two-hundred-page-long drawn book, and the mere fact that she did it is impressive. And so if I say that [[[French Milk]]] is a bit thin, a bit obvious, and clearly created by a very young woman – that’s only to be expected, and not a major criticism.
French Milk is a sketchbook diary, something like Craig Thompson’s [[[Carnet de Voyage]]] or Enrico Casarosa’s [[[The Venice Chronicles]]]. Knisley flew to Paris with her mother just after Christmas of 2006 – she was turning twenty-two, and her mother was turning fifty, which added up to a good enough excuse – and the two of them lived there in an apartment for just about a month. French Milk is the story of that month, and of a few days before and afterward – several pages are devoted to each day, with photos and drawings and narrative.
Knisley keeps French Milk as a sketchbook, mixing photographs with drawings and hand-lettered descriptions, rather than turning her story into comics directly. She has a direct, unfussy style with lots of thick black lines, which is quite good at capturing details in her small drawings. And her lettering is very readable without looking mechanical.
But French Milk is inevitably the story of a vacation – Knisley and her mother lounged around, went to museums, saw movies, visited friends, and explored Paris. So there isn’t a whole lot going on here, and the book inevitably depends on Knisley’s eye for detail and charm of presentation for its effects. Knisley has a decent eye, and she’s quite charming, but, again, she’s a young woman making her first book, without a great store of tricks and history to draw from when day-to-day life is just pedestrian.
I’m sure this vacation was wonderful for Knisley and her mother, but she can only intermittently transmit that wonder through her pages to the reader. French Milk is pleasant and diverting, but it does feel minor – Knisley might have been better off using her sketchbook as the raw materials for a fictional story. But the great thing about life is that it’s not either/or – she can always do that later if she wants to. And I do expect to see more from Knisley: French Milk is charming and down-to-earth, true in small ways and with the energy and playfulness of youth. She’ll definitely be back, and she’ll only get better.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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(For another opinion on this book, check out this review.)