Review: A Mess of Everything by Miss Lasko-Gross
A Mess of Everything
By Miss Lasko-Gross
Fantagraphics Books, April 2009, $19.99
According to page 119, the heroine of this story writes comics as “Miss Lasko-Gross,” but her legal name (at least at this point, when she’s in high school) is “Melissa Anne Lasko Gross,” and the two last names are from both her mother and father. However, the back cover notes that Mess is semi-autobiographical, which could either mean “a few names and events were changed for various artistic and protecting-the-innocent reasons” or “it makes a better story this way, and good stories are worth it.” Since I don’t know which one is true, I’ll tread lightly on the “autobiographical” and assume it’s all “semi” – that’s safer, anyway.
A Mess of Everything is the story of the high school years of Melissa, whose younger years were previously covered in Lasko-Gross’s debut graphic novel, Escape from “Special.” Lasko-Gross runs through those years in a series of short stories, from single-pagers up to a dozen or so.
Melissa was a nerd, more or less, and her adolescence follows the template of so many other comics/SFF/gaming types – she didn’t have many friends, and those friends had problems of their own (one was a compulsive shoplifter, another had an eating disorder, and so on). So she was on the fringes, with the other borderline types, and she hated school and most of the people in it. But Lasko-Gross never says any of that; she just shows it, in a dozen little ways, as the other girls belittle and ignore Melissa and the teachers stifle and disillusion her. It is the standard view of high school as hell, but it’s a live-in, deeply felt version of that view – the way this particular school felt to this particular girl.
Lasko-Gross illustrates her pages in a washed-out, earth-tone palette that looks black-and-white at a quick glance – the cover is far more colorful (and Richard Sala-esque) than the interior, which revels in the dinginess and dankness of Melissa’s life as she sees it. Her people are all pale, like zombies. (The cover is lovely and wonderful, though, with Melissa looking off the cover – at what? – with her hands clenched, sitting in a pit of snakes.)
If you grew up “different” – and, if you’re reading ComicMix, you almost certainly did – you’ll find a lot that’s familiar in A Mess of Everything. Lasko-Gross is close enough to this material to keep it particular – she avoids the sweeping gesture and the grand statement at all times – and distanced enough from it to see it as part of her past, fodder for stories rather than a raw wound. It’s a fine book from a very talented creator, and I expect we’ll see much more from Miss Lasko-Gross as the years go on.
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.
Publishers who would like to submit books for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.