Likewise: The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag
By Ariel Schrag
Touchstone, April 2009, $16
One of the nice things about reviewing for ComicMix is that people send you things that I would otherwise not consider reading or watching. Such is the case with [[[Likewise]]], an autobiographical graphic novel by Ariel Schrag. She began illustrating tales of her life while a ninth grader and had previous published [[[Awkward and Definition]]] and [[[Potential]]], the latter having been nominated for an Eisner Award, and is currently being developed into a major motion picture with Schrag herself handling the screenplay. Her writing about her growing up an active lesbian also led her to be a writer on the third and fourth seasons of Showtime’s [[[The L Word]]].
Likewise, a 360-page work is dedicated entirely to her turbulent senior year in high school. It definitely felt like I was coming in on the middle with the players already established but as the pages turned, everyone came into sharper focus. Ariel was already publishing her comics through Slave Labor Graphics and applying to college while trying to manage life without Sally, her girl friend who is now a college freshman. Her parents have divorced and her mother is apparently enjoying a second childhood, much to Ariel and her sister’s displeasure.
From the start of the term through graduation, Ariel recounts the highs and lows, the anxiety that comes with being a lesbian, a girl, a high schooler and a child of divorce. In graphic detail, we see that she is quite sexually active, seeking love and affection, reaffirmation from others while pining away for Sally, who seems to have discovered sex with men. Sally’s relationship with Ariel forms the spine for the year whether Sally is physically present or not.
Schrag’s simple style is also a detailed one, altering the amount of texture to reflect her state of mind. We go from a few scratchy lines to incredibly vivid panels that put her bedroom and classroom on display.
Given the page count, Schrag invites us into her mind, which is turbulent and very much her own. The teens talk like teens, the adults clearly differentiated without the stereotype that all adults are clueless jerks. In fact, at least one teacher comes through as genuinely helpful and sympathetic. The concerns of October are entirely gone, replaced with new ones by Christmas. There are incredibly embarrassing moments such as the night Mom invites the girls to share a joint with her and other joyous times such as the outing to buy her first dildo.
The book suffers a bit from being a bit too stream-of-consciousness and you lose track of time or decisions she has made, especially the important ones like college. Her lettering reflects the artwork’s mood so can go from typeset to an illegible scrawl and could have paid more attention to clarity. Still, these are minor nits in an overall fascinating examination on one of today’s teens. They all have their own stories, but Schrag chose to document and share her own tale, which proves to be compelling reading.