It’s easy to say things like Art is Expression. Or Art is Perception …is Catharsis …is Truth. (…is etc.)
But here’s the not-so-easy conundrum: when you allow others to take a peek at your Art, how are they supposed to react? How are they supposed to give an opinion? More specific to this publication, how are they supposed to give a review?
Think about it – who out there is perfectly at ease saying they’re qualified to render a critical judgement on Expression, Catharsis, Perception, or Truth?
Enter Erika Moen’s DAR: A Super-Girly Top-Secret Comic Diary. Enter the conundrum.
The was-intended-to-be-but-isn’t-quite-weekly journal webcomic is certainly following in the tradition of the already-established practitioners of the autobiographical webcomic form. The mostly black-and-white strips vary in size and shape, usually fitting whatever mood, event, or moment that Moen wishes to immortalize for the reading public. Like any journal comic, they offer up summaries or memorable bits of a day in the life of the artist, no matter how amusing, anecdotal, or mundane.
It’s clear that Moen has read other people’s journal comics – sometimes she takes words and expressions and transforms them into a visual metaphor a la Kean Soo, visual lists of (liked) stuff or events a la Todd Webb, or simple moments made wistfully eternal in a Kochalka style, and so forth.
So now that we’ve identified that Moen draws a journal comic, and that she seems to be following all the basic motifs of the genre… well, what else can we say without stepping on some toes or sensibilities?
Again, think about it: if you try to say something like "these aren’t very funny", or "these aren’t particularly original", you’re essentially slapping someone in the face and saying that very same thing about their life. Not that this is what’s being said (some of them are in fact quite funny, and original), but rather it is a solid case for how hard it is to offer a critical review on something that is supposed to be fully based on a honest-to-goodness person’s Life.
Ditto if you try to compare the comic to other autobio craftspeople or works – as soon as you open the door to comparing one person’s life (and depiction thereof) to another’s, you’re walking on some mighty hot coals… would you dare walk up to Moen or Weing or Kochalka or any other autobio toonist and dare say to their face that "your life just isn’t as interesting as so-and-so’s"? You’re essentially comparing one life to another, and judging who you feel is more appealing.
Who wants to be the one doing that?
The easy way out here would be to not look at Moen’s journal comics at all, and instead take a gander at her other sequential art works, those she has nestled on her personal website. Here we find a mix of amusing short stories, longer tales, or very brief vignettes about Moen’s philosophies, personality, and experiences that clearly were important enough for her to take the time to pencil, ink, and post online. Most of these tales certainly seem to have more depth to them, and a certain stable, satisfying cohesiveness that you can’t really get from a single journal comic strip…
…except that they, too, are very much about Moen’s life. In other words, they too, are just more elaborate forms of an autobio comic strip. Which brings us back to that earlier point about the whole reviewing conundrum — once again we’re stuck in that uncomfortable silence of evaluating someone’s Life.
Now one thing that can be dicsussed here is Moen’s art. Every line, every hatchmark, every curve is an exercise in beautiful simplicity; organic is perhaps the best way to describe the feel and effect being conveyed. The linework literally pulses with Moen’s own vitality and heartbeat – with varying weight and width, with each continuously vibrant curve (and curves seem to have a special meaning to Moen… they are everywhere, in every possible subtle and not-so-subtle facet)…
…but we shouldn’t be trying to shy away from the issue, which is still "how the Hell can someone review an autobio comic without sounding like they’re judging that person’s LIFE???"
Essentially, it comes down to this: WHY is Moen drawing these strips? WHO are they for? WHAT is their purpose?
That she is drawing them would lead one to believe that she has stuff she wants to express, to get off her chest. That she shares with others suggests that she wants to be open with others, that she wants to share herself to the world, or at least to the small group of people who have discovered her literally exposed works.
This is perhaps the beauty of Moen’s work – it does not matter if every strip is a gem (they’re not), or if each panel is a laugh-out-loud riot (they’re not), or even if each life experience she shares is "unique" (they’re not). Each piece is certainly a very raw and a very GENUINE piece of Moen’s life and experiences. There are many others out there who will have experienced and expressed exactly what she has expressed, or who will have identified with her thoughts and emotions and angsty moments.
The harder thing to say is that very little of Moen’s journal comic may actually hit a reader as being significantly revelatory, or earthshatteringly mindboggling in terms of Enlightenment Factor™. Sometimes, in fact, it can seem a little cliché, angst-wise (a fact that Moen herself seems to be aware of if we are to take some of the subtitles of her other comics at their word). That said, if she is drawing them for herself, then why should Moen be concerned about such things? And if she is drawing them to show others how she is, isn’t it better that she tells us the truth, rather than try to hoodwink us with the smoke and mirrors of false attempts at sensationalism?
DAR may not be the most innovative comic strip out there, but why should it have to be? It’s about a life, and it’s only a fragment of said life – a fragment that Moen chooses to share with us, for whatever reasons she felt were a good idea at the time. We cannot judge her life by the pen and ink drawings she has proffered, and chances are good that she doesn’t really want us to, anyhow. What DAR is – above all other things — is a little bit of sharing from one Life to another. That some of her work may not seem "unique" to a reader may simply mean that said reader happens to identify with a particular experience or truth that Moen has to share.
If you have no interest in journal comics, you may not find much here – it’s more personal revelation and catharsis than it is entertainment for others. If you are looking for a Byronite or someone who lives one "wild and wacky" adventure after another, then this ain’t it, either.
However, if you are interested in getting a glimpse of one young woman’s genuine Life – in all its exciting and/or mundane beauty – then say hello to Erika Moen.
You may be pleased to meet her webcomic.