Do Your Allergies Rule Your Life?: A Review of "Snotgirl"

Lottie is a fashion blogger.

Her life is punctuated by brunch, stalkers, cold brew coffee, and most importantly her allergies. That, and trying to avoid her ex-boyfriend, updating her blog, Instagram, twitter, etc.

It sounds vapid. And that's because it is.

Snotgirl is about the trivial problems of an easy and privileged life (Lottie’s even had a string of unpaid interns to do most of the work for her); it’s about her medication and her allergies—which she desperately tries to hide from the public—and the beginnings of a darker mystery involving another fashion blogger, which remains unsolved by the end of the first run.

Snotgirl #1,  Bryan Lee O'Malley, (theouthousers.com)

Snotgirl #1, Bryan Lee O'Malley, (theouthousers.com)

But there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s enjoyably vapid reading that you can just sort of slide into. From what I can tell, its gossipy, surface-level vibe is what most people seem to have a problem with. But O’Malley’s done this before. Scott Pilgrim was largely about Scott’s shitty band, his pathetic dating life, video games, and exes. The first volume is literally called Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It was low-effort fun, but had an opportunity to be profound and moving. Scott was the same thoughtless and irresponsible character that Lottie is in the first run of Snotgirl. That doesn’t make it a satire of her life—it’s not some large comment on the narcissism of millennials—it’s just a setup for later character development. It’s not trivialising her as a human being, or what she values—but the way in which she approaches and thinks about her problems. Like Scott, the problem isn’t her life, it’s how she sees everything through a lens of self.


The difference of tone that maybe people seem to perceive in Snotgirl is that Scott’s problems seem, to most men, to be genuine problems that they probably themselves relate to. Whereas the sort of problems that Lottie faces seem to be particularly gendered towards ideas around women, and are thus considered somehow lower and more obviously vapid. In the same way that women’s writing and writing about women has been maligned for centuries for not being serious enough, Snotgirl falls into this same trap [1]. Because it’s about what we view as distinctly “female” problems, they’re seen as less valid, and a less serious form of art. But because Mrs Dalloway is, on the surface, about a high-society hostess trying to organise a good party, it doesn’t mean it is not serious art. And so I don’t think you can throw away Snotgirl as something unworthy of your time without throwing out a lot of similar comics, including much of O’Malley’s previous work.

“It sounds vapid.
And that’s because it is.”
Commenting on comics, literature, life. Snotgirl #1 , Bryan Lee O'Malley

Commenting on comics, literature, life. Snotgirl #1, Bryan Lee O'Malley

Although it appears quite different, Snotgirl is similar to O’Malley’s past projects in others ways, too. He’s making a return to some of his well-trodden themes: the problems of modern life, coming-of-age narratives for 20-somethings, and being haunted by the ghosts of relationships past. In some ways it’s a return to the familiar; in others, it’s running over the same ground one time too many. Each of his major works to date has had a main character dealing with a breakup as its central premise. And, here we are again. It’s a relatable theme, obviously. It’s what made Scott Pilgrim a compelling story. But it feels too familiar this time.

Which is where it leaves me a little cold. Leslie Hung’s artwork is fantastic, and it’s enjoyable to see a creator I’ve loved and followed like Bryan Lee O’Malley branch out to collaborate with another artist, and to work for the first time on a serialised comic. Visually, it’s absolutely gorgeous and creates the same vivid world, fleshed out characters, and good pace that his comics have achieved in the past through art alone: something which has made them quite unique, to me. But at the same time, it has yet to hook me.

It’s got just enough mystery to keep me waiting for the next run—which is all a good serialised comic needs to do. So many first runs are testing the water, seeing if they can get enough of a readership to be able to keep going (as Sandman was doing). And that’s why so many first volumes of comic series tend to be either the worst volume of the series or far, far from the best. As such, when recommending a series to someone, I often say to hang on after the first volume. With Scott Pilgrim, I was actually given volume 2 first, and went back to volume 1, and I have always thought that this was what kept me interested in the series. Reading volume 1 again, there’s little that grabs me. It is quirky and interesting, but it’s still testing the water, yet to be truly in its stride. Because comics often come to us as an incomplete story, it’s hard to judge whether the overall work will be great.  

And so I’ll be interested to see where it goes, but I’m not dying for the next run. I feel optimistic though. We’re in the hands of talented creators.

 


 

[1] Brief caveat: obviously O’Malley’s work doesn’t really fall into this category because he is a man, but I think that Snotgirl can be viewed through this lens to an extent because it might appear to the eyes of male readers like a comic for girls or a comic about girl stuff.