I was reading an involving graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the latter being a young illustrator I’d heard about in art school, when I came upon this tiny scene:
Skim is about a private-school student who feels separate from the other girls at her school. What teenager hasn’t felt that, right? But Skim has more reasons to feel alienated than most--besides being unskinny, and a cultural minority, and identifying herself as goth in the early 90’s, she is in love with her English teacher, a woman. And she’s coping with all this during a time when her school is turned upside down by a suicide. It is an unfailingly honest look into a teenager’s thoughts and feelings, and how they cope with them.
But, of course, this one scene as she gets ready for a school dance resonated with me more than anything else. The character doesn’t write actually about it in her diary or refer to it in any way, but there she is, making an extra effort to look and feel her best, using her mom’s “mustache bleach.” (You’ll have to buy the book to see what else she impulsively does with it!) When I looked closely at the boxes of bleach drawn in one panel, I am sure they are even the exact same brand I used. It's the same teeny tiny spatula that was my companion up until my beard became too dark and coarse to bleach any longer. I can still smell it, remember the slight tingle as the bleach it worked its magic.
And so it touched me. Even though this character is not hirsute, she has plenty of other ways to feel like an outsider. And we get a peek into a small, personal cosmetic ritual, shown oh-so-casually (and no panel is ever accidental, everything is carefully planned to reveal this girl’s world to us) but it is all the more intimate because of its familiarity. Sort of a reassuring "everybody does it, behind closed doors" thing. Except, thanks to this being a graphic novel, the door is open to us as readers.