I kept looking over my shoulder while reading EmiTown, expecting cartoonist Emi Lenox to burst into the room and demand to know what exactly I thought I was doing—that’s how diary-like Image Comics’ print collection of her sketch diary-turned-webcomic actually is.
The work was apparently originally began without an audience of any kind in mind, which is quite evident from the personal, mysterious nature of a lot of the content, particularly at the beginning, where sticky notes of abbreviations and numbers often appear on the pages.
As the introductions explain, it gradually transformed into something for public consumption, yet throughout the 400 or so pages here, Lenox’s self-named town retains a great deal of mystery.
EmiTown isn’t memoir or biography, and doesn’t really resemble the sort of comics that likely come to mind when one thinks “diary comics,” even James Kochalka’s daily American Elf isn’t a good reference point, as Kochalka generally just chooses a single anecdote from the day to present. Lenox, by contrast, talks and draws about her days, the most personal matters semi-obscured by elaborate symbol-characters.
The girl in army gear flanked by fat cats in helmets on the cover, for example, is EmiTown’s Emi on the battlefield of love. Emi and the cats also go fishing for hearts, and if something bad happens, we’re told they throw a heart back into the sea, rather than the specifics.
The pages, particularly near the beginning, resemble heavily illustrated prose as much as comics-comics, with several items of some note from a particular day drawn in Lenox’s not-really-superdeformed-but-more-abstracted-and-cuter-than-her-“dramatic”-art style, a style that dominates the book.
Each page also tends to include either a drawing in a more “serious,” representational style—generally a panel from a comic or story that has nothing to do with the events described around it or a simply a drawing of some kind—and perhaps an update on her personal life in her personal code, using the cats or her superheroine persona Ocean Girl having trouble with her male sidekick.
Because of its peculiar format, EmiTown the book can make for an unusual reading experience, and not simply because it can make you feel like you snuck into your sister’s room to read her diary (only to find yourself thwarted by her often-coded details). It’s not a story per se, so sitting down to read it like a graphic novel can prove frustrating, even a bit of a slog.
It is full of compelling characters, particularly the lead, whose obsessions, loves, fears, anxieties and ambitions come through crystal clear. And, what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in individual scenes. (Plus, for the comics people who read this, it’s chock-full of cameos of comics pros and characters and settings and events).
Of course, it’s also full of great drawings, and perhaps the most remarkable—no, the most exciting—aspect of the book is Lenox’s abilities as an artist, the incredible range on display within these pages and the knowledge that this isn’t the thing Lenox is going to do in what promises to be a career well worth watching, it’s simply a thing.
To visit EmiTown, click here. To see more of Lenox’s work, click here. To read Chris Arrant’s November interview with Lenox for the main page, click here. To see the first 30 or so pages of Image’s collection—plus another interview with the author—click here.