Make Me a Woman
By Vanessa Davis
Let's examine that cover, which I didn't really like at first glance, but has grown on me as I regularly glanced at it as the book sat in its spot on my nightstand, waiting to be read. Having read some of Vanessa Davis' comics here and there (especially the ones posted online at Tablet, many of which are included herein), the emphasis in them seems to be very personal, autobiographical tales full of keen insights, with plenty of well-done facial expressions and conversational scenes. This cover, on the other hand, eliminates that type of expression entirely, and while at first glance it seems like a not-especially-well-drawn moment from Davis' life, it makes sense upon closer examination. The angle is an odd one, looking down over the sink and toilet as the subject sits painting her toenails, perched in an awkward position, and it makes for a scene that is intimate without being salacious, a moment of normal bodily maintenance that we just happen to be watching. While the right hand does seem a bit club-like, with its arm limply hanging from out of the top of the image, it communicates a sense of contortion, Davis' weight leaning on the right leg and the wrist twisting inward. Along with the splayed fingers of the other hand, the hunched-over posture that pushes the left thigh up against Davis' torso, and the glimpses of intimate apparel, it gives the image a feeling of awkwardness, and along with the title, captured in a word balloon to communicate it as a spoken wish of Davis', it shows how the whole scene is part of what she goes through, trying to present herself to the world as a competent, attractive adult. But really, it's all surface, just a coat of paint to add some aesthetic value to what people see. The close-up cropping of the image also speaks volumes; we don't even see Davis' face. We're only getting a portion of her here, one angle, and while it might be a revealing one, it's far from the whole. Davis might be letting readers into her life in her comics, but while she does work to make them interesting, pleasing, and relatable, there's still some distance. And that's the book in a nutshell.
The actual book is as excellent as expected, a good sampling of Davis' comics on subjects like adolescence, family, Jewish-ness, and art, interspersed with selections from her sketchbooks and some wonderful images of attractively zaftig women. It's a pretty great package of work from one of comics' young stars, and if you haven't experienced her work before, this is a perfect place to start. Please, judge this book by its cover.