Thursday, November 11, 2010

Make Me a Woman: Regarding coverage

Hey, here's something.  More to come soon, I hope.

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.


  1. Definitely one of my favorite recent covers, and you explicate it well. The image works really well with the packaging/design of the volume: A slick, shiny-shiny hardcover without dust jacket. Besides being a terrific comic book, Make Me a Woman is, largely, a pretty gorgeous book-as-object, with nice, satisfying dimensions (all of them) and weight. I love to look at it, I love to pick it up and hold it, I love to turn its pages.

    And I love to read it.

    Interestingly, flip the tome over and you get a very different reaction from me. While I like the drawing quite a bit, the layout destroys it for me. Those red text-blocks just make the whole thing look ghastly. Ugh ugh ugh, I say. I can't recall the last time I actively hated a BACK cover, but I sure hate this one.


  2. As a woman who paints her toenails, I read a couple of levels into the cover. 1. The realistic one: this faithfully depicts how a woman who is too practical or too poor to afford a pedicure goes about the process. Painting your toenails is both a private and public act: I know women who paint their toenails even if other people aren't going to see them, just because they like the way it looks. (I also know women who comment negatively if they see another woman with unpainted toenails.) 2. On a semiotic level, Davis is wryly juxtaposing a performative feminine act, associated with being an adult, sexy woman (note the shade of the red nail polish, which has a lot of obvious connotations, and matches the cursive title) with the earthiness of, well, a toilet. Matches the content of the book perfectly.