Slice-of-life comics that document the everyday moments of family life resonate, of course, because they connect with their audience on the most fundamentally human level. We empathise, we recognise and we sympathise with the events they depict for the simple reason that we too have lived them. And sometimes, as in the case of Reign of Crumbs by Glynnis Fawkes, we have lived them not just once but twice. That’s perhaps the true joy of this collection of strips; it’s one that simultaneously allows us to see events through both the familiarity of a child’s eye view of the world and that of a parent’s, in all its corresponding joyousness and exasperation.
Published by Kilgore Books, Reign of Crumbs collects (mostly) one-page strips originally seen on Mutha Magazine and details the daily interactions of Fawkes (“Mama”) and her children Sylvan and Helen, with husband John also appearing intermittently throughout. It’s a catalogue of sorts of the usual sibling rivalries, child/adult boundary-challenging episodes, playful oneupmanship and, crucially, those quieter supportive moments that make up family life. All captured with a gentle wit that will bring knowing smiles and nods from its readership.
Kid logic reigns supreme in these pages in all its maddeningly endearing glory. Sylvan, for example, demands that his mother comes to meet him at school solely so he can ignore her and walk past her. Similarly, Helen complains that Fawkes is going away for the weekend in an attention-seeking moment but when faced with the possibility of Mama cancelling her plans deplores the possibility of another boring weekend with her. Throughout, elements of something approaching magic realism seep into the pages as Helen’s imagination ensures her ever present bunny friends encroach upon otherwise very everyday happenings.
Reign of Crumbs is about those smaller moments of parenting and childhood but is no less revealing for its quieter, more reflective subject matter – the routines of getting the kids to go to bed, to do their schoolwork, to eat properly, or to pacify them when frustrations turn into inevitable tantrums. It’s subtle in its depth but, regardless, each re-reading reveals the differing layers and nuances to the artist’s individual relationships with both of her offspring and underlines there’s far more going on here than simply punchline-led family anecdotes.
Fawkes uses a clean line and a clear, representational style that ensures her art is accessible and expressive, with visual characterisation and body language of her cast communicating as much about their emotions as their dialogue. Lettering also plays a vital role in emphasising her characters’ mood with the shape of speech balloons shifting in places to reflect pleading, agitation, irritation and other childhood traits. Disembodied speech balloons in an early strip are a particular delight in signifying the persistent demands of an upstairs child post-bedtime.
Reign of Crumbs is a carefully and beautifully observed portrait of the trials and triumphs of parenting and those peculiar rituals of every family household, and the perfect entry point into the wider autobio practice of Glynnis Fawkes.
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Review by Andy Oliver