When Myriad Editions released Ottilie Hainsworth’s Talking to Gina last year I will admit to the presumption that its subject matter would be somewhat outside the publisher’s usual boundary-pushing use of the form. As I said when we made it our Broken Frontier ‘Comic of the Week’ last Autumn, the tale of a scruffy-looking but endearingly loveable dog being taken in by a close-knit family, turning their existences upside-down and changing their lives forever, sounded more than a little twee and mawkish.
Hainsworth’s poignant story defies those easy assumptions, however, to present a genuinely touching story and a piece of autobio comics that gently and beautifully captures those cross-species familial bonds that can become an integral part of our lives. If you’re expecting the cloying sentimentality of Marley & Me then think again. This is a far more profound and insightful exploration of its subject matter than the saccharine excesses of an Aniston/Owen vehicle.
Presented in retrospect, as a farewell missive to that much-missed titular canine family member, there’s an air of sadness and inevitability that looms over the proceedings from the very outset. But, rather than being oppressive, it’s one that also accentuates the sense of joy and discovery that the book embodies as the Hainsworth clan take in the lively Gina as part of their unit.
Half-blind, dishevelled and looking more like a fox than a dog, Gina is initially an awkward presence in the home, seeming more like an intrusive stranger than a much-loved companion. But, as the months pass by, what initially seemed like difficult behaviour seems merely playful and idiosyncratic. The family slowly begin to understand not just how Gina relates to them but also how she sees her place as part of their pack.
Talking to Gina is a tale of acceptance, assimilation and friendship that is funny, heartfelt, witty and devastating in equal measure. Hainsworth’s visuals are raw, scratchy and fragile and yet powerfully observed, bringing the human-canine bond to the page with a delicately expressive flourish. The largely one-panel pages also mean that the illusion of time takes on an accelerated pacing as we race towards what we know from the very beginning is going to be a bittersweet denouement.
When that moment comes it’s heartbreaking in its randomness and unfairness; a deeply emotional coda that threatens to overwhelm us with its quiet resignation. Beautiful in its simplicity and humanity, Talking to Gina is a warm, funny and profoundly affecting piece of slice-of-life comics.
Ottilie Hainsworth (W/A) • Myriad Editions, £9.99
Review by Andy Oliver