For people who have trouble fitting in, the issue is sometimes very literal. Social anxiety arises from, or exacerbates, a feeling of being physically incapable of comfortably occupying a space, of really feeling like they can’t fit in the world. People shrink into themselves, hands in pockets, hunched over as they ride the bus or walk the streets outside their home. That’s the case for the figures populating Tommi Parrish’s 2dcloud collection Perfect Hair. None of them quite look right. Which is not to say they are in keeping of the current “ugly” trend of indie comics, or the semi-related faux-naïve styles which are ten-a-penny.
The characters look instead as if they don’t fit into their ascribed settings, at times crouched as one does when entering a house with low ceilings, at times struggling to have their frame accommodated even by the comic panels they’re contained in. There is a strong sense of weight to the figures in Perfect Hair, each of them oversized with disproportionately tiny and totally round heads. Clothes hang shapeless and baggy over their large shapes. Moreover, they occupy not the two-dimensional planes of the gag strip format or the suggested three dimensions of a comic using vanishing points or layered film camera-style staging, but an isometric plane similar to 16-bit video games attempting to simulate 3D at a time it was technologically impossible.
Which is all to say the exterior lives of the characters in Perfect Hair are as off-kilter as the interiors. It’s a book full of that aforementioned social anxiety, angst and crises, physical and existential. Hemmed in, those heavy, constricted limbs look on the verge of a panic attack at any moment, bursting the claustrophobic confines in a violent freak-out, albeit in circumstances largely more figuratively and literally colourful than a soul-baring autobio book. Don’t worry though, there are some killer deadpan jokes involving inappropriate emoji usage as well.
In this collection of short comics, a woman flees an orgy in a sauna to quell a panic attack in the bathroom; another is chastised for dressing like a boy by their grandma, whom she’s visiting in hospital, and suffering from hallucinations of flowers and children; in the longest piece, a sex worker plays out a surprisingly domestic fantasy for a client where she pretends to be his wife. In telling these stories Parrish flits between ink, pencil, and watercolour (sometimes in the space of a single strip), the backgrounds getting blurred around the ages at times via use of the latter, whilst the outlines of the characters stay solid by virtue of the former. Things are in flux, never sure, except for the weight of the figures on the page.
Despite a tongue-in-cheek table of contents at the front promising “air, calm, anxiety, movement, safety” and “light (dappled)”, the cartooning itself is never so vaguely-defined. Whether in the more abstract and wordless illustrations of limp bodies and figures literally casting off their defining features to, say, the fully-painted final one-page strip where a person sits cross-legged with a sampler in front of their stuffed toys and plays a song “based around the misfortunes of desire,” recurring themes of loneliness, self-preservation and the complications of adulthood come through loud and clear.
Tommi Parrish (W/A) • 2dcloud, $16.95
Available to buy from the 2dcloud store online here