THOUGHT BUBBLE FORTNIGHT! Earlier this year at Broken Frontier our Jenny Robins interviewed artist Natasha Natarajan about her autobiographical comics collection FML Comics, the first four issues compiled into one volume still available from Good Comics here. In that conversation Natarajan revealed that her entry point into comics was a more casual, almost accidental one: “It started with a doodle on a bit of paper really. I was obsessively over-analysing an embarrassing drunk moment I had shared with this guy and I started drawing it on bits of paper. I wasn’t an artist, I hardly drew, I was really just messing around. But I liked how the doodles looked and I thought it was funny so I tried drawing other awkward moments I had experienced. It sort of just evolved from there.”
My own first encounter with Natarajan’s practice came via the BHP Comics Full Colour anthology a few years back, spotlighting the work of young creators of colour. FML Comics (the FML originally standing for “Fuck My Life” when the comic started out as a series of depictions of embarrassing facepalm moments) also featured in an exhibition and accompanying series of online discussion events at London’s Cartoon Museum, underlining the growing appreciation for her candid approach to personal slice-of-life work.
FML Comics #5 pull together her latest autobio shorts giving us windows into Natarajan’s world that explore themes that include allyship, life aspirations, generational differences, mental health and performativity. One aspect of her approach, outside of her uncompromising and likeable honesty, that makes an instant connection with the reader is the freeform structure of her strips. There’s no perceived need to construct her strips with a regular rhythm, or to build up to a pithy observational punchline, and they frequently shift in panel structure and pacing.
Some strips focus on complex questions like the Palestine crisis or major events like our reactions to the pandemic, but Natarajan alternates these with entries more focused on the everyday moments of her own life – touching connections with family members, or a humorous reflection on merch at conventions. It’s a style of storytelling that ensures her work is both profound and universal, asking us to interrogate the world around us but to also nod at her own observations with a knowing familiarity.
Visually the work here is not sophisticated in terms of cartooning, rather employing a raw energy to bring each story to the page. While a Pekar-esque approach to autobiographical comics has its merits in playing to the strengths of artistic collaborators I have always felt that this kind of work has an added layer of authenticity when illustrated by the person who actually lived those experiences. I am reminded of creators like Elizabeth Querstret here, and Natarajan’s art has an emotional truth and immediacy to it that brings us into its world all the more intimately. If you’re at Thought Bubble this weekend then I strongly recommend visiting her at Table 89B in the ComiXology Originals Hall at Thought Bubble.
Natasha Natarajan (W/A) • Self-published, £5.00
Visit Natasha Natarajan’s online store here
Review by Andy Oliver