If you’ve never encountered Annie Lawson’s lively cartooning style before then you’ve inexplicably missed the output of a comics creator whose strips have been enjoyed by readers since the early 1980s. The Guardian and The Observer are amongst the many venues her work has been seen in print, and collections of her material have appeared from publishers like Penguin and Iron Press. She’s also part of the self-publishing world with her latest wittily observed comic being a jaunty and informative piece of autobio.
In How to Have Healthy Hair and Grow it Long Lawson chronicles how she became part of the ‘No Poo’ movement and eschewed the artificial “benefits” of the cosmetics industry for a more natural approach to hair care. Conversational in tone, Lawson builds an instant rapport with her readership in this 24-page offering through her likeably self-deprecating on-page persona as she details the reasons why she opted for a shampoo-free lifestyle.
The comic features a very early cartoon from 1983 in its first pages that underlines the slightly ludicrous relationship we have with personal grooming and the somewhat pretentious affectations that can entail. Lawson’s gentle skewering of the posturing of the hairdressing world, or of our own inbuilt expectations when it comes to the often doomed would-be catharsis of a new barnet, are not the principal focus of this offering however.
From her early adult years, Lawson was aware that her fine and frizzy hair was prone to thinness and even loss. It was not until many years later that she would discover – via an online forum – of the deleterious effects of the sulfates contained within most household shampoos that cause their foaminess. There she discovered that one of the ramifications of those detergent-like substances was potential hair loss.
This moment of epiphany led to her making the decision to stop using shampoo altogether and How to Have Healthy Hair and Grow it Long gives a detailed account of that process and its benefits. This ranges from the initial social embarrassment (as her hair initially took on a greasy listlessness), to tips on conditioning one’s hair in a post-cosmetics world, through to imaginary responses to the haircare industry.
The whole exercise has a likeably discursive air to it and Lawson’s great skill as a narrator is that the audience feels instantly connected to her casually anecdotal and occasionally slightly scattershot account; as if artist and reader are having a private, two-way chat.
Her often claustrophobically busy layouts add to that sensation with their lack of uniformity in terms of structure, and her cluttered, busy panel placement making each page feel more conversational as a consequence. Her characters are also stripped back to their most representational – guaranteeing their positions as highly effective comedic avatars – and there’s an animated sense of energy to these frenetic interiors that ensures that what could have been a dry and exposition-laden procession of scientific facts is instead a breezy and engaging read.
If you’ve never read an Annie Lawson comic before then this combination of slice-of-life humour and issue-led exploration is a highly recommended starting point. It’s also a comic that invites you to question and challenge perceived wisdom and open your mind to viable alternatives. And we can never have too many of those…
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.