It’s a marker of the distinctive properties of comics narrative that sometimes so much more can be expressed and communicated with an economy of line than the most detailed artwork could ever manage. I have spoken in the past about the emotional immediacy of Whit Taylor’s visuals when reviewing her Fizzle minicomic series from Radiator Comics. In Montana Diary from Silver Sprocket that clarity of presentation is combined with quietly thought-provoking observations in a candid and empathetic travelogue that fully deserved its Ignatz Award nomination last year.
Montana Diary is an account of Taylor and her partner’s road trip to visit the state before some of its outstanding features of natural beauty are lost to climate change. As such it combines personal narration with sequentials depicting events on the couple’s journey, and adopts almost a scrapbook-style approach to the vacation. However, the focus of Montana Diary extends beyond simple road trip anecdotes, taking it into the realm of nuanced and carefully observed social commentary.
In that sense the comic has something of a hybrid approach, appropriately switching between the present day and the historical developments that shaped Montana. Taylor explores how the original white settlers’ belief in their supposed right to colonise and appropriate the land impacted the indigenous population. And, in grim parallel, how Montana’s overtly white population and plethora of hate groups have ensured its association with white nationalism.
In that regard Taylor’s reflections on being a person of colour in a predominantly white environment are a sobering reminder for those of us who see the world through the lens of white privilege of our conditioning to normalise those situations without consideration. Her feelings of intimidation here are indicative of how comics can bring us so deeply into the life experiences of others. In one particularly affecting passage she remarks on how tiring it is to feel she has to prove her Americanness, given she is descended from slaves, slave masters and native peoples, with a wearily resigned “I am as American as fuck.”
Racism and melting glaciers are not the only subjects of social commentary here though. Additional observations on the social media-led generation make interesting points but Montana Diary also incorporates smaller, almost set piece, moments from the trip: a precarious encounter with a bear in a national park, dealing with animal droppings in your rented cabin, and immersing oneself in the beauty of nature. This is one of those comics that, through its understated eloquence, gives the reader much to ruminate on long after they have put it down. Always a signifier of the very best autobio work.
Whit Taylor (W/A) • Silver Sprocket, $5.00
Review by Andy Oliver