There’s a fantastic moment early in Libby’s Dad, Eleanor Davis latest comic, in which one of the girls attending a birthday party is wondering why their friend Taylor, who normally hangs out with them, is absent from the party. What follows is a surreal exchange where the other girls whispers hearsay and the girl mistake this gossip as the truth of a wiser, slightly older kid. The gossip being that Taylor isn’t coming because her parents thinks Libby’s dad has a gun, menaced to shoot Libby’s mom and is potentially violent. This exchange permeates the rest of their party as the girls asks themselves and others at random point whether what was told was true. They aren’t quite sure, but they speculate and attempt to piece, what they know to reinforce this idea. They speculate on what they don’t and lack the ability to confirm or infirm their theory.
I remember a similar moment in my childhood, when one of my closest friend and I lost touch. It was over the course of a summer when he seemed more distant than usual and since I didn’t go to the same summer camp as most of my friend, I only heard about him from them. He was acting out, often eating lunch alone, refused to partake in activities and would often burst into tears near the end of the day. I had heard his parents were moving, but didn’t quite clued in that they were getting divorced. I met him late in the summer as I was biking in the street. I asked him how he was and said we should hang out. He told me he ‘d meet me at my house, he was moving. We avoided further discussion on why, or when this was happening. We were 8 years old. In Libby’s Dad, Davis touches on this idea of limited perspective, of child being unable to process complex issues and the heavy matters that older people have to deal. Just as I didn’t comprehend my friend’s parent’s marriage had fallen apart, neither can Libby’s friend understand the more troubling aspects of depression, of divorce. I read this comic at the same time as I read Je suis un raton laveur from Julie Delporte, a comic about a young girl suffering from depression drawn in beautifully light coloured pencil. This made the contrast between the lightness of the art, the pleasantness of seeing the coloured pencil and the darker themes the comic explores all the more powerful.
Eleanor Davis art is alway lovely. She proves once again her expertise of the coloured pencils. It’s striking in the way she depicts water, and the kids in the pool, She also paces her comic well. On a few pages, Davis places some elements into sharp focus, foregoing the background details entirely to add gravity to a situation. The idea of the father owning a firearm, his potentially violent behaviour and their helplessness is illustrated splendidly in a sequence where the outline of a handgun is drawn on a page while the rest of the page is filled by a dark blue pencil shades. It’s followed with the girls imagining that Libby’s father would shoot them for a spill on the carpet. There’s an emptiness around the characters that makes the scene all the more creepy. Simple figures with no background or colour, it’s superb.
Davis short story packs a remarkable punch. Seemingly light enough in content, it is a surprisingly deep and complex comic. It ends on a truly devastating moment where the girls realize that their fears of Libby’s dad are largely unfounded. He’s relatively friendly and didn’t seem upset that they spilled nail polish on the floor. This reinforce their other theory that Libby’s mom is crazy and a liar as if there was a direct causal link between the two. Libby’s dad not violent=Libby’s mom must be crazy. Libby’s Dad is a fantastic look at how those childhood experience, those moments of innocence lost. A short read that stays with the reader for a long time.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.