Bark Bark Girl
Story and art by Michael Furler
Published by Peow Studio
Jola fakes crises to overcompensate for being a slacker. You know the story, a real crisis arises, she loses her dog but has to cram for the exam, she doesn’t know how to handle it, she internalizes her unmanageable feelings instead of falling apart and, wait, what. That’s not. Uh, second chances come and are lain to waste, she’s reaping what she’s sewn for sure, but her channeling emotional instability into self-sabotage level procrastination is relatable and watching a kid hit the wall, turn themselves off, and power through the rough shit, wow. Don’t get me wrong, this is a silly goof of a book. But Bark Bark Girl is also a true account of being even more overwhelmed than the regular always, and Michael Furler presents the experience with staggering accuracy.
So Bark Bark Girl is not really the story you know. A book about losing a dog and struggling with maths ends up about mostly neither. If Jola didn’t swear so fucking much I could see this as a YA book, though one where the breakthrough moment is subverted- if it happens at all- there’s no big before and after on which the book hangs, unless that’s the math test (it isn’t). Yet Jola is changed by her dog Kuma’s escape and the pressure the year’s big last exam puts on her, she learns a lesson somewhere between the waves of stress. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true at all, though I guess this shows I hope it is. The book ends before the story, perfectly, the conclusion up to you.
To keep up with the freewheeling intensity of Jolanda’s character, Furler uses several different styles, often layered over each other in panel to panel art chaos. It reminds me of Sam Kieth, emotional breakdowns (or moments of incredible excitement) overwhelm the art so that the images go childish, hyper simple, super speed. Aneurysm stick figures and screen grab collage and some regular looking comics and color-only technical readouts and dithering in offset for emotional punch. It’s another Peow book where bookmaking and printmaking play a foundational element. Black and a color (Uranium Green 802u). Screen tone patterns giving the pages texture, color making moments dynamic. This book bubbles, wiggles, and percolates like it’s being heated to simmer. So much on the page, so much to take in, all of it shuffled together and overlapping, it’s busy and reckless and so! refreshing! to look at! It’s delightful.
Speaking of layers, Jola makes comics that pepper the book. Her time spent rereading old stuff to see what holds up ends up an element driving the plot, and it’s a visual element we see as she does (or just see, chapter breaks, chance printouts etc) in the story itself. The comics reflect Jola’s life in their own weird way. They’re inscrutable dada humor strips, funhouse mirror reflections, points of reference no one gets but everyone can relate to, because they really, truly mean something to Jola. Furler has an interesting process for making art, a drawing program of his own creation that connects points and randomizes structures so that smooth becomes choppy, initially created for animating stuff but he liked it so he used it and now there’s a comic that is out there in the world and getting read and people have opinions about it. Speaking of layers.
What Bark Bark Girl is is a true to life, slice o’ reality comic, embellished upon from time to time with the odd stone cold badass moment too good to be true too good to leave out, passing off a story as a dream to impress your friends, but a supercharged character moment sock in the gut fighting dirty still hurts. Flipping the switch from the real to the impossibly dramatic and back again actually fits right in with the structure of the story, which is constantly interrupted (if you can call it that) by Jola’s comic gag strips occupying attention real estate instead of pet worries or math methods. The art is constantly changing, friends are talking, Jola’s riding a bike through the countryside, sitting at a desk, the images come in sequence quickly enough they’re layering, the aesthetics shifting reflecting the shuffling feelings of the characters in the moment. Dream messengers aren’t out of place when emotional overload comes out as pop-up windows everywhere or flying into chibi freak out mode.
Simple comic, so much going on. If the plot is spare, the story is cluttered. What I mean is, the plot is what’s happening, can’t find dog, should study but TV instead, mom has an art opening but obligations just cause Jola paralysis, the burden of the one person who takes her seriously no matter what when is that going to give out, it’s a blossoming chain of events that we follow; the story is what readers see happening while the plot unfolds. One is comparatively straightforward, the other dense, complex, whimsical, and unique. We’re seeing what Jola is feeling, what we’re all feeling, and what we’re feeling is totally fucking frazzled while externally holding it together. The story’s masterfully paced, both from moment to moment and as a whole. Revelations come unannounced, fleeting and powerful, land right on the beat, and pass quickly by like everything else on Jola’s rollercoaster of a crappy week.
Bark Bark Girl is a river of a book. It is deep, but it is swift and unpredictable and restless. Looking at it is soothing to the spirit in a way I’m short on words for, immersing yourself in it is incredibly invigorating, and an ineffable buzz upon reemergence. The more you look into Michael Furler’s art, the more it gives back to you. The read really puts you through it, just like Jola. The book itself is really nice! We’ll miss publisher Peow, books like this and publishers like them push the boundaries of style and content in comics. Who knows what any of them will do next? Ride on, Jolanda Ott, Tomato Diary is something I would definitely read.
Published by Peow Studio, Bark Bark Girl is available now.