Nothing can make you feel worse about yourself than the world around you, especially when you are young and especially if you are struggling to figure out your path in life. It can seem like everyone around is either selling out or benefitting from some unfair extra helping of good luck that you missed out on. And the more you focus on your personal work, the more inadequate you feel when someone else asks you about it.
Welcome to being a human in America in the 21st Century.
That’s the landscape Wroten is covering in her incredibly accomplished and intelligent debut graphic novel, Cannonball. Named for a lady wrestler that our main character Caroline is a fan of, Wroten covers that horrible netherworld that you live in at some point in your 20s, when you can’t quite figure out where you’re headed, you don’t feel like you fit in where you’re planted, and you’re not even sure the world needs the creative work that you feel compelled to produce.
Part of Caroline’s problem is that she can’t move on and as a result, she really is stuck in the past, with all yesterday’s demons in the form of former classmates she feels resentment for dancing around her to antagonize her further. Her parents are frustrated that she made any strides to spring into adulthood. Even her best friend Pen is zooming forward with an office job that leaves Caroline justifying why she doesn’t want that.
There’s definitely much to admire about Caroline’s quest for a creatively pure life, but the fact that she’s so unhappy in it means she isn’t quite achieving what she thinks she is. And since the best she can qualify her position in life is to compare herself to someone lost in the Bermuda Triangle, doomed to exist outside reality forever, there doesn’t seem to be much hope.
But Wroten’s not trying to give us a pity party, and she understands that the psychology of a person during struggle does not miraculously change with success. She knows there is no cure for yourself. When things do turn around for Caroline, it’s not what she expected, and so many of us can say the same. You should probably expect it, actually. The real question isn’t whether you will get what you want out of life, it’s whether you can handle the version that life hands you.
Wroten has a gift for writing conversation and the kind of wit that makes it bounce along even as it gets heady. This melds well with her art, realistic but with a cartoonish tint that reminds me a little of Dan Clowes just without the grotesqueries, and which fashions a cartoon world that has depths to plummet far beyond the two-dimensions it is rendered in. Wroten’s book is a book of psychology and a book of ideas and a book of meditation. It’s an insightful cautionary tale, but not one that faults the character in the line of fire for doing anything differently from the rest of us.