Massachusetts cartoonist Melissa Mendes has a knack for comics that not only center on kids, but present the world from their points of view with an unromantic honesty. Her first major work, the Freddy Stories collection, and her most recent project, the serialized webcomic The Weight both show off her prowess, and Lou, a collection of her minis from Oily Comics, is a good compliment to these.
The story follows the tomboyish Lou, who constantly battles with her younger brother John and is largely overseen by her older brother, Eddie, a calm, metal kid who works at a pizza place. Also around are the parents, an overwhelmed mom who seems to suffer from some level of depression, and the nice guy dad who is juggling all these pieces and working his landscaping job.
Mendes presents a full picture of this family’s life, working with multiple perspectives in reaction to the possibility of getting a puppy, as well as Lou’s hang-outs in an abandoned theater with her buddies, the shady dealings that Eddie encounters at the pizza place, and the mother’s reminiscence of the simpler, more intimate life with her husband before her children came along.
Mendes brings all these pieces together to present a family as a form of super organism that can be jolted or made buoyant be the way separate parts of its life fester or expand. The mundanity of a new puppy can bounce up against the desperate actions of a criminal to create the family dynamic.
The wider story of Lou unfolds as deadpan and episodic, with these little moments adding up to the finale — and then moving back to another little moment to capture the culmination of the emotions behind the family incident that takes place. Or maybe a new start to another end.
This is all accomplished through Mendes’ charming cartooning, which has a childlike quality that always well-serves her subject matter, but is deceptive — the whole package is deceptively casual, and much like life itself, you sometimes don’t know where the undercurrents are taking you until you’ve arrived. And then, there you are, with much the same moment of realization that Lou and her family are having.