There’s an ethereal quality to the work of Meredith W. Park. It’s like being able to read the complicated and complex emotions of a human being fully for the first time. It’s surreal, like the whole world is comprised in her work. I’ve praised her four panel comics countless times before, but seeing Give or Take a Year, a longer narrative work, is quite thrilling. It expands on the succinct excellence of her short form work and transform it into a multifaceted and complete reading experience.
It’s the story of a woman named Meredith (whether or not it’s the author herself is unclear). She’s working a full time job at a cafe, attending art school and going through some difficult changes in her personal life. It’s the personal things that takes a toll on her. She’s questioning her sexual orientation and isn’t sure how to interpret that. She sees a girl in the bus, she’s really pretty and makes her blush. She dreams of her constantly. But she doesn’t know quite yet what that means. She starts seeing a boy, but it’s not quite right, not anymore at least. She stops to kiss at night, but she imagines the girl from the bus’ silhouette in the distance. It permeates every aspect of her life and everything else around her.
One of things that struck me was how thoughtful Park’s dialog was in how it relates to self-discovery. She says: “It feels like something big is following me but also it’s somehow a part of me already“. She puts into focus a very specific moment in time, just as the butterfly comes out of its cocoon as it still cracks the shell. It’s dangerous, the butterfly could fall and die, it could crawl and eat to get more strength, or it could fly away. It’s a moment so small, but full of consequences. Like flicking the light switch on after being in the dark for a long time. It takes some time for your eyes to adjust to the light. Park puts a focus onto that moment by placing her characters at the edge or self-actualization. It’s one of the most touching depiction of someone realizing who they are I’ve seen in years. It’s difficult to admit things about ourselves. We have an image of who we are, or who we think we are and realizing that this image might not be accurate is hard. Seeing how Meredith W. Park approaches the topics with such nuance and care was absolutely incredible.
The ethereal aspects of Meredith’s work comes into play in her colours and in how the surreal affects the reality. She uses a mix of darker tones of green and purple throughout most of the story and uses splashes of brighter yellows. It adds a lightness and splashes of dreamlike qualities to her comic. Park also lets some surreal elements intrude on her story, much like the recurring vision of the girl on the bus appearing to Meredith in various locations. It’s a nice visual reminder of what is on her protagonist’s mind.
If anything, Give or Take a Year solidified in my mind that Meredith W. Park is a brilliant cartoonist and a fantastic storyteller. The craziest thing about this comic is that according to Park, this comic was only meant as a proof of concept she described it on her Tumblr page as: “something I’ve decided to try and storyboard out a new comic idea. This will be fairly rough as it’s designed to work out some ideas for a comic I’d like to do properly at some point (whatever ‘properly’ means anyways). It’s technically an unfinished, or unpolished comic. I can’t wait to see how she’ll improve it on a second run.