Cartoonist Heatley explores his family history, relationships with his parents, sexuality and racism.
Thanks in large part to the work of luminaries like Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) comics have become a popular means for insightfully self-aware artists to depict revelatory moments in their lives, a tradition Heatley carries on in his debut collection. At first glance, the often crudely drawn figures, condensed into sometimes maddeningly repetitive panels, give the impression of caricature, particularly in scenes depicting far-out dream sequences and in a prolonged chapter detailing each sexual encounter of the author’s life, which run the gamut from innocent summer-camp smooches to graphic bisexual explorations. A closer reading, however, reveals the depth of Heatley’s insight into his own character and, by extension, society at large. An unflinching, occasionally awkward chapter illustrating the author’s relationship with black friends and acquaintances showcases the struggle of a white man whose love and respect for black music and culture elicits a range of reactions, from true acceptance and brotherhood to outright hostility and righteous indignation. While the aforementioned sections and subsequent meditations on the author’s relationships with his divorced parents are uneven in their efforts to convey larger themes and insights, the concluding chapter, “Kin,” is a marvel of storytelling economy. By turns touching and comical, it takes the seemingly mundane history of a typical American family and turns it into a mini-epic, a rivetingly intimate narrative that does far more than convey the history of how Heatley’s great-grandparents came together—it also serves as a microcosm of what makes the combination of text and art so well-suited to the autobiographical genre.
Consistently engaging and occasionally self-indulgent, with sporadic moments of excellence.