Canadian comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly have a discerning eye for illustrated stories that delineate the tiny, banal details of what it is to be a person living in the world. In their vividly conjured world, characters face challenges that will be familiar to many creative people, overcoming insecurities, industry imposter syndrome, the humdrum disappointment of opportunities and loves lost.
A new release from the publisher is no exception: The Contradictions by Sophie Yanow, an artist and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, draws together her webcomics of the same name into a touching, sweet and poignant book. It tells of her highly relatable assumption that running away to somewhere else, to do something different, will make life immediately more brilliant. That away from home, she might just fit in and discover exactly the place she is meant to be in her life and her art.
“Characters face challenges that will be familiar to many creative people, from overcoming insecurities to industry imposter syndrome”
Naturally, things aren’t that straightforward. The Contradictions is a largely autobiographical take in which our protagonist, also called Sophie, makes for Paris to fulfil some sort of self-affirmation through hitchhiking and art-making and a brush with the anarchic. Through evocative, simple black and white-only panels, Yanow deftly shows how mundane, incremental changes and aspirations are assumed to be keys, of a sort, to a “new you”. Arriving in Paris, however, the first things Sophie decides to do are avoid smiling (ergo, avoid looking like a “tourist”), and “buy some black clothes.”
The 20-year-old Sophie (the character) has wound up in Paris having decided to study abroad after going through a psychedelic experience and a breakup, which led to her dropping a tonne of classes and seeking a new life somewhere “far enough away” in the vein of her “adventurous leftie” parents before her. But instead of finding instant happiness, she that she’s not entirely sure what the best way to hold a wine glass is (having not been of legal drinking age at home), that even those studying “communications” haven’t bothered to learn French, the metro sucks, everything is eye-waveringly expensive, and it’s far from easy to seek out the queer community she desperately wants to be a part of.
“The narrative is carried by the fact that a certain low-level despondency is tempered with gentle wit and wry humour”
As she considers hitchhiking with a friend and potential love-interest, her frustrating, slow but ultimately revealing literal journey begins to mirror her interior one. The narrative is carried by the fact that a certain low-level despondency is tempered with gentle wit and wry humour. Some of the most telling and pertinent dialogue centres around the fine line between performative social awareness and just-doing-the-right thing: the rocky territory of which wines are vegan, the ethics of stealing, the issue of being skint and hungry when served free foie gras, the toss up between travelling for self-discovery and leaving a sizeable carbon footprint.
The long-limbed loping movements of the people in the book and their button-ish noses have something of a Tintin book about them, and it’s a testament to Yanow’s skill to see just how much nuance and character she conveys with simple line work and minimal detail. As the title highlights, Sophie is pushed and pulled between extremes, frequently contradicting herself in exchanges and social interactions (as well as in her own internal monologue). The strength of the story is its ability to show these contradictions not just as youthful weaknesses or mistakes, but as testament to the complex layers that come with growing up.