If anyone were to put a pistol to my head and ask me to name my absolute favorite comic of the last couple of decades, Debbie Drechsler’s Daddy’s Girl, a hardcover collection published by Fantagraphics Books collecting all her various shorter works from the 1980s and 90s (some in color, some in black and white, as the art samples included with this review will show) just might be it.
First off, though, please understand that this is by no means an easy or pleasant read. Quite the opposite : Drechsler’s account of her (via her surrogate character, Lily) horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her father is stark, harrowing, and at times even painful to read. It’s also unflinchingly honest, amazingly heartfelt, and above all agonizingly human. It’s not just the mindset of a sexual abuse survivor that Drechlser portrays so authentically, but the “new kid on the block” mentality that she had to endure so frequently as a kid whose family moved around a lot growing up, and the little ways in which adolescents have to process and interpret aspects of the adult world that are only beginning to make any sense to them, to the extent that they even do at all.
Drechsler’s heavy brushstrokes and her expert utilization of thick, inky blackness drive home an almost oppressive feeling that suits her subject matter perfectly, and gives the book the look and feel of a series of captioned woodcuts that expertly capture not just various moments frozen in time, but the emotions that go along with, and/or result from them. It’s damn uncomfortable reading on occasion, but it also feels brutally necessary. Watching Lily’s attitude toward her father evolve from scared to forced nonchalance to one of pathetic derision happens at such an organic pace that it’s often hard to believe that many of these stories, appearing as they did in irregularly-published journals such as the original Drawn & Quarterly, often appeared years apart, so natural is their progression, and while it does, in fact, feel like something of a personal victory for Lily to finally see her old man not as a deadly predator but a useless, limp-dicked piece of shit, it’s definitely a hollow victory at best, given the horrors she has to endure to get to that point.
Still, on the whole, the sexual abuse narrative, while central to Drechsler’s work here, is only part of the overall portrait of the pain and awkwardness of adolescence that runs throughout this collection of vignettes, all of which are suffused with more authenticity than the entire output of the “Big Two” publishers in total in — well, their entire history. We keep hearing that comics have “grown up,” then watch Marvel and DC prove they haven’t. Books like Daddy’s Girl, even though it’s about teenagers, prove they certainly have, but nobody’s paying much attention, relatively speaking, to this in comparison with, say, Avengers Vs. X-Men, which is a rather depressing prospect to consider — but at least work like this is out there now, which is a step in the right direction.
Still, a work as powerfully affecting and meticulously crafted as Daddy’s Girl deserves to be a lot more than just published, it should be read, and if I manage to convince any of you out there to pick up one book you otherwise wouldn’t have as a result of these “Comix Month” (which really is about to end — finally! — I promise) reviews, I sincerely hope it’s this one. Debbie Drechsler , after winding up her solo series Nowhere, said she felt she’d probably said all she wanted to say via the comics medium and didn’t think she’d be back anytime too soon, if ever. It’s been over 15 years and so far that’s proven to be true, which is our loss. But this masterwork stands as a testament to her natural visual storytelling ability and only increases in power and resonance with successive re-readings. Do yourself a favor — if this book’s not on your shelf, rectify that situation right now. This is the rare comic that I can think of absolutely nothing bad to say about. It’s demanding. It’s nausea-inducing. It’s ugly. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s often desperately hopeless.
And it’s uniquely, unpretentiously, unreservedly, unquestionably perfect.