by Sarah Oleksyk
Sarah Oleksyk can be proud of herself. Through three chapters of Ivy, she continues to build strong characters, awful tensions, incredible realities, and consistently beautiful, full panels. Nothing gets skimped. It’s just a wholly good comic and I’m sure it will wrap up someday as a very satisfying graphic novel.
Ivy tells the story of its title’s namesake, Ivy Stenova, an only child to a single mom living in a Boston suburb. She is a bratty, selfish sort of girl who’s just trying to figure out her own life. She’s just like any other kid who wants to be an adult, but so far her ride to the end of senior year is kicking up all the evil possibilities of high school and isn’t handing her much slack. Friends, boys, family, school, rivals, and drugs all conspire to make her life more difficult than it’s ever been before. She feels criticized and judged by the people who used to make her feel safe. As her supports fall away, she behaves like an utter child, stubbornly shouting and stomping off at every opportunity.
Other good high school dramas have preceded Oleksyk’s Ivy, including Liz Baillie’s My Brain Hurts, the film version of Ghost World and the short-lived TV show My So-Called Life. Everybody’s got a teenage story to tell, and you’ll find similar elements in Ivy. It’s not exactly breaking new ground but it’s doing what it can to paint the richest portrait of self-discovery and expression that has ever been written as a comic.
The highlight for me was Oleksyk’s rendering of Josh, a long-distance boyfriend that wasn’t so great to have nearby. He stuns Ivy with attention, but underneath he’s needy and spastic and a real flake. His character is so original because I don’t think I’ve read a better version of his sort. Ever. And you know him too. He lurks in the hallways of your high school memories, the guy you try to forget because he’s also on your list of exes. An ex-friend for being too high-strung or an ex-boyfriend for being too eager.
Maybe it goes without saying that Oleksyk is a talented artist or that Ivy is a beautiful book to see. Probably you’ve seen her cover for Papercutter #4 or her clever prints. She’s fantastic, and the reason this review didn’t come sooner is thanks largely to her blog which ensnared me with its pretty pictures and excited descriptions of Portland, OR.
The art in Ivy is consistently detailed and full-bodied, with the characters’ innate attitudes and acquired shapes pushing up against all boundaries, declaring each line as something substantial. Ivy’s friends, Brad and Marisa, are the quintessential sidekicks for youth and obscurity. Brad is tall, prim and gay while Marisa is chubby and insecure although she’s a very talented artist. Their outfits are tailored to their suit their status and Oleksyk’s own sense of style. Each scene is set without skimping on environment. Accenting the black brush-made lines is a flat gray tone, thoughtfully used.
Ivy #1-3 range in size from 35-49 pages and in price from $5-6. Get all three for $14 or just wait for the future, well-reviewed compilation of all three (+ ending) when the publisher of her choice picks it up, prints a graphic novel, and puts Oleksyk on the map for everyone else in America.
– Sarah Morean