Undertow by Ellen Lindner

Categories:  Reviews

Undertow
by Ellen Lindner
Little White Bird

undertowI read self-published books in public all the time, but it’s been ages since a stranger openly read over my shoulder because they were so interested in the page.  I think that experience bodes well for Ellen Lindner‘s black-and-white comic book Undertow.

Within the first dozen pages, the book’s heroine, Rhonda, has a life-changing experience.  She spends the rest of the book recovering from it.

Drugs, gang rivalries and poverty litter this story of a girl whose best friend was taken from her far too soon in life.  And no matter how smart Rhonda is, she can’t move on and out of Brooklyn’s 1960s slums, without coming to terms with what’s happened to her and her friend Estelle.

I really liked the story Undertow has to offer.  The path of Rhonda’s life follows confusion, forgiveness and determination. It’s obviously a well-edited plot.  There’s not a lot of fringe mucking up the book’s trajectory.  Undertow is very obviously about Rhonda, so the whole thing really revolves around her experience.  This makes the book incredibly straight-forward and easy to read.  And really, a good summer story.  Immediately after finishing the book, I thought, ‘beach read’ — in a good way.  There are very few comics out there like this, with lovely, involved drawings that balance an interesting story with solvable confrontations that I would really have fun reading on vacation.

If you liked the movie West Side Story, be excited that Undertow plays in the same world.  It’s really fun to watch life happen on the streets of Brooklyn and beaches of Coney Island through the eyes of a bunch of 60s street toughs.

Though Undertow is unique in its own way, it does borrow from well-worn stereotypes of man- and womanhood.  Namely, there is the pitying rich boy who falls for the poor girl, who herself is a gem in the rough and a dreamer who is not like the rest.  It might make modern feminists roll their eyes, but I’m giving it a pass because it’s the 60s and my grandma assures me that yes, it really was like that back then.  Sad, but accurate.

All of the drawings are crisp and well-managed.  She does a good job designing each panel.  However, the lettering is a little too thin and sloppy for the rest of the art.  It’s readable, but disappointing when considering the precision of the rest of Lindner’s art.

The characters have big, visible irises and wide, cheesy grins.  Often it works, but sometimes they look off-putting, like enormous, sentient ventriloquist dummies.  Still, I often think blue-eyed people are underrepresented in comics because it’s so much easier to make eyes that are black and blobby dots, so I admire that she’s found a way to make it work for her characters.

The book is 152 pages long, black and white art with lots of grayscale highlights, and a color cover.  It measures 6″x9″ and was square-bound and printed by Lulu.com.  You can buy your own copy HERE for $11.24.

- Sarah Morean

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3 Comments to “Undertow by Ellen Lindner”

  1. Sarah McIntyre | August 21st, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Brilliant book! It’s one of the main things that got me back into comics, when Ellen was working on it at art college. And I love the Coney Island setting.

  2. Mardou | August 21st, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I loved this book too, it’s at once dark and breezy and Ellen’s artwork is gorgeous.

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