Drawing on Yourself
By Ursula Murray Husted
Apocalyptic Tangerine Press
“We’ve all got to grow up, sooner or later.” It’s not too much of a spoiler, I hope, to begin a review with the last words uttered in a book. There’s certainly no big reveal here. In fact, they could easily be the final words in any of number of works in the nebulous coming of age genre.
Drawing on Yourself certainly lives somewhere within those confines—maybe on the outskirts, if only because of its characters’ median age. Of course, as time progresses, the acceptable age at which one attempts to find oneself has steadily increased. Thirty is the new 20, right? Perhaps drifting is the new finding oneself.
What, after all, is graduate school these days, if not a prolonging of the inevitable—not that there isn’t value in extended schooling, but let’s be honest, graduate degrees in the humanities have, in so many cases, become a way for students to figure out precisely what to do with themselves before the walls of reality closed in.
Drawing on Yourself, in a sense, a book about mistakes. Some are more permanent than others—but all ultimately leave there marks and, if we’re lucky, help us grow up. The most literal manifestation of this comes at the very beginning, in an opening that brings to mind that mumblecore pioneer, Funny Ha Ha. Ursula Murray Husted’s lead, Jake—a grad student and a sketched dead ringer for a young Sean Lennon—is getting a tattoo. A koi chosen from an image on the parlor wall.
It’s a pretty unlikeable move from a character who ultimately does little to redeem himself over the course of the book, spending the vast majority moping, pining, and generally feeling sorry for himself—unlikeable, of course, doesn’t always mean unrelatable. Anyone who has spent any time fumblingly blindly for a way forward will likely find a bit of themselves in Jake, even during his more grimace-inducing moments—of which there are plenty.
It’s hard to say whether Husted intended us to root for Jake as he opts for the most clichéd tattoo imaginable or lets misguided romanticism manifest itself into harmless—but nonetheless creepy—Internet stalking. Perhaps some will, but even at his most down, there’s very little about his actions that elicit sympathy. And in a strange way, there’s something very real about that.
But while there’s little charm to be found in the character of Jake, there’s plenty in Husted’s sketched line work, which is loose and playful and shines particularly in spreads where she allows herself to draw vast expanses of background.
At 56 pages, the book sits somewhere between a mini-comic and a graphic novel. But something ultimately feels light—as though it were more a character study than a proper story, based largely around a brief misguided attempt by Jake to effect some manner of romantic change in his life.
Unlike Jake himself, however, there does seem to be substance in the story worth digging for—a lit major’s foreshadowing references to Don Quixote, or his unknowingly ironic inability to “remember anything about Proust.” Growing up in Jake’s case will no doubt involve applying some of those literary unpacking skills to his own existence.