In which I attempt a graphic essay.
Megan Kelso’s graphic story collection, The Squirrel Mother, was my introduction to the genre of graphic storytelling and continues to be one of my favorite works in the genre. I still recall how the quirky title juxtaposed with the perennially magic word “stories,” the simple and striking cover illustration of a barefoot girl sitting on a porch step with her head resting in her hands while pondering the sidewalk, the spare details of a dandelion growing through a crack in the walk and an un-eaten sandwich on a plate beside the girl — all of this pulled me in as I walked past the book in the library a few years ago. When I flipped it over to read that the Baltimore City Paper had compared her work to the short stories of Charles Baxter and Alice Munro, that was all I needed to hear: I checked the book out and took it home.
I was not disappointed. Kelso’s art may seem simple on the surface, but the stories are complex and dense, and she employs visual metaphor to great advantage. Her deft strokes imbue a dancing fork and spoon with poignancy and grace, and her pacing and minimalistic touch combine to create a resonance that lingers long after the final panel. I savored these stories on first read, and continue to be rewarded upon re-reading them. The title story traces the parallels between the life of a squirrel mother and her squirrel children with that of a distracted single mother trying to raise her daughter. In “Meow Face,” a young girl is left for a stay with her quirky and socially inept aunt. “The Pickle Fork” charts what happens to an art collector’s cache of silver after his death. These stories are incredibly moving and powerful.
I love everything about this.