Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap (and illustrated by Mari Araki)

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki is a graphic novel that allows the protagonist to be a teenager without falling into the clichéd stereotypes.  Tina is intelligent without being sarcastic at every turn, frustrated with her family without being overwrought with angst, and trying to survive the usual high-school problems, like being dumped by her best-friend, hoping the boy she is crushing on will be her first kiss, and recording her experiences in an existential journal cum school project.

I was hooked at the very beginning when Tina labels the various cliques within her school, all the while unwilling to narrowly define herself except as an outsider. If Tina is oblivious to the irony, the reader cannot help but notice that the labels begin to slip the more Tina writes in her journal.  Everyone from her former best-friend to her siblings don’t live up to Tina’s introduction of them and Tina herself changes, all the while trying to answer the question:  Who am I?

Araki’s illustrations are a perfect complement to Kashyap’s text.  Just sophisticated enough without being so highly stylized as to be obviously drawn by someone with decades of experience behind them. Instead the drawings look like something a talented but still inexperienced artist would draw.  This is an intelligent choice.

This coming-of-age novel also serves as a gentle introduction to Sartre and existentialism and even a quick sample of a story from the Hinduism tradition that serves as a metaphor.  That the writer and artist are able to layer so much and handle it all with so light a touch.  For this alone, this graphic novel works better and fulfills above and beyond all expectations.

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