Flutter Volume 1, “Hell Can Wait”
Writer - Jennie Wood
Artist - Jeff McComsey
215 Ink Philly Small Press
I was introduced to Flutter while working the Small Press section at San Diego Comic Con. Beside the Sequart booth was a table stacked with thin graphic novels, their covers featuring the anxious face of a young girl tucking short blonde hair behind her ear. Standing vigilant behind the table was the comic’s writer, Jennie Wood, an energetic, friendly woman. In the same way the pet reflects the owner, or the creation imitates its creator, Jennie had equally short blonde hair that throughout the day she habitually tucked behind her ears. To me, that small repetitive gesture gave her graphic novel a more personal tone – a project in which she’d not only devoted time and energy, but a parcel of her own likeness and being.
Eventually I noted other stacks of comics on the table, these depicting soldiers grappling with zombies, and I realized there was an ingenious bit of marketing symbiosis at work. Flutter, a young adult fiction about a teenage shapeshifter, was bringing in the cerebral and indie-interested, and FUBAR (the pet project of artist Jeff McComsey) was pulling in the explosion-seekers, history buffs, and zombie enthusiasts. Overall, the table made for a very successful neighbor.
So I bought a copy and, after Sequart webmaster Stuart Warren and I had wound down the night watching half-a-season of The Simpson’s (as Stuart is want to do always), I spent the idle early morning hours reading Flutter, Volume 1, finally getting to know that pretty girl with her deliberate mole and anxious hair-behind-the-ears, framed as it is by black and pink bubbles. I soon discovered that Flutter wasn’t your typical shapeshifter story — it was a brilliant panoply of sexual discovery and indecision disguised as a spy thriller and superhero origins story
Flutter, Volume 1 focuses on teenaged loner Lily as she struggles to discover who she is (or more aptly for a shapeshifter, whomever she wants to be). Lily decides to masquerade as a boy at school, granting her access to certain male-specific privileges and allowing her to date the “straight” girl she likes. Meanwhile, Lily’s life is rife with government conspiracies, federal fugitives, KGB agents, and parents. Yet the real grit of the story comes from the sweet moments and dark reveals that revolve around Lily’s grapple with her identity as she opposes those who would claim, control, or denounce her.
The art is perfectly scruffy as provided by Jeffrey McComsey of FUBAR fame. Jeff brings the grunge, the crudity, the thick lines and monotone palette that fans of FUBAR are comfortable with to his work on Flutter, but he also adapts to the softer, subtle undercurrents that Jennie Wood includes in her writing. The visceral gore and blood that runs (literally) through FUBAR is gone, replaced by a black-and-pink bubble motif that signifies shifting. Sometimes I don’t think the monotone layer quite works, especially when characters’ skin tones wash over their teeth — but overall, it makes for a sober, dream-like universe that plays well with the character-driven drama.
Like many great works, Flutter has its roots in childhood observation. Growing up in a small conservative village, and surrounded by male cousins, Jennie began to believe that life would have been easier if only she’d been born a boy. She noticed that boys were rewarded for being headstrong or confident, and they could actively pursue their mates without reproach. In her formative years, although she couldn’t quite verbalize it yet, Jennie began to fantasize about switching between genders.
“Naturally, it’s not all-together easier to be a guy,” she told me. “Being a guy is a different set of difficulties, maybe even just as difficult. It’s different. But because I was raised around strong men, I began to see things like strong men would. I developed the male gaze.”
It would be years later, while moving between Chicago, Boston, and LA (in no particular order), that Jennie Wood would meet Jeffrey McComsey, read and be inspired by Y: The Last Man, and begin working on Flutter (also, in no particular order).
“I don’t have a J.K. Rowling on a train kind of origins story,” she said, laughing. “I wish I had one! It’s more like I pulled this together from everywhere.”
Flutter isn’t just a love story for the LGBT community, nor does it isolate the hetero-normative viewpoint. The ideas at play are relatable to anyone who’s suffered from isolation, from harassment, from the wastes of young romance and the looming threat of adulthood. The true enemy in Flutter isn’t a secret society or a bad parent — it’s the suppression of individuality in whatever form it takes.
I think the most telling aspect of Jennie’s philosophy is in the abstract doubling meaning of her comic’s title. There’s the idiomatic expression – when one falls in love, their heart ‘flutters’ in an act that’s both gentle and tingling with energy. On the other hand, gender-switching in Flutter isn’t treated as a crude transformation, doesn’t malform or contort, but is an airy, bubbly blur, a flicker, a flutter. Jennie’s work can be seen as the beautiful unity of these two concepts – the softness of love in any pairing of people.