Comics is a diverse and flexible medium, and one of the greatest examples of that is how it can tell both big stories and small stories. Many people are aware of the degree to which comics can create a big and complex storytelling universe (the Big Two), but sometimes comics can reach glorious artistic heights telling the simplest and smallest of stories. I Love This Part, nominated for a 2016 Eisner award, is that kind of comic.
Created by Tille Walden, a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies, I Love This Part takes a romantic relationship and strips out everything but the key moments, to devastating emotional effect. We’ve already had at least one great comic telling the story of a relationship between two young women (Blue is the Warmest Colour), but here the girls are particularly young, and Walden focuses on their youth and innocence, finding universal emotional themes. Our two heroes are clearly in love (they say as much), and old enough to be interested in physical intimacy, but hesitant to take that step. Even “coming out” and making their love a public matter is difficult for them, leading to a relationship played out almost entirely in small, private moments. They’re hesitant, confused, but also deeply emotionally connected. They go through all the familiar beats of heartbreak, reconciliation and joy that seem to accompany young love, reaching for each other but unsure of what their relationship is, or should be. The title is a reference to that initial phase of a deep love story, when the people involved are just getting to know each other and where it’s all possibility and excitement. As one of the girls says to the other, explaining her reluctance to go to the next logical step physically, “I love this part”.
The comic takes a decidedly minimalist approach to its storytelling, giving us essentially one panel per page, with very little dialogue. The art is rendered in a striking purple/white mode, with Walden’s characters and environments striking that perfect balance between cartoon imagery and slavish realism, with a distinctive and vulnerable artistic line. Characters are often drawn in profile, with ever-present earbuds for mobile devices, but this perspective also helps when Walden’s characters shed tears. The book uses the effective technique of drawing characters that are equal in size to majestic natural vistas in the background. On this scale, either the world is a miniature, or the characters are giants, but as the story goes on, the characters shrink (or the world grows.) This parallels the comic’s emotional narrative, with the first stage of a love affair having a giant, mythic feeling that becomes, sometimes, increasingly mundane and realistic as the relationship evolves. In fact, Walden strips out much of the colour towards the dark middle act of the story, allowing the purple hues to return when love blossoms again near the end. Powerful stuff indeed.
Walden also creates an accurate picture of the millennial world, where texting is the primary mode of communication (hence the sparse dialogue) and the characters create their own private aural universe through cell phones. Those of us with a few more rings on our tree sometimes don’t notice the deep connections the people of this generation form by being constantly in contact with their friends, sharing moment-by-moment details, but also escaping into their own heads and developing a unique private perspective. Even when they are together, as this book often shows, they are often doing their own “thing”, without losing touch with their companions. Conversation is often less important than simple presence. It’s very refreshing to see an authentic voice from this younger generation use our favourite medium to so effectively tell their story.
I Love This Part is available from UK-based publisher Avery Hill and is nominated for a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue/One Shot, an honour this tender, emotional and effective comic richly deserves.