Canadian Lesbrarian says that ON LOVING WOMEN rocks

“Seemingly Simple Graphic Stories about Messy Coming-out Narratives: A Review of Diane Obomsawin’s On Loving Women” / Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian / Casey / February 25, 2014

On Loving Women by Québécoise animator, graphic artist, and painter Diane Obomsawin is another really awesome book that I’m not sure I would have heard about if it hadn’t been sent to me to review!  So I am super happy to be able to share it with you all.  On Loving Women is a pretty quick read, and seemingly simple.  It’s a collection of comics about coming-out—specifically, Obomsawin’s friends and lovers.  It’s originally in French, and was translated by Helge Dascher.  While this book is simple, I’d like to unpack this simplicity a little bit and see what we can come up with.

The stories are brief, and at first, I was finding it a bit hard to differentiate between stories—the linguistic style changes a bit, but the graphic one doesn’t.  Maybe it’s because I read it so fast—because it’s graphic, and pictures are so much faster to digest than words.  But I also think that plain and simple I read it quickly because it’s really good and I didn’t want to put it down!  I’m also just not as attuned to visual art, so there may have been differences I just wasn’t picking up on.  In the end, though, it was kind of clever that the stories bled together, as a group of friends’ coming-out stories tend to do over the years of telling and re-telling them. 

I like that the stories are little snippets without narrative arcs—I don’t mind the lack of clear beginning, middle, and end, as some readers might.  These are ‘real life’ stories after all, which don’t get the benefit of neat and tidy structures.  Although I’ve said elsewhere that it is really refreshing to read stories about queer characters doing things other than coming out, I do think that coming-out stories are wonderful and necessary and such a powerful part of our communities.  Having said that the little slices of life were great, one thing I would have liked to see is some of them be a bit longer, just so you could get a better sense of character.  I’m all about character, which you probably know if you read this blog.

The little unpretentious stories are matched by the simplicity of the drawings and the graphics are very powerful in their clean lines and minimal decoration.  The fact that the humans are drawn as other animals gives the book a kind of child-like feel, which is an interesting contrast to the sometimes really heart-breaking material.  For example, one woman’s mother repeatedly sent her away, took her out of school, and sent her to a gynaecologist, all varying methods of dealing with her daughter’s lesbianism.  It’s like viewing atrocities from the point of view of a kid who doesn’t quite understand the severity of what they’re witnessing.  Most of the characters in On Loving Women are teenagers, after all.  In fact, when you look closer at many of these stories, they’re not simple at all, but rather messy, poignant tales that don’t have the luxury of order.

Diane’s story is my favourite of the group, especially because the ending comes back to a detail first mentioned at the beginning of the story: Mädchen in Uniform—an early German lesbian film she watches at the beginning of the story but is too scared to watch the kissing scene.  Of course, when she’s older she finally sees the part of the movie that she missed.  One of my other favourite moments is when a teenage girl says, after kissing a girl for the first time: “Huh, I didn’t realize girls could kiss.”  So cute.  There’s also one where the woman’s new girlfriend starts sleeping with her ex after she introduces them.  Oh, the lesbian drama!  Brutal!

I was glad to see a few different stories about late bloomers and women who dated men near the end of the collective, but I did feel like there was a lot about women who knew they were lesbians at an early age and who were gender non-conforming kids.  Since this collection only tells the stories of people Obomsawin is close to, though, maybe the lack of diversity there is understandable. Also, I am probably spoiled by recently reading Dear John, I Love Jane (review on the Lesbrary here).

Can you think of a better way to end such a collection than how the last story finishes: a woman falling out of bed after a lesbian threesome saying “women rock.”  Indeed.  Women rock, and so does Diane Obomsawin, and so does this book.

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