“HOW old was I when I started feeling cheated simply be being a girl?”
That is just one of the questions Julie Delporte asks in her new graphic novel This Woman’s Work, a beguiling, quiet, painful account of life and art and repression and fear that is a darker, starker work than Delporte’s soft, sweet pencil drawings and hand lettering might first suggest.
The Canadian cartoonist is giving us a sort of memoir here, one that at times slips off to look at narwhals and Moomins, but always, always, comes back to painful questions about power and abuse and repression and the body.
It’s a diary of sorts, one that reads as an internal monologue.
It’s a book that builds its argument by accretion, with image building on idea building on memory. But at its heart are hard questions, sometimes questions you don’t want the answer for.
At one point Delporte writes, “I often look at my family tree and wonder: ‘which of these women were raped?’”
Delporte was herself assaulted by her cousin. “I got my first lesson in sex the year I learned to read,” she writes alongside an image of a wolf crouched over a vaguely human blob of red paint. “I feel like I’m carrying the weight of an old family story,” she continues.
The stain of that incident colours the rest of the book. And yet Delporte keeps widening the circle. She explores the life of Tove Jansson and the work of Belgian film maker Chantal Akerman, she goes to Helsinki and camping in St Lawrence and records her dreams. And throughout she is asking the questions, what does it take to be an artist and what does it take to be a woman?
She doesn’t have all the answers, but she is trying to. Once you catch its rhythm, this is a powerful, thought-provoking piece of art.