Saturday, July 19, 2008

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

That a book has pictures, in my opinion, makes it no less a book, particularly if that book's language still matters. If the images are enhancement and not just a flashy stand-in for story, and in Skim, a graphic novel with words by Mariko Tamaki and pictures by Jillian Tamaki, images are certainly the former. The images so vivid in their own right that they stand alone effectively when necessary, in individual panels or full page spreads, so perfectly conveying a moment-- with expression, posture, that single perfect object standing in for a whole scene. Otherwise the language and images integrated-- words stamped out in the snow, chalked on blackboard-- in a perfect synchronicity.

But the language still matters-- I was part of an audience that heard Mariko Tamaki reading from Skim on Monday evening, and rushed to buy the book between the sets. I almost fought someone for what I thought was the last one, but luckily they had another box. Reading from a comic book-- I didn't even know this was possible. Part of this is that Tamaki is a spectac performer, she did her work true justice. And the structure too-- the voice bubble dialogue being terrible funny to listen to, but so much of Skim is written in a diary format, meat and substance as you like.

Skim is the story of Kim, called Skim because she isn't, and she attends a private girls' high school and it's 1993. Always somewhat of a misfit, her isolation from her peers is only exacerbated after a local suicide when classmates establish the Girls Celebrate Life Club ("Teenage Suicide-- Don't Do It"). Skim is disgusted by feigned concern from girls who've spent years as her tormentors, and now they're relishing the drama, discussing her in hushed tones-- she wears a lot of black, says she's a Wiccan, she can't think of anything that makes her happy. And they don't even know that she's in love with her English teacher, Ms. Archer.

Skim is marketed as a children's book, and will serve this demographic well, I think, assuring other misfits (nearly everyone) that they aren't alone. Holding great appeal to older readers too, and not only because they'll have it confirmed how incredibly lucky they are to be grown up, but also for such an engaging story, told with a great deal of insight and dark humour. Further, the acuity of its characterization, of Skim-- that a comic book character could be bestowed with such a voice. Even in her most desperate moments, this girl's company is a delight.