Zest Books, 2014
The cover of Liz Prince’s Tomboy features the scowling face of young Liz atop the body of the international icon for “woman.” It’s the perfect symbol for this book, which discusses Prince’s lifelong struggle with gender identity. In anecdotes that are both funny and sad, she shares what it’s like to be a cis straight girl who feels more comfortable with stereotypically masculine clothes and activities. She argues forcefully that gender is largely a matter of social construction and that it is ill-equipped to handle those who don’t neatly fit into a binary definition.
Prince is influenced by the minimalist drawing style of artists like Jeffrey Brown (Clumsy, Young Jedi Academy). Emphasizing her characters’ cartoony, cute forms and minimizing background detail allows her to exaggerate expressions and movement.
Tomboy gets lively when it turns to the topic of Prince’s teen years, a time when she felt betrayed by her own developing body. While her unease with femininity was unrelated to sexual preference (she identified as a heterosexual girl), other teens didn’t always make this distinction.
Tomboy drags in the middle as the same conflicts get replayed. It doesn’t help that hosts of new characters are frequently introduced, many of them quickly dropping right back out of the narrative. The story picks up when Prince becomes part of the local punk scene, and starts making zines. Understanding that she’s not the only person who feels alienated by mainstream culture gives her confidence and hope. Getting that across to readers is obviously Prince’s goal, and Tomboy will undoubtedly become an important book for many young people navigating similar experiences.
Rob Clough writes about comics for The Comics Journal, Study Group Magazine, Infinity, and his own blog, High-Low (highlowcomics.blogspot.com). He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, daughter, and two cats.
© 2014 by Rob Clough