Men I Trust is the sophomore graphic novel from Australian (now Montreal-based) Tommi Parrish. Like fellow artists Simon Hanselmann, Lee Lai and Adrian Tomine, Parrish’s work summons a mumblecore – the indie film genre that quietly flourished in the early 2000s – sensibility. But while mumblecore on film – with its dialogue-heavy, action-light plots and inwardly obsessed protagonists – arguably registered as somewhat twee and myopic, in graphic novel form this approach to storytelling is much more nuanced and affecting. Men I Trust sees Parrish perfectly capture the vulnerability, tension and flux of navigating relationships – romantic, familial, self-fulfilment – under the pressures of capitalism.
When Eliza, a young mum and spoken-word poet, meets Sasha, a late-20s superfan and sex worker who’s recently moved back in with her parents, they are drawn together by a shared experience of the burden of isolation. Eliza is exhausted: between looking after her toddler son, attending AA meetings and dedicating too much time to a passion for poetry that will never pay the bills, she’s losing a sense of herself as an independent person. Sasha has an abundance of time but relies heavily on other people for an understanding of herself. Throughout their conversations and meetings, we get a sense of the alienation of modern life, financial stress, emotional dissatisfaction, a seemingly futile search for life’s purpose, for meaning that… means something.
An “anxious-avoidant” dynamic emerges between the two, to borrow vocabulary from the relationship theory du jour. Sasha’s anxiety makes her desperate for the spark she’s found with Eliza; Eliza’s anxiety makes her fatigued by Sasha’s overly enthusiastic grip on their connection. But while I’m referencing fleeting fashions – an indie film genre, a theory of relations – there’s something about the graphic form here that enduringly captivates. The earthy colour palette has slight bleed between frames and the figures are rendered as juxtaposed shapes, with large bodies and swollen hands expressing the complex psyches packed into their small, shrunken heads. The visual expression of this character-driven narrative is as complex, rich and realistic as the dialogue.
What’s particularly successful is that we meet these characters at a time when they’ve already developed some understanding of their own patterns. Relationships are complicated, even when entered into with self-awareness and consideration. It’s natural to think we can find answers through open-hearted discussion, to think that the solution is just to find the way to be vulnerable enough or vulnerable in the right ways, but there are pressures outside our control that inevitably affect us. Parrish depicts all this with intelligence, heart and a trust in the reader that can only be adequately rendered on the page with the intricate power of their visual language.
Scribe, 208pp, $45 (hardback)
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 5, 2022 as "Tommi Parrish, Men I Trust".
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