Rachael Smith’s new 92-page Kickstarter-funded graphic novel House Party follows the travails of three recent university graduates – Michelle, Siobhan, and Neil – who have found post-college life more daunting than expected. Creative careers that seemed promising in the cocoon of a campus have been derailed by the realities of needing to make a living in jobs that offer very little in the way of demonstrating talent. Michelle went from writing plays to a dead end office job. Her boyfriend, Neil, used to be a comedian, but is now stuck working in a bar where pretentious university bands still play. And Siobhan’s fine arts degree has been put to use in a coffeeshop, where she is employed as a barista, listening to customers belittle her paintings that hang on its walls.
All three of them felt like they could conquer the world; and all three of them are now completely demotivated. In an attempt to recapture their momentum, Neil suggests throwing a house party. After all, house parties used to be the times when they were most invincible; when the mixture of youth, alcohol, and unfettered optimism resulted in happy memories, captured on Facebook posts.
Of course, recreating one’s youth is not the same as recapturing it, and the house party unfolds to predictably disastrous and hilarious consequences.
I fear that Smith has experienced quite a few awful house parties in her time, because she does an excellent job at capturing their awfulness – unlikeable guests, horrible people with guitars, and even the inventive touch of a tagged baking tray. But she’s also masterful at depicting the uncomfortable stasis of one’s early twenties, when everything suddenly doesn’t seem possible anymore.
Smith’s artwork is pleasantly bright and cartoony. She’s able to convey emotion in a few lines. And I love the way that she makes the Helveticas – the current students that Michelle keeps comparing herself to – pop off the page compared to the earth-tone clad Michelle.
House Party is a fun read, with several pages that made me laugh out loud, but also contains an unsentimental and ultimately affirming message for people trying to juggle creative desires with the need to be an adult.
House Party is the most recent release from Great Beast Comics, a British publisher founded by two comic creators – Marc Ellerby and Adam Cadwell – that has been putting out engaging books by a growing group of small press artists. Best of all, for those daunted by shipping charges from the UK, they produce their titles in digital and print formats.
O nce I finished House Party, I raced through Rachael Smith’s back catalog, which includes the following minicomics:
One Good Thing
I am a sucker for a diary comic, and Smith does one that focuses on the positive. That doesn’t mean that it’s relentlessly upbeat, but rather that it’s a good tool for reminding her (and us) of what’s good about life. While print compilations are available, it’s also on the web, updated every Wednesday.
I Am Fire
Smith penned a minicomic about bored interns, one of whom is an arsonist, set loose at a department store. The fun parts come from the side characters, including an especially hunky fireman and the megalomaniac owner of the store.
The Way We Write
I think this might be my favourite of all of the things Smith has done, just because it’s so fantastically ridiculous. She has cast real-life band Her Name Is Calla in a rollicking ghost story. It’s beautifully drawn and absolutely hilarious. If you’ve ever wondered whether ectoplasm was good for one’s hair, Smith tells you.
Who better to dispense life advice than an adorable, alcoholic blue kitten? What started as a blog turned into Flimsy’s Guide for Modern Living, a minicomic that contains some surprisingly sensible tips, considering the source (a kitten) and the amount of wine it consumes.