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Gilded Lilies

Written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Conundrum Press
120 pages, $17.00
ISBN: 1894994191

 

Sequence from Gilded Lilies, ©2006 Jillian Tamaki.

 

Jillian Tamaki is an illustrator who draws with expressionistic brushstrokes. Judging by the contents of her new collection of comics and drawings, Gilded Lilies, she's Canadian, hates hockey, finds suburbia and mass-consumer culture stultifying and bland, finds people to be ugly and sheeplike, takes issue with female body imagery in modern culture, and wants to tell you all about it. In short, there are a thousand artists just like her. But Jillian Tamaki has a book contract with a small, committed publisher, so here we are.

This isn't to say that Tamaki doesn't possess talent or potential. She's no George Grosz, but her drawings are still fairly evocative, and she has the basic artistic strategies down. Every once in a while she drops the pedestrian social commentary and produces surreal imagery that's worth lingering over. Her comics are semi-narrative at best, preferring to move from scene fragment to scene fragment in search of an inchoate feeling, but it's as respectable an approach as any, and sometimes it even works.

 

Image from Gilded Lilies, ©2006 Jillian Tamaki.

 

The longest piece in this book, "The Tapemines," is a nightmarish dream sequence that rolls smoothly from image to image on what was probably a long, single roll of paper, rather than as a series of panels or separate drawings, and it's the most intriguing thing in the book. Any idiot can offer ironic commentary on the surface connotations of the world around her (as, alas, Tamaki herself does elsewhere in this book), but when she abandons such clichés and concentrates on dredging up the ghosts of her subconscious, Tamaki can produce haunting work that stays with you after you put the book down. Gilded Lilies isn't a successful work, but it isn't quite a failure either, and its more artful and heartfelt portions leave me convinced that she has every possibility of maturing into an interesting and worthwhile artist.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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