A combined effort by Mariko Tamaki and her illustrator cousin Jillian Tamaki, Skim is a graphic novel about Kimberly Keiko Cameron, aka Skim, a half-Asian Wiccan goth who attends an elite private girls' high school somewhere in Toronto in the early nineties. (Keep an eye out for those telltale cultural references.)
Skim is an only child caught between her recently separated and still bitter parents. Although Skim's status as outcast seems self-imposed, at least initially, we're not sure if her best friend Lisa enjoys being on the outs with the in-crowd, headed by Queen Bee Julie Peters. Equal measures of snark and drama with a few dollops of the blues! Sounds like high school, right?
The opening panels illustrating leaves blowing in the forest and Skim's cast on her broken arm foreshadow a bleak start to the school year. The subplot revolves around the devastated Katie Matthews, a classmate who recently had to come to terms with "le big dump" by boyfriend John Reddear. Then John commits suicide, and it is later rumoured that he did it because he was gay.
Skim has never met John, and Lisa may have met him just once, but their school administration kicks counselling into high-gear, calling emergency meetings and centering out individuals who seem prone to depression. Who more than our goth Skim, who has a secret of her own. She finds herself increasingly seeking out the attention of her English teacher, Ms. Archer.
Although this story may come across as dark, there is plenty of humour to balance it out, such as the forest coven meeting that Skim and Lisa attend. For Skim, things are fairly "spiritual" at the meeting until members of the circle start stepping forward to announce how long that they have been clean and sober. Lisa neglected to tell Skim that it was also an AA meeting.
I was originally disappointed that the panels were not colour, but in hindsight, I could see that it would have interfered with the theme of this book: the coming of age of a woman struggling with her sexual identity amid the very straight culture of high school. Besides, the panels were so detailed and beautiful that I quickly forgot about colour or the lack thereof.
I was intrigued about Skim as soon as I heard that it was written by Mariko Tamaki, a former fat activist and founding member of Toronto's theatre/activist group, Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off. PS, I also learned that Mariko did start out writing zines.
Skim was also one of two graphic novels named among the 40 essential reads of the decade by the CBC Canada Reads series.
Pssst...I'm getting a lot of books for Christmas, so I may be giving this gem away. Stay tuned.
Jillian Tamaki's sketchblog
Expozine's Broken Pencil
It Gets Better - Love Pixar
Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis
Tattoos on the Heart
Reads from Men
Happy Home For Broken Hearts
Death to the Dictator! by Afsaneh Mosadam
The Selves by Sonja Alhers
Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber