There’s something about December that makes me reflect on life. As I spend holiday time with family and the new year rolls around, I wonder just how much I’ve changed. Am I any wiser? Have I done anything to make my life better for myself, or anyone else? Am I okay with the way my life is now?
Recently I re-read the graphic novel Lost At Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and I took a moment to appreciate the kind of coming of age story it is. It doesn’t play the main character as some naive person going on some glorious quest to save the world. Instead, it shows a young woman coming to grips with her life. She’s hit a point
where she questions what makes her happy, and how that’s changed in the present. It goes over the kind of thoughts people have growing up but never really talk about, because they’re either considered awkward or embarrassing. This comic encourages people to be open about their emotions and doesn’t color it as purely a feminine problem. It shows that everyone has these thoughts, whether they be as simple as “I’m getting old” to an existential crisis.
Spoilers after the jump!
Our main character, Raleigh, is traveling back home to Canada. When she misses her train, she gets an unexpected call from some of her classmates. They’re going on a road trip back to Canada and ask if she’d like to come along. Even though Raleigh is a bit socially awkward and doesn’t know her classmates very well, she agrees to go anyway. She spends most of the car ride brooding about a recent breakup and how life has been bland since her childhood friend left. Eventually the group gets lost, and they stay at the Snow White Inn.
As the group attempts to sleep for the night, Raleigh dreams about her mother leaving to talk with a stranger at a hotel bar. After waking up from this dream, Raleigh realizes that it’s a memory, and that she has stayed at this same hotel just after her parents divorced. She feels like after that point in her life, very little has had meaning to her (or has made her truly happy). Still a bit delirious from the dream, she believes her mother had sold her soul to this mysterious man (who she theorizes might be Satan), and stuck her soul into one of the many cats that roam around the Inn. Instead of sleeping for the night, the group walks around town trying to find a cat with Raleigh’s soul. Raleigh opens up to Stephanie, the only other girl in the group, about her break up and how much it was upsetting her. She admits that even though this “search for her soul” was pointless and silly she appreciated everyone helping her anyway. The comic ends with Raleigh feeling more at peace with her life, knowing that even if she won’t always have answers about the kind of happiness her future will hold, she can enjoy being with people who understand her.
Much like other tales by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Lost At Sea takes a weird turn, but overall it ends with a life lesson. What really makes this story stand out from his others is how the female protagonist isn’t just a character through which to advance the plot, she’s reasonable and relatable. Unlike Katie from Seconds or Scott from Scott Pilgrim, she’s going through her emotional turmoil instead of avoiding it. While she does try to ignore how upset she is about the breakup, she does make the choice to openly talk about it. It shows a much healthier way of dealing with problems in life rather than finding an easy way out.
This story is also different because it doesn’t follow the stereotype about overly sensitive women. Raleigh isn’t shown as a girl with “hormone” issues or who’s over-dramatic. She’s shown to be a bit shy, but overall intelligent and thoughtful. She isn’t alienated or considered a burden for “ruining the road trip”. Instead there’s actually another character going through the same situation. Dan recently had a relationship with a girl that (for an unmentioned reason) ended on a bad note. It shows that relationships aren’t something that only women are concerned or get emotional about. There’s actually a scene in the comic where Dan asks Raleigh, “What made you crazy?” as they’re walking around looking for cats. His friend Ian responds with, “You mean like how Madga made you crazy?” I wish this happened more in media. Not only are her friends supportive (even if they’re reluctant sometimes), they’re also fair about how they treat each other. Rather than buying into the stereotype of the “crazy” girl, Ian is well aware that Dan acted just as weird when his relationship ended, and has no problem reminding him of that.
For about a 150 page comic, there’s a good amount of character development. Not only that, but the characters of color aren’t tragically screwed over or disrespected (unlike in O’Malley’s other projects). It’s not an epic tale like his other works, but that’s what I like about it. It goes through an interesting story without having to make it lively with a battle of good versus evil or adding magic to make everything easier. Stories like these help people cope with their own troubles and to seek help in a healthier manner. I always found these stories to be therapeutic if nothing else, and I hope O’Malley will attempt to write other stories like this in the future.