Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Katie Skelly's Operation Margarine- The human form, free-flowing

I had a chance to meet Katie Skelly at TCAF 2014. Amongst a stressful sea of attendees and a very loud crowd, Katie was confortably seated, smiling and calm. A constant flow of enthusiasts walking in front of her booth (she was in a fairly chaotic corridor). Amidst all of this, she took time to discuss her new book with me. Operation Margarine is the story of Margarine (rich girl runaway) in her attempt to flee her life where she feels constricted. We also follow her newfound friend, Bon-Bon (trouble `tuff` girl) as they try to escape their lives.

I was immediately captivated by the aesthetic of the book: an all-black cover with a white motorcycle faded out and the titular character up front in colour. The bright white letters of the title really pop. It looks absolutely fabulous. The cover of Nurse Nurse uses a similar approach with shades of pink rather than the orange.

Margarine Litres background is kept quite vague. She is the daughter of a rich family (either rich or famous). We see through flashbacks that she escaped from a mental instution (anorexia being hinted at) and her parents are trying to put her back in. She feels pressured from every side of life and she decides to run away  and start fresh elsewhere. She plans to escape as far as she can and never come back. She meets Bon-Bon, a rebel girl with a bad love record and a motorcycle. After an altercation with an old friend of Margarine, they drive away together. However, Margarine's family is concerned and wishes for her to return home; they put a bounty on her and Bon-Bon. This draws out all sorts of Vultures, a recurring motif throughout (Marge's friend Richard, The vagrant at the café, litteral vultures at the beginning of the book). This leads the duo ever further into the desert. The further they go, the more dangerous it becomes; putting them in increasingly dangerous and volatile situations. Which brings us to the climax of the story, where Margarine and Bon-Bon are facing a no-win scenario and their ending promises to be unhappy.


The story was interesting if somewhat generic. The story really doesn't matter too much. What is really interesting in Skelly's book is her reappropriation of the imagery of action thriller and motorcycle gang violence for an all-female action book. The men are useless and the women are badasses. It is a fabulous reversal of the all-male action flick narrative.

Badass and very stylish
Skelly's art also shines throughout. It is simple and the focus is kept on the human form and on style. The desert setting allow for a stripped background, removing all focus on the environment and placing it on the protagonists. Their awesome vintage style and leather jackets is what truly matters in this book. Skelly excels at drawing the human form. It is loose, free-flowing and the central aspect of the book. There are less than 25 panels where a human body is not represented. Every time Margarine, Bon-Bon and anyone else are present on the page, Skelly puts so much effort into drawing the character that they come alive through their actions and through motion.

Within a short page count, Skelly tells a competent story and manages to make you care for her characters. I'd recommend this book in a heartbeat and I'm really looking forward to reading Nurse Nurse.

If you want to know more about Operation Margarine and Katie Skelly, I'd suggest reading Chris Mautner's interview with Katie Skelly on The Comics Journal. It's a very interesting read.

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