If there’s one thing I find suspect about any number of autobio/memoir comics, it’s how specific they tend to be. On the one hand, of course, I get it : the impetus to cobble together disjointed instances and events into a cohesive, “A-to-B” narrative is natural enough, and logic dictates that it makes for interesting, even compelling, reading. Accuracy be damned, as long as the general gist of things is presented more or less as it happened, that’s the important thing, right? And yet —
Memory doesn’t really work that way, does it? Specifics get lost over time, while the overall character of a given memory tends to swell, even magnify. Events that followed tend to “backtrack” and inform the way we remember things that came before. Time-frames get muddled. People do and say things they possibly never did. The past takes on a dreamlike quality the further we get from it. We become unreliable narrators of our own stories.
You know who understands this implicitly? Sarah Romano Diehl. One of the most skilled and interesting cartoonists to emerge from the gloriously-resurgent “Seattle scene” in recent years, her strongest work to date was last year’s Crust, a quasi-autobiographical recounting of her stand-in protagonist Syd’s days as a pizza delivery driver in early 2000s Durango, Colorado, but her just-released second volume in this ongoing, self-published narrative, From Crust Till Dawn, represents something very nearly like a quantum leap forward from even its exemplary predecessor, brimming over with confidence, expressively “loose” illustration, humor, heart, and even more than a touch of, believe it or not, mystery.
Yeah, I wouldn’t expect that last item from an ostensibly autobiographical work, either, but that brings us back to my original point : Diehl, you see, doesn’t hem herself in by slavishly hewing to some sort of strict (and strictly false) adherence to accuracy. She presents her memories in the same manner we all reflect back on ours — as imperfect, muddied, less-than-specific exhumations from a place in our mind somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, thick and syrupy with meaning and emotion, less so with exact detail.
The primary focus of this comic is on the camaraderie Syd shares with her eclectic cast of co-workers, and when you think back on your own early employment, odds are that’s what stands out for you, as well, rather than the tedium of long hours, rote tasks, and aimless time-killing. We remember who we worked with far more than the actual work we did, and if you’ve ever worked a retail, restaurant, or other service-sector gig, the after-hours partying you got up to with everyone else tends to stand out a hell of a lot more than the drudgery of busy-work performed while “on the clock.”
Syd, however, may be “guilty” of having a bit too much fun at her job, as one of the book’s standout moments revolves around a heart-to-heart talk one of the senior employees at the pizza parlor has with her about pulling her weight around the place. It stands in stark contrast to the purposely-disjointed, yet astonishingly fluid (yup, I know that’s a contradiction, just trust me) litany of good times that make up the lion’s share of the page count here, and hits home with all the power of a memory informed far more by its essential character than whatever may or may not have been said specifically.
Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad summation of the book’s flavor and tone in a more general sense : unfolding at something like a haphazard pace, disparate and no-doubt-linearally-displaced events coalescing into something resembling a holistic continuum held together by the people, the places, the things that move in and out of its sprawling, sometimes-scattershot web, it plays out as a series of reflections on a period of Diehl’s life that helped shape her into the person she is today, but happened to the person that she was then. As such, there is a heartfelt, even romantic, sense not so much of dull and hackneyed nostalgia, but genuine affection, in these pages, for a time and a place that might be gone, but can never really go away. The past may, indeed, be a foreign country — but Sarah Romano Diehl’s is more like a magic kingdom.
Featuring superb two-color riso printing on nice-quality, thick paper stock, ordering information (including, crucially, price) isn’t yet available for From Crust Till Dawn, but copies will almost certainly be available at Short Run in Seattle this weekend. If, like me, you’re unable to attend, then contact Diehl via her website and ask her how to get your hands on this book ASAP — because you absolutely need it. We’re all done here, so your next move should be heading on over to https://www.sarahromanodiehl.com/