Deep In The Heart Of “Texas Tracts”

There’s no polite way to say this, and perhaps as an outsider I’m not even terribly qualified to opine on the matter anyway, but rest assured the following sentiment is shared by millions : the state of Texas appears to be a very troubled — and, in many respects, troubling — place.

I say this fully cognizant of the fact that my own home state of Minnesota has come in for its fair share of negative headlines over the past year-plus, but when a “perfect storm” of lax safety and building regulations, a laughably substandard power grid, and hollowed-out social services budgets did more damage to the people of the Lone Star State than the natural storm that literally hit it earlier this year did, the rest of the nation — and even the rest of the world — became acutely aware of the reality that something was seriously amiss down there. And rather than addressing these life-or-death matters, the state’s “leaders” — at least those who didn’t flee to Cancun and subsequently try to blame their cowardice on their kids — chose instead to tackle the apparently-more-pressing concerns of making sure Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is no longer a required part of their schools’ history curriculum (you can still talk about the KKK in class, though! You just can’t say they’re wrong) and placing bounties on women who get abortions. And while there’s no question that many Texans are as appalled by all this dark-ages BS as people from other places are, if not even moreso, their chance to do anything about it is rapidly slipping away thanks to the state’s new “Jim Crow 2.0” voting restrictions, which are manifestly designed to make it more difficult for anyone who isn’t a white conservative Republican to cast a ballot — while on the other side of the coin, the white conservative Republican governor who’s been gleefully signing all this nonsense into law is being challenged by others within his own party who actually believe he’s not crazy enough. You literally can’t make this shit up, and in an act of what I can only surmise to be some kind of sadistic “piling on” or “kicking a state when it’s down,” Joe Rogan recently moved there, as well . And yet —

There is, for reasons I’ll never be able to fathom personally, a mystique about Texas that endures no matter how dire the situation on the ground might be. Locals have an indefatigable sense of home-state pride that no place else can match. “Don’t mess with Texas” (as if the place isn’t doing a perfectly fine job messing up itself without the need for extra assistance) isn’t just a hollow slogan, it’s something most Texans seem to firmly believe right down to the core of their being. And I do hear the barbecue down there is second to none, even though places like Kansas City and Memphis might disagree. Hell, I’m tempted to say that Texas has a je ne sais quoi all its own — but I’m worried the nearest Texan might string me from a tree for speaking French.

Certainly there have been too many terrific cartoonists from Texas to even count at this point — Mack White, Michael Dougan, Jack Jackson, and Roy Tompkins being among this author’s favorites — but it’s worth noting that a good number of folks who went on to more firmly establish their comics careers elsewhere got their start there, as well. People like Jim Osborne. Berkeley Breathed. Chris Ware. And the subject of our review here today, Rachelle Meyer.

Hell, I’m almost tempted to say Meyer didn’t really leave Texas at all, even though she decamped for the more rational (and probably altogether more pleasant) climes of Amsterdam some years ago. Her cartooning is still Texan to the core, and she looks back on her upbringing there with a kind of fondness that, while complicated, is obviously entirely genuine. I gave a glowing review to her first mini, Holy Diver, a few months back here, but now I’m pleased to say she’s fleshed out her uniquely Texan childhood memoirs into an honest-to-goodness trilogy that she calls, rightly enough, Texas Tracts.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of these in PDF form, and suffice to say her gently humorous overall and eternally curious demeanor comes to the fore throughout — growing up Catholic in a state where there aren’t too many of them certainly wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, to be sure (hell, growing up Catholic anywhere is kinda tricky), but she doesn’t seem either troubled by or burdened with her early-years religious indoctrination so much as she’s bemused, in retrospect, by its foibles. No comparisons to, say, Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary are forthcoming here, then, but that’s just as well : it’s pretty tough for any cartoonist, particularly an autobio cartoonist, to measure up to Justin Green’s all-time masterwork. Instead, with her two new Chick tract-formatted minis (hey, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t “J.T.C.” from Texas himself?), Joy Ride and Rainbow Collie, Meyer seeks to further establish her own tone, tenor, and tempo within the admittedly crowded autobio field, and she certainly manages to do just that with a noteworthy degree of aplomb.

Also to her credit, Meyer eschews a strictly chronological “running order” for her trilogy in favor of an emotive and indeed intuitive one, trusting her own artistic sensibilities to square the circle of her life in a more interesting and, counter-intuitive as it may sound, accurate way then presenting her triptych of stories in strictly linear fashion could. It’s an interesting and bold choice, one that she’s committed to sinking or swimming with simply by dint of having made it, and it works wonderfully, a real sense of something akin — but not necessarily identical — to the largely-illusory ideal of “closure” being achieved by Rainbow Collie‘s final page.

Admittedly, of the three comics I think Holy Diver remains the strongest and most poignant, but it’s not as if the two new “chapters” are in any way a “letdown” per se — they’re very much “of a piece” with the first, they just didn’t quite connect with me as directly for the simple reason that I was blowing off my Catholic school instructors in my mind from a pretty early age, opting for a kind of “silent atheism” while playing along with the game for the sake of appearances. For Meyer, obviously, she bought into it all to one degree or another for a time, and has learned to process it in a way that I think most people would consider reasonably healthy : it was what it was, but I gotta be me regardless.

As for the cartooning in these three comics, it’s uniformly exemplary : Meyer is a modern master of shading and wash effects, her figure drawing is equal parts singular and fundamentally sound, and her style is versatile enough to encompass the heavier and more somber aspects of the story in Joy Ride as well as the (sorry to invoke the term, but) “feel-good” and self-affirming tone of Rainbow Collie. She’s got talent the size of Texas in her, of that there is absolutely no doubt.

Here, then, is another cultural export the Lone Star State can be proud of. Meyer left her home behind, but it didn’t leave her, and while there’s no syrupy homesick wistfulness to be found in the pages of these comics, it seems clear that she harbors at the very least an appreciation for her Texas roots that is absolutely sincere, even if it’s understandably tempered by the wisdom of age and worldly experience. I don’t get a sense she’d ever want to do something as drastic as move back there or anything, but that doesn’t mean she’s not proud to call it home. So, hey, don’t mess with Texans — especially the ones in Amsterdam.

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All three Texas Tracts comics, plus some damn cool-looking premiums, are available by backing Rachelle Meyer’s Kickstarter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/therewise/texas-tracts

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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