Lily O’Donnell’s “Sum Musings On Skipping Town, Tackling Ancient Patterns Of Codependency, Trying To Harness Wholeness, & Generally Just Trying To Fucking Cope!” Says — Well, A Lot

So, like, no mystery here — you know what Minneapolis-based cartoonist/’zinemaker Lily O’Donnell’s latest self-published number is about just by reading its title. Assuming that is its title. Or that it even has a title. I’m more than a bit in the dark about that, as I am about many things vis a vis this artist, which is kinda strange considering I was just talking to her at the third annual “Insert Name Mini Fest” yesterday.

That’s okay, though — in fact, it’s kinda cool. O’Donell’s life may be an open book — or open ‘zine, at any rate — but that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily dying to interact with her readership on any terms other than her own. Mind you, that isn’t me saying there’s anything remotely Ditko-esque about her, but who knows? Maybe there is. If she starts putting out four-page essays espousing a worldview soaked in Randian Objectivism, we’ll know for sure.

Honestly, though, I think that if I was going to compare O’Donell’s work to anyone else’s, it would be that of fellow Twin Cities artist David Tea, which is something I either mentioned to her yesterday or, more likely, meant to. The utter, perhaps even gleeful, disregard of formal visual storytelling strictures on display here is certainly “in line” with Tea’s methodology (or, more precisely, lack thereof), as is O’Donell’s effortless shifting between cartooning, collage, and text. Her focus is grounded more in the purely autobiographical than is Tea’s, who often uses real life as a springboard into philosophical and/or historical diatribes on some occasions, or into Walter Mitty-style flights of fancy on others, but that’s to be expected from someone who’s still “working their shit out,” so to speak. And that, right there, is what makes this comic such an unassuming little gem.

Allow me to explain : while autobio cartoonists are hardly in short supply, completely unpretentious ones are. All too often, someone engaged in the act of “telling it like it is” can more fairly be said to be “telling it like they want you to see it.” They carefully craft a persona to present on the page that is invariably neurotic to one degree or another, but then almost always seem to hedge their bets, hoping that by tonally couching everything within a context of, more often than not, gentle self-deprecation, they’ll actually come off as looking good (even — yawn! — kind of “adorkable”) while pretending to make themselves look hopelessly lost. O’ Donnell’s only made a few comics, near as I can tell, but she shows a remarkable lack of tolerance and patience for anything approaching that kind of sanitized approach to dealing with personal insecurities.

Which isn’t to say her approach or point of view are necessarily wholly original — another one of her ‘zines that I picked up, for instance, concerns itself solely with so-called “daily affirmations,” which is probably helpful enough in purely practical terms but necessarily hems in the strongest of her strong suits, namely free-form expression. So it’s fair to say her art, like all aspect of her life, is best viewed as a work in progress, but to her credit she’s never less than completely forthcoming about that fact. When you review comics, you end up reviewing a lot of stuff that has a definite idea of what it wants to be, and when O’Donnell abandons that and lets her work authentically reflect the emotional landscape of her existence — as she does here — the results are remarkable precisely because there is no wall separating creator from creation, no voice in her head constraining her art into some pre-conceived notion of what it “ought” to be.

As you may have already guessed, then, may of the struggles O”Donell depicts are quite common for people at transitory phases in their life — people who are, if you will, still in the process of “discovering themselves.” But there’s also a heady rush of freedom that comes part and parcel with that, a sense that who you are as a person isn’t defined or delineated to an intractable degree. To that end, then, on the off-chance she happens to read this review at some point, I’d simply say that all I am is one more asshole with an opinion, and if she’s more comfortable working within a tightly-structed framework for the time being, then by all means keep on keeping on with projects like affirmations ‘zine. Artists learn by doing, after all, and exercises in doing something specific never hurt anyone’s development. It is, however, this asshole’s hopefully considered opinion that she’s got many more superb autobio stories in her like this one — stories that are uniquely hers even if they’re about things many of us either experienced in the past or are still experiencing in the present. Marching to the beat of your own drum ain’t got shit to do with inventing a new instrument, after all, only with coming up with a new way to play it. What we have here is a cartoonist figuring out how to do that right in front of our eyes, somebody apparently untethered to much by way of “training,” and instead, in common parlance, “winging it.” And last I checked, that’s how you learn to fly.


The gmail address included at the back of Sum Musings On Skipping Town, Tackling Ancient Patterns Of Codependence, Trying To harness Wholeness, & Generally Just Trying To Fucking Cope! is apparently not in use anymore, so I guess the only way to track a copy of this ‘zine down is by contacting Lily O’Donnell on instagram @lily__odonell. Please note the double underscore. I assume that’s still her “handle” on there, but I don’t have an instagram account myself, and so I couldn’t really say for sure. But hey, give it a try.

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