Billing itself as a “micro graphic novella,” 2016’s Twin Bed was the first published cartooning from Paper Rocket Mini Comics proprietor Robyn Chapman in a good number of years, and there’s a fun air of formal experimentation to it throughout : the publication comes packaged in a paper “slipcase” illustrated to look like a quilt that the reader “uncovers” to get at the book itself, and the story is constructed as a series of roughly 100 single-panel-per-page images that feature a static background (that being a guy’s bedroom) with Chapman’s two unnamed protagonists positioned differently over/within said unchanging space. It’s a choice that no doubt saved the cartoonist a little bit of time when it came to drawing the thing, sure, but it’s also a bold and risky one — after all, if the narrative and the characters’ actions aren’t interesting, the whole thing could get pretty old pretty fast.
As readers, our gaze is fixed by default throughout, and this lends the project a distinctly voyeuristic feel, as there’s little doubt that we’ll be seeing things occurring in this bedroom, and on this titular twin bed, that the couple would of course be mortified to know that we were privy to — and this isn’t limited to sex, although that comes to mind first (for some of us, at any rate). As anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship can tell you, though, it’s the emotional intimacy that comes with negotiating life as a couple that is at least as private a matter as the physical intimacy, and Chapman puts us front and enter for all of that herein.
As you’ve likely surmised by now, then, this is a distinctly uncomfortable work in many instances, but it’s also a warm and welcoming one in others. The narrative is segmented into a series of fixed chronological dates, each getting a handful of pages of “screen time,” and while it’s fair to say that what is essentially on offer is a trajectory of the highs and lows of this particular relationship, Chapman’s agreeably basic cartooning, ear for authentic dialogue, and acuity in terms of guiding the eye where it’s supposed to go elevate what could, in less capable hands, be a fairly basic story into something that both hits home while you’re reading it and sticks with you after you’re done. Comparisons with Richard McGuire’s Here are inevitable, I suppose, but Chapman’s concerns are far more tightly-focused, as she’s utilizing a specific location to tell the story of two specific people rather than several.
About that, though : since this is the bedroom of the male partner in the couple, we do find ourselves getting know him a bit better simply as a matter of course. We know he’s into George Romero and Star Trek, for instance, and we never get that kind of added information about his girlfriend. Given the strictures attached to Chapman’s “ground rules” this is unavoidable, it’s true — we were bound to get a little bit more insight into one of the characters depending on who’s place she chose to set things in — but it seems a bit of a curious choice to me given that the woman comes across as the more interesting and multi-faceted personality. It’s a small quibble in the scheme of things, I’ll grant you, but one that merits at least a brief mention.
All that aside, however, you will absolutely find yourself “rooting” for these two people to make it, and empathizing with their plight when the going looks rough. Chapman’s figure drawings are “cartoony,” to be sure, but her characters look and feel real regardless, and many a reader is sure to recognize the conversations they have because, hey, most of us have been there, too. This is a remarkably resonant comic, then, and more than likely one that you’ll want to return to every now and again, as doing so feels like visiting a couple of old friends that you know very well.
Okay, maybe even a little too well, but that’s rather the point of Twin Bed, and in that respect Chapman does a very admirable job off achieving her simple, but innovative, goals. I encourage you to discover the charms of this comic for yourself by heading over to http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/16620822-twin-bed
Review wrist check – I was wearing my Farer Universal “Beagle II” while I wrote this one, riding on Farer’s factory-issue tan perforated leather strap. I’ve got their green barenia strap for this one, as well, and while that one makes the ceramic dial “pop” out a bit more, I think the tan gives some nice contrast to the green hands and numerals.
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