I’m stretching my parameters with tonight’s entry, as Ariel Schrag’s Potential has very little music-related fodder. She doesn’t jam on the guitar or obsess over bands or go to many shows during her junior year of high school — at least she doesn’t devote panels to it. But I’m something of a completionist and I know a few folks were interested in my take on the third volume of Schrag’s high school series. Also, Kristen at Act Your Age forwarded a link from Tegan and Sara’s Twitter feed to Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything, Schrag’s comic with Kevin Seccia, I figured we could get all bendy here.
In fairness, I don’t know how Schrag would have time to think about music. Potential represents a relentless shit storm that was her junior year. I understand why Killer Films would work toward adapting it for the screen, as it has social relevance toward queer youth and has the most straightforward narrative of the three issues I’ve read. I’d certainly see it, but I’d bring a box of Kleenex.
The least of Schrag’s concerns is coming out as a lesbian, which she tidily resolves in the first few pages. It’s well established in the first two issues that her environment and friend group afford her safety and support. I also like that she commemorates coming out by picking up a box of black hair dye. I thought her sartorial commentary about the importance of balance was hilarious and strangely dated, as the tight pants and slouchy shirt look she eschews for her belted jeans and tees are now ubiquitous.
Schrag’s pride in her lesbianism is not shared with her girlfriend Sally, who is ambivalent about her sexual orientation, harbors huge reservations toward their relationship, and clearly has a cloud of depression hovering over her. The scenes where Schrag tries to make their relationship work but Sally pushes her away out of disgust and self-loathing were wrenching.
As if it wasn’t enough to endure a relationship with someone who not only doesn’t want to be with you, but may in fact be ashamed of your relationship, Schrag’s parents embark on a nasty divorce that rips at the familial tapestry, neglecting and damaging their two daughters in the process.
Finally, Schrag loses her virginity. I use the term’s strictly heteronormative useage (i.e., it only counts when your hymen is broken by a dude’s penis, ladies), as she has sex with former boyfriend Zally, who clearly wishes she could reciprocate his feelings. I was troubled that she believed having sex with a boy, an act from which she derived no pleasure, was necessary to reach this milestone (that we consider it a milestone further suggests staid sexual norms). But I also found macabre amusement in the impossible situations and the stress caused in the pair’s efforts to “seal the deal.” I also like that Schrag was always upfront with Zally about her lack of romantic interests in him, and thought it was cool that both of them wrote down how they felt afterwards. I just wish she didn’t think she needed cock to cross over when she obviously didn’t want it.
Apart from recurring characters and a continued interest in science, I liked witnessing Schrag’s style evolve within the series. As with Definition, Potential depicts a few moments where she and her friends discuss her work and opine as to whether certain scenes will be included in subsequent issues. I was intrigued when she revealed while stoned with Sally’s sister that she sometimes sees events in her life as if contained in panels. But I particularly fascinated by how the protagonist renders dreams, as she departs from warped cartoonist caricature to a more realistic yet transient visual style. It’s an interesting way to represent our unconscious thoughts as being more faithful to our true selves.
Potential was released in 1997, and it would take several years to follow it up with Likewise. As Noah Berlatsky notes in the preface to his interview with Schrag for Bitch, college and a stint writing for The L-Word delayed the author in writing about her senior year. But I’d also like to think she needed time to recover. I on the other hand am ready to blaze through the series’ final installment.