Review: FLOCKS #1-4 by L. Nichols, from Retrofit Comics (#1) and Grindstone Comics (#2-4)

I’m
in the midst of what’s turned out to be a multi-week holiday that officially
ends the day after the United States’ Memorial Day, so apologies for the sparse
updates. I’ve been working through some of my TCAF spoils, and some of that
talk has ended up on Twitter for better or worse. I’m trying to parse how that
will end up here. In the meantime, I’ve been mulling over the first four
chapters of L. Nichol’s FLOCKS, which L. sent to me earlier this year.

The
first issue of FLOCKS was published by Retrofit Comics, and part of the story
of the series is its evolution. All of the books are ~32 pages, with #1 being black and white and the rest being full color. Within the series, Nichols examines a childhood
in rural Louisiana where growing up religious and queer. These are autobio
comics, for certain, but it’s worth noting that in the first chapter, Nichols
calls the work a piece of fiction; by the second chapter, FLOCKS is a
fiction/nonfiction story. The change seems to indicate the process behind FLOCKS
– not only is it a “telling” but it’s also a “learning,” as Nichols uses these
comics to explore the past.

Throughout
FLOCKS, Nichols is represented by an articulated doll, which heightens a sense
of alienation that underlies the series. One of the strongest features of
FLOCKS is how keenly and desperately Nichols wants to find acceptance in the
church, and how being queer creates these wretched tensions between what feels
right and what feels righteous. There’s a sense of being split at the seams –
the doll metaphor feels particularly apt. Much of the exposition throughout the
series is Nichols’ internal monologue, the pleading and bargaining with a loving
god that is represented by a hateful church. In chapter #4, Nichols also talks
about working to get rid of a southern accent (something I also did when I was younger). I think the change in accent is another interesting metaphor for both
personal internal change and changing the way the world views you as a person.

Importantly,
Nichols does not seem to be that interested in pushing an A to B story like
many autobio comics. Rather, each chapter is more of a rumination on specific
parts of Nichols’ history, like the feeling of connectedness while in nature, or
the conflict of enjoying the outdoors and being fierce while being forced to
participate in dance competitions. Because of this rumination, FLOCKS allows some
extremely personal, painful feelings to breathe. This can make the comics emotionally uncomfortable, even unbearable at times. 

Unlike much of the autobio I’ve
read, FLOCKS is less like a story and more like a photo album. FLOCKS captures
specific feelings and specific moments, but doesn’t show the progression
between them. And isn’t this how memory works? In scenes and in sounds and feelings,
Nichols has created a comic that is deliberately reminiscent and backwards
looking, but in a way that tells the story of a person instead of a plotline.
Recommended.

———–

L. Nichols wormulus is an engineer, cartoonist, and publisher at Grindstone Comics. You can see more of Grindstone’s publishing slate, which includes the fantastic Ley Lines, here. (Ley Lines has its own storefront here) FLOCKS has its own tumblr account, which you can follow here: flocksthecomic

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