Lauren Weinstein’s Normel Person, which migrated to Popula after the closure of the Village Voice, has been a powerful reflection on the state of the world. I’ve been drawn to her work this year, and it was exciting to learn that she would be contributing to Youth in Decline’s Frontier series. Over the last few months, Weinstein’s creative output has focused on motherhood, starting with “Being an Artist and a Mother” for the New Yorker this summer. In her recent Youth in Decline release Mother’s Walk, Weinstein asks, “What is a baby?” and attempts to answer that enigmatic question. Part of the Frontier series, Mother’s Walk is a comic about giving birth, but it touches on the insecurities of parenthood in a way that is complex and heartfelt. The resulting comic is one of the most achingly beautiful things I’ve read this year.
In Mother’s Walk, Weinstein documents the birth of her daughter Sylvia while simultaneously reflecting on the events of her life surrounding it. Weinstein has a keen eye for finding humor in the small places, and I’m struck by how wry the book is. Weinstein often illustrates herself in unflattering ways that emphasize her pain or her irritation. We see her in liminal moments between contractions, or arguments. We see her in the midst of being a mother of one and the transition to becoming a mother of two.
Each page takes advantage of Weinstein’s fuzzy style, a mix of graphite smudges, dark pencils, and complex layouts. Word bubbles overlap, and the text wanders across the page. There’s a complexity to the way in which the pages read; the entire book has the sensibility of a winding country road. I love Weinstein’s colors throughout Mother’s Walk, which hew towards accents and broad masses, sometimes ignoring the messy lines of Weinstein’s drawing. One specific two-page spread was particularly notable; the spread shows the waves of contraction surrounded by dark black ink, and inside of those waves, Weinstein shows the reader a vision she has of the future, or perhaps a vision of God, or perhaps a visualization of pain. Perhaps it is some combination of all of these things. I’m struck by the way that Weinstein structures each page or spread so that it acts almost independently, but still contributes towards a greater whole.
While I am certain many people will read Mother’s Walk and find it powerful, as a parent this comic was overwhelming. Within the first paragraph of text I was sobbing uncontrollably, unable and unwilling to contain my emotions. Weinstein says that a child is both a connection to the web of humanity and a path into the future you won’t see, and I recognize the truth in that statement. Later in an interview with Ryan Sands, the publisher of Frontier, she says that having a child is a declaration of hope. I feel that hope, and there’s an innate joy to the work, but that joy is tempered with the understanding that life is short and sometimes hard. We see Weinstein examine the death of the family pet, an old dog named Dr. Buddy. Through this image of death, Weinstein contemplates her own mortality. There’s an unspoken understanding that the experience she had with Sylvia’s birth could have gone much worse. Being a parent means walking the tightrope of trying to control everything, and knowing that you have to let your children grow and become their own person. Parenting is a recognition that you are not limitless.
In some ways I think Mother’s Walk is the perfect comic for this moment in my life. It both celebrates and demystifies a great human unifier and connects all of its readers in a web of common humanity. Mother’s Walk celebrates the creation of new life and the beginning of a new story, but does so fully aware that one day we will either see that story end, or see our own story end. Mother’s Walk emphasizes the beauty (and grossness) of birth, the hope we have in the future of our children, the humor of childbirth. But it also recognizes and amplifies some of our deepest fears; the frailty of life, the inevitability of death. This is the best issue of Frontier yet, and an absolute masterwork. Highly recommended.
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