They’re common, the themes around relationships and self in Fantagraphics’ new graphic novel Men I Trust. 32-year-old single mother Eliza is struggling to reconcile her traumatic past with her current life. 29-year-old Sasha has recently moved back in with her parents and is longing for connection. But, these familiar themes are explored in an infinitely unique way through Tommi Parrish’s striking art and writing.
The second graphic novel from writer/artist Tommi Parrish, Men I Trust follows the struggles of millennials Eliza and Sasha and the pair’s newly-formed bond. Parrish’s art is what is most captivating at the start of the story. Surreal art with oblong bodies with thick, meaty arms that droop to their sides and grape-sized heads speak of life struggles in a group meeting. The full swaths of color and body shapes that change panel to panel highlight the uncertainty, the dysphoria, and the multi-faceted nature of emotion. The unconventional body shapes throughout the book continue to show the visceral absurdity of relationships and body standards in modern life.
The lack of gutters adds to the flow of the story and the artistic merit of the hand-painted panels. Some pages, with or without the speech bubbles, feel like full paintings in themselves with the panels being fractured parts of a whole piece of modern art. The shapes, textures, and colors overall are similar to Ana Galvañ’s Afternoon at McBurger’s paired with the story’s millennial murk of Mirion Malle’s This is How I Disappear. While Eliza and Sasha are navigating their relationship and their own lives through this colorful and shapely world that feels a bit fantastical, the realities of what is happening are far from it.
The comfortable yet volatile nature of Eliza and Sasha’s interactions is a stark depiction of the conflict between one’s wants and their mental state. It’s almost painful to witness how their ultimate goals are so aligned yet their brains are so conditioned not to be receptive to them. Their individual reflections on their mental state are equally as uncomfortable to see given their universal hopelessness.
What I find most interesting, however, is the added dimension of parental influence on mental health struggles. Men I Trust explores the impact parents have on their children and the subsequent dealing of that by the children. With Eliza, it’s the idea of breaking the cycle of trauma with her son. Her journey with this isn’t linear, but repairing intergenerational trauma isn’t always. With Sasha, it’s dealing with her controlling parents while back at home and navigating the truth of her situation with her mother. This parental layer doesn’t detract from Eliza and Sasha’s story, but only serves to strengthen it.
With the sprinkles of millennial-isms like musing about Cancer season or surviving under capitalism, the portrayal of the realities of causal queerness in urban cities, and the clever comments on masculinity and power, Parrish doesn’t fail to flesh out this world so it feels you could meet these characters on the street.
Men I Trust is a screenshot of modern life, yet also a timeless piece on the eternal desire for love, connection, and belonging.
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