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Gingerbread Girl

Review by Joe Palmer

Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
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Gingerbread Girl is a fun and quirky graphic novel about a woman named Annah Billips who smilingly informs us in a “breaking of the the fourth wall way” that she is a tease. Yes, she is because she’s wearing only panties and a t-shirt. Annah also confides to us that she can’t decide if she’s straight or lesbian because though she generally goes for men,  “[she’s] a puddle for a girl with an Afro.” While the “silly world” would define her as bisexual, she refuses the label  because of bad connotations people attach to it. Saucy Annah has also set up two dates for the same time: one with Jerry and another with Chili. Whoever shows up first will be who she goes out with. This kind of dynamic is in large part what drives the story. Got it? Good, because things get wackier and more interesting from here on.

While Annah is getting dressed, Chili fills us in more about her date. There’s another side to Annah besides her free spiritdness. It involves something called the Penfield Homunculus, which I thought was either fictitious or an esoteric concept. Turns out it’s real and was discovered by Wilder Penfield, who was a hottie in his day (in the second pic!!). This homunculus is part of our brains and is associated with our sense of touch. Chili informs us that Annah believes her father had somehow separated Annah’s from her brain and was able to create a sister named Ginger for Annah. Ginger was the one who had sensory feelings. After some time they were separated and Annah has been searching using some fairly odd methods for her sister ever since. How odd? Well, you’ll have to read the book if you want to know everything.The behaviors Annah created regarding her alleged sister is just one part of the charm of the story. Tobin’s dialog is snappy, and reflects the individualities of each character, not just his main two. There were a number of times that I found myself re-reading bits of dialog simply for enjoyment. The use of various narrators, including a talking pigeon (yes and why not?), a woman chasing Lothario, fake fortune teller Dr. Alphonse Spectra, Leanna the clerk with eyes like ripe apples, and an English bulldog likewise gifted with talking, provides an unusual and enjoyable method  to move the story along as Annah and Chili roam on their date. Tobin doesn’t forget about Jerry, Annah’s other date whom she stood up because Chili arrived first. He’s disapointed but still  determined, and finally gets through to Annah on her phone, much to Chili’s annoyance. But fromthis frustration we get a sense of her deep affection for Annah but also her very realistic attitude to live in the moment and appreciate every little thing in a relationship. To quote Chili while she’s feeding a small flock of pigeons: “Crumbs of a mystique are just right. A loaf of explanation is too much.”

Coover’s art is a joy as it always been since she first came to my attention years ago when either the Advocate or Out featured her Small Favors. The women she draws could all be the girl next door. They have personalities and she makes them look fun and sexy without a bit of pandering. Her skillful layouts and composition create a believable space for a pair of women affected by a rather fantastic story in which to live, play and love and warm sepia washes complete the package. The setting is Portland where Coover and Tobin live and there is a real sense of the city coming through for added visual interest.

Based on Gingerbread Girl’s solicitation copy I wasn’t certain what to expect from a storytelling aspect. I wasn’t quite  so prepared to like it, no, make that love, Gingerbread Girl as much as I do, but I knew with Annah’s happy declaration of being a tease that I’d fallen for the quirky charm of Tobin and Coover’s story.

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