Today’s post is about Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim! If witchcraft, lady kisses, or mentions of suicide trigger you, then stay away from this comic. Otherwise, if slice-of-life, coming-of-age, and bittersweet high school stories are your thing, Skim is for you.
Plot: In 1993 Canada, “Skim” works through all the woes of high school including first love, the doubts of friendship, growing into oneself, and dealing with annoying peers.
Initial thoughts: I’ve heard good things about both Skim and This One Summer, but I started with Skim because I heard it had a teenage gay/bi-curious witch, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. I had only seen Skim‘s cover, and I’m a bit glad because the art is so whimsical and bittersweet to look at that I think it would have been a bit of a spoiler to see anything more than that.
The book is split into three parts, following the aftermath of a young boy’s suicide. While nothing much happens, I feel like so much happened. By the end, I was like, ‘wow, I’m glad for her.’ The book is a good reminder that everybody is dealing with their own shit, even if you’re not at the center of a massive tragedy. In a lot of ways, I feel like it does a good job of showing how differently people cope the loss of love, friendship, and family while learning how to move on in their lives.
Itty Bitty Research: The first thing I want to put out there is that Wicca and witchcraft are two different things. Skim tends to amalgamate the two, and while many certainly practice both, they are not the same thing! Skim and her best friend Lisa are seen going out to the woods to enjoy nature and attending a coven as if the natural worship of Wicca is necessary for witchcraft (and vice-versa). Having both an ancient and modern way of practicing, Wicca is mostly known by the version developed by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. Also, I find it incredibly inconsistent that Skim mentions reading books about witchcraft (where she is supposedly getting spells) but does not worship cycles of the moon or phases of nature, which are really important to Wicca. It is, however, consistent for a high schooler who thinks she knows what she’s doing (but really does not).
The second thing I noticed was the two plays mentioned in Skim: Our Town and Romeo and Juliet. Skim and Ms Archer explore different readings of Romeo and Juliet within the book, so I’ll focus on Our Town. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner in Drama. Actually, I read it thinking that I would write a post on it, but I dislike it so much that I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. Our Town is about rural life in New Hampshire, showing how people love their small town life so much that they, and their children, are content to live and die there so long as they can call it home. It is, in many ways, extremely detached from current sentiments about economics, gender roles, and various other aspects of society, so it makes sense that Skim dreads the monotony depicted in the play. There is no place for Skim in her metaphorical production of Our Town, as if she has no place in society, so she is cast into the role of the moon, which has a nice connection to her Wicca practices. We could read that her spirituality and other quirks that make her different from everybody else has cast her out of this society. It is a poetic reading of the graphic novel to consider that perhaps the ways society ousts us leads us to the things we come to love and the ways we learn to accept ourselves. After all, Skim has been doubtful about calling herself a witch at first, but she’s more assured by the end of the novel.
Finally, I wanted to look a bit into the art style. One of the best parts about Skim is the easy, free flowing art. Mariko and Jillian are cousins, both of Japanese ancestry, but both describe themselves as Canadian. The echoes of Japanese style are best understood as a representation of Skim’s world. Her full name is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, but besides the artwork, there’s never really a mention of that Japanese-Canadian nuance. Jillian Tamaki draws Skim with the long nose, full face, and small lips typical of ukiyo-e paintings, known in English as “art of the flowing world.” This blurb from the Honolulu Museum of Art describes how ukiyo-e subjects were often from popular culture or unexpected, both of which fit the bill for Skim. Rather than viewing this art as a means of objectifying Skim as another courtesan to be gazed upon, the arts allows an unexpected and otherwise overlooked subject to take center stage.
Works Cited: Tamaki, Mariko, writer. Skim. Art by Jilian Tamaki. Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2008. Print.