Reviewed by Sally Ingraham.
M. S. Harkness‘ Tinderella (Kilgore Books, June 2018) is an achingly familiar story (heartache, stomachache, side-ache from laughing…) It’s an autobiographical tale of online dating while being poor and in your 20s. If it was merely a collection of sexual fantasies/escapades interspersed with boring shifts at work and mundane/meaningful meetups with siblings, the comic would still be relatable. Everyone has been there, and enjoyed or endured similar moments of crude hilarity, confusion, stoic loneliness, and absurd fury.
However, this debut graphic novel from Minneapolis-based cartoonist M. S. Harkness contains a lot more. I was struck by the balance between a cartoony drawing style that keeps some of the story at arms length (from the reader and the creator/protagonist herself) and a more realistic style which pulls the focus in suddenly, forcing the reader and seemingly Harkness to face truth bluntly. The story is raw, full of the itch/tickle of a healing cut, and I wonder if it is a scab that will be picked at for awhile longer.
Most of us are walking around with scars, of course, but in this comic Harkness is willing to examine a few of hers. There are funny moments in the story, and gross ones, and long, quiet walks home. I liked this juxtaposition – it made the story feel very honest. Harkness lays a lot of things bare (often literally). Life is brutal and disappointing, and like life, Tinderella seems to loop without resolving. However, there is the sense that these loops somehow contain forward movement, and anyone trying to survive their 20s should find hope and encouragement in that.
I can’t talk about Tinderella without mentioning that M. S. Harkness inked part of it here in Pittsburgh last summer, during a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency. Knowing that the “end” of the story is beyond the last page of the comic always makes autobio interesting – and in particular, knowing that M. S. Harkness finishes the comic and gets it printed by Kilgore Books in June 2018, and then starts writing the next book, brings me a specific kind of hope and encouragement.