Daddy’s Girl (Fantagraphics)

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dg-header.jpgDebbie Drechsler explores the horrors of child molestation and its aftermath in this haunting new graphic novel.

 

 

86 pgs. mostly B&W with one story in color; $14.95

(W / A: Debbie Drechsler)

 

Daddy's Girl is a collection of short stories which deal with the frank subject matter of a girl's sexual abuse at the hands of her father. These individual stories - mostly centering around a young girl named Lily, though another follows a different young girl named Fran -- add up to create a fictionalized account of Drechsler's own experiences. Because the author has created these characters through which to tell her stories, it creates distance between the reader and the author which allows us to view the stories with a kind of emotional detachment. Yet each of these stories is still told intimately through first person narration, leaving the reader wondering where the line between truth and fiction lies.

The cover to Daddy's Girl by Debbie Drechsler. Click for a larger image.The abuse in the stories is treated matter-of-factly, which makes it all the more shocking.  The very first story of the collection, "Visitors in the Night," introduces us right away to this approach to the subject matter, as it begins with Lily and her sister Pearl in bed one night, arguing back and forth before they go to sleep. As they are drifting off, their father comes in to wake Lily up and undoes his robe. Before the reader even has time to process what is happening, the girl is forced to commit a sexual act for her father, and her reaction to what happens hints that this instance was not the first time her father molested her.

But the abuse itself is usually not central to the stories in this collection, which mainly deal with the girl's attempts to cope with this abuse. At various points throughout the book, she is left paralyzed on her bathroom floor after her father bursts in on her, she contemplates suicide to avoid having to deal with the situation ever again, and she begins laughing uncontrollably at one point while her father is molesting her, leading him to beat her. 

These varied reactions to the abuse she is undergoing illustrate her fractured state of mind and the psychological damage done to her as a result of the continued molestation. In one story called "Marvin," Lily is less concerned with her father's abuse than she is with the fate of her dog, who tries to protect her from the abuse and is thrown across the room into the wall. In "Drummer Boy," Drechsler shows how abuse affects the other relationships in an adolescent's life, when Lily begins to fall for a boy at school but doesn't know how to react when the boy looks at her in a romantic way, because she equates that look with her father's sexual assaults.

Throughout each of these stories, Drechsler's art is thick with detail, both in the characters and in the backgrounds and scenery around them. The deep black line work criss-crosses every page heavily, filling every last corner of each panel with ink. These powerful brushstrokes add weight to the subject matter, making each image resound and seem more real to the reader.

The ominous darkness of the artwork makes each scene even more wrought with tension, so you feel as the main character feels, always waiting, when the father appears in a scene, for the other shoe to drop. The tension is particularly palpable in the only color story in the collection, "Constellations," when one of Lily's friends spends the night with her so they can look at the stars. The early scene with her friend's arrival is happy and bright, but as night falls the colors fade ever so slightly, and her father's presence looms forebodingly.

Daddy's Girl is not an easy read or a fun read. Its subject matter is as heavy and dark as the artwork, and the harsh reality found in its pages could make some readers uncomfortable. But it is a worthwhile read, for it portrays a subject that the author clearly feels strongly about so brilliantly and elegantly that readers cannot help but empathize. | Steve Higgins

Click here for more information and a brief preview, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

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