The Cute Girl Network (First Second)

When you start a new relationship, it’s tempting to want to dig up some dirt on your new beau. But what if there was an entire organized network of ex-girlfriends eager to do the excavating for you? That’s the temptation Jane must resist in The Cute Girl Network.

 

 

188 pgs., B&W; $17.99
(W: Greg Means, MK Reed; A: Joe Flood)
 
Indie romances don’t come sweeter than the story of skater girl Jane and pushcart vendor Jack, who meet cute one day on the friendly streets of “Brookport” when Jane wipes out on her skateboard and Jack offers her a free can of soda to ice down her bruised coccyx (tailbone). It’s love at first sight, but neither acknowledges it at first—Jane keeps accidentally on purpose coming by Jack’s pushcart, and he’s afraid she’s just pretending to be into him in order to get free soup.
 
Both Jack and Jane live in big apartments with roommates, who are full of advice on how to proceed, and who collectively express a variety of contemporary views on relationships between the sexes. In Jane’s case, some of that “advice” takes on a more threatening tone, as she is confronted, intervention style, by a group of Jack’s former girlfriends, who are part of what they call “the cute girl network.” Their purpose is to let Jane know what Jack is really like—from their point of view they’re performing a public service, because he’s unreliable, inappropriate, and so absent-minded he often seems to be not playing with a full deck—while from Jane’s point of view they’re interfering with her right to make up her own mind about Jack, or anyone else she might choose to date. In Jack’s defense, he hasn’t really done anything reprehensible (like knocking a woman up and then refusing to take responsibility), he just has his limitations and wasn’t the right match for any of them.
 
It’s too bad the members of the cute girl network are portrayed as shrill bitches, and that they alone have no redeeming characteristics. Even the sexist pig who harasses Jane when she’s trying to enjoy a day at the skatepark, and the clueless guys she works with at the skate shop, are shown as capable of changing their behavior, while the network girls remain hateful and materialistic to the end. This authorial choice gives The Cute Girl Network a misogynist tone that I hope was not intentional, delivering the message that other women are your enemies and will try to destroy your happiness.
 
That objection aside, one of the things I like best about The Cute Girl Network is its evocation of a particular time of life: you’re on your own, working a survival job that pays just enough to get by, and yet your life is full and satisfying because you have extravagant amounts of free time to explore the world around you and discuss it endlessly with your friends. Part of the work of this stage of life, besides figuring out what you want to do for employment, is realizing who you are and what you want and expect from your life partner. Watching Jack and Jane working their fumbling way through these challenges (and we’ve all been there) is charming and life affirming in the best possible way.
 
Joe Flood’s semi-realistic art perfectly captures the tone of The Cute Girl Network—sweet people look sweet, mean people look mean, and the mythical city of Brookport (the name suggests a cross between Brooklyn and Portland, which would be just about right for these characters) is portrayed in loving detail. Every chapter but one opens with a full-page spread, and even in the smaller frames, there’s so much information packed into each that there’s something new to discover each time you look at it. You can see a preview here. | Sarah Boslaugh

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