Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Aisha Franz’s ‘Shit is Real’, available now from Drawn & Quarterly.

Required Reading: Shit is Real
Cover to ‘Shit is Real’. Art: Aisha Franz/Drawn & Quarterly

by Arpad Okay. Despite the title, the spell Aisha Franz casts over her readers obscures. It is easy to lose one’s self in her world, where life and dreams, hard luck and coincidence, the real and unchecked fantasy blend. The real and the shit are inseparable.

And yet Shit is Real holds true to its name, a story as cold and hard and clear as the filth on the unwashed plates you left on the floor, the cat turd on your bed, the door in your face closed by your lover when they’re over you.

Things suck right now. Selma loses her man, quits her bad job. All she has is her friends, who are terrible, self-absorbed people, and the crack in her wall. On one end of things, a mattress on the floor, watching videos on your phone. From a step outside, through the crack in the wall, life seems a little on the empty side. On the other, that moment in the mirror when the outfit is good, the hair is right, a tiny smile acknowledges every piece falling into place. In that moment, beauty, perfection, grace.

Selma is an Alice, slipping through the breach to steal the life of an enigmatic stranger. By coincidence, her new apartment shares a wall with one of the lunch date lovers she watches fall apart from across the booths. They both feed the same cat. The both brush lives with the same man. Slowly, Selma begins to take over this other girl’s life. Millennial squalor-cum-boredom transforms into art parties and rooftop coitus and boujee hedonism.

All the while, dreaming. The fat-faced fish cowers in its castle. What makes this book so surreal and distinct is the seamless transitions, from relatable experience (not being able to use a power tool and barely being able to put up with fake-ass friends) to dreams—about post-apocalyptic absurdist slave labor or being displayed in a restaurant aquarium or having sex with the guy you saw getting dumped at said restaurant.

Normalcy gets lost when the mundane tips into misdemeanor crime. Sneaking house pets into public places, wearing your neighbor’s clothes. Shit is Real is how close we all are to losing control of our lives, illustrated by Selma obliterating hers. Dropping out of the rhythm of life is easier than you’d think. Clawing up out of it, less so.

Franz’s compelling art style stands defiant of modern slick aesthetics. Shit is Real is built on delicate pencils, simple geometric figures, heavy black gutters, art brut. Very thin lines everywhere except for black, black eyes and blacker eyebrows. Doll-faced, vaguely akin to Darger’s Vivian Girls, but with neo-retro hipster style. I love Franz’s ability to get expressions of shock, disbelief, and confusion to come across. She ekes tension from a veneer of childishness.

Simon Hanselmann makes comics like this, as does Lisa Hanawalt. And Shit is Real reads that way, an exploration of identity in society, a book about the self cloaked in black humor and light psychedelics. This weird mix of cosmic journey and existential breakdown has a classic small press comic feel, but Franz pens it with modern nuance.

The experience is ours. Cigarettes and couture. Puking on the floor of a stranger’s apartment. When a crowd of peers who aren’t interested in a thing you have to say expect you to buy a round, a price tag that will blow your budget for months, and you just ghost. That shit is real.

The crushing depression that is trying to find a reason to live day to day in this empty modern world. All the hoops to jump through, all the blockades others throw in front of us. And, fleetingly, the little moments of comfort. I don’t know if there’s peace in Shit is Real. I don’t know if Selma comes to terms with anything. In a dream, she has the Sisyphean task of rolling a boulder up a hill. It’s hard, but she does it, and moves on to the next boulder.

Drawn & Quarterly / $24.95

Written by Aisha Franz.

Illustrated by Aisha Franz.

Translated by Nicholas Houde.

Enjoy this 5-page preview of ‘Shit is Real’, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly!

More Required Reading…

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