Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘About Betty’s Boob′ HC, out now from Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.
by Arpad Okay. About Betty’s Boob is a visually lush problem play that could make Buster Keaton crack a smile. A very vintage tale of body positivity gained the hard way. Of cruel fate and kind chance. Burlesque, cartoons, tragedy, comedy, and some low-key adventures. A story of Betty’s rebirth, despite everything.
We are dropped into Betty’s story long after it’s begun. Put-on wig. Freak out over stitched-up absence. Demand one’s boob back. The reader is allowed to hit the ground running without issue, but Betty’s been dealing with it for some time before we came around. Mastectomies don’t occur on a whim. Betty saw this coming. Betty was ready.
Her life wasn’t. Things fall apart, and Betty is chasing her lover, her stability, and her identity. The prosthetics she uses to fit in with the normal world just aren’t cutting it. But then: burlesque. Body positivity is found in the world of the taboo. Love and respect abounds from the acolytes of Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Beth Ditto, and more.
Beyond straight burlesque, About Betty’s Boob is a vaudeville story that takes visual cues from silent films and early cartoons and adds that pinch of spice that can only be found in sequential art. Physical appearance is warped by emotion. People melt under pressure. They turn into monsters with rage. Eyes shoot actual daggers. The space in bed between two lovers who don’t touch grows to fill the width of a page. Word balloons contain icons instead of sentences.
There’s pantomime and color cues and visual gags out the wazoo. The hound in pursuit stops for the red sitting dog crosswalk light. The owner of Ollivander’s (of artisanal fake boobs) sports a voluptuous, Eiko Ishioka Dracula wig. The burlesque show is an endless parade of whimsy and puns.
The artwork in About Betty’s Boob is simply breathtaking.
Let’s dwell in a moment or two. There’s a scene early on of Betty doing a dancer’s spin into a lovers’ embrace that is six of her side by side, each a step in the dance, half detailed drawings, half transparent silhouettes. The two page haunted house spread (I see you, walrus Cab Calloway) tells its story without panels, multiple Bettys running in a disastrous loop.
If the artwork defies conventions, the colors elevate them. Watch emotional fruits ripen, the berries of color come into their fullness when Betty embraces herself, or wash out muddy and faded when the mood spoils. The palette is a garden of desaturated blood orange, the faint cool of lavender, intrusive lime, aged apricot.
The art is retro sophisticated. Unabashed cartoonery. Vintage patterns and touches to the art that harken back to the Jazz Age. Yet it’s very modern European, boutiques against old building backdrops populated with high fashion characters, criminals, and soubrettes.
The pages are crowded with images, texture, movement, and physical manifestations of emotion, though the expert use of color keeps the density from feeling cluttered. The lettering is expressive pop art that melts into the scene so naturally I can’t tell where the writer and artist’s work ends and the translator and letterer’s work begins. The line between the delicate contour pencils and layers of coloring is practically indistinguishable. Black is just another crayon in the box.
Though it certainly does, the point of About Betty’s Boob is not to titillate or tickle. Betty was comfortable with her body before her mastectomy. She wants that back, not her boob. She wants to come to terms with what happened to her in a positive way. About Betty’s Boob is strength in the face of defeat. Humor and happiness in times of trouble.
Burlesque is the answer, the alternative body politic at odds with the mainstream. No judgments, all sizes, identities, persuasions, and packages. An intersectional space, unlike Betty’s lost job. The ladies there also come in all different sizes, but with only one breast, Betty was an outsider.
The problem goes beyond her employer’s insistence on a uniformity of boobs. Thinking of one breast as “only” one breast is the real problem Betty must face. About Betty’s Boob is really about Betty. Finding the power in herself, a community that supports her growth and flourishes because of her inclusion, and a world that is moved by her resilience.
Written by Véro Cazot.
Art by Julie Rocheleau.
Lettered by Deron Bennett.
Translated by Edward Gauvin.
US edition edited by Sierra Hahn and Amanda LaFranco.