Rebecca Kraatz’s House Of Sugar is a part of that genre that’s a bit of a sticky wicket for me: the autobiographical strip. Frankly, I’d grown very tired of hearing about the minor details of someone growing up and having either A) too-twee realizations about their lives or B) unearthing their secrets in a way that made them more revolting than compelling. Thankfully, I’ve come across two exceptions to this in the recent past: Fun Home and House of Sugar1. The first, of course, you already know about and it doesn’t really need any more discussion outside of read the goddamn thing. The thing most people remember about House of Sugar is the fact that Diamond refused to carry it, instead thinking that the comics market could probably do with more Lady Death variants. After pressure from the fans, Diamond recanted this decision and put it in Previews. Was it worth the fuss? Emphatically, yes.
Kraatz is separated from most autobiographical and journal-driven cartoonists by a number of factors. Her interests are unique and put on display with a great deal of charm: she’s enamored by the past and dedicates several strips in House of Sugar to seemingly-mundane things like hairstyles and actors of the 40s, pulling them off with a great deal of panache. She also is unflinching when talking about herself and the oddball incidents that we all have buried in our past. Kraatz is straightforward and brave in her narratives, managing to avoid being too twee whether talking about the cruelty of her childhood “friends” or dedicating a strip to an actress’s hands. A personal favorite of mine is the Hooked Rug Incident, probably because my own mother made those horrible things and the tool utilized seemed to beckon to me, advising self-mutilation.
I know I talk about writing and structure a lot, but Kraatz’s art is definitely worth taking notice of. It’s deceptively simple and shows that the artist is unafraid of thick lines – something I’ve become more and more fond of lately. Her work frequently captures an impression of someone better than an actual likeness would much of the time. For instance, I found Kraatz’s drawing of Robert Mitchum in one strip better than any photograph; he was an actor that looked best in motion, and she captures that odd half-moment between frames somehow and instantly sealed how I view him.
1I read the usually-quite-delightful True Story Swear To God in trade paperback format. Tom Beland needs to get another book out tout suite.