Between Gears

(2012)
Between Gears book cover

Review in brief: A comic book enthusiast and artist documents her senior year in college a page a day. Strongest recommendation to students interested in becoming artists themselves, but recommended generally to those between the ages of 14 and 35. The full review starts now.

I don't think there's any way for me to describe Natalie Nourigat's Between Gears in a way that conveys how much I enjoyed it.

Nourigat took on the ambitious project of creating a page-a-day graphic novel diary of her senior year at the University of Oregon. The ambitiousness of the project comes through the story of this year, as you learn that she has a thesis to write in addition to jobs to apply for, commissions to finish, and cons to attend--which involves lots of preparation in creating and printing artwork, minicomics, and so on. And then there's life--a necessary tonsillectomy, family visits, relationships with friends and her sorority to maintain, dating, college classes, ridiculous neighbors you only find in campustown, some dating, alley cats, partying, TV shows, movies, music, and her intense appreciation for fashion and shopping. Some entries are fun--drunk Natalie or Natalie being harassed by her responsible side are particularly amusing. Other entries are deep and emotional--one that comes to mind presents three gray, still images and the simple line, "Why do I feel this way?"

I was not an art student in college. I was not a woman in college, not part of any Greek organization, and not particularly social and into parties. But I found this story highly-relatable and authentically reminiscent of my senior year in college--on a basic level, being a college student can be a universal experience. Compound this feeling of connection by the little window Nourigat gives you into her personal life, and I challenge you not to fall in love with her a little bit.

And this says nothing about her artwork. Her style is fun and flexible, veering from realism to chibi depending on the tone she wants to create and this harmonizes brilliantly with whatever context she depicts. At times, her work brings to mind Craig Thompson, Kazu Kibuishi, and occasionally Adrian Tomine. At other times, I feel like I'm reading a well-drawn manga. But the style is uniquely hers, and recognizably so.

While I honestly feel that anyone could pick this up and enjoy it, I think readers between 14 and 35 would get the most out of it. This diary was composed in 2010, and Nourigat makes pop culture references that may be out of reach to older readers--heck, I wouldn't be able to identify the Pokemon theme song if my younger brother hadn't watched it growing up. To younger readers, those not yet Freshman in high school, college may seem to be a distant daydream, and they may be uninterested in classes, papers and the like. High schoolers and college students will appreciate this glimpse into Senior year, and those who've graduate in the last decade-and-a-half will enjoy reliving the experience in someone else's shoes.

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