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Two Nostalgic, Fiercely Feminist Graphic Novels

TIME ZONE J, by Julie Doucet

FLUNG OUT OF SPACE: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith, by Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer


Goodness gracious: Julie Doucet has a new graphic novel out! This is staggering news. Renowned since the ’90s for the brutally frank, aggressively complex “Dirty Plotte” as well as numerous other books, Doucet quit drawing more than 20 years ago. This long quiet period has, naturally, accorded her a staggering level of prestige in the comics world. Just last month she became the third woman ever awarded the Grand Prix lifetime achievement award at the distinguished Angoulême International Comics Festival.

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Not surprisingly, her new work, TIME ZONE J (Drawn & Quarterly, 144 pp., $29.95), is about memory — specifically, a particular cluster of memories from back when she was still making comics. She digs up and spreads out her recollections of a love affair she embarked on in 1989, when she was first drawing “Dirty Plotte.” She spreads them out quite literally, in fact: She fills up every page completely, drawing across page boundaries and even smudging onto the book’s uncut edges, as if she’s working on a single long scroll. That’s one of many ways “Time Zone J” establishes its space on the pavement. With dense compositions rendered in thick black ink (Doucet still draws as she did in the ’90s, as if she’s trying to blast through your skull and stamp her emblem on your brain), this is a book that won’t be ignored or denied.

It’s a little bit sad, then, that it dropped on the same day as another, somewhat less impactful feminist book — this one by two relative youngsters. Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer’s FLUNG OUT OF SPACE: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith (Abrams ComicArts, 199 pp., $24.99) doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by an icon’s spectacular re-emergence. It’s a deftly told, funny and sad tale of a great lesbian writer’s struggle to find herself amid the collective psychological lockdown of the late 1940s and ’50s. Before she sold “Strangers on a Train” to Hollywood and created “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Highsmith wrote comic books (some for the great Stan Lee, pre-Marvel) to afford conversion therapy. “Flung Out of Space” is practically an anti-“Plotte.” Drawn with a stylus, its lines are tidy and smooth, not jittery and barely leashed like Doucet’s. It’s biography rather than memoir, impersonal rather than self-absorbed. Even the fact that it’s the work of a writer-artist team sets it apart from Doucet’s ’90s auteurism.

Templer’s spare lines may not be as emotive as Doucet’s, but they’re ideal for this midcentury story. She eliminates the grottiness that would have characterized places like Marie’s, the gay bar Highsmith visits; her sterile spaces reflect Highsmith’s alienation and physical deprivation. Templer seems influenced by Annie Goetzinger, whose “Girl in Dior” also had a clean, midcentury look and setting. Templer’s work is more stylized than Goetzinger’s, and she infuses her characters with more idiosyncrasy and energy. When Highsmith encounters the woman who will inspire her touchstone lesbian novel “The Price of Salt” — a goddess in full ’50s feminine drag, radiantly filling up a full page — well. Nobody could have done it better.

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