Disclaimer: WWAC received a review copy of this zine from the artist.
If It Were Socially Acceptable is an innocuous-looking minicomic. The bright yellow cover features a little snake with legs, sitting on the ground and wearing a goofy smile. Readers flipping immediately to the back will find an adorable picture of artist Sage Coffey, aged maybe five or six, riding a pretty rad mini-Vespa and looking very cool. Perhaps the only hint that this is not just a silly, lighthearted zine is the snake’s left eye. Heavy lidded and aimed at the ground, it carries a sadness that hints at the emotional punch packed into this comic.
The snake with legs is the protagonist and narrator of If It Were Socially Acceptable. Each page follows the same formula: the phrase from the title sits at the top, and our snake friend describes an action that they wish wouldn’t earn them judgment or shame. Many of these are relatable—like wanting to order off the kid’s menu as an adult, it’s so much cheaper!—and Coffey paces the comic beautifully. The rhythm is similar to a read-aloud children’s picture book with a repeating phrase, and the snake’s demonstration of each socially unacceptable act is like the reader’s enigmatic reaction, bringing the words to life.
Coffey’s illustrations are incredibly endearing. While the snake with legs on the cover is made of clay (or Play-Doh?!) the snakes with legs inside the comic are black ink, and Coffey injects an impressive amount of emotion into a seemingly simple animal. Humans do appear in the comic, and they are equally charming, with rounded chins, varied silhouettes, and a few interesting hats.
Tone and pacing are central to the success of this zine. The list of socially unacceptable acts starts off simple, but Coffey slowly adds in more serious, emotional acts and feelings. By the end, the zine has grown quieter, and the happy, sometimes-dancing, snake reveals several familiar, but difficult truths that we usually keep under wraps. Much of the power behind zines is their vulnerability and fearlessness; zinesters put raw emotions on a page so that readers can see their darker humanity reflected. Coffey has accomplished this act of capturing dark emotions with great skill, and their zine is something a reader can come back to at rough moments.
If It Were Socially Acceptable is available as a pay-what-you-want digital zine on Coffey’s gumroad! They are also currently collecting an anthology called Sweaty Palms, which will feature comics about anxiety. If you, like me, are really really excited for that, look out for the Kickstarter in August!