Bryan Lee O’Malley (Writer), Leslie Hung (Artist), Mickey Quinn (Colors), and Mare Odomo (Letters)
July 20, 2016
A pretty girl sits on her bed crying after a disastrous night out, her bright green hair the same color as the snot streaming down her face. This is Lottie Person, star of Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung’s Snotgirl, and she wouldn’t want you to meet her this way. A popular Los Angeles fashion blogger, Lottie projects an image of effortless beauty that hides her raging insecurity. Though only 25, she’s a veteran blogger beginning to feel the gnawing, Showgirls-like fear that someone younger and hungrier is coming up behind her. Estranged from her boyfriend and ditched by her friends, Lottie falls under the sway of the chic Caroline, whom she dubs Coolgirl—and there the story takes a dark, unexpected turn.
Oh, and then there’s the snot. Secretly, Lottie suffers from terrible allergies that leave her eyes watery and her face stuffed with snot. It’s not cute. The snot is the weird, goopy elephant in the room when talking about this comic—admit it, you kind of wrinkled your nose in disgust when you first read the title—but O’Malley and Hung use Lottie’s allergies more as a sign of vulnerability than a source of gross-out gags. “You can’t see me this way,” reads Lottie’s troubled narration. “This Lottie doesn’t exist.” She’s a flesh and blood person rather than a sentient Instagram filter, and as much as Lottie wants to hide her weaknesses, in the end it all comes spilling out (ew, sorry.)
Snotgirl is the first ongoing series from Bryan Lee O’Malley, and it has a surprisingly grounded beginning. There are no magic mushrooms or video game battles here, though O’Malley once again makes the reader sympathize with a protagonist who’s young, self-absorbed, and in her own words, a monster. More Veronica than Betty, Lottie is vain and image-obsessed, but her desire for outward perfection hides a lacerating loneliness. It’s a familiar kind of sadness for anyone who’s ever checked out an ex’s Snapchat or felt like an imposter in a crowded bar, and O’Malley and Hung are excellent at conveying the disconnection between Lottie’s glamorous online life and her inexperienced reality. Recognizing her unhappiness, Lottie embraces her new relationship with the down-to-earth Caroline like a drowning woman seizing a raft, but the end of this first issue leaves it open whether change is possible for Lottie—or if she deserves it.
The script has a few first issue hiccups, notably in an early scene where Lottie introduces herself to two admiring girls: “Yes, I’m Lottie. I am she!” It’s the kind of stilted, “wait, who talks like that?” dialogue that makes me worry that a Time magazine article about millennials is going to break out, and it doesn’t help that the girls have mistaken her for someone on Game of Thrones. Who on Thrones has neon green hair? Still, one of the big joys of Snotgirl is O’Malley once again bringing fashion to the forefront of comics. Seconds and Scott Pilgrim both had a keen eye for fashion, a rarity in a medium that frequently condemns female characters to a purgatory of bare midriffs and bootcut jeans. Ramona Flowers is an evergreen cosplay favorite because her wardrobe is fun, and even Scott Pilgrim’s nerdy t-shirts were carefully chosen to say something about his character (note Scott’s Fantastic Four “4 ½” shirt, which aligned him with the perpetually childlike Franklin Richards instead of the adult heroes).
Leslie Hung draws Lottie and her fellow fashion bloggers as languid, long-limbed beauties popping with personality and character. Snotgirl is a beautiful comic that I found myself flipping through again and again, appreciating every pouting lip and significant glance. In a comic populated almost entirely by women, none of them feel insignificant or interchangeable, and though we haven’t seen much of Lottie’s fellow fashion bloggers Normgirl and Cutegirl yet, they feel like part of a fully-realized world. I’m reminded a bit of Kyoko Okazaki’s josei manga Helter Skelter, which starred another “monstrous” woman in the fashion industry, and was also filled with blood, tears, and yes, snot. Mickey Quinn’s colors give us a glossy, sparkling Los Angeles, and she finds the perfect snotty shade of green for Lottie’s hair.
Fashion is a key component of Snotgirl even when Lottie isn’t blogging—for example, notice the juxtaposition between Lottie and Caroline when they enter the whiskey bar. Lottie is excited but overdressed in a pink, kittenish miniskirt and matching top, while Caroline is relaxed and casual in luxe cropped joggers and a bomber jacket. Their clothing reveals their characters right down to their shoes, with Lottie’s pom pom-topped heels almost comical compared to Caroline’s slip-on sneakers (and oh, the significance of the bomber jacket that ends up laid over Lottie’s shoulders, and the other Sapphic hints that will hopefully be developed as the series goes on). At a glance we can tell from their clothing that Lottie is beautiful but trying too hard for her surroundings, while Caroline fits in effortlessly. I can’t remember the last time I paid attention to a comic book character’s shoes, which is a testament to how superbly designed this comic is.
If Snotgirl’s art stumbles at all, it’s that it isn’t quite clear in depicting action and motion. In particular, there’s one crucial scene near the end of the issue that I had to re-read in order to understand what had happened to a certain character, and the scene felt more ambiguous than perhaps intended. Still, Snotgirl is worth reading, and then reading again, to better absorb the stunning art and the intriguing, unpredictable plot. I flipped back to the first page of the comic, with Lottie crying on her bed, and noticed one ominous detail I’d almost overlooked. Lottie’s face isn’t just dripping with snot—there are flecks of blood on her face, too. Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung’s Snotgirl is a bittersweet cocktail of a comic.