I Thought You Hated Me
Retrofit/Big Planet Comics
September 21, 2016
MariNaomi has had quite a year, hitting two different pillars of comics storytelling with Turning Japanese and the newer I Thought You Hated Me.
I already talked about in my “Inspiring Women Comics Creators Today” contribution about how much I loved Turning Japanese. There’s a huge question in media about what makes books universal, particularly because “universal” often seems to translate to books by and about cisgender, heterosexual white men. But Turning Japanese is unquestionably universal because finding your heritage is always frustrating; you can never recover everything your family may have lost after immigrating to a new country.
However, MariNaomi’s new release, I Thought You Hated Me, has a very different theme and doesn’t hit that same universality. Oh, it’s certainly important. We don’t have enough books or comics about nuanced female friendships with all their bumps and bruises as well as their sweet spots. And many women who have experienced similar friendships to the one depicted in this book will love it. But as a woman who hasn’t, I Thought You Hated Me left me cold.
As a child, I had social anxiety–misunderstood by most people as shyness, a cutesy characteristic I no longer believe exists–and this led to a lot of traumatic events with girls my age. I didn’t just think girls who were supposed to be my friends hated me; they definitely hated me. And not the kind of hatred where MariNaomi’s friend Mirabai eventually matures from as they age.
For the rest of my childhood and into my teenage years, I wobbled between having nearly no friends and suffering loneliness that impacts me still today to having a semi-comfortable friend group. I don’t talk to any of my high school friends anymore. In fact, I didn’t make any strong, lasting friendships until senior year of university. So there is no Mirabai in my life who many years ago on the school playground tied her shoes to mine or held my hair back as I puked into the trash at a high school party. I can’t tie any warm memories to the ones MariNaomi so lovingly draws.
On top of that, MariNaomi’s cartooning in I Thought You Hated Me contains mostly grid page layouts, making her approach to this comic much more traditional than in past projects. Her work here is still as expressive as ever, evoking so much information in few, simple lines. The cartooning here is superb in that it doesn’t need to be anything more than it is and that takes an amazing amount of restraint that an artist only gains after years of practice.
However, back to universality, the traditional approach sacrifices MariNaomi’s nontraditional elements, which is her standout feature in Turning Japanese and several of her other comics. When MariNaomi gets experimental, she goes for the abstract. And her abstract hits best when depicting internal conflict.
So although we see much of the external emotions in this comic, in the characters’ postures and the lines in their faces, we see less of the internal abstract. Because the abstract has no one meaning and depends entirely on the viewer’s subjective interpretation, it is universal in that everyone can get something out of it. As such, the art in I Thought You Hated Me relies on the reader personally relating to it as much as the book’s subject does. If you don’t relate to the subject, you’re at a loss while reading the book.
There’s much to be said, however, in that MariNaomi has such a wide range in her work. Despite the varied reactions readers will have toward this comic based on their own life experiences, she is certainly an accomplished cartoonist. So if you’re a woman who has a close friendship that has lasted many years, you can probably get a good read out of I Thought You Hated Me. But if you’re not, like me, maybe read Turning Japanese instead.