Is the influencer dead? Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? Rachael Cohen (colorist), Leslie Hung (artist), Bryan Lee O'Malley (writer), Mare Odomo (letterer) Image Comics May 20, 2020 2020 has been the year of cultural reckonings, among them a recalibration of our relationships with celebrities and influencers. Whether it’s Arielle Charnas unboxing Louis Vuitton
Is the influencer dead?
Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life?
Rachael Cohen (colorist), Leslie Hung (artist), Bryan Lee O’Malley (writer), Mare Odomo (letterer)
May 20, 2020
2020 has been the year of cultural reckonings, among them a recalibration of our relationships with celebrities and influencers. Whether it’s Arielle Charnas unboxing Louis Vuitton products after a COVID test or Naomi Davis and her family fleeing New York City’s stay-at-home orders in a rented RV like the world’s most Instagrammable escapees of The Walking Dead, influencers’ responses to the pandemic have only exposed massive privilege and inequality at a time when people are really fucking pissed off at that shit. While the rest of us are trying to survive a reality-warping pandemic, their carefully curated aesthetics and #goodvibesonly platitudes have proven to be as substantive as a snot bubble.
In short, it’s a really weird time to read a comic book about the struggles of image-obsessed influencers. So, let’s talk about Snotgirl!
The third volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung’s snot-green satire follows the allergy-prone fashion blogger Lottie Person in sunbaked Los Angeles. Lottie’s fallen for the effortlessly cool Caroline, but even after a kiss at Lottie’s popup goes viral, real intimacy proves elusive. Also troubling our green-haired gamine? The sudden intrusion of her more famous sister, a bachelor party from hell, and a cop with a weird obsession. Oh, and Caroline and her brothers may be a family of immortal killers. Not quite clear on that yet! But if Lottie’s not careful, the influencer really will be dead.
Snotgirl vol. 3 collects issues that were originally published between 2018-2020; though the series couldn’t have predicted COVID-19, it still exists in its shadow. Issue #15, the final issue before the current hiatus, was published on March 11, right before the U.S. entered lockdown. It might as well have drawn a line between “Then” and “Now” with a tube of bright red lipstick.
And since Snotgirl is a book that thrives on being about the now—right down to the captions giving us daily temperature updates as a summer heatwave rages—it’s fascinating that it already feels like a time capsule of pre-COVID life. Remember having brunch with your friends? Going to nightclubs? Popup shops? Pool parties? Fashion Week??? When Lottie stages a meet-and-greet, hugging and taking selfies with an endless line of crying, maskless girls, it’s as ominous as Gwyneth Paltrow’s first coughs in Contagion.
Luckily, Hung and O’Malley have created a book that works even when the “real life” it’s spoofing no longer exists. If Influencer culture is about yearning—yearning for the perfect body, wardrobe, house, vacation, life—it’s hard not to sympathize with Lottie as she yearns for a romance that’s deeper than the callow, transactional relationships that make up most of her life.
Comic books are an ideal medium for a story about influencers. Carefully posed still images of beautiful people, paired with pithy captions? That’s comics, baby. We’re looking at people who want to be looked at—until they don’t. Snotgirl vol. 3 is bookended by issues that begin with Lottie’s tortured dreams. Fantasizing about Caroline, her literal dream woman (“She’s iconic. She’s perfect. She’s a goddess. And she’s finally mine”), Lottie is distraught to look out beyond the fourth wall and see the faceless masses examining her most intimate moments with their phones in hand. When she dreams of her wedding day, Caroline strutting down the petal-strewn aisle in a killer cream-colored suit, Lottie finds herself coldly locked out of her fantasy, on the wrong side of the screen—with us.
O’Malley and Hung understand the strange rituals of bloggers and influencers better than most mainstream creators who dare to touch them (remember the Dagger Type fiasco? Miles Morales saying “We’re lit”?) and feel more plugged-in to our current world than the creators who ignore it (where’s Mary Jane Watson’s unstable molecules-infused athleisure line? Her blue and red eyeshadow palettes at Sephora?). It’s harder than it looks to make a book about fake people feel real, and nothing captures the unique horror of being forever Logged On than a splash page of Lottie determinedly painting her toenails while headlines, texts, and tweets from “jodie comer punch me” explode around her like fireworks.
Leslie Hung’s artwork is slyly, stylishly delicious; there’s possibly no other mainstream artist in serialized comics who understands the importance of clothing in establishing mood, setting, and characterization. Her details are as exact as they are enviable—look at Cutegirl’s purple, bat-themed outfit, complete with headpiece and matching phone case—and are enhanced by Rachael Cohen’s California-warm, candy-sweet color palette. I sigh over the glittering montage of Lottie trying on outfits before her date with Caroline, posing like a pinup and snapping selfies; I die over Lottie falling asleep in her underwear, her clothes piled up on the bed, and then running out the door in the first dress she grabs after a text wakes her up. Influencers: They’re just like us!
Sometimes, the real world intrudes on the reading. Lottie’s sister, Rosie “Fumichan” Person, was a cast member of the Japanese reality show (its name partially hidden by a caption box) Terrace House; when the issue was first published, Terrace House was enjoying international acclaim for its idyllic, seemingly honest depiction of everyday life, an image destroyed in May 2020 when cast member Hana Kimura committed suicide after experiencing abuse on social media. A veil now hangs over Rosie’s scenes, which reveal a complicated relationship with the show and a struggle to adjust when the cameras are off. A single panel encapsulates the divide in her personality: a smiling “Rosie” does yoga in front of a big screen image of “Fumichan” whose subtitles read: “My mood right now? Apocalyptic.”
Snotgirl struts down the catwalk between (in the back-cover’s terms) “high stakes drama” and “buffoonery,” a suspended existence that will resonate for Millennial and Gen Z readers. The possibly supernatural threat of Caroline and her brothers lingers in the background, adding an element of dread because even the “perfect” Caroline is really a bloody mess. Snotgirl couldn’t see the future, but in a weird way it feels prepared for it, as all the characters are smiling their way through their own little apocalypses—except for Cutegirl, who is undefeatable and will bury us all. Nothing in this book got a bigger, darker laugh out of me than the reveal that Lottie and her swanky L.A. friends are blithely attending an outdoor wedding while wildfires rage on behind them. (The one thing my wedding was missing? Cutegirl and her Bichon Frise giving a fire safety presentation in an interpretive dance.)
A global pandemic seems only a green hair’s breadth away from the chaos that is this blogger’s life. Who knows what the world will look like when Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung bring Snotgirl back from hiatus! But I bet at her next popup, Lottie will have her own line of branded masks.