Way back in 2011, I happened upon En Gingerboom’s What Is It Katy? after reviewing one of Gingerboom’s other comics. We were but a few episodes in at that point, but it immediately had my attention, something surface cute yet with, potentially, a lot of darkness once you get beneath that surface.
Since I looked at it, there’s been a successful IndieGoGo fundraiser for a print version taking the whole story published online and adding an epilogue that puts everything into a completely new and absolutely definitive light.
Gingerboom has taken something that mixed a quirky cuteness and sense of unease, and delivered a complete, rounded tale. It nearly, but not quite, works to perfection.
But first, a little background….
The set-up is this:
“Katy is on a train journey to a not-so-far-off destination, you have limited time to speak with her before her stop. What will you ask Katy?
An experimental comic removed from anything I normally do that requires maximum audience participation to find out Katy’s story.”
And this was that first strip:
The next strip starts with a question from Gingerboom; “What Is It Katy?“. Each strip following this starts with a reader’s question; “Why are you scared of the sea?”, “Do you think you’d still be scared of the sea if you could swim?”, “Do you have bad memories of the sea?”, “What are you colouring in?”, “Did something happen to your parents?”…. on and on, each time Katy answers, each time Gingerboom manipulates the readership to engineer the direction to take Katy, and slowly, outside the carriage, the rain comes down and the sky darkens, mirroring the creeping unease we’re all getting from Katy now.
Something’s not right, and Katy’s journey, her parents putting her on alone….. it’s important, we just aren’t sure how yet, Katy’s not sure why yet either, but she needs to work it out, that much she’s knows.
Gingerboom takes this easily created darkness and does a great job of not overdoing it. What Is It Katy? worked online, and it works collected here in print, the immediacy of being able to turn the page for the next question more than compensating for the anticipation in waiting for the next question to be asked online.
It’s also a lovely, simple looking comic. The background shifts ever so subtly, but what really holds your attention here is the tight, closed body language of Katy, locked into herself, knees and elbows tight, not comfortable at all. It’s very, very effective, you’re instantly there with the character, wanting to help, wishing to find out more. The simplicity makes it work.
It’s an introspective, philosophical work, and at its very best it becomes something beautiful, transformative, where the reader’s mind is filling in so much that it almost becomes a joint work far beyond the call and response question/answer game. This is about choice, about life, about letting go, about so much more. And Gingerboom does such a great job of not overdoing it, letting the reader take more and more from it, simply by not laying everything out on a plate.
I’m not going to give any of the ending away, because it’s lovely, and it works, and it’s something I want you to experience.
But I do have a problem with the print version, specifically those extra epilogue pages, and Gingerboom’s text piece to finish the book. Because here all that wonderful openendedness of the finale is closed off, everything laid out before you, absolutely, definitively, a set meaning that everyone must adhere to.
Personally I found the epilogue, as pleasing and final as it was, something that stripped away so much of what made it so impressive, robbed me of the magic of creating a story for Katy.
It might just be me, but I wish Gingerboom would have left it as it was online, would have left it open, not answered everything, allowed us to imagine so much more. That way just felt so much more powerful.