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Swimsuit (review)

Creator: Rachel Ang

Glom Press, 2018

Australian comic book publisher Glom Press had a presence at the 2022 Perth Comics Arts Festival, and this critic picked up two of the house’s titles, Psychic Hotline (which we will review next week) and the remarkable Swimsuit.

Here is the amazingly brief promotional copy for Swimsuit, from the website of Glom Press:

Jenny catches up with a former flame at the local pool. The sun is bright and casts dark shadows in the water. There is violence even in this mundane place – a whirlpool through which Jenny swims, even as it pulls her under.

Is there a misrepresentation in classifying such a profound, emotionally ripped text as Swimsuit as merely a “romance”? We pigeon-hole titles into genres for ease of location on this website. “Romance” texts are traditionally regarded as fluffy. Heartbreak in 1960s romance titles involves a pop Lichenstein-type panel such as “Drowning Girl (1962)”, some stylised American beauty weeping with rejection.

But Swimsuit is a romance, the worst kind of romance, with hooked thorns and serrated indifference. Jenny’s nameless ex-boyfriend says all the wrong things, without meaning any harm and unconsciously bereft of empathy. Almost each sentence is a battering ram swinging into Jenny’s resilience. The new girlfriend, Emily, is pretty, as evidenced in the photo he shows Jenny, helps injured animals and is into yoga. Jenny’s ex-boyfriend has forgotten that he and Jenny went on a visit to a place where the ex-boyfriend subsequently, happily travelled to with Emily. Making memories is a thing for now, not the past. Other idle chit-chat somehow makes it worse, clumsy efforts to normalise a relationship which cannot be normalised. Even the location is wrong – who catches up with an ex at a public swimming pool, with the vulnerability of wearing next to nothing and the reminder of once-familiar skin? It is awkward for the reader, and awkward for Jenny to the point of emotional pain.

A pointless fight breaks out in the pool between some boys and a thin dark-skinned youth is assaulted and is (nearly?) drowned. Jenny and her boyfriend sit by as an audience, the worst kind of witnesses, those who stare and do nothing when confronted by something horrible and wrong. As a reader, you shake your head at their inaction. They are both useless, failing to help the boy and failing to help each other and themselves. By the end of the comic, writer and artist Rachel Ang makes it clear that Jenny has also drowned from the visit to the pool, the submarine crush for which tears are an inadequate response.

Little wonder this masterful comic was the winner of 2019 Silver Ledger Award.