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Personal Growth (review)

Creator: Sarah Milne

Amplified Press, February 2022

In his spare time (and it is not much of a secret to regular readers after WCBR’s ongoing life span of six years) this reviewer is an intellectual property lawyer. The copyright notice on this comic, entitled Personal Growth, ends with a singularly unique sentence: “Breakfast of Champignons”. (This has no mitigating effect upon legality of the notice.)

Thus we are introduced to a quirky and poignant story about fungus and love, written and drawn by an Australian creator, Sarah Milne. The cartoon art is cute and dark, especially in so far as they visually describe the mushrooms which feature throughout this story. From conical to ovate to umbonate, they all get a role, and some are anthropomorphised into representations of the anonymous title character’s desire and loss. It should be little surprise that the mushrooms’ caps are uniformly a symbolic red. 

Sometimes the art, with its creases and murkiness, gives us the impression that the main character is swimming in despair.

And so we reach the text. It is profound monologue. Longing is love with nowhere to run, save for the talented ones who can channel the flow onto a page. Themes of loss of love are common enough, but here we have nuanced shapes in the depths of longing: there is unhealthy obsession, but there is rationality and small ripples of healing. “I get one hundred years tops, and how much of that time am I going to spend thinking about you… when I’m pretty sure you aren’t thinking about me?”

Some of the monologue curls around the reader’s heart like the tendril fungus Ms Milne describes as spreading and communicating in our biosphere, an ability which Ms Milne ponders in her desire to reach out to the one she has lost. She knows she could not resist: “If I could summon you with a thought. I don’t know if I could stop myself from doing it. Even if it meant burying those hooks again. It’s not healthy I know. I know that’s why you don’t pick up when I call”.

In her afterward, Ms Milne notes that she intended for the story to be a missive about food, but this was overtaken by her penchant for horror. Oddly, then, we did not read Personal Growth as a horror story despite the main character’s icky final fate of being subsumed by mushrooms. (Or is she subsumed by loss?) Romantic symbolism and the indicia of horror often swirl together: every heart bleeds, after all.

There is a type of mushroom shape called “infundibuliform” describing a cap which is depressed. We do not see any of that on this story. Not really. 

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