the following blog post is an expanded-upon scrapped almost-comment on page 55 of gray Folie's webcomic drop-out. this is less a structured review or essay, and more me musing on what i feel is an overlooked theme in Folie's first longform comic. spoiler warning, the link above takes you to the middle of the comic, and this blog post also discusses/links to in-story and post-canon spoilers. in addition, content warning for this blog post and the comic regarding discussion of suicide and various bigotries, namely homophobia, transphobia, and anti-intersex discrimination.
a while ago, i did a quick and dirty re-read of drop-out (mostly to look for panels to use as a new phone lockscreen to replace my 6 year old current lockscreen lol), and i think an under-discussed aspect of this comic is how much sugar (or maybe angel who then had a lot of influence on sugar) seems to have a certain part of Online stuck in her brain. or maybe not "stuck in her brain", but at the very least some of sugar's behaviours reminded me the circles of tumblr circa 2014-2016 focused on social justice and, for lack of a better word, "validity culture".
it makes sense with her personality generally, but something about how in the last few panels of page 55, sugar anticipates how lola COULD react to her talking about how not looking androgynous means she feels she can’t be nonbinary — a lot of those statements could’ve been ripped straight from validation-style tumblr posts of 2014-15. this makes a lot of sense with the fact that the comic first started being published in late 2015. not to say that the ONLY reason sugar quickly corrects herself here is because of her frequent use of tumblr -- it's likely that as someone who is seen as delusional or otherwise incorrect in her assessment of the world around her, she has the kneejerk reaction to hedge her statements (see "it's at least a little rational..." on page 93 or "going off my meds always makes me cry over st[upid]- inconsequential shit" on page 43 or even, in the same conversation, "when i was- when i identified as genderqueer" on page 58) in a way that implies she's constantly being corrected on what she says by others, either directly (therapists, parents) or indirectly (tumblr posts not aimed at her that she internalizes anyways). sugar's habit of anticipating negative reactions of what she's saying as "problematic" isn't just limited to the main comic either. in cross-check, one of the first things sugar says to her then-girlfriend frankie is "my shirt's ~reclamatory~, so it's ok" regarding her shirt that reads "i'm crazy! i got a doctor's note!". while it's ambiguous whether sugar has been diagnosed with schizophrenia at this point in her life, she anticipates frankie (or nebulous, anonymous someone else watching her) giving her shit for wearing a shirt that she ostensibly can't "reclaim" on account of the word "crazy".
i also bring up the term "validity culture" because of what sugar says at the end of page 101 when discussing if life even has any meaning: lola talks about a friend who thinks people owe it to the people around them to continue living because of what people before you have sacrificed to get you to where you are, and sugar says "i don't owe anyone anything"; in the next page she carries on and says "people aren't entitled to you, or anyone...". another mainstay of that era of tumblr were blanket "you don't owe anyone anything" statements, usually in the context of bad/unfulfilling friendships or relationships, which has drawn critisism in certain circles of online more recently.
sugar also talks about how angel posted their suicide note online “on a queue”, aka tumblr’s queue function, and also i think about how miscellaneous sketches of angel often had them hunched over their phone or being an emo little antisocial teen (this is being said with affection since i was also like that). my read of angel was that they were given a space to spread their gender-wings around sugar, who was one of the few people who affirmed them by merit of being a “trans kind of butch” to quote the author, but had those wings forcibly stunted by their family, and
angel turned to tumblr as a place to try and get that validation — but you cant live exclusively online. being denied support offline and only being exposed to that particular era of tumblr is one of the things that killed angel, i think upon reviewing the angel development stream that gray did years back when drop-out was still running, i don't really think this is an accurate takeaway of mine anymore -- apparently angel was more of a reddit and 4chan user and lurked transphobic tumblr blogs to make themself feel worse. i do still stand by the rest of the paragraph though, especially regarding sugar's existence letting angel be at least a little bit out at trans and validated by it. i also do think that the Tumblr Culture of the era contributed to angel's suicidality, but in the opposite way, because of truscum/"true trans" blogs that made angel feel, to put it in tumblr terms, Not Valid/not trans enough.
this isn’t to say that real-life homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and anti-intersex bigotry didn’t have a key role to play in why sugar (and lola, and angel) is(/are) Like This — i still think those are primary issues here. but i think that stewing in a very particular type of tumblr circle that simultaneously gave these characters a chance to explore their gender and sexuality while ALSO intensifying suicidal feelings through shared (justified) misery gives us a frame for some of the dialogue and thought patterns sugar is going through in this comic.
i don't have a good way to summarize this blog post or end it with a coherent thesis! i may refine this some day but who knows.
since this blog is mainly for life updates, here are some life updates:
- assuming nothing major happens, i will be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival tomorrow (april 29th)! not tabling, just wandering around. say hi if you're there and know me! though if you're not wearing a mask and try to say hi i WILL attack you!
- still job-hunting. i've applied for a couple Big Kid art jobs, haven't heard back from any of them yet.
- i'm still working on shaggy dog story. progress is slow. also when i first made this comic i didn't actually know what "shaggy dog story" as a saying meant so i might end up renaming it! who knows!
- the Big Thing that's happened to me this month is that my grandmother is in the hospital after a sudden sharp decline in health. without going into too much detail, we've been told that, unless she miraculously recovers from all of her issues at once, she will not be going home, so a lot of my energy is going to visiting her as often as i can and trying to help pick up the slack at home so my parents can focus on end-of-life prep and also just relax. there's no timeline on when this situation will be resolved beyond "weeks to months".
that's it really. see you next month (or tomorrow if you're at TCAF), which will probably be the 2022 book list.