Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir
Writer/Artist: Nicole J. Georges
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: January 22, 2013
In many ways, Nicole Georges’ memoir about her neurotic childhood and dark family secrets reads like a fusion of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Julia Wertz’ autobiographical work. That statement might be a turnoff for folks opposed to acerbic, intellectual material (or people with XY chromosomes), but that doesn’t mean it’s not true or necessarily a bad thing. Georges, a Portland-based queer cartoonist known for her work on zines and animal portraits, is more outwardly charming than Wertz and lives less in her head than Bechdel, but her book shares strong similarities to the work of both authors. Although Georges reveals considerable life drama (mostly through a childhood dragged all over the place at the whims of irresponsible adults), there’s nary a whiff of “poor me.” She uses a simplified panel layout and style for flashbacks (her characters sport large, round heads rendered in stark black and white, unlike the wash-based grays of contemporary scenes) to underscore this stoicism.
Through this unflinching gaze, issues such as a childhood psychosomatic bowel condition and a series of unsuccessful father figures aren’t cast in a traumatic light, but with clarity and grace. Georges’ lettering is a particularly strong suit, all done by hand, with different techniques fitting different aspects of the text: calligraphy on scrolls for the introduction, childlike printing for flashbacks, and aureate swirls for flowery speech.
The titular radio show is indeed oddly addictive in the same way as other reality fodder like Supernanny or The Dog Whisperer, where each episode constructs order from superficial chaos. It doesn’t end up being a huge part of the narrative, but still plays an important role that Georges rightly chooses as a crux. The conclusion isn’t as neatly wrapped up as fiction would have it, but it’s more touching than a predesigned story would have been. Calling Dr. Laura could get lost by the time year-end best-of lists roll around, but it shouldn’t. It’s a strong book and one that makes considerable use of its medium, unlike many a diary-based comic.