Inside cover art from Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger.
for one story about Megaboy and a new character, Humanchild,
who’s trapped on an unfamiliar planet. Even these, however, are
couched in the realm of fantasy, and any answers we might glean
are still pure speculation.
Coupled with Roeckelein’s haunting designs—encompassing
collage, photography, and drawing—Walter’s evocative narrative gambit is captivating and unsettling in its lack of conclusive
answers. Additionally, some of the novel’s topics seem especially
pertinent today, particularly given national conversations about
race, violence, and how the news covers crime. Mrs. Koh grows
frustrated that the focus of the reports about the shooting are
mostly on Robbie and how such a nice, white, middle-class kid
could do something so senseless, instead of remembering or honoring her working-class, Korean husband.
Perhaps the most striking spread in the book speaks to that frustration. Amid jostling, crowded pages, one solemnly stands out,
quiet as a tombstone: a crisp white page with just Mr. Koh’s name,
in Korean characters, above his life span. That page reminds readers
they should be troubled that so much attention is given to the killer, even while we’re simultaneously called on to treat Robbie with
compassion. It’s an uncomfortable tension, but a realistic one.
We can’t know, really, what Robbie was thinking based solely
on his drawings and others’ impressions of his character, but it’s
tempting to believe that his art holds the key to unlocking the
truth. The raw, unpolished quality of zines suggests a sort of authentic presentation, but Walter and Roeckelein upend that idea
by demonstrating just how difficult it is to know people through
their artwork, or at least their artwork alone.
Like writing does for John in Hard Love, art seems to offer
Robbie a way to tap into something deeper or ineffable in him-
self—his final story about Megaboy hints at how much he feels
trapped and misunderstood. Of course, without Robbie’s own
voice, it’s impossible to truly know what Megaboy means, but
as outsiders looking in, we can gain a glimpse into the heart of a
troubled individual. But that minute glimpse is all we, as readers
and consumers of art, can expect to gain, and to presume we un-
derstand misses the point.
Both of these novels address how art can offer a window into
an artist’s internal life, but some windows are foggier than others.
That was true during the heyday of zines, and it’s still true now,
particularly given how easy sharing art and writing in a variety
of contexts is on the Internet. Both Hard Love and Making Up
Megaboy presciently touch on the double-edged sword of social
media—yes, sharing writing and art and forming community are
two of the most empowering things about Internet culture, but it’s
just as easy to wrongly assume we can fully understand a person by
what that person chooses to share.