Review by François Peneaud
With On Loving Women, the Quebecois artist Diane Obomsawin has made a very unique-looking contribution to the biographical stories genre, and more precisely of lesbian biographical stories. After talks with female friends ranging in age from thirty to seventy, she’s drawn a series of short accounts of their budding attractions to other women when they were young, of their relationships, and for the older ones, of their trying to navigate the muddy waters of criminalizing or oppressive law.
The ten stories (from nine friends, plus herself) are told in a conversational tone that puts the reader at ease, and are drawn in a minimalist style that also helps the reader to identify with these people drawn with animal heads.
Some stories are light, some are far sadder, and one might think nothing very original is said. But apart from always needing more accounts of queer lives (especially from those who’ve live in more troubled times), it’s Obomsawin’s storytelling and art that makes the book stand out from the crowd.
She never goes for the flashy choices, either in layouts or the drawings themselves, but includes many nice storytelling touches, such as a page where the position of two women on stairs serves as a metaphor for their differences and their willingness to close that bridge. This is all done with a small number of lines drawn and words used.
There’s also a lot of humour, sometimes in the dialogue or the situation, but above all in Obomsawin’s choice of illustrating these situations—see for example the last panel of the page featured, where a schoolgirl causes her all-girl class to question their sexuality. Humour also derives from the faux naive illustrations scattered throughout the book, such as electricity striking the narrator as she falls instantly in love when meeting another woman, with the text “I was electrified”.
Drawing her characters with various animal heads gives a fairy tales aspect to stories as realistic as they come, adding yet another layer to the reading experience. One might say that it gives a feeling of slight absurdism that spices up the otherwise gentle humour.
On Loving Women is book that manages to combines realism and humour, personal stories and historical value, with a seemingly simple art style that should make it accessible to casual readers of graphic novels.