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I have a tremendous amount of respect for Artbabe creator Jessica Abel. Not only did she take an incredible risk moving to Mexico without any plans, but she is a talented cartoonist who is really hitting her stride. Her mini-series La Perdida, which means Lost Girl in Spanish, just concluded after almost five years.
It’s obviously semi-autobiographical, as the protagonist, named Carla, is also an American woman who moves to Mexico on a whim. Carla struggles with her identity almost immediately, seeking to immerse herself in Mexican culture in the hopes of distancing her capitalist roots, but finds that its not so easy to renounce one’s heritage. Having lived abroad myself for three years (in Europe) I felt a strong sense of connection with Carla’s character. Americans who move away for an extended period of time come to see their country through the lens of foreigners, and more often than not, this creates a feeling of shame that is hard for people who have only traveled as tourists to understand.
The excess consumerism, rampant obesity, political arrogance and global exploitation are things we all know about on some level in the States, but rarely do we have to live with the results of our greed. Abel does a brilliant job conveying this internal struggle through Carla’s narration, as she tries to come to terms with her own identity. But then something strange happens. At the end of issue three, a sea change is introduced when Carla’s ex-boyfriend, Harry, another American refugee seeking to find himself in Mexico, is suddenly kidnapped. This plot shift is abrupt, and felt, not exactly forced or contrived, but a little disappointing and clichéd.
It was like watching Lost in Translation but suddenly in the middle of the movie, Bill Murray’s character is kidnapped. To Abel’s credit, she manages not only to make this work, but to hold the reader’s interest; still, it felt like a departure from the honest semi-autobiographical tone that worked so well in the first three issues. Artistically, Abel’s talent is deceptive. Flipping casually through the book, it is easy to discard the heavy inked lines as messy, or lacking depth, and the characters with dots for eyes as having little or no personality. But this is simply not true. Abel is an artist with a distinct style and her characters are realistic both in mannerisms and expressions. The beautifully colored wraparound covers make me long for the day when Abel will produce a full color graphic novel. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the art was the backgrounds and set pieces, clearly real places that Abel encountered during her tenure in Mexico City. Overall, La Perdida is an intelligent, highly personal graphic novel that I strongly recommend. Grade: 4.5/5
-- Marc Sobel