Recommended Reading: The Selves by Sonja Ahlers
I’m not entirely sure how to refer to this book. Drawn & Quarterly published The Selves back in 2010, making me wanting to call it a comic book. However, it’s not a narrative in any traditional sense, and Sonja Ahlers isn’t a cartoonist. She’s a poet and visual artist known for her DIY style, collecting and rearranging found images to create provocative and feminist collages. This book is no different from those installation pieces.
The Selves is an examination of the role of women in pop culture. Collaging clippings of Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, a young Angelina Jolie, babies, children, fashion of the ‘70s and ‘80s, hamsters, kittens, and quotes from Sylvia Plath and Kate Bush, Ahlers attempts to create a portrait of the woman based on how they are portrayed in the media. As the title suggests, that single portrait is put together by many different versions of the self, creating a schizophrenic identity of the woman today. This book is the diary of the young girl; a portrait emulating the feeling of anxiety between her public and private self.
Visually, it is stunning. I would describe the artwork of The Selves as leather and lace. Ahlers uses the underground, punk-rock style of the zine and brings a sense of delicacy to it with overtly feminine clippings and photographs as well as including her own handwritten cursive and watercolors. The combination of these forms brings a sense of witticism on its own, but Ahlers has a knack for creating humorous compositions that carry a lingering sense of vulnerability and heartbreak.
Living in the midst of social networks and blogs where we are all consciously constructing our public personas, The Selves is a smart, funny, and intriguing look on how the external feminine self is put together and the tension it creates with the internal self.