Review: Girl’s Night on Earth: Girl in the World, by Caroline Cash

Young adulthood is a creative propellant for comics. Halfway between childhood and middle age, it’s a period rich in discovery, risk, embarrassment, and bliss. All powered by infuriatingly perfect health, endurance, and the feeling one will certainly live forever. Honestly, ever since the late ’80s alternative comic explosion, comics and graphic novels have captured that young adulthood angst and zeitgeist better than most media.

Caroline Cash’s Girl in the World is one such sequential art recording of a night in the life of a group of young women (mostly). Despite one character’s superficial resemblance to Cash, I hesitate to call it an autobiographical comic. Funny thing though, how much our individual autobiographies consist of shared experiences. We’ve all had a story of a night, that night, a night like the one in Girl in the World. The characters encounter persons and situations familiar to anyone who’s made it through their 20s in an urban environment. They appreciate and negotiate the bar and club scenes, house parties, public transportation (always a perfect narrative segue), leaving the hospital, evading an attack, or simply slacking in their rooms. Moreover, every life features an endless array of characters. The people populating Cash’s story have names, but they’re barely referred to, and it’s not always clear who is who. Intended or not, it underlines the anonymity and synchronicity that make up life. High-flown thinking, surely, but humans like stories of humans like themselves, and any reader can easily insert themselves into Girl in the World.

Cash has a knack for setting multiple scenes that flow into each other. Sundry characters consider attending “a creatively named Facebook event,” featuring a DJ, dancing, drinking, talking, and making out. Graciously, Cash provides captions for various stock characters in the urban milieu: “Ex chain-smoking,” “asshole who stole your friend’s medication,” “aspiring DJ/sexual predator,” et alia. Several friends escape the event, ending up in a Mexican restaurant. Eventually, they’re joined by one of the more specifically addressed characters, a presumed Queen Bee named Eleanor. She vigorously rebukes them: “You left that dreadful birthday party…WITHOUT ME.”

“That was a birthday party?” asks one.

“I thought it was us celebrating Kathy finally quitting her job?”

“Or Kathy’s dog’s birthday?”

“It was my understanding that it was a DJ set.”

“I’m pretty sure it was a birthday,” rejoins Eleanor. Followed by a chorus of taqueria sips, munches, and crunches. And life’s banal but enjoyable pageant continues.

Throughout the comic we see two characters, Maddie and Cher (Cash’s authorial surrogate?) in side panels. The two cocoon in their apartment, ordering pizza, toking up, snacking, coming up with money-making schemes, and evacuating waste—respected and eternal underground comic tropes all. They send out an invitation to the others to join them in their apartment, creating a central locus for the action. Every group of friends is a ripple, flickering out and touching other ripples in the city’s (in this case an undisguised Chicago) “pond.” Ordinary but compelling, and funny besides.

Artistically, Cash’s work is busy and vibrant, almost electric in its lines and colors. Not to suggest that she’s cribbing anyone’s style, but it recollects the early work of Gary Panter or Julie Doucet. That same loose and erratic aesthetic is at play. A nice style for a loose and eternal story. One more journey into a city’s seemingly endless night. A hipster’s bildungsroman. Familiar but unpredictable.

Girl in the World is available at bookstores like Quimby’s and through the Silver Sprocket website.

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Dan Kelly
Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.