EARTHLINGcover-full-b0bfaWhether it be in Germany or anywhere else, the suburbs seems like the perfect setting for a story that examines alienation, malaise, and uncertainty. In Earthling, Aisha Franz explores this subject through the stories of a young girl named Mädchen, her older sister, and her mother across one restless summer in the 1990s.

Earthling is structured as a series of interconnected moments that slowly build on the plot, layering theme and mood. Mädchen’s mother struggles with the banality of everyday life and the invisibility of middle-aged women while she thinks back to the turning point that led her to the present moment. After she looks for a dry-cleaning ticket and makes one-sided small talk with a business owner, she walks down the sidewalk making way for younger, prettier women, and growing angrier all the while. Mädchen’s older sister can’t decide whether to explore her sexuality and try on new personalities or stick with the safe roles and the same friends from her high school days. She tries to have a conversation on a date, but the music is too loud and she can’t ask for what she wants when they begin to make out. Meanwhile, Mädchen follows a balloon into a field on her rollerblades, only to find that the balloon’s note says, “whoever reads this is stupid!” She feels a presence and turns around with a look of surprise. Her furtive behavior in the following pages hints that she must have found something there and brought it home. By the time the silhouette of an alien visitor is seen in the upstairs window of their house, all of the characters have established their own sense that they are not of this world.

Franz conjures the heat of embarrassment, the comforting smog of a shared cigarette, and the quotidian shriek of a teapot with clouds of smeared pencil. The space of her world has a flat aspect, her characters almost like paper dolls, but she uses the smallest changes in a face to evoke a line of thought or feeling in just a few panels. Franz’s precise artwork, complimented by her hand-drawn and smudgy pencil drawings, make the whole thing feel like a journal. The reading experience suggests a glimpse of something that might be private, heightening the secretive tone of the work. The objects populating Mädchen’s house and the world outside its walls are drawn in a studied, deliberate manner so that everything feels imbued with purpose.

Although its characters live their lives in varying shades of glumness and detachment, Earthling is not a one-note story. As things get stranger and more chaotic, each woman takes steps to communicate her needs—at least to herself—as they all have trouble communicating with one another. Earthling illustrates the depth of the struggle to figure out the world at any age, and it does so with absurd dry humor and a keen eye for the small moments of humanity in everyday life. Franz doesn’t skirt around the awkward reality of preteen drives—imaginative Mädchen is excited and bewildered by sex, and she infuses her encounters with the alien with her need to know more about these mysteries. These themes might make some readers feel most comfortable giving this book to an older teen audience.

by Aisha Franz
ISBN: 9781770461666
Drawn & Quarterly, 2014

  • Tessa Barber

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support!

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