Books

A Wordless Journey from Crappy Art to Actual Crap

Tara Booth’s graphic memoir D.U.I.I is an exploration of shame and failed expectations

Tara Booth, D.U.I.I (all images courtesy of Colorama)

It is atypical to create a self-incriminating memoir, but Tara Booth is an anomaly, using that discrepancy as a jumping-off point. She released her first full-length comic, D.U.I.I, at the recent LA Book Arts Fair, and although the narrative is totally wordless, the comic is so rich with linear imagery that it keeps the reader both awed and repelled from cover to cover.

Tara Booth, D.U.I.I

The book follows Booth as the lead character in a night out that goes from bad to worse, devolving quickly from a visit to an art gallery to her spending a night in jail for a DUI. We see all of her most awkward and socially aware moments through the crude and visceral way she draws her figures. This is not lighthearted journalism; Booth boldly lays it all out there, pulling the reader in close to see her at some of her rawest moments.

Booth is both a painter and comic artist who is straddling both worlds. This is introduced at the beginning of the book, at the gallery, when she reacts with drunken disgust to the “fine art” on display. This sends her into a tailspin of activities that eventually lands her in jail, where she is forced to watch another inmate defecate in front of her. We travel full circle with Booth on her journey: from crappy art to literal crap.

Tara Booth, D.U.I.I

Throughout the book, bodies are drawn with an intentional sloppiness and faces are clumsily penciled in. This unassuming style allows readers to jump right into the story, because we can identify with both the vagueness of the characters’ visual representation and the specificity of their reactions and emotions. This is important because none of the characters within this wordless comic have names, so the figures’ emotive qualities need to hold enough visual power to propel the story along.

Booth’s drawing style is far from figure-flattering, which allows it to capture the mannerisms and disturbances human beings can display in social situations. She is a master of self-deprecation, translating her shameful actions into gloriously taboo moments of artistic revelation. She does this by creating artwork about identity and expectations during times she is not at her best but perhaps not at an all-time low, like when she is in the holding cell in isolation, watching the clock in tears, and has no one to turn to but herself.

Tara Booth, D.U.I.I

Prior to D.U.I.I, Booth’s artwork has generally kept to a single page illustration/painting format, and the colors she uses highlight her keen eye. She plays endlessly with patterning and loads so much pigmented color that she seems to be attentively flirting with chaos. In D.U.I.I., we see a more unified story format but with the same attention to detail and a focus on autobiographical sequences. D.U.I.I. showcases her ability to expand a story and demonstrates a frame-by-frame depiction of her highly sensitive perceptions. Another change from her usual artwork is that this entire comic is black and white. However, the illustrations are so flamboyant that the reader will likely forget there is no color.

As an artist, Booth works to push the boundaries between comic arts and fine art, and she lives up to no standards of appropriateness other than her own. Her social commentary is sharp and her visual storytelling unassuming. With D.U.I.I, she has crafted an innovative exploration of shame and failed expectations.

D.U.I.I is now available from Colorama.

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