RAVE, Jessica Campbell’s new coming-of-age graphic novel, opens in a church during a sermon. “I was enslaved to masturbation!” a pastor cries before shifting focus to his very pregnant teenage daughter, Amber. She becomes an example of what not to do, a sign of how insidious temptation can be, for, her father suggests, Satan even managed to creep into a pastor’s home and seduce his most innocent child. Subsequent panels cut between the pastor, congregation members, and Amber, who puts an end to her humiliation by standing up and proclaiming (albeit ambivalently) a return to the flock. All are emotional except Lauren, RAVE’s 15-year-old protagonist, who appears uncomfortable and acutely attentive.
RAVE follows Lauren’s growing disillusionment in high school as she pulls away from the Christian Evangelical church and the intimacy it affords its flock. Using the pressures of adolescence and indoctrination of the church as a framework, Campbell consistently captures the stress endured by young women and their bodies within a prescriptive Christian belief system that simultaneously sexualizes and shames them.
Campbell reiterates the overarching pressure of the framework formally through the use of large-panel establishing shots (such as a church or home exterior or a locker) that define the book’s landscapes. Smaller uniform panels follow, capturing associated interior spaces; Campbell frames characters in these boxes, as though human figures can never quite break out of their boundaries. Characters are further delineated by thick ink outlines that effectively reinforce a black and white (thus binary) worldview. And yet Campbell conveys a wealth of expression within these intentionally limited means. Unique brushstrokes individualize even planted foliage, while the simplicity of characters’ faces belies a broad range of emotions. In these subtle ways, the author discovers a compelling individuality, one that bucks against the pervasive restrictions of conformity.
Lauren’s growth centers primarily on her relationship with a fellow student, Mariah, who has a Wiccan alter and a broader sense of freedom. During a sleepover at Mariah’s house, she gives Lauren a makeover. Romantic intimacy bleeds into their friendship. Suddenly, Lauren discovers a meaningful counterpoint to high school cat calls and expectations of childbearing that have so far shaped her concept of romantic partnership. Lauren is beset with confusion when her positive queer encounter is condemned in her belief system. “Love the sinner, not the sin,” says a youth group leader. But how, Lauren wonders, can her encounter with Mariah be wrong — an encounter about learning, beauty, discovery?
Campbell’s feminist principles are evident in her accomplished work as both a fiber artist and a cartoonist. Her previous books include Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists (Koyama Press, 2016), a satire on a misogynist male pastime, and XTC69 (Koyama Press, 2018), a sci-fi parody about feminist aliens on the hunt for male breeding partners. RAVE stands out from those books partly because of its personal nature: it was inspired by Campbell’s religious upbringing in Canada. The book maps the confusion and danger of Lauren’s individuation, a process accentuated by high school humor and self-discovery.
In the midst of a disturbing moment in United States history, Campbell paints a stark portrait of the future, in which smoking cigarettes and isolation become the last bastions of agency and self-exploration. Heroically, she pulls no punches. RAVE is funny but also unflinching. It’s a wakeup call for a moment when basic women’s and LGBTQ+ rights are under threat.
RAVE by Jessica Campbell (2022) is published by Drawn & Quarterly and is available online and in bookstores.