3 Panels is a monthly column examining graphic novels and their influences on everyday life.
One of my favorite photographs features me at 23.
In the photo, my friend Lauren and I are standing in the middle of a nightclub. She’s in an all-white tube dress, her black hair flows down her back in gorgeous curls, and she pretends to grimace as she hugs me. I’m dressed in an outfit that is borrowed from Lauren and is too small. My white tube top barely covers my chest and is pulled down to cover the top of the black booty shorts, unbuttoned and unzipped. With my head thrown back in laughter, my arms wrap around Lauren. The drunk people behind us, also dressed in white, stare at us curiously.
It’s a beautiful snapshot taken during a tumultuous point in my life.
With my friend by my side on the dance floor, I wasn’t worried about my perceived inadequacies or the near-constant racism I had been experiencing. Music flowed through my mind and body—as well as several watered-down cocktails. The night was loud and my body was on the verge of spilling out of my clothes, but I needed to escape, to feel a little less like myself. I needed to exist without the worries that had been chasing me.
The need to escape seems more pressing in our 20s. We find ourselves in a reality that hinges on a rapidly changing perception of self. One that swings wildly as we navigate new responsibilities, identities, and changing livelihoods. We are constantly trying to find our bearings. It’s often chaotic.
But what is truly telling is how much of this chaos is our own creation. Walter Scott lays this out pretty thick to humorous effect in his Wendy series — a tale of haphazard millennialism told through the perspective of its titular character. I was introduced to the series through its third book, Wendy, Master of Art (2020), but I’m returning to the beginning since Drawn & Quarterly reissued the first two books this past summer.
The panels in Wendy (Drawn & Quarterly, July 2021) unfold in a steady march of mean-girl cattiness, alcohol and drug-fueled benders, regrettable one-night stands, and inner monologues about self-purpose. Scott’s illustrations remind me of a looser-lined “Cathy” comic strip. Maybe, in some alternate universe, Wendy is the younger version of Cathy. She doesn’t scream “Ack!” but Wendy vibrates with anxiety on a hyper level. It ripples through her and other characters until they become almost liquid, melting off the furniture they rest on.
Wendy is the embodiment of millennial insecurity and frivolity in a tube top and mini skirt. Glued to her phone, her life spirals into cringy, eye-jittering but hilarious scenarios. She swings between overconfidence and paralyzing doubt. She wastes her nights drinking and partying, spends her days hungover, and cannot resist searching for her identity in others. It’s only when Wendy is hungover, and a woman she previously disparaged takes care of her, does she then have a light bulb moment about her identity. The light flickers until the very end when she admits, “I just feel like my life will be chaotic forever. Like nothing will ever be okay. Everything will always be a mess.”
Wendy tries to shake off the chaos in Wendy’s Revenge (Drawn & Quarterly, July 2021) as she moves to Vancouver, travels to Tokyo for a residency, and flies to Los Angeles for an art exhibition. Wendy’s Revenge is, thus far, the most dynamic book in the series. Scott denotes the multiple locales in the book by different colored pages: white, pink, green, and black. The Tokyo story is written in Japanese and the panels read from right to left. Wendy’s Revenge also features more of Wendy’s friends, Winona and Screamo. Their stories gives space to Indigenous and queer characters while showcasing the superficialities of youth and the altered realities we create as a means of saving face and surviving.
Wendy’s struggle with her identity manifests as varying double selves. She is hedonistic and prudish, shallow and inquisitive, and self-absorbed and compassionate. She shifts between personalities to the degree that she appears as different people—different versions of herself—in the panels. In some cases, those double selves sabotage each other and, in other cases, they get their revenge.
Wendy is not a completely different woman at the end of Wendy’s Revenge. (And I urge you to read Wendy, Master of Art.) But she evolves in part and she passes along the sage advice she received at the end of Wendy to someone else in need.
If we acknowledge that “we’ve all been there,” Wendy’s life teaches us not to be ashamed.
When I look back at the chaos in my 20s, I notice that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one ignoring the anxieties of college, work stresses, family drama, and mental health issues. I wasn’t the only person trying to block it all out with a few hours of feeling like nothing else mattered. Moments like the ones with my friend in the photograph were a respite.
Whatever we’re doing to escape the chaos in our lives will revert at some point. The night will become day. The party will end. The TV show will turn off. The painful but urgent relatability in Scott’s Wendy series is a reminder to address the messiness. We can try to escape it, but the creation of our own hands will follow us until we give it a proper death.