I just read something that totally reminded me of being in high school. You’d think that’d be a terrible feeling but actually it gave me a different outlook on being an adult. In case you were wondering, I’m talking about the new hardcover graphic novel from Oni Press called Ivy.
Written and illustrated by Sarah Oleksyk, Ivy is not quite a coming-of-age story, more a “being-this-age” story. The main character, Ivy Stenova, is in her last year of high school and struggling with life. But then again, weren’t we all? Ivy’s lone beacon in her teenage life is her art and the hope of art school after she graduates. Unfortunately her single mother is totally against the idea. Her closest friends, Brad and Marisa, outsiders themselves, make fun of other outsiders to feel better. Ivy’s even surprised at her own behavior at times. She’d love to get away from it all but will that solve her problems?
I applaud Oleksyk. Everything in Ivy is so utterly high school it reminds me of why I’m glad that time is long gone. Seriously, there have been times I’ve looked back fondly but getting this kind of realistic reminder of what it was like was a good slap in the face. People making out in the hallway, graffiti in the bathroom stalls, that hundred-year-old teacher who makes your life miserable, the obligatory “chat” with your mother about safe sex, ridiculously useless guidance counselors. You get the idea. Oleksyk seems to effortlessly lay it out as plain as day and make you feel like you’re experiencing it all over again.
Ivy, is an interesting character. She’s not unlikeable but she’s not completely lovable either. She’s an angsty, bratty teen who seems to keep isolating herself by her behavior. Yes that’s just one way Oleksyk creates such a realistic depiction. The other way is all the little details. Stuff that may not have significance to the plot but helps you to understand who Ivy is. For example, she finds a nudie magazine in the woods and, in a fruitless attempt, tries to scratch off a blacked-out portion. She hangs out under a deserted overpass, near train tracks and daydreams about skipping town to parts unknown among other things. We also learn about Ivy through her sketchbook, where she shows how she really feels about the people around her.
The tertiary characters in Ivy are basically hollow archetypes we don’t get to see fleshed out all that much. You’ve got the desperate mom, the gay best friend, the cute boy who smokes cloves, the jerk who makes fun of anything you say, etc. They’re important to the story, yet not. They’re there for Ivy’s reactions and decisions to be bounced off of. There is however, one person who plays a very important role in Ivy’s senior year.
Not a lot happens to make Ivy act the way she does, she mostly causes the trouble for herself though things turn around when she meets a kindred spirit who shares her passion for art. His name is Brad. As a teenage girl, finding a guy who makes you feel special, well, that’s kind of a big deal. Especially for someone as introverted as Ivy. In one panel, Oleksyk actually shows us her heart beating to signify just how excited she is. Meeting this new person changes how she acts and what she does. And not necessarily in a positive way. I almost forgot how easily one person could affect your life at that age.
Though she fights with her constantly, Ivy’s mother does actually understand what she’s going through, “Sweetie, high school sucks for everybody,” she says after Ivy gets suspended from school. She doesn’t necessarily discover who she is along the way but she does realize you can’t escape who you are, good or bad. It’s an unresolved ending, which is frustrating as the reader, but I suppose fits perfectly with the unresolved nature of being a teenager. You just have to grow out of it. Or not, as the case may be.
Oleksyk may not be a household name but she has decent cred in the indie realm. Ivy started out as five separate photocopied mini-comics (among others) she shopped around at cons. (See kids? Hard work can pay off.) Before Oni snatched her up, Oleksyk was previously discovered when her story “Previously Possessed” was accepted by Myspace Dark Horse Presents a few years ago. I haven’t seen her artwork in anything besides this so I have nothing to compare it to but the work, which is all in black-and-white, is soul-baring. We are not spared much when it comes to feeling what’s going on in the story through the art. The characters are illustrated like normal people, not perfect figures, and the scenery and details add so much to making the story come alive.
Ivy is a drama about life and how sometimes, we can make it more difficult than it needs to be. I wish I could recommend this for the younger crowd because it just might teach them something but Oni signifies this as an “Older Audiences” book and they were right in doing so. There are several scenes, sexual in nature, some with nudity and also drinking and drug use. If you want to take a look at what Ivy has to offer, Oni has the first full chapter of the book up on their site for you to preview. I say I wish I could give it to young teens but then I remembered, they’re teenagers! They’re not going to listen to an old gal like me anyway. I know I sure didn’t.