We’ve come to Keiler (rhymes with Tyler, according to her website) Roberts late in the day. My Begging Chart is our first but Keiler is already a half dozen books in as a graphic artist so there is a sense in which we are playing catch up here (it’s always strange reading a book by an established writer who has not previously appeared on your radar, you have that strange feeling of a whole alternative world composed of writers you are simply not aware of – this world exists for all of us, it’s exhilarating, all that we don’t know!).
As we’ve said elsewhere (before, a million times) graphic novels are the most self-referential form there is next to hip hop, and My Begging Chart feels like a book in which Roberts’ own day to day life is appropriated in that graphic form that is not quite memoir and possibly closer to poetry in its zeroing in on accumulated detail to land a narrative point. Roberts is dealing with the daily battle of an ongoing medical condition, and a possible long-running history of depression, as well as the ups and downs all creatives experience (hating their own stuff, not quite hating their own stuff) as well as being a mum and a partner.
Her style is deceptively simple (“black-and-white comics drawn with Micron pen on Bristol board”, according to this excellent interview in the Chicago Reader) and it isn’t always easy to pin down what it is about Roberts that is interesting (and she is interesting). My Begging Chart isn’t dazzling from an artistic point of view and it isn’t ‘an’ hilarious book; but it is arresting. I had to sit and scratch around in my head for a while to try and work out why and the answer I came up with is this: the attraction of My Begging Chart for this reader was in the ordering of events, those details chosen to share.
When we stumbled upon this thought, we returned to our idea of this as poetry. A lot of self-referentialism in graphic novels is based upon the graphic artist laughing at themselves. We don’t think that Roberts is doing that. It’s more like she’s observing herself and reporting back. Which feels like something slightly different to all of the thirty (and forty and fifty) something male writers relating their shitty lives in graphic form. My Begging Chart is beguiling in that way.
Certainly our interest is piqued. Having read My Begging Chart we’re going to dip our toe in the waters of reading more by Roberts. I sort of feel as if I’ve just been introduced to Kristen Hersh and I don’t yet know that she was a former member of Throwing Muses. Which is a nice feeling.
Any Cop?: If you’re familiar with Roberts, you’ve probably already made a beeline for her new book. If you’re unfamiliar but interested in reading a new and slightly off kilter look at the world by an interesting graphic artist, you could do a lot worse than check out My Begging Chart.