THIS WOMAN'S WORK by Julie Delporte
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Julie Delporte's graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly THIS WOMAN'S WORK is a tribute to women in the arts. The flowing narrative and impressionistic artwork is both heartbreaking and healing.
100 %
A Masterpiece

In the tradition of Post-Structuralist French Feminism, Julie Delporte‘s graphic novel THIS WOMAN’S WORK engages the practice of writing the lived-in experiences of the woman’s body. In the words of Helene Cixous,

Écriture féminine [Women’s writing] places experience before language, and privileges the anti-linear, cyclical writing so often frowned upon by patriarchal society.

THIS WOMAN’S WORK from Drawn & Quarterly meanders through Delporte’s study of beloved Finish artist Tove Jansson with impressionistic mixed-media illustrations and delicate cursive script. Simultaneously, Delporte transfixes readers with meditations on sexual violence, images, and her experience with gender.

Delporte’s work rejects the linear and the patriarchal. Indeed, THIS WOMAN’S WORK painfully unravels the “grammar” of patriarchy, speaking an array of truths with dream-journals, biography, and autobiography. To quote another French feminist, Luce Irigaray, “Why only one song, one speech, one text at a time?” Delporte’s pain, fear, loves, and hopes spill onto the page. There she holds space and time to make way for women’s artistic and emotional work.

THIS WOMAN'S WORK
Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

THIS WOMAN’S WORK: Feminist Art-Making

Delporte’s account of childhood sexual abuse is intensified as she juxtaposes the unspeakable past with bright colored pencil illustrations that drift through the graphic novel. As Delporte acknowledges, her story extends beyond her own experiences and even beyond her own family, instead telling “the story of all women” that so often gets dismissed.

In particular, Delporte’s story resonates with anyone who has looked for representation of themselves in art. Delporte locates her role model in prolific artist and Moomin-creator Tove Jansson, as well as numerous other artists. Indeed, she explores the boundaries between the self and other, getting lost in memories and spaces.

Throughout THIS WOMAN’S WORK, Delporte references the works of other women through quotes, delicately placed footnotes, and illustrations. In the beginning of the text, Delporte references Monique Wittig, famed lesbian feminist who coined the term “feminary.” The term refers to a sort of manifesto of women’s artistic liberation and expression.

Thus, Delporte asks readers to see THIS WOMAN’S WORK as a feminary of its own. Indeed, the piece carefully considers the socially dictated roles women play and the intersection of those roles with their artistic works. Lamenting the reality of women’s work, Delporte notes at one point, “It seems women will never have enough time to make art.”

However, Delporte fills the graphic novel with homages to women artists. THIS WOMAN’S WORK honors the time women spend making art and living life. Unsurprisingly, Delporte seems to have a soft spot for female cartoonists.

THIS WOMAN'S WORK
Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

The Images That Hold Us Captive in THIS WOMAN’S WORK

Delporte carefully models her illustrations off of Jansson and other artists, intertwining her own style along the way. The impressionistic style blends with Delporte’s colors, which are childlike and cheerful, but often faint. As a result, THIS WOMAN’S WORK captures a dreamlike atmosphere in which moments of intensity and movement punctuate the quiet introspection.

Filled with poignant moments, THIS WOMAN’S WORK seeks out a place for women in art and art by women. At one pause, Delporte asks “What are the images that hold us captive?” Although Delporte focuses on images that hold her captive due to their dubious or violent content, she fills her graphic novel with beautiful images of nature, renderings of other artists’ works, and even Jansson’s whimsical Moomin.

Delporte’s delicate style often comforts the reader. Her willingness to be vulnerable allows our emotions to blend with hers throughout the comic. While we are not captive to Delporte in a violent way, her images do hold the reader. The textured lines of color cast a net, tying readers to the nomadic story that takes us from rocky Finnish islands to Delporte’s campsite in Canada.

THIS WOMAN'S WORK
Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

Graphic Women: Feminist Embodiment

In THIS WOMAN’S WORK, Delporte embodies her memories on the page. Hillary Chute’s analysis of feminism in comics, GRAPHIC WOMEN, provides insight into the comic as a venue for feminist narrative. Indeed, she writes that comics as a medium “lends itself to feminist concerns about embodiment and representation,” specifically acting as an “idiom of witness” that uses images and words together to acknowledge trauma and identity.

Moreover, Chute argues that the body is literally incorporated into the text thanks to the presence of handwriting. In the case of THIS WOMAN’S WORK, Delporte’s cursive merges with the image, forcing readers to move slowly through the text. The process is non-linear and almost stilted. As a result, THIS WOMAN’S WORK calmly and unapologetically requires close attention.

Delporte locates her body in the history of graphic novels and comics. Her handwriting, self-portraits, and recreated images of other women insist on women’s presence. Delporte’s work to find reground women in art is not in vain. Indeed, her fixation on representation gives a precious gift to readers who may be looking for women role models in the arts.

THIS WOMAN'S WORK
Image courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

Bodies that Matter: Art Beyond Gender

French feminism has historically been criticized for it’s tendency to essentialize what it means to be “woman.” In other words, post-structural feminism harmfully does not always include trans women. Delporte’s variety of feminism avoids perpetrating this variety of exclusion. Indeed, THIS WOMAN’S WORK centralizes itself on Delporte’s experience as a cis woman; but does not attempt to produce a single definition of “woman.”

Instead, THIS WOMAN’S WORK explores gender as an experience that is crafted by a culture. Delporte bravely navigates a patriarchal world. Throughout the graphic novel, she bears witness to trauma through art that is both gut wrenching and healing. Delporte draws the body, placing women on the page and redrawing the boundaries of femininity.

THIS WOMAN’S WORK resonates with women readers. Delporte bravely discusses the ways the patriarchy controls and maintains privilege. This is one of the reasons why men should read THIS WOMAN’S WORK with open hearts and minds.

As readers, we — men, women, non-binary folks — should look for the ways in which feminism can root itself in daily life, from the language we use to describe ourselves to the art we adore and consume. With a heartbreaking sense of defeat, Delporte asks “What men would be able to live with a feminist?” At no point does Delporte give in to crafting an art that is more comprehensible to a male audience. THIS WOMAN’S WORK demands careful consideration and empathy. However, it ultimately hopes for a celebration of the many possibilities of womanhood.

THIS WOMAN’S WORK is available here.

One Comment

  1. jacob

    March 11, 2019 at 4:47 am

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