YOUNG FRANCES by Hartley Lin
YOUNG FRANCES is a meandering journey into the life of Frances as she searches for place in life despite her anxieties. Hartley Lin carefully captures the existential worry many millennials experience with whimsical art.
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Hartley Lin’s graphic novel YOUNG FRANCES meditates on a concept proposed by Shakespeare in Hamlet. Specifically, Hamlet’s lines “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Which is to say, despite being trapped by circumstances, one can go as far as their imagination allows them. But there’s a catch. Anxiety and other bad dreams might stand in the way. Similarly, Frances of YOUNG FRANCES fights the realities of her circumstances, trying to make some space within the confines of her nutshell. Lin’s realist comic from AdHouse Books develops the character from his earlier series POPE HATS. The graphic novel verges on the melancholic, capturing the sometimes self-indulgent anxieties of young working millennials but asserting that some control can be found if you alter your perceptions.

Following in the footsteps of other coming of age stories including the similarly named film Frances Ha, YOUNG FRANCES examines how our own anxieties may limit us. The comic follows the eponymous heroine as she rises in the ranks of a monstrous corporate law firm. Frances is a law clerk, who manages the files for a plethora of overworked attorneys. Meanwhile, Frances’ best friend and roommate, Vickie, is busy pursuing her acting dreams and falling short on rent. Lin pessimistically establishes a binary system for intelligent, white, attractive, healthy, female millennials: follow your dreams and be poor, or stick to a stable but unfulfilling job.

Image courtesy of AdHouse Books.

Although Lin does not acknowledge that both Frances and Vickie are highly privileged for many reasons, the comic nevertheless revels in the awkwardness of making your way through life, bad dreams and all. As a result, YOUNG FRANCES is a compelling life study that can resonate with many people who feel trapped by their circumstances.

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Living with Bad Dreams

Lin masterfully captures the dynamic between straight-laced Frances and wild Vickie. The two friends are opposites but share a deep friendship. Frances needs Vickie to remind her to have fun, and Vickie needs Frances to remind her to drink water after partying too hard. The relationship brings much needed levity to the comic and their symbiosis is relatable in a culture that values intense platonic female friendships. YOUNG FRANCES makes space for the two as they struggle to navigate adulthood. Importantly, Lin does not sugarcoat their experiences. Even though Vickie skates through life, she ultimately faces the realities of working in the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, Frances deals with superficiality within her own realm. The young clerk drafts memos, speeches, and briefs for corporate moguls who take the credit.

Image courtesy of AdHouse Books.

Feeling emotionally and developmentally stuck is at the heart of YOUNG FRANCES. Frances feels stuck in her job. Between the long work hours and a disruptive roommate, Frances doesn’t even have time for sleep. Her colleagues at the firm joke about spending more time at work than with their children. On the flip side, Vickie lives in relative chaos but enjoys herself. Both situations compound Frances’ anxieties. The comic underscores living authentically as a potent cure for feeling stuck. However, the comic recognizes that opening yourself up to authenticity is not easy. Despite their fears, Frances and Vickie are able to make space for their own identities.

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YOUNG FRANCES: Just a State of Mind

Lin plays with emotionality in YOUNG FRANCES. The understated artwork lends a feeling of realism, yet there is still an element of whimsy. Readers might expect more emotions from Frances, but she is an introvert. True to form, Frances does not always invite readers into her decision making. Nevertheless, readers will be invested in Frances’ well-being from the get-go. Some might even feel frustrated by her actions, as we long for Frances to live a little more dangerously.

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Lin’s black-and-white comics feel strongly rooted in realism. However, at times random insertions from wild birds in the city to an imaginary leap from a building, make readers suspect that reality isn’t quite so firm. The artwork reinforces Lin’s overall thesis, that reality is dependent on our own perceptions. For example, while most of Lin’s characters are similar sizes, Frances’ boss is a giant. The robust figure fills her office doorway and towers intimidatingly over her with massive form and tiny head. Whether this is a realistic image of Frances’ boss is hard to say. Indeed, he humorously stands out in such a way as to make readers think it could not possibly be accurate.

Image courtesy of AdHouse Books.

Final Thoughts on YOUNG FRANCES: The Kings of Infinite Space

The enticing artwork and philosophical edge help YOUNG FRANCES embody millennial experiences with humor and honesty. While occasionally aloof and evocative of hipster culture, the comic is highly thought-provoking. The crisp artwork will carry readers into Frances’ world, where they will empathize with the difficulties of making a life for oneself and living authentically. Lin’s carefully constructed comic lacks true catharsis, however, the comic is not sad so much as contemplative. In an age of superhero comics and romantic narratives about how to make it big, YOUNG FRANCES offers refreshing honesty.

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