Libby's Dad

Libby's Dad, By Eleanor Davis.
By Eleanor Davis.

Libby’s Dad examines how children tackle what is for them one of life’s great mysteries, the grownups who control them. What exactly is it that drives their behaviour? Do they even share the same feelings we experience? The setting is a pool party attended by several prepubescent girls, held at the newly purchased house resided by Libby. The titular character is largely absent from the comic, but is the source of the girls’ attention once one of them passes along a piece of gossip regarding the recent divorce of Libby’s parents. They try to square this information with the hospitality they’ve experienced first hand. How could Libby’s dad be the bad guy when he allowed the girls to hold a pool party, eat cake, and even bought them delicious KFC? The vast gulf between perception and reality is only magnified by the immaturity and very limited outlook of children.

Eleanor Davis draws a brightly colored, but claustrophobic milieu. The girl’s own simplified world view represented by lineart rendered entirely in colored pencils, and figures drawn with flattened perspective. Backgrounds are minimal, with Davis eschewing conventional panel borders for strong color fields. The same visual elements which envelop the girls in comforting familiarity are flipped halfway through to become immediately terrifying when they begin to seriously reconsider the validity of the rumors. The broadly defined art’s lack of subtle gradations capturing the girls’ constant inability to comprehend the moral ambiguity of the surrounding adult world. Everything about that place just fades to white.

Libby's Dad, By Eleanor Davis.

Off course, the comic is written from an adult’s viewpoint of children’s behaviour. Davis doesn’t bother to answer the questions raised by the girls about the true relationship between Libby’s parents. Only to show how the girls are easily misled by the different scraps of information they’re fed. They’re quickly swayed by the comforts of the house, an elegant example of sleek mid-20th century modern design. They have a child’s obsession with associating with the proper brand identity, hence the affection for the aforementioned KFC, or exemplified later in a cutting remark about the impropriety of crying into a box of fruit-themed cereal. The girls share the inability to sustain any kind of introspection, not atypical for children their age. And there’s a casual cruelty to their value judgements that reduces everything to a zero sum game, familiar to any kid caught in an argument about who has the coolest parents. It's a warped view mirrored in their grotesque features.

So there’s a lot about the comic that feels surprisingly complex and nuanced, not to mention true to life when regarding how children often fail to process much of the world around them. And it’s beautifully drawn with tools that rarely receive this level of prominence.  If there’s  one criticism I would level, it’s that Libby’s Dad ends with a bait and switch that can feel a little premature. Or maybe I’m disappointed that its young characters didn’t really acquire any real insight. I guess, every child needs their reassuring illusions.