Ronnie Scott reviews 'The Lie and How We Told It' by Tommi Parrish

Ronnie Scott reviews 'The Lie and How We Told It' by Tommi Parrish

The Lie and How We Told It

by Tommi Parrish

Fantagraphics, $35.95 hb, 130 pp, 9781683960676

Even in these golden years for Australian comics, Tommi Parrish stands out for their insight and talent. Their work takes weighty topics like gender, work, and friends and examines them through focusing on individual experiences, interior moments. It’s all brief grabs of sensations and ideas, which depends on good ambiguity management. Parrish’s vignettes feel fraught and intimate, but when the situations are usually so ordinary it can be hard to work out why. You come away feeling that strangeness and seriousness might be key features of everyday life.

The Lie and How We Told It is the artist’s first long work (a book of short pieces, Perfect Hair, was published by 2dcloud in 2016). It follows two young people who knew each other in school and meet again in a city years later. We don’t know much about them, and what we learn is not through exposition but through direct speech. We don’t know why ‘that guy’ Cleary dated was so awful back then, just that it’s something she’s discussing here. It all has the feeling of a conversation you’d overhear from people walking, talking, and drinking wine. You don’t understand too much of the subject matter, but you can pick up quite a lot about how they feel. 

Round, expressive figures are placed against watercolour scenes, filled with careful detail and saturated with mood. In a curious move, the main story is interleaved with pages from a found text with a different tenor. The lines are black and white, stark and rigid, with whole-page images intercut with narration from the point of view of a person hooking up with an older man. Here Parrish is exhibiting both trust in the reader and juxtaposition skill. The found text could line up with the main story in a number of ways; working out how is up to you.

Ronnie Scott

Ronnie Scott

Ronnie Scott is a contributor to The Big Issue and The Believer, and the comics and graphic novels critic for The Book Show on ABC Radio National. He is finishing a PhD on comics at The University of Melbourne, where he teaches. He edits The Lifted Brow, a freeform arts, culture, and fiction magazine.

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