Paper Dolls 

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Dame Darcy is a performance artist, musician, and writer best known for Meatcake, a long-running comic published by Fantagraphics that looks and reads as though drawn by a lonely, dreamy middle school girl, (albeit one whose scribblings would give pause to any school counselor).

In Meatcake, information is conveyed primarily through Darcy's drawings of big-eyed, long-lashed women and fey, feminized men. Words are scribbled into thought bubbles and captions, but it's the deceptively childlike illustrations that give the comic its appeal. Her new book, Gasoline, is essentially an illustrated novel: Drawings accompany the text, but they're not integral to the story, pushing Dame Darcy's prose into the spotlight in a way that Meatcake does not–and unfortunately, the writing simply isn't sophisticated enough to take center stage.

Gasoline is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which gasoline is scarce and Southern California is overrun by hordes of roving nihilists. The people of Karoi have banded together against the nihilists under the spiritual leadership of Amity Armbuster and her family, who own the only working car in the world, and periodically must leave the safety of their compound to raid abandoned gas stations for fuel.

Darcy's blocky prose evokes nothing more than a child playing with her dolls. She takes an obvious delight in dressing up her characters, describing in detail the outfit Amity dons to lead a religious ritual: "Diamonds glittered at her throat and wound around her wrists in identical bracelets. Also around her wrist clattered a silver tambourine, and encircling her waist was a leather strap from which hung her long, thin, sharp silver sword and sheath." When it comes time to make her characters walk and talk, though, she clumsily manipulates them through half-conceived, poorly evoked scenarios. Here's the ritual itself: "The power of a million white lightening bolts ran through Amity's body and out of her hair and fingertips. She screamed in a high-pitched shriek and shook her tambourine. Blood was smeared around her mouth and stained her gown. 'Release the bats!' she shrilled. 'Release the bats!'" Darcy should stick with drawing: Gasoline's illustrations convey far more, and more effectively, than the writing does.

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