Thursday Comics Hangover: Check this one out

There is no better way to kill time in Georgetown than the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. I could lose an hour or more in the half-off damaged room in the back of the store alone, with its weird mixture of old promotional comics, dented-up copies of new Fantagraphics books and weird old foreign language editions of popular books.

But the best browsing at Fantagraphics is the minicomics, which have spread from a display at the front of the store to a few racks around the space. Local and national talent blur together on the minicomics shelves, and new books and used books all look the same.

I picked up a copy of Katie Fricas's minicomic Checked Out: L'autobiographie d'une Bibliophile. It's listed as issue number one, though there's no sign on the shelves if Fricas ever published a second issue — or even when she first published Checked Out. There's a "2018" spelled out on the back page, so maybe it came out somewhere in that yearlong window? Who can say?

Still, if you're spending time on a site called the Seattle Review of Books, odds are good you'd enjoy Checked Out. The book is split into two main stories with a few gag strips, all having something to do — at least peripherally — with libraries. The first story is about Fricas's childhood love affair with Lois Lowry's young adult novel A Summer to Die, which she encountered at the library.

In Checked Out, Fricas uses watercolors to great effect: the colors all bleed into each other, simulating the fading effect of memory and the vividness of youth. There's a kind of unsettling paranoia to the way the colors saturate every inch of every page, disrespecting panel borders and turning each page into a closeup of Fricas's psyche.

"I remember being little and looking out the windows of the children's library," Fricas writes, "wondering why the books out there were classified as 'adult.' What could possibly be in them that was different from all the other books I could read? Did they use different kind of words?"

She concludes, "I still don't know the answer to this question."

In Checked Out's second story, an adult Fricas, now a library worker herself, tracks an older patron's descent into infirmity and death through her visits to the library. The older woman, a glamorous lady named Mrs Hirsch, has difficulty taking the stairs. Then she sends her doorman to pick up her books. Then, nothing.

That Fricas manages to pack vignettes that stretch from childhood to to death from old age into a single six-dollar minicomic is a feat worth celebrating. But that she's able to do it with a bold and gaudy watercolor style that is at once unsettling and stunning is practically unbelievable. This is a beautiful, thoughtful, vivid memoir told in books. In other words, it's exactly the kind of find that makes an afternoon spent browsing feel wholly worth it, and then some.