Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age

Overview

A very unscientific poll recently revealed that 99.9% of all people who attended middle school hated it. Fortunately, some of those people have grown up to be clever and talented comic artists, with an important message to share: Everyone can survive middle school!

Edited by underground comics icon Ariel Schrag, this anthology of illustrated tales about the agonies and triumphs of seventh and eight grade features some of America's leading graphic novelists, including Daniel ...

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Overview

A very unscientific poll recently revealed that 99.9% of all people who attended middle school hated it. Fortunately, some of those people have grown up to be clever and talented comic artists, with an important message to share: Everyone can survive middle school!

Edited by underground comics icon Ariel Schrag, this anthology of illustrated tales about the agonies and triumphs of seventh and eight grade features some of America's leading graphic novelists, including Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, Lauren Weinstein, and Ariel herself. With a sense of humor as refreshing as it is bitingly honest, seventeen artists share their stories of first love, bullying, zits, and all the things that make middle school the worst years of our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

If you can survive junior high, you can survive anything!" That's cartoonist Jace Smith's inspirational promise in this collection of 17 comics covering those universally awkward middle-school years. The agonies depicted are the kind that leaves scars: betrayal over Spin-the-Bottle, schoolyard taunting, hazing by cheerleaders and wedgies aplenty. Every reader will have something to readily identify with: Dash Shaw's young hero wonders if he'll ever find love despite having a face full of zits. Gabrielle Bell's heroine wears the same clothes every day, earning her the nickname "Stinky." Lauren Weinstein's Becky tops off a miserable stay at a horse camp by getting her period. The stories range from crudely drawn but deeply felt to truly literary, such as Daniel Clowes's tale of an introverted boy's summer with his grandparents. Editor Shrag contributes two of the strongest stories. In one, girlish cattiness earns karmic retribution with a bus ride to a bad part of town. In another, the hapless heroine chooses to carry around her own poop in her backpack rather than admit a social faux pas. The situations are often hilarious in retrospect, but the contributors make their emotional painfulness at the time fully apparent. This collection should help those in the midst of similar social travails realize that they, too, will someday look back and laugh at it all. Ages 12-up. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
KLIATT - George Galuschak
If there's a more unpleasant age than puberty, please let me know. Here 16 cartoonists share their recollections of the awful yuckiness that is middle school. Highlights of this anthology include Lauren Weinstein's "Horse Camp," in which the author spends a miserable week at sports camp shoveling manure (it rains every day) and singing gospel hymns (she's Jewish); Dash Shaw's "Crater Face," which recalls the horror of zits; Daniel Clowes' "Like A Weed Joe," about a summer the author spent with his grandparents; and Ariel Schrag's "S—t," which illustrates the extremes we will go through to avoid certain embarrassing bodily functions. Some of the stories in Stuck in the Middle are funny; others are sad; most feel authentic. I'm at a point in my life where I can barely remember puberty, but for these folks the fire still burns bright. The artwork is eclectic, ranging from the highly polished to stick figures. Highly recommended for junior high graphic novel collections on up; but please keep in mind that this graphic novel does contain some strong material, including obscenities (s-bomb and f-bomb) and sexual material (it is puberty!).
VOYA - Joe Sutliff Sanders
The middle school characters in these short comics survive first loves, name calling, bizarre fantasies, cheap summer camp, and unpredictable friendships. Authors with little reputation rub shoulders with new comics stars and at least one legend to tell stories of angst and occasional triumph. The art styles of these comics vary widely, from Joe Matt's clear, bold lines and heavy ink to Jace Smith's intentionally claustrophobic messiness and Eric Enright's moving abstraction. The book also includes the vaguely hideous style that Dan Clowes has also used so effectively in Ghost World collected by Fantagraphics in 2001. It is nice to see Clowes's influential "alternative comics" style next to efforts by artists such as Jim Hoover and Robyn Chapman, who work in newer popular styles. The themes and storytelling structures are not as varied as the artwork, and at times that makes reading the next story difficult. The stories are aimed squarely at middle school readers, many of whom will find the queue of tales about ugliness and traitorous friends so close to reality that the stories become comforting, but other readers will be turned off by the gloom and avoidance of closure that ends so many of these pieces. The self-absorption of the characters, too, will come across either as familiar and welcoming or familiar and tedious. These brief tales succeed in communicating the unrelenting social pressure of middle school, but they are most powerful when they are also able to show characters escaping their awkwardness and self-absorption, if only briefly.
School Library Journal

Gr 7-9
Multiple stories of life during middle school are told in an indie comix style that might appeal to the zine crowd in terms of raw art, construction, and subject matter. Common themes of alienation, adjustment, popularity, and burgeoning sexual drives can be found in the various tales-with accompanying charged language-but what is most striking is their collective open-ended lack of structure and conclusion. While the stories take transition and formative awareness to heart, the recurring vignette format prevents most of the offerings from providing much in the way of a discernable message or point beyond the evocative emotional content. The volume subsequently has a therapeutic vibe, with the stories-even while not contemporary in most of their settings-existing simply to show that the situations in which readers may find themselves are common. But the sharing seems less helpful for prospective readers than it seems purgative to the contributors, as little solace can be found in moments that hang on the page without any clear direction. The artwork is quite varied, but does exemplify that there are many ways of expressing oneself, and that traditional comic-book structures can be adapted or subverted in order to create a personal storytelling technique. In this fashion, the book does more artistically to demonstrate the potential of individual expression than the generic themes and the somewhat meandering plotting.
—Benjamin RussellCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670062218
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/17/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.48 (w) x 11.02 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Ariel Schrag is a well-respected graphic novelist. Her series of autobiographical comics are currently being made into a major motion picture. She works as a writer for the popular Showtime program The L Word. Ariel lives in New York City.

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Interviews & Essays

Interview with Ariel Schrag, editor of and contributor to Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

When you hear the words "middle school," what one memory comes to mind first?

In 7th grade I had a boyfriend named "Ethan." We had been going out about two weeks and I thought it was going really well. One day after school I called him up to talk. We chatted for a while, just about nothing, but something seemed off. He was being hesitant and weird. "Is everything OK?" I asked. "Yeah, it's fine, " he mumbled. "Ok, well, see you tomorrow!" I said, and we hung up. About seven seconds later the phone rang. "Hey!" I said, cheerfully. "You're dumped! You're dumped!" shouted Ethan on the other end. "Bye! You're dumped!" And then he hung up.

Is this book just for kids currently in middle school, or do you think older kids-and adults-would get something out of it?

I think it's really for anyone. Everyone can remember back to the horror they experienced in middle school, whether it was last year or 40 years ago. But more than that, the feelings of humiliation and betrayal and identity crisis never really go away. They're just exaggerated beyond belief in middle school, or they exist in their purest form during those years.

How did you choose which contributors to include in the book?

I basically just asked all of my favorites. It didn't really matter to me what style or types of stories the cartoonists usually told, I was still fascinated by what they would come up with about middle school. I was actually more intrigued by what the cartoonists who normally wrote very adult life stories would write. I loved the idea of having awide variety of styles. Middle School through the eyes of every kid in the class.

What words of advice do you have for kids going through a hard time in middle school right now?

My advice is the advice I try to give myself in my comic, "Plan on the Number 7 Bus." And that is: "Don't be mean." I figured out that pretty much every time I said something mean about someone it would come back to punch me in the face, or, ostracize me from the few remaining friends I had left. It's just so hard in middle school because talking shit about someone with someone else feels so good. There's really nothing like it. It's the middle school drug. For those ten minutes of shit talking you feel high and confident and bonded to the person you're shit talking with. But then the crash comes. The person you shit talked with tells the person you shit talked about and pretty soon everyone is shit talking you. It's a horrible cycle. Break the cycle.

You work as a writer for the popular Showtime program The L Word. Has that experience changed how you make comics in any way?

Working on The L Word gave me much more experience in two areas: writing fiction and writing collaboratively. For a long time I had little interest in either of those, but after awhile, sitting alone in your room writing about yourself for hours on end can get a little cabin feverish. The L Word was a fantastic way to jump into something totally different. I loved it, and now feel much more inspired to try fiction and collaboration in my own work.

Rumor has it there's a film adaptation of your high school comics in the works right now. Can you tell readers anything about how that's going?

The film is an adaptation of my junior year book, Potential. I wrote the screenplay and Rose Troche (she did Go Fish and The Safety of Objects) is directing it. The producer is Killer Films. Right now we're in the middle of casting and are hoping to shoot this summer. There are also going to be animated sequences, which Rose and I will work on together along with an animation studio.

How did you get into drawing comics?

Drawing comics just came really naturally to me. Ever since I was a kid I loved telling stories and I loved drawing. At first, this meant that I would tell the story out loud to my sister or mom or friend or whoever, as I drew, but eventually I worked up the skill to put the words on the page incorporated with the drawings. Comics are just a really accurate way for me to get ideas and emotions across.

Which comic artists working today do you really admire?

My favorite comic artists of today are probably Alison Bechdel, Joe Matt, Gabrielle Bell, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware and Lynda Barry.

What was it like to work collaboratively on an anthology versus working alone on the books you've created in the past?

Doing a big joint project has been great. When I was working alone on my comics I used to always be jealous of my friends in bands. They got to go on tour together, jam on stage together, hook up with groupies together, celebrate over a record deal together. I wanted something like that. I wouldn't say Stuck in the Middle has reaped exactly the same benefits, but it's been a lot of fun.

Are your comics in Stuck in the Middle autobiographical? What about the other contributors' comics?

Both of my comics are based on autobiographical events, though because they happened so long ago, and because they're short stories (which in general I think require more plot fine tuning than larger works), I also consider them fictional. I know that some of the other contributors' comics are also based on real life events, but you'd have to ask them personally whether they'd call them fiction or auto bio. Sometimes the memories are too painful to claim as our own.

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