Off the Shelf

Leanne Franson: Drawing Life Out

Reviewed by Jack Ruttan

First published in PLACE PUBLIQUE

Assume Nothing
by Leanne Franson
Slab-O-Concrete Publications, Hove, U.K. 84 pp.

"See that guy? He's my latest prospective sperm donor." That was one of the first things Leanne Franson, creator of "Liliane" comics said to me, as I met to interview her amidst a sea of dogs and owners filling the Lafontaine Park dog run. I had read about the character's continuing quest to integrate motherhood into a lesbian bi-sexual lifestyle in Franson's new paperback collection of stories, Assume Nothing. Still, as dogs lapped at our toes, and offered us slimy tennis balls to throw, I was unprepared for such a direct jump from cartoons on a page into real life.

There was not far to jump. Franson's writing and drawing are little more complicated than what you would find in a hand-written letter. This simplicity and transparency allows readers of varied backgrounds to share in the experience, and follow Liliane's adventures sympathetically. Franson admits that she writes about sex a lot. Not to shock people, as some cartoonists do, but rather to talk about issues: psychological issues, and social ones. She explains she is interested in how a person's sexual identity develops and evolves, and how problems can be similar and dissimilar. She creates her comics for herself, and for others who can identify with the experience. This she does very well, according to Johanne Cadorette of L'Androgyne Bookshop in the city. Cadorette says that the mini comics sell well, especially to women who want something uniquely "Montreal." Franson, says Cadorette, brings out the duality of the city, also explaining aspects of lesbian culture. "She's very positive, very hip to the debates in the community."

While Liliane the character is sweet and naive, almost romantic in the way she searches for love and endures disappointment, Leanne Franson is hard-edged, opinionated. My note-taking pen found it hard to keep pace with her. In real life, she says, anger can carry one away. The cartoon distills it, makes her be specific, and funny. "Liliane is trying to turn anger into something I can laugh at. It makes more sense to me to do that."

Time spent in London, England, put her in contact with the person who published work based on her mini-comics in the form of the current book. It's been very successful, says Franson, and has gone through three printings already in this year (in the city the book is findable, but getting scarce, at stores such as L'Androgyne, Nebula, and Nemo).

Illustration for children's books is what takes up her time now, and provides most of her income. She worries, probably justifiably, that children's book companies will not want to buy work from the creator of titles such as "Acute Baby Dyke." We can only hope that she continues to find time to challenge the forces of adversity, and keep her readers posted.

(Sadly, l'Andrognye bookstore is no more. Tried to grow too big, too fast. Mind you, now that I think of it, the other two stores don't exist, either. -J. )

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