When I was younger, my dad used to give me the comics section from our newspaper every Sunday. He never really asked me if I wanted it, he just started giving it to me one day, knowing I would voraciously read any comic put before me. Even though I read more “grown up” titles like Batman and the Justice League, the Sunday funnies felt comforting in a different way. I didn’t fully understand every comic, especially stuff like Doonesbury, I loved reading Zits and The Farside--and of course classics like Garfield. I read those funnies back to front and revisited ones I particularly liked. I’ve read a lot of comics since then, even a lot of comics that capture a similar art style, but I’ve never really felt what I felt reading those Sunday comics, a sense of comfort and warmth, and sometimes, quiet reflection.
I became familiar with Jason Fischer’s work in 2014, when Bryan Lee O’Malley’s (of Scott Pilgrim fame) Seconds released to good reviews. Fischer worked as a background artist on the comic, and--because O’Malley had tagged him on several posts on social media--I started following him myself. Some time later, I kept seeing cool burger art and designs by Fischer, or JFish as he’s known online. He sometimes posted about his comic projects, including Terra Flats, which looks very sweet although I admittedly haven’t read it.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Fischer started posting personal, autobiographical comics featuring animal versions of himself and his friends and family. He bemoaned the fact that a lot of people didn’t like these new comics, but continued posting them anyway. I didn’t understand the backlash. For me, these comics hit on something I hadn’t felt in a long time--that Sunday comic feeling.
The comics are cartoony, but in a way that completely fits the tone of the comic. Since the short strips in the book are autobiographical, the freedom of facial expression that a classic cartoon-style affords works perfectly. Of course, when I say things like “cartoon,” I don’t mean simple. The backgrounds of each panel are detailed, giving the reader a perfect idea of what JFish and his wife Robin’s home is like, or what his studio space looks like. This kind of background detail makes sense, given his history as a background artist, where attention to detail is so important.
The thing I like the most about this short comic is the type of stories Fischer tells. They’re touching--like the story he tells about his step-father, reflecting on his relationship with the larger than life man. They’re also funny. I particularly loved reading about Fischer’s days, how he passes the time and procrastinates just like I do. The way Fischer depicts Robin, his wife, makes me the happiest. Their love for each other seeps through the pages, but also his depiction of Robin reminds me of, well, me. I’ve talked a lot on the podcast and the blog about how I research body image in popular culture professionally--I’m getting my PhD in it!--and seeing women like Robin, women who look like me and are tall and big, depicted as loving, desirable, and beautiful has more of an impact than most people assume. I’m guessing that Fischer portrays Robin so lovingly because they’re partners and this is an autobiographical text. It makes sense to love your partner and portray them well! Even still, the value of seeing women that look like me having complete lives with loving partners, jobs, loving families--it means something. (I also should note that Robin seems just generally super cool! She is also depicted as a cat in the comic, which is just wonderful, honestly.)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that comics are fun. They can be a lot of things, and do a lot of things, but one of those is definitely fun. I enjoy reading spooky stories like Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, or superhero comics like Spider-Man or Hawkeye. I also read serious, political comics like the classic Maus. But comics that evoke the funny papers from my childhood will always hold a special place for me because they do the double duty work of touching our emotions and also making us laugh. The human experience is complicated, and I think Swimming with JFish encapsulates that.