Go Home and Go to Bed! A comic by Mary Ruefle

Go Home and Go to BedGo Home and Go to Bed!
A comic by Mary Ruefle
Orange Table Comics/Pilot Books 2007
Edition of 500
$6 (plus $2 for shipping costs)

Reviewed by John Dermot Woods

This debut mini-comic from famed poet (and unknown cartoonist) Mary Ruefle is a promising first step towards a long and fruitful comics career. Ruefle has a talent for language, writing graceful poems that still manage to rub and abrade the reader. But a good poet is not necessarily an able cartoonist. So, did Ruefle choose to create a comic because she can draw really well? No, her technical abilities are limited to a second grader’s concept of perspective, show no care for composition, and she even makes use of tacky computer coloring to highlight (muddy) her book’s cover. Her work is not even created in the “bad-good” style pioneered by John Porcellino and practiced by talented cartoonists like Jeffrey Brown and David Heatley: visual poetry demanding to be judged on its own terms. Nevertheless, Ruefle’s comic, her interpolation of scribbled words and doodles, works.

Despite, and because of, Ruefle’s attempts to discredit her own depression in this autobio piece (yes, yet another autobio cartoonist has been born!), to trivialize her pain, the book is droningly painful to read, as it taps into that constant, low-level ache we feel at the tail end of anxiety; it’s a truthful and uninsulated encounter with quotidian failure, failure that will be waiting for us tomorrow – by definition. Ruefle can’t control her lines. Not even her handwriting is easily legible. Here, we see a poet physically losing control of her words. And her images are even further beyond her grasp. On the fifth page, she admits to her total “lack of perspective”—no further specification needed or given. It was at this moment when I understood why this lifelong poet turned to the comic medium for this little book.

This is a book about the limits of self-control. Her struggle is not a crisis of repression, but a game of chicken with a looming sense of defeat. When do we give in to the urge to be defeated? When do we lose control and stop fighting entropy? Or are our stupid attempts at personal order (Ruefle depicts her little apartment’s neat bookshelves and furniture arrangement, and even recreates a two-dimensional sketch she drew as a child of her grandmother standing on a brick patio—represented here as a neat grid of black rectangles—a precursor perhaps to Ruefle’s comic created almost half a century later) a self-defeating practice in themselves?

It’s a good thing Mary Ruefle decided to draw a comic. She’s given us another example of a story that can only be told using both words and pictures. Her work is not groaning under the weight of either genre expectations or the need to showcase an artist’s ability to shake those expectations, like the work of so many cartoonists who create ‘literary comics.’ This is not the work of a poet who wants to get in on this cool new “graphic novel” thing. Instead, Ruefle reveals her doubts about her ability to remain fresh, to say anything new with her poems. In Go Home and Go to Bed!, a well-respected writer and confident manipulator of language decides to tell her story in a medium over which she has little control, and as a result creates a quietly volatile little book that threatens to sink its reader along with its author.

  1. […] So John thought a good place for me to start my mini-comics reviews is with a mini by a poet. Go here to read my review of Mary Ruefle’s first comic, Go Home and Go to Bed!. I plan on reviewing more minis in the future. (Let me know if you see something […]

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