/ Mark Frauenfelder / 3 pm Mon, Jan 2 2012
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  • Gingerbread Girl: graphic novel of a woman missing her Penfield Homunculus

    Gingerbread Girl: graphic novel of a woman missing her Penfield Homunculus

    UPDATE: Leigh Walton of Top Shelf just let me know that Gingerbread Girl is available in its entirety as a free webcomic!

    In Gingerbread Girl, a graphic novel by Paul Tobin, and illustrated by Colleen Coover, Anna Billips is a outwardly-cheerful and carefree 27-year-old woman who is convinced that her Penfield Homunculus was surgically removed from her brain when she was 9 years old.


    Here is how one of the characters in the book (her off-and-on girlfriend Chili) defines the Penfield homunculus: "a physical phenomenon named after its discoverer, Wilder Penfield. It's right here in each of our brains, and it's a human-shaped template for your sense of touch. It's stunted and twisted but it's there. If I touch someone's hand, their Penfield Homunculus registers the sensation in its own corresponding region."


    Anna claims her father removed her homunculus when she was 9 years old, around the time that her parents were having vicious arguments leading up to a divorce and her father's abandonment. Anna believes that her homunculus (which resembled a gingerbread cookie when it was removed from her brain) developed into a twin sister she named Ginger. When Anna was young, Ginger was her sister and playmate, but as she grew older Ginger drifted out of her life. Because Anna lost her original homunculus, she is unable to sense the world in a subtle way. A primitive homunculus grew in the void in her brain, but it only allows her to feel things in "black and white."

    In Gingerbread Girl, Anna is always on the lookout for Ginger. In between searches through parks and shops, she dates a woman named Chili and a man Jerry, enjoying the fact that they are jealous of each other.

    Author Paul Tobin's story is as complex and engaging as possible for a small-format 104-page graphic novel. It's a kind of story I probably wouldn't have enjoyed much as a text only novel, but I found this graphic novel to be enthralling. It's told in the fake documentary style of The Office, where characters occasionally address the reader to give background information. It's a gimmick, but an effective one that works well here.

    I'm a sucker for Colleen Coover's art style: clean solid black-and-white art with monotone color shading. I want to seek out more of her work.

    Because of the adult themes, Gingerbread Girl is probably best for readers 16 and older.

    Buy Gingerbread Girl on Amazon.com

    / / COMMENTS


    1. Colleen Coover also does wonderful things with Marvel Comics characters, a now nearly-extinct ability.

    2. Having just read that, I’m in the envious place of both being content and wanting more.  Does that make me Schrodinger’s reader?  Is there some way to get this on my ipad as a digital download?  If not, I need to go buy this book somehow.  They did excellent work!

    3. not to be to objective but I was glad i skipped to the end about 12 “chapters” in. It was frustrating browsing it on the website as I would personally make it to ensure the less patient reader would just order the book and be done with attempting to slog through the unwieldy mess. The book is quirky and offers a decent look at an alternative view at its underlying story beyond the first introduction of the main character going out on a date and discussing her mental idioms of her personality and behavior. On a whole I personally found the character difficult to establish a connection with. While it is  possible conjecture that I withheld interest in her dialogues with her date as a result, I feel the story overall just makes one want to skip to the end to find out the truth.

    4. This truly is one of the best books of the past year. It’s transgressive in the proper way, the way that challenges readers to expand their thinking about topics they already think they know. Or, instead of “they”, I should say “we”. I found each page, each challenge, to be a delight. Is Annah right? Is she crazy? Is she crazy and also correct? These are the questions I walked away with, the questions I ponder in discussion with others.

      This book rewards careful reading, a reveling in each page and chapter.  Coover’s art is wonderful, expanding and complimenting the text throughout. I’m so pleased to see that other’s like the book as well!

    5. Seconding Small Favors, which is excellent, playful and 100% non-skeevy lesbian erotica. It was pretty jarring to see Coover make the jump from that to the occasional short feature for Marvel Comics, and this book (which I read online) lies somewhere between the two. 

    6. Read this on the web, and really enjoyed the content while despising the reader. That said, preordered the book from Amazon almost immediately as a result. The method of storytelling where almost everything is fourth-wall breaking REALLY appealed to me, be it Annah talking to the reader about her history or a fake mentalist talking to the reader about Annah’s history or a bulldog doing likewise – and it felt natural. 

      (Also, the site turned me onto Owly, which I’d really, REALLY love to see you do a piece on. Charming as all hell, and adorable to boot. I’m not going to go as far as calling it “Miyazaki-esque”, but it’s pretty fine. Owly – pick up on it.)

    7. Finally got around to reading the webcomic. I love the artwork to bits, but I felt like the somewhat abrupt ending came just as I was getting really into it. Is it a stand-alone story or is there a follow-up coming?

      I also can’t figure out if the fact that I wanted to slap the main character was the desired reaction (though it didn’t make me dislike the story at all, just have a huge amount of sympathy for her friends/lovers…)

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