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.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.