Rent Girl by Michelle Tea & Laurenn McCubbin

Rent Girl
by Michelle Tea & Laurenn McCubbin
Last Gasp, 2004

Another Kept at Desk graphic novel, this time about a young Bostonian lesbian prostitute and her friends, lovers and johns. The book design is innovative, with each page dominated by a single full-bleed illustration while the text flows around it, with portions emphasized in a large hand-drawn font. The striking illustrations (black and white with red accents on lips, bedsheets and vulvas) are based on photographs of a cast of very patient models – many of the poses must’ve been hard to maintain without laughing or crying, or both.

The story of Michelle, a “broke baby dyke”, reminded me a bit of Ken Russell’s Whore, and although there’s plenty of drugs, things never become irredeemably depraved. No-one is beaten up or overdoses or becomes a junkie. It’s an account, not a confessional, and as in real life there’s no obvious moral or lesson – she begins her career as a broke baby dyke, and retires, undamaged, slightly less broke and with considerably more tattoos.

The writing is wry and matter-of-fact, with most of the humour derived from her naked (sic) contempt for her customers, which wears a bit thin through repetition by the end. She stresses that she isn’t a victim, but overall her experiences seem to be something of a zero-sum game – apart from providing her with the material for a rather good graphic novel.

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