I recently had the pleasure of reading Britina Cheng’s (first?) graphic memoir, re:bound. To put it simply and avoid too many spoilers, re:bound is a memoir depicting the romance and estrangement between it’s author and a boy. I do not think Cheng ever mentions his name, but he is always depicted with his signature Softboy Cap, so I’m going to call him Cap Boy, a name the memoir, to its credit, rejects snark for genuine compassionate nuance too much to do itself. This memoir, Cheng assures us, is not about Cap Boy. It is, bravely and vulnerably, about her. Throughout the memoir, Cheng recalls her existence navigating college romance at the intersection of the social forces of race and gender, and resists efforts of others in her story to cast aside her perspective, be they white feminists, disloyal friends, or careless men by laying down her own intersectional narrative, in visually striking black and white.
At the release of the memoir in Cheng’s parent’s home in Brooklyn, Cheng told me that while she knew what story she wanted to tell, she did not immediately know what form it would take. While this narrative could have ended up as a short film or a prose story, I am glad that Cheng chose the graphic memoir form, as there are several powerful moments where she uses the medium to its most evocative potential. Speech bubbles blown big from the mouths of chatty college white boys seem to overpower our protagonist in one panel, conveying the way privilege evokes itself in physical spaces. In another panel, Cheng recalls with text and no images how she imagines the possibilities of a meeting between her parents and boyfriend. This block of text in contrast with the pictorial representations on the page’s other panels underscore the fact that these possibilities remained just that, imagined, as Cap Boy declines her invitation.
Time and time throughout the comic, Cheng’s boyfriend lazily shows up to these conversations about race an gender in that characteristic way: by failing to show up at all. Her role in his narrative is one of a rebound relationship, and he seems to refuse to dignify her with a truly honest conversation that takes into account difficult topics like gender and race. Cheng, in this memoir, chooses a new conversation: one with her readers, and also with herself. The title, re:bound, is delightfully layered with meaning and suggests the power of artistic expression to bring us the closure we need. Ringing through the memoir is a sense of unapologetic, hard earned self compassion. Unlike the “self aware and touchingly self deprecating” music of Cheng’s pretentious dud of a beau, this memoir’s self awareness and sincereity rejects the pseudo~edge of self deprecation and cynicism for the truly novel and radically gentle possibility of genuine self compassion. To the very end, Cheng gives even Cap Boy his humanity: Facebook messages appear in full, real conversations grace the page without commentary, both Cheng and Cap Boy allowed to speak without ridicule. This humanity means the memoir is not a skewering satire of the insiduous softboy, because it’s not about him at all. It’s about her.