Two young women recently released fantastic new projects, both of which I would highly recommend. Upon further reflection, these two works also seem linked by a theme that is becoming more common, an important, in today’s world.
If you were paying attention to the Women’s March last year, an unofficial anthem emerged from a young woman from California with the stage name Milck. That song, Quiet, was adopted by the march, and by women everywhere as their rallying cry. Quiet, which blatantly tells everyone that women, especially women of color, will no longer remain quiet for you. When I heard it for the first time, on Samantha Bee’s show, the song had not even finished before I had gone online and purchased it, both for myself and my daughter. In late January, Milck released a 7-song EP, THIS IS NOT THE END, anchored by her anthem of courage.
I’ve known Tara O’Connor for years. She and I have been friends and a support system for each other for a long time, despite being very different demographically and creatively. Whereas I create children’s books, Tara is more heavily involved in YA fiction that encompasses everything from space adventure to coming-of-age tales, and autobiographical work. Tara is very much a product of the current zeitgeist, and her art style is influenced by the American Manga style most represented by Brian Lee O’Malley and Faith Erin Hicks. Late last year, Tara released ROOTS, which detailed the dissolution of her marriage and the life-changing events that transpired immediately after as she tried to re-discover herself and her own identity, while on a trip to her ancestral home of Ireland. Tara recently released THE ALTERED HISTORY OF WILLOW SPARKS, a graphic novel about a young girl who finds that control over your life may not always be what you want.
It occurred to me, after reading SPARKS, and after several listens to the far-too-short END, that these are both hallmark works of a generation. A young female-led generation, specifically.
Tara and Milck are roughly the same age, and they’ve seen a great deal in their young life…and more of it than should be is bad. For people like me (read: old white guys), the world of constant harassment at multiple degrees of severity is nothing we are aware of. Yes, the courageous declarations of men like Terry Crews does signal that harassment is not a problem only endured by women, but the tables lean to the overwhelming majority of victims being women.
In their own ways these new works speak to that reality, which is finally coming to light, thanks to women, well…having enough.
Women are rightly tired of our BS, and they aren’t going to stay quiet anymore. Women are taking control of their lives, and not letting the patriarchy (yes, egg-icon-dudes on Twitter, that’s a real thing) tell them what to do.
If you have read SPARKS, then you probably wonder what I’ve been smoking. But stay with me, please.
THIS IS NOT THE END ebbs and flows with subtlety and power, and a resonance you would expect from someone with the life history of a Tina Turner. Call of the Wild starts the album, and is a solid introduction for the collection. It is also a fine addendum to Quiet, where Milck sings about once trying to tame the rage within, and then deciding to let it, and herself, fly free. Call and Quiet are bridged by I Don’t Belong To You, and it’s a near perfect song. Driving but calm, you can feel the anger building as the singer confronts her oppressors through song. Harassment is not love, nor is it ownership, and Milck breaks those chains with this song. “I’m letting the lion loose, [with] nothing to prove to you,” she sings, a warning to anyone who tries to stand in her way.
Quiet is the third track, and by now it’s a familiar song, but in this slot on the album, continues the story of personal discovery Call and Belong set up. While it tells of the singer being a “one-woman riot,” it also rallies the entirety of the gender, both directly to those unhappy with the current administration, and as a warning to those women who helped elevate this administration into office.
The next song is an interesting, but perfect choice: a cover of the Five Stairsteps classic, Ooh, Child. Milck rescues the song from the Guardians of The Galaxy films, and returns it to it’s necessary place. Milck, in this quiet piano and vocal cover, brings it back to the important message the song has presented: the fight is never over but things will get better.
Next is Black Sheep, a song for those folks who have always been outcasts, no matter where they stand. Every group has it’s oddballs, and this song embraces and encourages them, without resorting to the Baby Boomer ridiculous message that “everyone is special” that is probably to blame for a lot of the MRA yahoos Milck is rallying against. Here, Milck sings to anyone who has been ostracized for their quirks and encourages to take that harassment and make it your armor…and to keep fighting.
Undercover sounds like an homage to some of the 1980s music I grew up on, which may tip this tune to being my favorite. Milck sings that she is done pretending to be someone else for the comfort of others. Be that the silent victim society prefers, or simply a young woman tired of changing herself to be liked or accepted by peers.
This Is Not The End wraps up the album, and very clearly states just what it’s title implies, both for Milck and her intended audience: I’m not going anywhere. Women have found their voice in this crumbling society, and they will build it back up, better than it was. The voices of oppression are loud and calling, but their numbers dwindle, and one day soon, this world will be different. This album is a conversation that a young woman has with herself when she has decided enough is enough. When she has literally decided this is the end of her compliance with her harassment. This one story, contained in seven amazing songs, may be over, but its one chapter of a larger, greater saga. We can either encourage it and enjoy it, or try and stand in the way.
SPARKS is the story of a young, awkward girl simply trying to survive. Like so many families these days, hers is basically herself and her mother. Along with her best friend, Georgia, Sparks navigates the perils and pitfalls of high school, with a familiar nemesis: the “perfect” prettiest girl in school, who likes to take advantage of everyone she feels is beneath her.
What starts out as a somewhat common coming-of-age story immediately zags when it should zig, and becomes an almost Rod Serling-esque cautionary tale, complete with supernatural overtones.
Sparks works part time in the local library, and one night she needs to close the library by herself. Towards the end of the evening, her school nemesis, along with her crew, arrives to bully Willow. They push Willow down a long staircase into the basement, and crashes through the wall. Behind the wall she finds another, much larger library. As she explores this new library, she realizes that each book is different. Each book carries the name of a resident of her town. She eventually finds one titled simply, Willow Sparks.
She realizes that each book is a chronicle of each life led in town, past and present. Each book updates in real time, with script appearing on the page as events happen. Willow’s book has stopped with her picking the book up and opening it.
She races home with the book, and soon notices a small pen tied to the book, labeled, “for emergencies only.”
Wondering what might happen, she takes the pen and writes a new passage on the blank page.
The next morning, her bruises from the fall the night before, as well as all of her acne, are gone. At school, the other students begin to notice Willow, including her nemesis’ crew.
What follows is a series of events in which Willow falls deeper and deeper into the possibilities of where her life may go if she keeps writing. However, a dark and fateful warning has emerged, and Willow has to decide which is more important, control, or fate?
SPARKS is an enjoyable work, with nods to the Twilight Zone, and plays out like it could very well have been one of the shows teleplays, complete with Shelly Fabares as Willow, and Anne Francis as her nemesis.
But the underlying theme, the desire for control, coupled with the music by Milck, made me think more about these works.
Sure, Willow’s desire to control her life is completely understandable. At that age, when you aren’t one of the popular kids, it is easy to feel like your life is over before it started. It is nearly impossible to see beyond the next day, and know that your life is a long and rich story, and will never be defined by your high school years, and certainly not by a few obnoxious jerks who you are forced to endure as classmates.
Willow learns that wielding control has its consequences, and the ways in which people can control their lives.
But the control we see exercised in SPARKS is wholly different, yet complimentary, to the control Milck sings about.
In fact, it is almost like Milck is singing TO Willow: BE weird. Be yourself. And don’t take anything from anyone that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
The control that Willow exerts through her book is not a control over one’s own fate through thoughtful decision-making, but of manipulation. She learns the lesson well before it leads her down a road she doesn’t want to travel. That type of control is the kind of manipulation Milck is fighting against, and when Willow realizes just what kind of control she really needs to exert, everything changes.
She has hope, and something to live for: friendship.
Milck has something to fight for: her future.
Two messages about the ways in which we present the notions of control, and how we let it change us.
And not just messages for young women. We men should pay attention as well. These messages of control, self-reliance, and resilience are not gender specific. They are not a message that one gender’s time is over on this earth.
It is a message that it is long past time for us to let women be. Simply be. Be fighters, be themselves, be whatever. To get out of their way. To help them, or to let them be alone. They don’t want to be quiet anymore. And we should get out of the way.
THIS IS NOT THE END is available for download from major digital retailers. THE ALTERED HISTORY OF WILLOW SPARKS is available from bookstores and better comic shops everywhere. They are both wonderful.