Text and illustrations by Erin Williams. Abrams ComicArts, 2019. 295 p. ill. ISBN 9781419736742 (paperback), $24.99.
Reviewed June 2020
Courtney Baron, Assistant Professor and Director, Bridwell Art Library, University of Louisville, email@example.com
“Our trauma becomes our shame. Shame is an instrument of oppression” (285-6).
Commute is the graphical representation of a day in the life of Erin Williams as she commutes to and from New York’s Grand Central Station. We get a first-hand account of her weekday routine marked by the microaggressions and misogyny faced by women in the public realm. As Erin navigates encounters with familiar faces and strangers along the way, she recalls her sexual experiences with men, blurred between the lines of consent and assault, as well as the road to recovery from her addiction to alcohol. Commute is a quick read, but one that readers will think about for a long time.
The cover illustration, showing a train full of men gawking at Erin as she stands on the platform in a t-shirt and underwear, is a powerful representation of the resulting shame felt by women as they are either sexualized or ignored by the opposite sex. Erin’s illustrations are muted, mostly black and white with pops of color for effect. The numerous self-portraits, almost caricature in nature, reflect Erin’s confrontation with how she experiences her own body and how others perceive her appearance. A few photographs make their way into the graphic novel, including the shoes of a man who steals glances of Erin on the train, polaroid pictures documenting her pregnancy, and the birth of her daughter, an attempt to reclaim her body as her own.
Notably, Commute is a personal memoir from the perspective of a white, cisgender, and heterosexual woman. The contents of this work may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault or those struggling with addiction. Commute is a worthy addition to any public or academic library with a comic book or graphic novel collection, especially those with an emphasis on women’s studies and feminist topics.