It’s difficult to describe the experience of reading Tara Booth’s new book from Retrofit/Big Planet, How To Be Alive. The title of this book lends itself to the expectation that this is some sort of self-help thing, but it’s not that, not at all. What How To Be Alive ends up being is an encapsulation of all those small moments that occur in private which reveal our true self to ourselves, in all its awkward, embarrassing, defeatist, celebratory, and sad incarnations.
Collecting 40 of Booth’s wordless, one-page, colorful and patterned gouache paintings, How To Be Alive reads as a secret spy camera recording a woman, perhaps Booth herself, in her car, her space, her world, going through all the motions of living a life trying to come to terms with her small failures and her equally small triumphs that comprise her day-to-day. From changing clothes to cutting her hair, from gobbling prescriptions and wine and food, to finding matching socks or just trying to get comfortable, these are the tiny dramas that engulf our loneliness and ensure our perpetual discontentment with all the things that defeat us, as we try to be our best in a world that ultimately registers our existence only slightly.
This is humanity writ raw. Booth is holding up a mirror to aid in our reflection of all the minor struggles that our brains trick us into interacting with on a monumental scale. The reader sees themselves in Booth’s paintings, sunburned or killing houseplants, popping zits or choosing shoes, and says, “Yeah, that’s me. I see myself in that moment.”
And it’s this connection, this reflection, that makes the experience of reading How To Be Alive a difficult experience to describe. Because it’s singular, isn’t it? What I see in Booth’s pages won’t be the same thing you see, because we each live our private lives shut off from each other behind whatever doors we’ve closed. My understanding of what if FEELS like to be in that moment, where emptying bottles of booze into the toilet is the right choice just then, has to be different than yours. And yet we can all understand the implications of that act, you in your place, me in mine, Booth in a different space altogether. The universality of the kind of acts that Booth renders in the pages of How To Be Alive, regardless of their specificity, joins us together despite the walls we have set in place around us.
In no way could I ever begin to imagine what it is like to be Tara Booth, but through her art I can connect to her on a fundamental level. She’s got her thing going on while I’ve got mine, but both of us, by the nature of our existence, battle the mundane in a quest to keep moving forward. Sure, we have different reasons and foundational reactions to the minute war of expectation vs reality, but Booth’s work here forces the acknowledgement of being in that crusade together.
How To Be Alive is really a manual for acknowledging we are alive. The comfort of recognition Tara Booth’s work provides is both armor for ourselves and a rallying cry to our togetherness. It’s a great comic. It’s a great piece of art.
Please go grab yourself a copy of How To Be Alive over at the Retrofit Comics Store.