M.S. Harkness’ “Rotten” Proves That Timing Is (Almost) Everything

I’ve gotta hand it to fellow Minneapolitan M.S. Harkness — if you’re going to release a comic set on (and immediately after) election day 2016, then choosing to do so on the eve of the 2020 election is a savvy move. And if there’s one thing you can say for Harkness in addition to being creative, it’s that she’s very much in tune with the times — as anyone who’s read her satirical evisceration of online dating, Tinderella, can tell you — so it should come as no surprise that her latest self-published mini, Rotten, is as timely and topical as it is, well, twisted.

And true. Albeit with a bit of artistic license thrown in for (melo)dramatic effect. But such is usually the case with autobio to one degree or another, and parsing out the accurate from the amped-up is pretty much just part and parcel of the price of admission — hell, it’s even part of the fun. And so it is here — Harkness is nothing if not confident at this stage of her cartooning career, and she has every reason to be : she’s refined her line, tweaked her plotting and pacing skills just so, and is well and truly firing on all cylinders in these pages.

If you’ll think back to the not-so-dim-and-dusty past, when terms like “the resistance” were still a new phenomenon, you’ll recall that we were all in a difficult head space after Trump’s election, and while Harkness doesn’t present herself as being the most politically-motivated or ideological person, the fact that we were headed for shitty times certainly wasn’t beyond her awareness by any means — it’s just that she had bigger problems. Well, okay, more immediate and personal problems. And they became more pronounced just as the world’s did the same. Ahhhh, the joys of synchronicity.

Now, to say anything more would likely be giving too much away, and since this book just came out I’m going to do my damndest to assiduously avoid anything that might be classified as a “spoiler,” but I don’t think I’ll be speaking out of turn if I say that what’s happening to her is a gynecological mystery — hell, it’s not even a reach to call it a horror — and now, in the interest of keeping all my friends, I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say, however, that just as she always does, she finds a way to see the funny side in a situation that is anything but, and while juxtaposing what’s happening to her with increasing socio-political uncertainty is an admittedly obvious move, it’s not only accurate in this case, it’s handled with a fair amount of storytelling deftness and never feels overly belabored. That’s not an easy task, especially when the narrative’s timing lends itself toward such potential pitfalls as a matter of course.

Still, there’s no such thing as a perfect comic, and there are occasions in this one when Harkness maybe leans into the self-deprecation a bit too hard — but hey, if that’s an honest depiction of how you feel about yourself, who am I to judge? She keeps this self-deprecation on the periphery, where it likely belongs, more often than not, though, and when you combine this generally astute authorial point of view with her clean, expressive, non-flashy, and frankly populist cartooning style, what you’ve got is the kind of thing just about anybody, regular comics reader or not, can enjoy — provided they have a strong constitution and aren’t easily offended, of course.

Look, if you want any further proof that I think you should buy this comic, consider that I just ordered a copy myself even after having read a preview .PDF. That’s an endorsement as strong as the smell that — no, you know what, I’m cutting this off right there. Just read it and you’ll know what I’m getting at.


Rotten is available for $8.00 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/rotten

Review wrist check – Squale “1521 Onda” aqua blue dial model riding a Zodiac caoutchouc black rubber NATO-style field strap.