Time keeps on slippin’

What would you do with a time machine? A lot of people would go back and kill Hitler while he was in art school, or check out next week’s $500 million lotto numbers. Jess Fink, on the other hand, would rather make out with herself.

Photo © Top Shelf Productions
Photo © Top Shelf Productions

What would you do with a time machine? A lot of people would go back and kill Hitler while he was in art school, or check out next week’s $500 million lotto numbers.

Jess Fink, on the other hand, would rather make out with herself.

In her new graphic novel We Can Fix It!, a so-called “time-travel memoir” from Portland’s Top Shelf Productions, Fink explores the common desire to revisit the past and the natural urge to change everything about it.

On her initial trips in the time machine, Fink’s sci-fi-jumpsuited, two-dimensional persona seems mostly interested in reliving the “sexy times” of her younger self. Reality sets in within the first few pages as she discovers what most of us know already: Nothing is ever as good as you remember.

Frustrated that her escapades weren’t nearly as sexy as she thought (“I mean, who licks a nipple?”), Fink decides that she should go back and advise her younger self to avoid her most embarrassing and awkward moments.

It appears to work for a while—bullies get told off and literally pooped on—but it becomes clear that there are some things time travel can’t solve.

Fink has drawn erotic comics before (like Chester 5000, also from Top Shelf), but she stays away from graphic depictions of sex in We Can Fix It! Sexual acts occur, but our focus is always on Fink’s older self, looking in at her younger self through a window or from a doorway.

The result is more revealing than any sex scene: Watching someone watching their younger self says volumes about how we view our memories.

When it comes to memoir, it’s not only the reader looking in on the person—the autobiographer is engaging in voyeurism too.

Though I make it sound very introspective and thought-provoking, Fink tells her story with a lot of goofy charm and raw honesty.

There are plenty of silly gags involving barf and boobs and sexy jumpsuits, cut with cringe-inducing formative social disasters (like accidentally throwing a Twizzler at an irritable motorist) that are random but somehow relatable.

Fink’s travels take a serious turn around the halfway point. An awful memory involving her dad is made all the more painful when you remember this really happened to someone—easy to forget in a book that involves a time machine.

We Can Fix It! is a little on the short side, but it covers a lot of ground. By the end, the time-traveling Fink has come to a conclusion regarding her past and her future and what they mean for the person she is at present.

Some of the memories Fink looks in on go on a bit too long, and some of them are a you-had-to-be-there kind of funny, but in a way it works in the memoir’s favor. Nobody has a life story that’s perfectly paced or expertly written and that fits easily into a three-act script.

Flaws and warts are a part of who we were and who we are, and in this case it’s comforting that form follows function.

Fink’s sketchy cartooning is deceptively simple. At first glance it seems like it could have been doodled in a spiral notebook, but most would have trouble aping Fink’s expressive style while killing time in a University Studies class. We Can Fix It! reads like a compendium of Fink’s idle sketches, held together with an invisible but cohesive structure.

With just a few lines and dots, Fink is able to create a vast array of human emotions. Throughout the book, we see giddiness, anxiety, joy and paralyzing fear, and not once does it feel forced or melodramatic. Fink makes it look easy while still keeping with the journal-like tone.

Top Shelf Productions presents
We Can Fix It!
By Jess Fink
Available at bookstores and comic shops everywhere

The sketch diary feel does get cumbersome in spots, specifically the lettering. Though the handwritten sound effects and side notes do add a casual authenticity, the inconsistent and occasionally bumpy speech bubble text can be distracting.

It doesn’t detract much from the overall story, but the loose lettering does sometimes break up the flow in momentous scenes.

There are a ton of autobiographical comics out there (more than 20 to choose from just on the Top Shelf website), but Jess Fink has managed to create something high-concept and personal at the same time.

We Can Fix It! is a comic for anyone who’s struggled with regret and identity—and anyone who’s into sexy jumpsuits.