Written by Michelle Tea
Art by Laurenn McCubbin
240 pages, two-color
Published by Last Gasp
More often than not, when I read a new book it’s all at once, having grabbed some free time for myself and not knowing when I’ll next get the chance. On rare occasions, though, I find myself holding back, forcing myself to only read one chapter at a time. That’s the sign of a great book, one that I don’t want to end, and that’s exactly what happened with Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin’s Rent Girl.
Rent Girl is the story of Michelle, a woman in Boston whose girlfriend is a hooker and who decides that she could become one too. What Michelle quickly learns is that there’s very little glamour in being a prostitute, but there are certainly stories and experiences you can tell for years to come that no one will entirely believe. Most of them involve the underside of people’s lives, and in the end, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh or wince. Which, it seems, is the point.
Tea’s writing in Rent Girl is unapologetic and straightforward from the very first page. The main character is dating an escort and she’s about to become one herself. Don’t like it? Get over it or go elsewhere. There’s a real boldness in the story which pulls you in, such confidence in the telling of these stories. Tea’s got a sly sense of humor about the sequence of events that’s infused into the narrative; you can’t help but laugh at Michelle’s plans to humiliate “John the john”, or when the horror of getting crabs is discovered. Rent Girl isn’t a “comedy” by any conventional standards, but its narrator know how to laugh at life and it’s that attitude-with-a-smirk which makes you want to read more.
McCubbin’s illustrations and design for Rent Girl are in many ways as much of the story as Tea’s words. McCubbin’s art is a beautiful combination of loose lines and photo realism; taking picture-perfect poses and body language and then distilling it into just a handful of lines on the page. It’s a great technique, and it gives Rent Girl an added level of humanity to it because you instinctively know that these aren’t just characters in a book, they’re people who are doing what it takes to survive. McCubbin has the text flow around her illustrations, shifting and bending appropriately to become one with her illustrations. Each page functions on its own as a piece of art, designed to work in a vacuum, but functioning with others to truly tell a story.
With its striking two-color black-and-red look, Rent Girl isn’t an easy book to forget. Tea and McCubbin’s book is a real collaboration of two unique talents to create something special. As you read of New Age clients hiring the services of women while figures sprawl across the couch in a pose designed to attract the client while secretly showing boredom to the reader, you’re hooked. You want more pages, more stories and illustrations of the life of Michelle. And in the end, aren’t you supposed to always have your clients wanting to come back for more? Rent Girl will always be waiting for your call, and you’ll never, ever regret it. Outstanding.