By Sam King
Sheets is what you get when you take a lonely girl, a dead boy, and a financially threatened laundromat, and put it all on a spin cycle. It is adorable, thought-provoking, and imaginative all at once. The artwork is clean and smooth, like freshly laundered linens. All laundry puns aside, it is a good read that has some deep themes hidden underneath a mostly domestic setting.
Sheets is an original graphic novel written by Brenna Thummler that will be released in August of this year.
Marjorie Glatt is a thirteen-year-old girl who runs her family’s laundromat. It used to be her mother’s, but now she runs it while her father drinks away his sadness and her younger brother goes to kindergarten. She is responsible for more than your average teen, and her life has shaped her into becoming a recluse. She doesn’t have friends, she is in danger of losing her livelihood and home, and things only get worse when an unexpected visitor returns to the land of the living.
Wendell is a young boy who was only eleven when he died and became a ghost. He doesn’t fit in at the land of ghosts, but he also can’t belong in a place where his existence would be questioned while threatening the land of ghosts. He is also lonely and just seems to want a friend who he can talk to that won’t make fun of him or appear tired of him as other characters do. He is represented in the only way that makes him visible to anyone: as a sheet with eyes, eyebrows, and a mouth.
Marjorie and Wendell happen to cross paths and at a larger scope, the story, as the title suggests, is all about sheets. Marjorie is struggled to keep sheets and other laundry clean and presentable enough to make an adequate of money. Simultaneously, a creepy neat freak man continually hangs around in the hopes of taking possession of the laundromat just so he can turn it into a spa. Wendell stirs up extra trouble for Marjorie which leads to many misunderstandings, but ultimately ends on very happy, hopeful notes. Friends are not always what or who we expect and closing ourselves off is not necessarily the best way to go through life.
The story is very straightforward. The beauty is that it is a generally simple story with deep themes that are presented through a very elongated and enjoyable metaphor. The imagery within Sheets is fun to experience, and it is interesting to see what kinds of connections can be made between characters and plot points based on the base idea of laundry. We find out a lot about each character through what they have washed and how they interact with others in the central location of the laundromat. There are other settings, but the laundromat is dual purpose. It is a business that is keeping a small family afloat just barely, while also serving as their home. It is the one anchor they have to the life they had before. The predominant male characters (apart from Wendell) fall under creepy or nonexistent for the majority of the book. The antagonist, Mr. Saubertuck, isn’t the best villain you’ll ever read about, and he is creepy for hanging around the laundromat the way he does, but he is ultimately a conflict creator and plot pusher. The father is basically useless and falls under nonexistent. Grief is one thing, but negligent parenting is the predominant issue I have with him. He puts too much on Marjorie’s shoulders, but maybe this happens more often in life than I think it does. The crush storyline is bland but revealing to a certain degree. Crushes at this age are often simple and could be based on just minimal interaction. This isn’t a romance, so I’m not expecting some grand tale of love where the guy actually knows the girl. This is the stage before that with young teens, so I appreciated how minimal it was kept compared to the rest of the novel.
I liked the art of this graphic novel. It has a lot of pastel colors which keeps it looking youthful. Sometimes the faces look a little odd, but it is because they are drawn in a certain style. As I adjusted more to it, it became much more charming to me. If I had to choose one word to describe the art I would probably choose soft, since there is a lighter color scheme in place with a prevalence of rounded and curved shapes. The faces and facial features don’t look polished smooth or like they would be cartoon characters on TV, but they definitely don’t look crude or unappealing. They fit somewhere in the middle, but I am having a hard time describing it adequately. At first it may not seem like ghosts with sheets over their heads would be all that discernible or recognizable among one another, but there are actually lots of visual cues and items used to tell each apart. Wendell’s sheet face is surprisingly expressive with just three core pieces. Other ghosts are shown with items that reflect who they were/are, such as police ghosts having police hats, or additional background characters with ties, glasses, or other headwear. The big difference in style between the land of the living and the ghosts is the color. There is only color in the land of the living, whereas the ghost land is predominantly soft greys and black mixed with white. I thought it was a nice touch creatively to incorporate a visual distinction between the opposing settings.
I really liked this graphic novel and think it has a valid message for readers to leave with about how you go through life and interact with others. It also shows that sometimes there are misunderstandings or people just don’t really get what others are always going through. Sometimes offering help isn’t enough or people aren’t comfortable enough to engage with those offering help. The silver lining is that sometimes it can be overcome, despite how bleak it may seem. I would recommend this title and hope that it sparks some discussion among the target audience, which I’m thinking is around middle school age.
Lion Forge Comics