Realizations about race, class, and the imperfections of identity swirl through these stories, by cartoonist Ebony Flowers. Hot Comb offers a poignant glimpse into black women’s lives and coming-of-age stories as seen across a crowded, ammonia-scented hair salon while ladies gossip and bond over the burn.
Hot Comb is Flowers’ debut book and it’s a hugely impressive one, placing Flowers’ intellectual strength upfront. On one hand, these are slice of life stories, filled with life and energy, and the product of someone who is obviously a keen observer of humanity. Flowers’ dialogue is so natural and her portrayals of conversation so realistic, and her words are in perfect partnership with her cartooning. Her figures are alive, with rich body language ... But Flowers’ skill at depicting the intimate are just one aspect of how fully-realized her talent springs forth in this book. What makes it so special is the way she wraps these elements around larger themes of race without ever making you feel like you are reading A Very Important Work With A Heavy Purpose. Rather, Flowers lets the characters be themselves, lets the situations unfold, and by bringing these together, lets the big themes come out naturally and — more important — decisively. The narratives in Hot Comb make the point. The characters make the point. You learn through the experience. You learn through empathy. Hot Comb is like a masterclass in how to make comics.
...[a] slim but powerful [debut] ...Between her stories, showing off her sly humor and ethnographer’s eye, Flowers intersperses faux advertisements for hair care products ... Flowers’s loose, expressive line is a little messy, a little scribbly, with both cursive and all-caps text floating through the images. She is a protégée of the great cartoonist of childhood, Lynda Barry, also known for her expressive style ... In 'Hot Comb,' bodies can meld into each other, and texture and shadow sometimes make the action hard to distinguish. But this imprecise style works for these stories, which are so often about the anxieties of correct appearance.
... exhilarating ... Flowers skillfully enlists distinctive markers of black hair culture to expose the vulnerability deeply encoded in black women’s struggle for agency. Inky tactile sketches pull readers into a mode of contemplative storytelling that sets Hot Comb apart, even as it builds on the familiar structures of graphic memoir and quotidian slice-of-life comics. The loose, thick lines of Flowers’ drawing style generate bulbous body shapes and elastic facial expressions that shift easily between the nuanced perspectives of the characters and unrestrained moments of emotional intensity. While she is undoubtedly influenced by her work with cartoonist Lynda Barry, Flowers’ aesthetic approach has its own distinct cast, its own precision and creative flair ... Flowers is particularly adept at representing the dense, curly textures of black hair.