In this Eisner Award-winning comic, an American undergraduate named Sophie spends time in Paris, where she longs for a life beyond the mainstream. When Sophie befriends a vegan anarchist, with whom she sets out on a hitchhiking trip, she struggles with the practical and ethical difficulties of practicing radical politics.
Sophie Yanow...is humbly conscious of the limits of her experience, [and] she makes you smile and cringe and sympathize anyway. Yanow perfectly captures that early-20s state of mind where you want to have principles but don't know exactly what yours are, so you're all too inclined to embrace those of anyone who seems intriguing (or just cute) ... The journey that follows isn't suspenseful or surprising—it's not even particularly angsty as college stories go. And yet, Yanow's got this particular combination of astuteness and humility that makes the very lack of drama engaging. It feels nice to sit with someone who looks at the world the way she does. After a while, you start noticing all sorts of nuances within each low-key anecdote, and you'll wonder how much you're overlooking as you charge through life at your usual pace ... Her ligne claire ('clear line') drawings are so geometrical and spare, they could almost be ideograms ... This combination of economy and universality is at once unassuming, wry and subversive ... The apparent simplicity of her compositions is deceptive, and her message is paradoxical. Even as she strips away extraneous detail, she's teasing you about your own tendency to oversimplify everything. The Contradictions isn't just an engaging read, it's a warming and affirming one.
This funny and very knowing graphic novel will still strike an exceedingly loud chord with anyone who is, or has ever been, a fresher, far from home and all at sea ... Drawn in black and white, Yanow’s figures are a couple of rectangles topped by the circles of their anoraks, rucksacks and spectacles, while the boulevards and canals around them appear hardly at all. But though such a pared-back style can hardly be said to be beautiful, it’s perfect here. As they trudge from city to city, their days bereft of beauty, variety and everyday joy, Sophie and Zena could be almost anywhere. In the end, for all its comedy, The Contradictions is a book about how principles, if too firmly held, can make a person blind—not just to new ideas, but to all the good things in the world.
Sophie Yanow draws great legs. There are artists who are masters of the face, who are able to show everything a character thinks and feels with a glare. Then there are cartoonists who can tell a story through body language, drawing characters with their arms flailing wildly or their shoulders raised in indifference. Rarely have I seen someone like Sophie Yanow, though, who can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about a person through the movement of their legs alone ... Yanow’s artistic style, in which simple figures are defined by long spindly appendages, is in full force throughout The Contradictions . This is, after all, a story about movement and distance — not just the distance the characters cover on foot, but emotional distance as well. These are young people constantly testing the boundaries of their relations, never quite sure where they stand with one another, how deep their connection is. The way Yanow draws her characters is likewise useful in showing the relative inexperience of these characters. These figures appear as if they might bend and twist with every motion, which is probably the best encapsulation of the young student’s experience as their every step is fraught with terror because the world is an unfamiliar minefield ... Like many a Bildungsroman, the physical movement of the story is mostly there as an anchor for the psychological development the characters go through. While I have mentioned Yanow’s skills with body language, she also has great ability in other areas of cartooning ... Her figure-line, in particular, is more pleasing in its softness, and more easily finds the humanity of the characters in the minutia of everyday life. She does this while still maintaining her strong grasp of physical spaces and urban development. Her backgrounds are often sparse, but that does not detract from the strength of the artwork in depicting location; Yanow simply knows when to let the figures stand on their own and when to showcase larger sections of the cities they visit. I wouldn’t call her choices in The Contradictions 'evolution,' because that implies that the art here is inherently better than Yanow’s older work. What we have here is mostly a slight shift in the artistic direction. It shows Yanow can still find new means of expression within her established style.