My Riot – Rick Spears, Emmett Helen

Young Adult novels, and in this case, comics, tend to follow a similar formula (or at least from my experience they do): Young girl challenges the norms of her society in order to discover herself. My Riot is no different in that respect, however rather than settle for a dystopian future setting, we go way back to the 1990s and follow Valerie Simmons as she discovers and contributes to the RiotGrrl movement.

We join the story as Valerie is taking part in a ballet lesson, a past-time that her parents have encouraged her to partake in since she was a little girl. Her tutor pulls her to one side and tells her she is too fat for a male dance partner to lift and with them preparing for a performance of Swan Lake, well, Valerie needs to shed some weight and may want to consider taking up smoking. She follows this advice, tries to buy some cigarettes but her age is challenged by the cashier. Out in the parking lot, she meets Kim, who has stolen a pack for her, this first interaction and Valerie’s increasing unhappiness during ballet practice leads her into an entirely new world of sweaty bars, loud guitars and boys.

As Valerie spends more time in this world and begins a relationship with the lead singer of a band, she begins to long for being a larger part of it. She learns to play the guitar and encourages Kim to learn to play the drums and the two eventually form a covers band. But that’s not enough, she begins to write her own songs and as her band grows in popularity (and adding a third member, black female bassist Rudie) tensions grow between her and her boyfriend. This is all played out alongside her rebelling against what her parents want for her and the challenges they face in seeing her become her own woman.

The formula here has been tread before, there’s a lot of similarities to the biopic The Runaways (starring Kristen Stewart), but where that film often felt exploitative (especially in casting a very young Dakota Fanning as the equally very young Cherie Currie) My Riot doesn’t take that route. A few 90’s female rock bands are named dropped along the way (Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney) and there does feel like a genuine effort has been made here to portray that scene as it’s been documented and the movement and attitudes of the time being challenged, but it can only go so far by using a fictional account within a scene that was easily shot down by the music industry of the time.

However, that does the book a disservice, artist Emmet Helen’s artwork, in particular, brings a kinetic punkish energy to the book, it genuinely feels like an indie comic book about an indie music scene. Keeping the core cast small works in the books favour and the differences between the brutal but aesthetically pretty world of ballet and the dirty, grungey world of punk music are portrayed really rather well and for me, we got enough of a look into that entire movement to satisfy my own interests and with a resurgence in female-led punk/rock outfits over the past 5 years or so (Marmozets, Dream Wife, Petrol Girls, Tonight Alive and Pale Waves are all favourites of mine), this feels perfectly placed for any teenage girl who is also wanting to pick up a guitar and rebel.

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