One of the unfortunate problems with short-form reviews is that I end up leaving a lot out. When I reviewed Punch an’ Pie a year ago, I ended up glossing over a lot of detail that went into this multi-layered comic. For people new to the scene, PnP is the brainchild of Aeire, a talented young storyteller and cartoonist who created the quirky and imaginative comic Queen of Wands. PnP is a bit of a sequel to QoW, following the life of one of that comic’s secondary characters, Angela, and her own girlfriend Heather.
When the comic starts, Heather and Angela had been dating for at least half a year and Angela was moving in with Heather. While we’re not given a glimpse really of their relationship leading up to the comic’s start until nine months in, Aeire and Chris Daily (who is PnP’s artist, as well as the artist and writer for the webcomic Striptease) did an excellent job of showing an existing and fairly stable relationship between these two young women. Between little moments of them in bed talking about their day (often with Heather idly playing with Angela’s hair just before Angela fell asleep, replete with odd and cute little comments from Angela as her mind shut down), going out to eat, or just being together, you got a good sense that these women loved each other.
And then Aeire and Daily went and tore that dynamic apart by having Heather and Angela break up as a result of Angela’s jealousy. Looking back (and at more than just the flashbacks of their relationship that Angela went through at that pivotal moment), you could see the seeds of this breakup, with Angela being upset when one of Heather’s male friends would visit and perhaps also with how Angela acted like Heather was her personal property, rather than a person worthy of respect and trust. We also got a good glimpse into aspects of Angela’s personality that had been established years earlier in QoW. It was a heartbreaking moment… and did much to reveal not only Angela’s own insecurities, but also Angela’s tendency to run from problems rather than deal with them.
Nor was this situation rectified rapidly. Angela’s “maturity” in dealing with the breakup is more avoidance on her sake. She stopped thinking about Heather when possible. She put it behind her after the brief revelation that it was her fault Heather broke up with her, because she believes she’s a bad girlfriend (and that Kestrel left because she’s a bad friend). And unlike many stories, realization doesn’t result in her issues being solved. Instead, Angela ran away from the issue again, ignoring her issues until finally one too many cluebats smack her upside the head and make her take a cold hard look at what she threw away because of her own insecurities. She realized that Heather’s friends weren’t to blame for the breakup. Heather wasn’t to blame for the breakup. She is the one holding the smoking gun.
Another thing that crops up occasionally is the theme of boxes in the comic. The very start of the comic had Angela packing up her belongings into boxes, throwing away old clutter, and moving on. When she gets a new job working at a bookstore, she again is working with boxes, organizing things for someone else’s satisfaction. Likewise, when she flees Heather’s apartment after Heather broke up with her, she moved in with her old boss, who is packing up her apartment and preparing to leave for another job. And finally, when she is offered a management position for a new toy store… you guessed it, more boxes.
Each time after the start, she’s packing boxes and moving things around for someone else; and even that first time was partly for Heather. But when you pack things into boxes, you also hide them away. You compartmentalize things, assign labels for them and eventually you’re left with odds and ends that don’t quite belong to one thing or another but that you can’t quite abandon. And Angela… is at the point of her life when she’s opening up one of those boxes and realizing she threw out something she loved dearly. She abandoned something in her old life, did something truly stupid, and for once seems to be taking a cold hard look at herself.
The funny thing about PnP is that while the comic appears to be about two young women, it’s really about Angela and her gradual growth as a person. When the story focuses on Heather, at some point it often shifts focus so that Angela is once again in the spotlight. This can be found several times in Heather’s internal monologues where Heather is talking to an Angela that is still with her, dwelling in her head. She’s even wondered when Angela will go away for good… when she’ll stop dwelling on this waif who she can’t stop loving.
Recent events also let me to realize that Aeire is telling a circular story here. While boxes are a common theme we return to time and time again, we also have friendships that fade and renew (with Heather and Jack, and Angela and Justin), and beloved jobs that end… and are renewed, stronger and with more responsibility. It was Angela taking a job as manager of a new toy store (and not just something Angela jumped into without looking first, but something she thought about ahead of time) that let me to notice the cyclical nature of Punch an’ Pie.
And while I have long believed that it was inevitable that Angela and Heather would get back together, I now see it as something that will happen when the comic wraps up (probably in a year), after both women take a serious look at what they had… and if it’s worthwhile for them to get back together again. PnP will likely end as it began, with Angela packing boxes as she prepares to move in with the woman she loves. But where before we had glimpses of a childlike and childish girl who didn’t think things through, this ending will no doubt be the actions of a young woman packing away a foolhardy childhood and taking her first steps as a responsible adult.