Zinester and pet portraitist Nicole J. Georges has juicy secrets. The knowing-your-mother's-lying-to-you kind. The living-queer-but-keeping-your-family-in-the-closet kind. She's shared some of these in her previous zine series, Invincible Summer, but it's Calling Dr. Laura (Mariner, 288 pages, $16.95), her graphic memoir-cum-confessional that plays off tales from both her childhood and adulthood against one another in a masterful display of what's hidden in the everyday.
The memoir follows Georges across Portland to parts east, from a revealing visit to a palm reader, to moving in with a long-term lover and her army of dachshunds, to returning to her erratic mother's Midwestern home. Georges' half-sister confirms the fortune teller's assertion that Georges' father is not dead but a deadbeat crook. Georges must face the fact her mother has been lying to her for years and Georges herself has been lying about her sexuality.
The title is a little misleading. Dr. Laura's cameo is that of a right-wing foil, an anonymous sounding board for Georges' feelings when she calls in to the radio show, and comic relief when she is compared to the wife from the '90s TV series Dinosaurs. Therapy is a major theme here, and a well-worn one. Thousands of works, from Analyze This to F. Scott Fitzgerald's final completed novel, Tender Is the Night, have explored it, but Calling Dr. Laura escapes redundancy through hilarious detail. Georges waves goodbye to her newlywed mother, flying "Sandals Air" for her honeymoon. Demure, mid-conversation yawns and canine portraits lining the walls break through the meditative haze and noir plot lines. At each new scene, a sweeping banner with a cursive phrase such as, "Have you heard the oldest lesbian joke in the book?" keep the tone pensive but lighthearted.
Georges has forgone Invincible Summer's wobbly frames and refined them into a neater, less chaotic form. Also lost are the long blocks of text, making Calling Dr. Laura easily digestible while leaving imagery to uncover on a reread. The full-page illustrations give Georges' modernist, etched aesthetic room to stretch out. The expansive gray walls and cityscapes are often interrupted by the stark white of flowing music balloons or a hoodie.
Though the oldest lesbian joke in the book has been told, and a book related to therapy is enough to drive anyone mad, Calling Dr. Laura succeeds in being both an honest self-portrait and a beautiful, engaging creation.
GO: Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., is hosting a First Thursday event featuring Nicole J. Georges' work at 6:30 pm on Jan. 3. Georges will read at Powell's at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 22.