The Cute Girl Network, a graphic novel written by MK Read and Greg Means and illustrated by Joe Flood, tells the adventures of Jane and Jack, beginning with their meet-cute when Jane falls off her skateboard and lands on her butt in front of Jack’s soup cart. Sparks immediately fly between Jane, a cute skater with a love of bodily humor, and Jack, a kind of a lazy Everydude, but their delightfully weird romance might be derailed by well-meaning friends. Will Jack follow his roommate bro’s terrible dating advice? Will Jane be swayed by the stories of Jack’s dating history?
When Jane’s friend Harriet discovers that the two are dating, she introduces Jane to the Cute Girl Network. The concept of the network is simple: young women wouldn’t have to break their hearts discovering that their new boyfriends are jerks (TCGN uses some more colorful phrases here) if they could find out their dates’ true characters early on by hearing from honest ex-girlfriends. If you’ve ever had a dating disillusionment, you’ll understand the Cute Girl Network. I love the idea of the network of ladies looking out for each other – and not only because I started reading the book at Small Press Expo while waiting to meet up with my fiancé’s old girlfriend.
There’s more to The Cute Girl Network than the Cute Girl Network, though. Harriet and the other ladies of the Network, although presented as a stumbling block to Jane and Jack’s romance, ultimately want the best for their pal Jane. Harriet’s never unkind to Jane, and even when she’s wishing Jane would just dump that loser, she has friends and hobbies, including a bookclub discussing a thinly-veiled Twilight. Co-author MK Reed used a similar technique involving the popular fantasy novel in her previous graphic novel Americus, also to great effect. The wine-soaked bookclub chatter about a certain abstinence-vamperotica novel is one of the highlights of The Cute Girl Network.
Our protagonist Jane also has struggles and motivations outside her romance with Jack. Jane loves skateboarding, if not so much the all-dude skating world. While the guys as the skateshop where she works take Jane’s skating seriously and invite her to socialize without hitting on her, she still encounters plenty of casually misogynistic gatekeeping while doing what she loves.
In one pitch-perfect scene, Jane is bored senseless by the assumption that she’s obviously a skater’s girlfriend and underwhelmed by a demand to prove herself as real skater to a bro-boarder. Predictably, he switches to romance when he sees her skate, and then wonders why she isn’t flattered by his attention. It’s a terribly familiar scene to me, and any other woman working in the games industry, and TCGN perfectly highlights the mundane unpleasantness of the bro-boarder’s assumptions.
While the theme of the book is that one girl’s perfect is another girl’s nightmare, it was sad that Jack was ultimately not for me. Not for the goofy and clumsy reasons that his ex-girlfriends disliked him; I just found him unmotivated, which made him unappealing. Like Harriet, I thought that Jane could do better than a slobby soup vender, but – also like Harriet – I came to like him as someone who makes Jane happy. Overall, their romantic relationship isn’t as significant as the coming-of-age realization that, while our friends love us, they may not know what’s best for us.
Besides Jack and Jane’s adorably oddball romance and Jane’s relationship with her male-dominated skating hobby, The Cute Girl Network is a great story about a certain stage of life: houses full of roommates, dates without spending any money, and walking to the the store on a midweek day off to pick up a paycheck.
The Cute Girl Network is out today! Get it on Amazon and wherever books are sold. It’s published by First Second.
Meg Stivison has worked on the development of many games, including Next Island, Empire Online, Verge Games’s Grumpy Goats, and two Nancy Drew titles. She writes regularly on games and gaming culture for Hardcore Droid, Indie Game Magazine, and on her blog, Simpson’s Paradox.