Art Attack!: Ariel Schrag Relives High School So You Don’t Have To

Art Attack Month:

0. 1/28/2012 – Art Attack Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 2/1/2012 – Art Attack Gallery: 100 Queer Woman Artists In Your Face, by The Team
2. 2/3/2012 – Judy Chicago, by Lindsay
3. 2/7/2012 – Gran Fury, by Rachel
4. 2/7/2012 – Diane Arbus, by MJ
5. 2/8/2012 – Laurel Nakadate, by Lemon
6. 2/9/2012 – 10 Websites For Looking At Pictures All Dayby Riese
7. 2/10/2012 – LTTRby Jessica G.
8. 2/13/2012 – Hide/Seek, by Danielle
9. 2/15/2012 – Spotlight: Simone Meltesen, by Laneia
10. 2/15/2012 – Ivana, by Crystal
11. 2/15/2012 – Gluck, by Jennifer Thompson
12. 2/16/2012 – Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Gabrielle
13. 2/20/2012 – Yoko Ono, by Carmen
14. 2/20/2012 – Zanele Muholi, by Jamie
15. 2/20/2012 – The Malaya Project, by Whitney
16. 2/21/2012 – Feminist Fan Tees, by Ani Iti
17. 2/22/2012 – 12 Great Movies About Art, by Riese
18. 2/22/2012 – Kara Walker, by Liz
19. 2/22/2012 – Dese’Rae L. Stage, by Laneia
20. 2/22/2012 – Maya Deren, by Celia David
21. 2/22/2012 – Spotlight: Bex Freund, by Rachel
22. 2/24/2012 – All the Cunning Stunts, by Krista Burton
23. 2/26/2012 – An Introductory Guide to Comics for Ladygays, by Ash
24. 2/27/2012 – Jenny Holzer, by Kolleen
25. 2/27/2012 – Tamara de Lempicka by Amanda Catharine
26. 2/27/2012 – 10 Contemporary Lesbian Photographers You Should Know About, by Lemon/Carrie/Riese
27. 2/27/2012 – Read a F*cking Book: ‘The Last Nude,’ by Amanda Catharine
28. 2/27/2012 – Spotlight: Alice Hyde, by Laneia
29. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Mars Hobrecker, by Laneia
30. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Michelle Muldrow, by Laneia
31. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Laura Doughtie, by Rachel
32. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Sadie Lee, by Mira
33. 2/29/2012 – Spotlight: Kathryn Weaver, by Laneia
34. 2/29/2012 – Ariel Schrag, by Whitney

Ariel Schrag is the graphic artist every midwestern / east coast-ern / west coast-ern / southern / northern / everywhere-ern queer needs to experience. Her books, Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise document the uncomfortable twists and turns of figuring out your sexuality in high school, and the four graphic memoirs perfectly document the insecurities of developing self-hood and the never-ending, heart-rending cycle of “does she like me / doesn’t she like me / OH NO SHE DOESN’T LIKE ME.”

From Potential. via

The four books were written and illustrated by Schrag during each of the four years of high school — Awkward documents her freshman year, Definition sophomore year, Potential junior year and Likewise senior year — and her style changes and develops over the course of the four books. The series begins with Awkward, a semi-self-conscious graphic diary of Schrag’s daily life and ends with Likewise, a swirling cloud of Emily-Dickinson-head-flying-off revelation, where Schrag seeks to communicate emotions, the effect of drugs, and thoughts in illustration that’s sometimes psychedelic and sometimes The Scream-esque. It’s a brilliant set of memoirs that document queer adolescence in all of its painful and honest detail.

Potential was nominated for the Oscars of the graphic novel world, the Eisner Awards, and it’s my favorite of the four. The cover is modeled on a high school AP Biology textbook, which reflects how Schrag is trying to “connect the biology she reads in textbooks to the biology she’s living,” according to the book description — connecting the idea of sex to having sex, the idea of love to the act of loving someone, and figuring out how to negotiate these connections for the first time. In Potential, Schrag deals with a first-time same-sex relationship (and inevitable heartbreak), her thoughts about sexuality and desire to lose her virginity right now (“IT’S TIME TO LOSE MY FUCKING VIRGINITY,” she screams in one panel) and the painful, emotionally numbing divorce of her parents. It’s a book that hits your adolescent self hard in the gut. Schrag has a way with these sorts of things.

From Likewise. via

The details Schrag catches in her illustrations definitely reel you in to various points in your adolescence. Schrag’s mussy, cow-licked lifestyle haircut in Likewise reminds me of my own hair when I was in college, and probably will remind you of some of the hair cuts you’ve gotten in the past, too. Her description of how her wardrobe needs to be just so in order to look right — with just enough balance and proportion from ankle to shoulder — perfectly captures the microscopic attention to (or maybe more accurately, scrutiny of) our own bodies that is so uniquely high school. And Schrag’s frequently-described stomach-falling feeling when she realizes she is being let down or disappointed by the person she loves is captured perfectly, and takes me directly to when my stomach flopped over in anxiety and disappointment as a teenager.

All in all, Schrag’s books are amazing. She has a web comic that updates occasionally, titled Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything, and regularly posts illustrations published in various magazines and newspapers (like this one of Lady Gaga in New York Magazine) on her website. Schrag’s got some rennaisance-woman skills and has also written for shows like The L Word‘s third and fourth seasons and HBO’s How to Make It in America. Schrag wrote the film adaptation for Potential, to be developed by Killer Films, the same group that worked on Boys Don’t Cry — the film started shooting in 2009, but there’s no release date yet, to which I ask WHEN IS IT COMING OUT BECAUSE I NEED TO SEE IT.

Check out Schrag’s website here, listen to Schrag read excerpts from Potential below, and view some excerpts from Awkward and Definition below, too. It’s awesome. I promise.

From Awkward. via

From Definition. via

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Whitney Pow

Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. They are a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, where their research focuses on queer video games and new media. They are also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out their website at and follow them on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 53 articles for us.


  1. I read these as I was coming out, and I recommend them all the time. They were my jumping off point into graphic novels and they still have a place in my book-loving heart. I agree; they are for everyone queer, and especially relevant to anyone coming out. Thanks for writing about them!

  2. I seriously love Ariel Schrag. I went to this workshop that she ran in Toronto at an art gallery and she was just amazing. Signed a copy of Likewise for me.

    I’m still so upset that How to Make It In America got cancelled.

  3. This is really nothing to do with Ariel Schrag, I like her work and all. Reading these sorts of things just make me feel even more out of place though. It seems like everyone else’s lesbian teenagerdom was filled with…other lesbians and girlfriends etc. I’m stuck out here by myself. I suppose there wouldn’t be much to say about a gay 18 year old doing absolutely nothing but studying to get university though :/

    • My teenagerdom was totally not filled with other lesbians or girlfriends or anything, even though I lived in a relatively large metropolitan area and had access to other queer kids. Still no girlfriendage til I went to college.

      In the long run, studying to get into university will probably land you in a better place than spending lots of time with high school girlfriends. Good luck!

    • My adolescence / teenager-dom didn’t have any of these things, either. I grew up in a pretty isolated town, too, where there were no lady queers anywhere to talk to, or girlfriends to be had. I didn’t start meeting people until college, so wait things out and find people to talk to in other places — in online queer groups / networks, on Autostraddle (yay!) and other safe internet spaces. Don’t worry — you’re definitely not the only one.

    • i didn’t have any gay friends or girlfriends in HS either. yes, it sucked. but you know how much that affects me now? not at all. HS is really nowhere near as big a deal as it seems to be at the time.

  4. Definitely passing this on to my fiancee, who is working on her own graphic novel about coming out in a Kansas high school. Thanks!

  5. After I seeing this article I put all of the books on hold at the library. I just got them today and already have read the first 3. I’m a junior now and just about to start making my own graphic novel, on a completely different subject. But to see what she wrote as high schooler definetly is giving some pointers on what to do and what not to do. Some of her dialogue doesn’t exactly flow, and I know I’ve had similar issues. The stories are amazing though, I would totally recommend the books to everyone.

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