UNDERWIRE   ( Top Shelf Books ) October 2011 release, listed in August PREVIEWS.   Graphic novel, black and white, 80 pages.  Auto-biographical material. Mature Readers 16+.  Jennifer Hayden, writer/artist.

Underwire cover

I was intrigued by the premise for this graphic novel when I read the description in the August PREVIEWS, and curious about the contents.  I consider myself fortunate to get an advance look at this novel.  UNDERWIRE  is a delightfully quirky, sketchy and irreverent look at the life of a mother of two children (now in her forties) and the obsessions and compulsions that make up her everyday life.  I couldn’t stop reading, chuckling and smiling until I got to the very end.  Fortunately, it’s a fast and absorbing read.

I’ve also been impressed by the quality of almost every auto-biographical comic work that I’ve read or examined in the last two years.  It’s a sub-genre in comics that is sometimes overlooked and neglected (count me among the guilty).  Granted, it’s also harder to find.  Most fans of auto-biographical comics place advance orders so they can be assured of getting those books they are interested in.  It’s certainly harder to find many books in this category in your local comics store. UNDERWIRE definitely qualifies for the short list of auto-biographical books worth a look.  If you enjoy the light-hearted style of contemporary newspaper comic strips like CATHY and others, you will love UNDERWIRE.  If you’ve been curious and want to begin to explore some auto-biographical works in comics, then UNDERWIRE is an excellent starting point for you. 

Writer/artist Jennifer Hayden began her literary career as a fiction writer and children’s book illustrator.   A voracious reader of ARCHIE COMICS during her youth, she later renewed her interest and became one of the featured creators on Dean Haspiel’s website dedicated to giving an outlet to New York City area indie comics creators - - - , where UNDERWIRE debuted as a web comic.

Hayden 37_a225a295da414bcdfbab416473140743

UNDERWIRE the graphic novel reprints the first 22 chapters from the web comic and adds 17 new pages of material.  Her full page sketches of various goddesses throughout history are particularly interesting.  The chapters are very quick reads, and sometimes only 2-3 pages of story. Hayden does not deviate from the main points of each chapter, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of detail in such brevity.  I could imagine the contents of one of her 3 page chapters requiring almost 12 pages to convert the story to text only and still capture all the detail.  The general style is 4 or more square panels per page, and the shading and art reminds me just a little of Robert Crumb.  What’s even more remarkable is that Hayden does not create her panels in pencil and then embellish later.  She does every panel in ink.

You can get a feel for her style of story-telling in “Watercress”, the very first chapter of UNDERWIRE.  Jennifer and then 12-year-old daughter Charlotte stop for lunch during a downtown outing. The maturity and sophistication of her young daughter is revealed in her choice of made-to-order sandwich at an upscale deli. They are unable to find a spot to stop and eat until they come to a street corner bus stop.  The young adult angst and anxieties of Charlotte come to the fore when she fails to locate the watercress on her sandwich  (it fell to the ground).  Meanwhile, Jennifer shares her thoughts as this occurs via thought balloons, and embellishes with details about what else is on her mind, such as is the seedy looking passenger leering at her young daughter and thinking perverse thoughts?  Real life. Real funny. Four pages and done.

No subject is taboo.  “The Coven” deals with Jennifer and friends swapping gossip and scandal during a get-together for drinks at her place while their teenaged daughters eavesdrop and react in pure shock.  “Swampy” details one of Jennifer’s horny dreams which ends up overlapping with her husband’s sweaty fantasy after he has an equally horny dream.  One of the story brings her son’s diagnosed ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) front and center.  There’s a great story in “Dear Prudence” relating her anxiety attack after side-swiping a deer while driving her car at night.  Not every story is cynical or sarcastic.  There’s a heart-warming Christmas story and some fond memories of relatives to share as well.

Hayden lives in New Jersey with her husband, two kids, three cats and one dog. S he is presently finishing up another auto-biographical graphic novel about her breast cancer experience that she has been working on for several years.  THE STORY OF MY TITS will also be published by Top Shelf Books.  She is also posting a new web comic, S’CRAPBOOK, at .


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