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Time Under Tension

Time Under Tension

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By M.S. Harkness. Published by Fantagraphics. 

Softcover, 264 pages, B&W, 2023. 

Time Under Tension is a smart, funny, no bullshit work of autobiography, a story of searching for dignity in a world that rarely affords it and taking agency of adulthood in the face of so many easy excuses not to.

M.S. Harkness is graduating from art school in Minneapolis and facing a crossroads in life. She has a strained relationship with her mother, a sexually abusive father on parole, and is in love with an aspiring MMA fighter who mostly hangs out with her to get high and already has a girlfriend and career prospects with a fight promotion. An art career feels untenable — as one professor tells her, "Don't expect to get by on this fucked-up broke girl shit." She decides to get a personal trainer's certificate — it seems like a feasible and sensible career option — but continues to dabble as a sex worker and weed dealer because the money is too irresistible. With idle hands due to no classes or full-time work, M.S. has ample time to aimlessly fuck around — or, to get her shit together. "I want to be better, I want to be stable and solid. I don't want to keep aimlessly shifting between untenable situations."

Harkness's bold, precise black-and-white cartooning and eye for storytelling invites the reader in, while her sharp wit and naturalist ear as a writer takes it away from there. Never didactic, always real, Time Under Tension is a spirited and assured work of graphic memoir.

"Harkness delivers one of the best releases of 2023 in this exhilarating, heartbreaking, and often humorous memoir." — Library Journal Starred Review

"Harkness's work is consistently tough, funny, and candid, and this plunge into the depths of her gloriously messy life is her strongest outing yet." — Publishers Weekly

"Harkness reaches for something deeper and more emotionally resonant [and] proves she is a cartoonist worth watching." — The Comics Journal

"M.S. Harkness is quickly establishing herself as perhaps the premier comics memoirist of our time." — Solrad

"With Time Under Tension, Harkness stops being an 'artist to watch' and becomes one who we are watching ascend to the next level. Her craft is sharp, incisive, and as dark as her humor; her storytelling acidic yet poignant, laying bare her life in a way that most memoir work flinches away from. This isn't sad-girl bullshit — this is the truth, in literal black and white." — Laurenn McCubbin (Chair, Comics & Narrative Practice, Columbus College of Art & Design)

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