Big Mushy Happy Lump collects comic strips from Sarah’s Scribbles to express the trials and tribulations of everyday living.
Often it feels like there is no room for vulnerability in strength. That in order to be worthy of celebration we must be without flaw or shortcoming; it can be very isolating. Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Andersen, shows the quiet strength in overcoming setbacks. It tells us that it is okay to feel anxious or vulnerable, to make mistakes. None of us is perfect.
Big Mushy Happy Lump is a collection of comics created for the webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles. The comics are four-panel, and most of them are single page. It is only towards the end of the book that multi-page comics linked by accompanying text appear.
Autobiographical in nature, the comics cover a range of topics, from worrying about managing money, to suddenly finding out that you are a cat-person. One common theme across the book is one of Anxiety. Through the book Andersen explores the Anxieties that affect her in her everyday life. In one comic, deadlines are depicted as trains that threaten to run her character over. In another comic, financial pressures draws her character having to run a race with a boulder chain to her leg, as a way of explaining the financial pressures that she faces.
This focus on Anxiety doesn’t result in a morose book. Andersen shares her experience in a way that is cathartic and relatable. This is the strength of the collection; it lets the reader know that they are not alone. Not alone in the daily struggles they face, and not alone in how they feel.
The unique relatability of the character is aided by the simplicity of Andersen’s art. Everything about her style is suited to the stories she is telling, avoiding clutter and emphasising each expression. People are represented as cartoons that don’t worry about precise anatomical accuracy, there is no unnecessary detail, and everything about each panel works towards achieving the goal of that panel. On the first page we are introduced to Andersen’s character, her sofa, and her blanket. There is nothing else in any of the panels because those are the only things that are necessary for the page’s joke.
Andersen has a particular talent for drawing eyes, which give her characters a spark of life that goes beyond the simple lines on the page. There is a manga-like quality to them that instantly shows how the character is feeling. Early in the book her character stares in ecstatic wonder when she comes across some coffee. The way she then reacts to realising it is decaf, is told almost entirely by her eyes, which capture the entire emotion in a way that is instantly recognisable and hilarious. The transition from large, perfect circles, her pupils dilated to a comic degree, to ovoid shaped, with pupils reduced to simple dots in the middle, is very much like the way in manga artists often have their characters eyes transform in shape and structure to fit the mood their character is expressing.
Despite the book largely focusing on negative emotions – like the moment she is metaphorically crushed by her stress – it ends on a happy note. With the last words referencing the title, Andersen is declaring that matter how hard some days may seem, her avatar always gets past them. When she takes stock of her life she finds that she has made a lot of progress, and has a lot to be thankful for, and is ultimately glad to be a “Big Mushy Happy Lump”.
Images from Andrews McMeel Publishing.