Phoebe Gloeckner was inspired to be an artist and storyteller by mid-’70s underground comix, and luminaries like Crumb and Kominsky became her mentors. As the undergrounds later hinged into indie comics, her work appeared in anthologies, eventually collected into the graphic novel "a Girl’s Life" (1998). This semi-autobiographical story of Minnie, a young girl sorting sensual awakening and sexual exploitation in 1976 San Francisco, shocked or galvanized readers. But she topped this with the expansive version, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" (2002), a prose story with illustrations and comics sequences, that earned universal acclaim.
Director Marielle Heller, who had adapted the latter book into a stage play, delivers a perfect film treatment here. She captures the hedonistic autumn of the countercultural spring, and the complex and ambiguous feelings and motivations of Minnie, with close warmth and a level eye. It also beautifully weaves Minnie’s art as animation into the narrative, a parallel reflection to its spiritual cousin, the film version of Pekar’s American Splendor.
Just as underground and indie comics improved the comics genre, now indie films based on graphic novels are improving cinema.