After documenting micro-unkindnesses and advising strangers in her agony column, Finck has now trained her pen on herself in graphic memoir Passing for Human
Consider all the small anxieties that pepper your average day, to leave you quietly irritated or uncomfortable. They might be so ordinary that you barely realise youre bothered; perhaps a manspreader on your commute, a person who walked into you while gazing at their phone, the coffee queue jumper.
New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck calls these micro-unkindnesses the tiny permutations of rudeness that people perform on one another. From afar (lurking on her Instagram), it is easy to identify Fincks main bugbears: the strange distribution of seats in her local cafe in New York, boorish people blundering into her personal space, slow walkers. But its this eye for small annoyances that makes her so popular. She may feel that her constant existential terror makes her a bit weird, but it seems there are enough like-minded souls out there to make her quite normal. (Her 200,000 followers on Instagram are devout enough that her biography states: You may tattoo.)
All my weirdness around people is just weirdness about myself. Ive always been self-conscious and shy, but I wonder if that can be your whole life. I might get used to all the things in the world and stop being anxious about them, she says. She doesnt sound very sure.
Fincks style reflects her anxieties: her humans are spindly scribbles with childlike faces that are sometimes little more than a chin, or two bulging eyes. Yet, it is anything but simple; she can reproduce a complex emotional state in just a squiggle a talent she credits to her synaesthesia. One might think that supernatural levels of confidence must be required to draw as she does, where nothing can be hidden by beauty. Thank you, she says, gravely. I fake it. My dream is to think while I work. I dont know if that will ever happen.
Finck loves observing human behaviour, whether it is through advice columns (she addresses strangers romantic woes, anxiety problems and zipper issues in her own, the New Yorkers Dear Pepper), talk radio or simply watching passers-by. But her latest book, Passing for Human is all about people she knows most intimately: herself and her family.
Set around a family story that women are born with a shadow, a literal embodiment of their true self Passing for Human is a bildungsroman of sorts, laying out all the decisive moments that have made Finck who she is now. Her shadow, a looming figure that watched over her early life, simultaneously inspiring and holding her back, is Fincks explanation for the strange scrap of a girl she once was: one who talked to rocks and plants because she saw the souls of objects, made an imaginary friend and struggled with communication. (She took to barking at adults, after learning from her dog, Pepper). Then, at the age of 11, she began deliberately adopting what she considered normal behaviour, changed her clothes, developed an eating disorder and, finally, made friends. But lost the shadow.
Finck talks about her shadow matter-of-factly as if it was a literal friend who left her life: It is not the self, but the judgment that helps you know yourself. It walks behind you, knows you better than you know yourself and guides you to what is right for you. My shadow was a burden, it made me weird, shy and awkward. But it also taught me to draw, so its not all bad.