Emo kid at heart: Kawtar Azzouzi’s darkly nostalgic Spiritual Teens

Originally published January 2, 2018 on Bigmouth Comix.

Bigmouth artist Kawtar Azzouzi's first full-length comic, Spiritual Teens, is a 2017 MICE Mini-Grant recipient and is now available for sale in our online shop!

Azzouzi with a copy of Spiritual Teens.

The 42-page comic is immaculately illustrated in dramatic black and white. Set in American suburbia, the story is a nostalgic look back at what it's like to deal with love, life, and death as a teenager, and is based on true events from Azzouzi's high school days. Consistent with much of Azzouzi's other work, the story explores the romanticization of death, especially the use of death as a means of escaping the cyclical, humdrum nature of suburban American life. It identifies and problematizes the belief that somehow, by dying in a dramatic way, one could become eternally extraordinary, despite having lived an ordinary life.

The comic interweaves lavishly illustrated, romanticized memories of teenhood with a dark, almost sarcastic present. The main characters look back on both their younger years and the present moment with a sense of irony, but also with a certain tenderness and sympathy. We see fragments of the younger selves in the older characters. And for all its indulgent, romantic imagery and language, Azzouzi still maintains a crystal clear, critical understanding of the larger thematic issues bubbling beneath the surface of this narrative, which come across clearly in her storytelling choices.

Spiritual Teens is a beautiful work in all its nostalgic, black and white glory, and kind of begs to be set to an MCR soundtrack. It manages to capture, in a critical and simultaneously tenderhearted way, the "emo" subcultures of the early-mid 2000s. Emotionally raw and pointedly critical, the comic asks us whether it's possible to break out of a cyclical, mundane existence in this lifetime, and definitely leaves the reader with lots to think about.