When Ariel Schrag entered Berkeley High School as a freshman, she was a geeky grunge kid with a fixation on actress Juliet Lewis, and a best friend/boy toy who followed her everywhere. She chronicled her freshman year adventures in the comic book Awkward, penning events as they happened and self-publishing the following year – she then signed to Slave Labor Graphics at age 15, and began her sophomore year comic, Definition. In eleventh grade, Schrag’s life got more and more interesting. She lost her virginity to a boy, got down with a girl for the first time, and earned membership in a hip crowd of dykes and punk chicks. Meanwhile, her comic book artistry got a lot more sophisticated.
Roughly a decade after graduating high school Schrag inked a deal with Simon & Schuster, which published Awkward & Definition as a paperback memoir last April. One month later the company released a paperback version of Potential, Schrag’s episodic series about junior year, when she fell for the beautiful and enigmatic Sally Jultz. It took roughly ten years for Schrag to finally complete her high school chronicles with Likewise, which came out on April 7. During that time she studied English at Columbia University, shacked up in a windowless basement in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, worked as an envelope stuffer and phone sex operator, and served as story editor for the popular Showtime series, The L Word. She also signed on with Killer Films (producers of Kids and Boys Don’t Cry) to write a screenplay for Potential.
At 359 pages, Likewise is Schrag’s most ambitious and expressionist book. It starts off with an insular tale of heartbreak, self-doubt, identity affirmation, and girl angst, but ultimately devolves into experimental wordplay and frameplay (what some fans would call “Joycean”). It’s by far one of the best artistic attempts to document life at Berkeley High School.
Ariel Schrag appears Tues., April 28, 7:30 p.m. at San Francisco’s Booksmith (1644 Haight St.) with Gabrielle Bell.Check out Schrag reading Chapter 4 of Potential: