Published Aug 01, 2001Every school had them. The stuck-up girls that would put down everyone that walked by them in the hallways and muster up some snide remark or insult. No one was allowed to get close to them and find out what made them tick because those girls always put up a massive wall between the outside world and their true feelings. Montreal-based writer Sherwin Tjia has seen the dark side of all-girl private schools and has returned to share their bottled-up angst with the masses in his first book, Pedigree Girls, a compilation of comics about two private school attendees. "It's sort of like the movie Eyes Wide Shut," explains Tjia. "You know, where Tom Cruise suddenly stumbles upon a secret order of cult activity and wishes he had never seen it."
Tjia attended Queen's University, where he lived in residence and it was there where he had run-ins with private school girls. "I'm from an immigrant family and I never knew these schools existed until then," he remembers. "I went to one of these girl's houses in Toronto and she actually had a Filipino maid living there. That made me ill. But she was personally very nice to me. So the book, in some sense, was about coming to terms with these contradictions and these revelations."
The finished product is page after page of three-panelled comic strips where the same two girls, with repetitive facial expressions, exchange various quips and observations about their insanely odd lifestyles. The girls touch on subjects such as murdering family members, incest and cannibalism all while hiding the fact that they're madly in love with each other. "I think the strip works best when I straddle the thin line between restraint and excess," explains Tjia. "I want to write the kind of strip that makes you run in two directions at once, where you weep and guffaw at the same time. I think you learn where to draw the line by drawing it, then erasing it, and then drawing it again. You have to drive through the red light."
The idea for Pedigree Girls emerged from a series of painting Tjia created in university that from snapshots that he stumbled upon. "They were called Cheshire Girls," he explains. "They were sort of like Pedigree Girls in the bud with their glamorous posturing and intense personalities. But the insanity that I wanted to depict was in a sense limited to what I could contain in the image of their grins: a mix of seduction and aggression." One of the interesting things about Pedigree Girls is the fact that Tjia is a man writing from a women's perspective. "In a cultural situation where identity is being obliterated daily on a global scale, I find a workable strategy is to become a sort of eternal reincarnation, like Madonna." Tija once took a crack at creating a male version of the Pedigree Girls called Lovely Boys. "They were polyamorous and sexually ambiguous, but they weren't as much fun."
Insomniac Press (who have published Pedigree Girls) also plan to release a collection of Tjia's poetry, Gentle Fictions, this fall. As well as releasing a web site (www.pedigreegirls.com) the author is also half-way finished completing a second instalment of Pedigree Girls and has big plans for the wicked duo. "I think the next thing to do is a script for a deadpan art-film, casting Sarah Polley and Jessica Paré. Maybe merchandising plush Pedigree Girl toys. I certainly think there are a lot of possibilities with animation that makes use of a single repeated cell." Lock up your sons and daughters, for the Pedigree Girls are roaming the hallways.