An Age of License by Lucy Knisley Review

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<i>An Age of License</i> by Lucy Knisley Review

Writer & Artist: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: September 22, 2014

Lucy Knisley has focused almost entirely on autobiographical work so far, unpacking her neuroses, love affairs and the mundane moments of her daily life into colorful cartoon narratives. An Age of License may only be her third book for a publisher other than herself, but she’s done much more between anthology contributions, illustration work and her semi-regular online comics. Knisley will turn 30 this next year, and although An Age of License takes place in 2011, the book is colored by the ambiguity and exploration that tend to accompany one’s late twenties.

Ostensibly, the project is a travelogue more similar to Knisley’s debut, French Milk, than to last year’s Relish, which traced memoir in personal food history. Invited to speak at the Raptus Comics Festival in Norway, the author takes the opportunity to gallivant a bit around Europe, meeting up with a cute Swedish boy she’d encountered in the U.S., friends who live in France and her mother. There’s plenty of excellent food along the way, and there are many picturesque moments she observes and renders in her trademark neatly-inked lines, fleshed out with occasional watercolor.

Plus, License revels in the flush of new romance, as she and aforementioned Swede Henrik fall into bed, smooch on the street and generally behave the way young lovers in Europe are supposed to. Thankfully, at least for the cynical among us, the book doesn’t stop there. Knisley’s mind always worries away, trying to figure out what path she should take. She’s torn between being a romantic (clearly where her desires lie) and her more practical side, which keeps her up at night and ultimately governs many of her decisions.

The title comes from a phrase conveyed to her by a man she meets in France. The man describes it as the period in life when one is free to experiment, fail and be irresponsible, i.e., the period Knisley falls in the middle of. She loves the idea, but no one else knows the phrase and she’s unable to find it with the same meaning in any alternate source. It’s also a stand-in for the dilemma the rest of the book focuses on (and which can’t help recall Henry James’s The Ambassadors): to choose freedom and romance or responsibility and obligation. It’s not exactly clear which Knisley opts for, but she does seem to breathe a sigh of relief when she returns to her apartment in the United States, where the decision no longer presses. Philosophical and beautifully-rendered (as always), An Age of License presents a portrait of natural growth that remains intelligently inconclusive.