I Was Seven in ’75 by Ellen Forney
Imagine a photo album of the 70s come to life in all of its shag rug, bean-bag, nudist camp, pot-smoking (with American Flag rolling papers, naturally) glory. That comes close to the sheer delight of Ellen Forney’s comic-book, “I Was Seven in ‘75.” Forney grew up in suburban New Jersey, clad in rainbow striped bell-bottoms and an I’m-OK-You’re-OK sweatshirt, and clearly reveled in what she calls the decade of decadence.
Simply and lovingly drawn, Forney’s strips go beyond a simple catalogue of retro taste; they are an homage to being 7 years old, an age rich with experience such as her older brother Matt’s noisy chewing, well-timed flatulence, and other trials of road trips.
Forney admits to an irrational fear of the toilet demon. And she’s equally candid about her family’s unusual aspects—like her parents’ penchant for pot, and the family camping trip to a nudist colony. The kids watch their mom’s amazing tennis victory “in just her shoes and socks!”
Despite the outrageousness—and a near drug bust brought on by the local Keystone Kops—it’s the kindness and closeness of her family that stands in refreshing relief to the usual angst-drenched memoir. “There’s no underbelly waiting to be revealed,” says Forney, who now makes her home in Seattle, where her comic runs in the hipster weekly The Stranger. “Mostly I wanted to pinpoint my generation and I started by focusing on my first memories.”
Her parents might have some odd customs (like throwing a party to celebrate a bathroom redecoration) but they genuinely enjoy their kids. The kids like each other too, though there’s a terrific scene where Matt gloats after goody two shoes Ellen gets in trouble for spreading the word about their clothing-optional new summer camp.
The recollections here range from accounts of dream bedrooms and favorite pants—reminiscent of early Lynda Barry—to the hijinks of a nosy baby-sitter who discovers the Forney stash. Forney here shows real imaginative skill, as she began with “the skeleton of the story, and I invented the rest of the dialogue.”
It’s a sweet and side-splitting tale that should be savored, and her new collection, due late this fall from Fantagraphics, promises more of her trademark with and microscopic eye for telling period detail. Forney plans to move beyond the 70s but will still focus on what she knows best.
“Basically the art director at the Rocket said do whatever you want. My intention was to bring out different aspects of my childhood that I didn’t realize until later in my adulthood were unusual, like the trip to the nudist camp. I look at the work of my peers and it’s all irony and cynicism. I like that, but in my work I write about what I love, and I love my family, and I love these stories. I think that that comes through. There’s no underbelly waiting to be exposed.”