Gwen pulled the stack of letters out of their mailbox, and immediately caught sight of the yellowed envelope. A contrast not only due to its color and size, but also by its decoration: tiny stickers of a dinosaur, a fish, a llama, and a teddy bear surrounded their handwritten address. The package – the stamps indicated it had come from Australia – was addressed to Dania.
Near the bottom was a hand-drawn mouse creature, with a speech bubble reading “Do Not Bend Please.” Gwen flattened the package against the wall, soothing out the wrinkles that had formed after the envelope was shoved into their mailbox. The damage controlled, as much as it could be, she carried the mail into the house.
“Dania, you have a package,” Gwen called, dropping the package onto the center table of their living room. “Did you order something from Australia?”
Eleanor, sitting in the nearby chair, caught sight of the packaging. “That’s an Etsy seller, I can tell,” she quipped. “Look at the stickers. Etsy or Tumblr, some independent site.”
“Tell Dania to come out here and open it,” Gwen said, as she carried the other letters to her room.
Eleanor picked up the package. The customs notice, stuck to the package by Australian Post, listed the contents as “Art Book.” Turning the package over, the return address was written on the back – a suburb of the city of Perth, and the name “S. Majumdar.”
Dania’s door opened, and she immediately took the package from Eleanor. “It’s finally here!” Dania cheered, sitting down to open the envelope. “I was worried it got lost or something. International mail takes forever, I know, but I was getting nervous.”
“I love the decoration on the package,” Eleanor said.
“It’s cute, right?” Dania said. “I like the little mouse in the – was this bent?”
“It was stuck into our mailbox,” Gwen said, re-entering. “It wasn’t folded, but I had to smooth it out a little.”
Dania looked only slightly worried. “I hope nothing got damaged. It’s not fragile, but still.”
“What is it?”
“It’s an art zine, by a Tumblr artist named Soolagna Majumdar.”
“Tumblr,” Eleanor muttered. “I called it.”
“It’s this book of watercolor pictures about Marge Simpson.”
“Of course it is,” Gwen said. “I’d expect nothing less.”
The contents of the package fell into Dania’s lap. The plastic sleeve held three objects: a pink flipbook with Marge’s face sketched on the front, a half-page print of what appeared to be three Marge Simpsons floating in limbo, and a sticker version of one of the floating Marges.
“Looks all right to me,” Dania said. She picked up the pink book. “It’s smaller than I thought.”
She flipped through the pages. Eleanor, over her shoulder, could catch glimpses of different Marges – six-eyed Marges, bird Marges, a cabal of minimal brushstroke Marges in a circle around a sketch of her head.
“What is this, Variations On A Theme Of Marge Simpson?” Gwen asked.
“It’s called Marge Simpson Anime,” Dania explained. “It’s – hold on, I’ll find the language.”
Dania opened her phone and searched for Majumdar’s store page. Eleanor, opening the zine herself, considered the first image in the book – one that the table of contents listed as “The Rapture of Marge Simpson.”
“This is the one you got a print of, right?” Eleanor held the print up to the book, and the two matched.
“Yeah, she sells prints of each image individually, but there’s, like, an order to them. Which is why the book exists.”
Eleanor, with Gwen now standing by her, continued to peruse the book. In one image, 3 Hearts And 1 Intruder, Marge was visited by three birds with the heads of her children. In a top panel, they were shown landing on her arm. Below that, a pencil drawing of Marge looking at the birds, with a single blue tear falling down her cheek, was overlaid with the watercolor silhouettes of all five Simpsons family members. Turning the pages, another fully-colored image showed Marge – rendered with more realistic facial structure – kissing a figure with a halo of brown hair and a pink vest.
“Is that supposed to be Maude Flanders?” Eleanor asked. “It looks like Maude.”
“I don’t know who that is,” Dania admitted.
“Maude Flanders?” Eleanor repeated. She looked at Dania quizzically. “How much of The Simpsons have you watched?”
“Not that much,” Dania said. “A few episodes. I know the basic characters.”
Eleanor flipped through the book again. “There’s a bunch of characters in this. There’s Patty and Selma – yeah, that’s definitely supposed to be Maude. Is this about Marge discovering she’s a lesbian or something?”
“It’s her feminist awakening,” Dania said. “Buzzfeed wrote about it. ‘Soolagna’s art imagines a world in which Marge didn’t act as an ancillary to Homer…”I got tired of women like her [Marge] having the tragedy of their lives taken for granted. I wanted to explore a reality where the idea of her being truly happy and free could be attained.”‘ Seems cool to me.”
“Is there a narrative across it, or it it truly just variations?” Gwen asked. “Not that one is better.”
“I think there’s a narrative. Let me see it.”
Eleanor handed the book back to Dania, who began to flip through it. The images were ones she had seen before, but only digitally, across Tumblr. She had expected the images to click together into a more coherent narrative – but as she turned the pages, the surreal paintings didn’t provide any easy hints towards their interpretation.
“So here’s Homer,” Dania finally said. She pointed to the image marge Incarnate, where the husband’s head was tucked under her arm. Dania turned several pages to another image, Bouvier Uprising, pt. 4, where the Homer head was apparently pushed into the sand. Marge’s distinctive hairstyle, peaking over the horizon, hinted at her leaving the head behind.
“So that’s when she leaves Homer,” Gwen deduced.
“Or something like that,” Dania said. “It’s not entirely clear. I’m not sure it actually has a plot at all, maybe it’s just a bunch of ideas.”
“It looks like you could dig through for interpretive significance,” Gwen said. “Sometimes it takes more time with a work of art to attribute meaning to it.”
“Maybe,” Eleanor agreed. “There’s just so much on every single page. Look at this – the number of times she overlays multiple images together. It’s practically forcing you to consider every drawing twice.”
“I mean, I got it because I thought the paintings were good,” Dania said. “Not because I wanted a complex story. Her art style is so abstract, but you can still follow what’s going on, kind of. It’s more than just shapes with no meaning. It’s Marge Simpson.”
“There’s an emotional thread, right?” Gwen suggested. “Even if you can’t entirely tell what’s happening, you can figure out how it makes you feel.”
“Well, I always know what I feel. Even if what I feel is confused.” Dania flipped to another page: gal pals. “Like, Eleanor, I’m sure you’d know who all these characters are. But I don’t. But I still get that it’s, like, a support group for Marge in her newfound feminism, or whatever.”
“Well, I do know all of them,” Eleanor said. “This one is Luann Van Houten, Milhouse’s mother. Who also divorces her husband in the show, and then becomes this wild free spirit. So it makes sense that she’s here supporting Marge.”
“See?” Gwen nudged. “Meaning comes from context and research.”
“Don’t take credit, I know you’ve never watched The Simpsons.”
“There’s 29 seasons! How am I supposed to keep up?”
“And this one is Ruth Powers,” Eleanor continued. “She’s a single mother and bodybuilder. And the Indian woman is Manjula, one of the other women in the town.”
“What’s her story of being a female role model for Marge?”
“Well, she’s a homemaker, but just as strong as her husband,” Eleanor suggested. “I think there was an affair that she nearly left him over…”
Eleanor turned the page, and immediately pointed to a cloud near the top of the image, featuring two figures, standing above eight brown dots. “That’s her!” Eleanor said. “This is the affair! I think this is supposed to be her telling Marge about it to encourage her to rise above or something like that!”
Eleanor looked through the following pages, but no new Simpsons characters appeared – save for realistically-proportioned versions of Marge’s brood.
“Yeah, there’s like a whole ‘nother story in this if you know the Simpsons characters,” Eleanor concluded. “Majumdar certainly did. Or she got crazy lucky which ones she picked.”
“No, she had to know,” Gwen agreed. “If the women surrounding Marge have all risen above relationship drama before, it’s intentional. It mirrors Marge leaving Homer in the zine.”
“I mean, I got that she leaves Homer,” Dania said. “Like, I picked that up without knowing The Simpsons. But, like, is it really supposed to have a super linear plot and stuff? Can’t it just be some cool art about Marge’s feminist awakening?”
“If you dig for the meaning, you’ll find it,” Gwen countered. “Majumdar clearly leaves clues and indications in her art. Nothing obvious, but deliberate once discovered.”
“Or it’s just you projecting,” Dania said, eyelids drooping. She took the zine back from Eleanor and turned the pages.
“It can just be art if you want it to,” Eleanor offered. “It’s certainly pretty to look at. You’ve gotta frame that print.”
“For sure,” Dania said. “I might order another one. This image.”
Dania held up the book. The image, “the chorus,” depicted a sketched outline of Marge – somewhere between her hyperrealistic depiction and her Groening silhouette – hovering above the outstreched arms of six additional Marges, rendered only in watercolor, without pen. The vibrant colors and abstract linework transported Dania to the spiritual realm where Marge’s transformation took place. A gravity-free plane where all the support she needed could be found in herself. Or in her many half-pint avatars who surrounded her.
Image Credit: Things By Soolagna