From age eighteen on, I had a partner, a kindred spirit. I had a friend. Someone bound and determined to keep me from the worst in myself.
At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. Sharon, ambitious but lacking confidence, arrives from rural Kentucky. Mel, brash and wildly gifted, brings her own brand of hellfire from the backwaters of Florida. Both outsiders, Sharon and Mel become fervent friends, bonding over their love of classic cartoons, their dysfunctional working-class families, and – above all – their craft: drawing. Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.
A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, living and working in Brooklyn, and poised on the edge of even greater success after the release of their first full-length feature. But with this success comes self-doubt, and cracks in their relationship start to form. When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.
Funny and heartbreaking by turn, The Animators is a dazzling story of female friendship, the cost of a creative life, and the secrets that can undo us.
Updating the theme of how artists turn personal pain into art, Whitaker's outstanding debut novel portrays two women working together to create adult cartoons. Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses meet in a college art class. Confident, talented, and openly gay, Mel anticipates a career in animation, while quiet, lonely, straight, and inexperienced Sharon knows only that she wants to be an artist. Mel introduces Sharon to works by R. Crumb and other alternative animators and comics artists before the two women collaborate on their own dark, funny, carefully crafted work, discovering they perfectly complement each other. A decade after graduation, they gain recognition for Nashville Combat, a full-length animated film based on Mel's early life in central Florida as the daughter of a delinquent mother who went to prison when Mel was 13. Mel and Sharon struggle following the film's success: a drunken Mel rips out the microphone during an NPR interview; they argue; Sharon suffers an aneurism. Renewal for the pair comes with a new project, this one focused on Sharon, who returns with Mel to her eastern Kentucky home to confront her own disturbing memories and reconnect with her one childhood friend. Whitaker deftly sketches settings and characters: Brooklyn is all chain-link fences and loading docks and aging signage, Mel is the fire-starter, Sharon the finisher. Whitaker skillfully charts the creative process, its lulls and sudden rushes of perfect inspiration. And in the relationship between Mel and Sharon, she has created something wonderful and exceptional: a rich, deep, and emotionally true connection that will certainly steal the hearts of readers.