I’m Not a Plastic Bag

Created by: Rachel Hope Allison

ISBN: 1936393549 (Amazon)

Pages: 88

I’m Not a Plastic Bag

Propaganda is generally seen as an aesthetically loathsome use of artistic mediums. Overt manipulation overrides the creative impulse. Works find themselves too much vessels for an ideology and too little vehicles for the spark of imagination. Red Dawn, Left Behind, His Dark Materials, The Patriot: these each are successful in rallying the ideologically sympathetic but will never be known for their artistic achievement. Certainly, bald-faced propaganda is widely valued for its kitsch and is often cheered for ironic purposes—but for the most part, critics can’t tolerate the stuff.

Part of the problem is that by cloaking agenda in the guise of the arts, propaganda generates an air of dishonesty. Rather than simply laying out the claims of a position and allowing it to be tried before the juries of reason and rationality, propaganda tries to cloak its propositions in attire meant to evoke emotional responses designed to bypass the guardians of the mind. In hoping to arouse a response built on the passions, such works seek to hide their ideology’s weaknesses, making it hard to trust them on any level.

I'm Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope AllisonHate me if you will, but every time I see this, I think of the Maelstrom on Azeroth.

So I’m Not a Plastic Bag does something interesting right up front to help diffuse any threat of mistrust. All over the packaging is a bit of dual-branding advertising publication by both Archaia and Jeff Corwin Connect. That’s curious enough to merit some poking around on the part of most readers—or at least a glance at the introduction, penned by Jeff Corwin himself. I was unfamiliar with both Corwin and Connect, but even a brief scan of those first pages (or of the several pages of appendices) reveals that I’m Not a Plastic Bag is concerned to significant degree with ecological matters. I considered myself fairly warned and proceeded, recognizing that I would be taking part in a book that would probably try to sell me pretty hard on the importance of both environmental cognizance and an individual’s appropriate response to that awareness.

The strange thing is that Corwin’s introduction had me overestimating how much overt ideological passion I would have to confront across the following pages. In fact, I’m Not a Plastic Bag does so little moralizing of its circumstantial ideal that I probably wouldn’t have even seen it as propaganda at all had I not been warned that it might be. Certainly, Rachel Hope Allison’s book presumes a number of distasteful environmental realities, but none of these are arguable in any appreciable manner. The existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch only takes a brief survey of Google Images to confirm—unlike the struggle between Communism vs Capitalism, Just War Theory vs Pacifism, or Edward vs Jacob. In truth, anything that could be considered remotely propagandish is found in the foreword and afterward, where environmental concerns and calls for action are spelled out for readers. Allison’s story itself seems to be unconcerned with these things—if not in some ways at odds with them.

I'm Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope AllisonHi there.

I’m Not a Plastic Bag is the mostly wordless story of one particular Clump of garbage as it floats along, trapped in the middle of the Pacific. It gradually grows in stature but finds itself made lonely by its very nature. Allison uses some of the detritus our Clump accumulates to help it demonstrate personality—after all, if the Clump is in some sense our own creation, then it plausibly ought to reflect its creators. In the midst of its loneliness, the Clump seeks out friendship with local sea life and I’m Not a Plastic Bag is the story of how that clump fares in its quest.

It’s a short but genial story and one sometimes beautifully illustrated. Allison uses (presumably) a mix of illustration, painting, and photoshopping to bring her story to the page. Her technique is worthwhile and the book features a large number of double-page spreads, giving Allison’s canvases room to breathe. The choice of presenting her narrative without word balloons may have been the right one, allowing the trash to speak for itself, but the absence of dialogical exposition does result in a climax that is difficult to pin down exactly.

I'm Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison

The story’s closing ambiguity is what may leave the reader wondering how exactly the graphic novel portion of I’m Not a Plastic Bag lines up with the environmental purpose of its more-spelled-out bookends. After all, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is (by every estimation I’ve seen) a Bad Thing, but I’m Not a Plastic Bag's intentional conceit is to give the Patch a heart, making it a sympathetic figure capable of beauty and wonder. (She accomplishes this well—there are moments where readers may feel sorry for the Clump.) Still, while I found rendering trash in the role of protagonist a curious choice for an environmentally concerned book, just making readers aware of these garbage-laden gyres may be enough to prompt more responsible living.


Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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