Monday, December 26, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #26: Fantology Volume 3

Kristen Shull and Emily Zea have produced another winning edition of Fantology, with probably the strongest issue from top to bottom. Its central conceit is that the artists have to work within an established world delineated by a map, which of course is similar to but not as rigidly prescribed as the fantasy minicomic series Cartozia Tales. The theme for this issue is "treasure," and that's a solid basis for stories because it instantly gives protagonists something to want.  



Kat Ghastly's "Lore" kicks things off, and their inventive layouts and page composition make this piece truly stand out. It's as much horror as it is fantasy, as it details a deadly prophecy concerning the new sorceress of the kingdom. Ghastly uses open page layouts, zooms in and out on key characters, uses tiny details to provide narrative and decorative flourishes, and provides rich and provocative characterization. This feels like a long book in the offing. Tay James' work is text-heavy, but the weird lettering choices and bonkers page design help with the light-hearted humor of the piece. Sage Clemmons' entry alternating illustrations with hand-written letters detailing a couple separated by life circumstances is deeply emotional, and ideal for an anthology. Natalie Norris' wordless tale of two mermaid lovers discovering a trove of human treasure is the emotional and narrative opposite: two lovers with no regard to the outside world, inseparable. The treasure amounts to simple baubles for them, instead of life-or-death plunder, and if there's one thing Norris is aces at drawing, it's slender, elegant, beautiful women. 


Emily Claire's piece about disaffected undead employees in a dungeon is funny and has a sharp punchline, although the dependence on grayscale shading made the visuals bland. A pet is a major aid in that story and in Chelsi Fiore's entry about an elf and his small steed being trapped in an underground city. These are breezy transition pieces that lead to the third chapter of Shull's ongoing fantasy story about two accidental traveling companions who both carry secrets. Shull's boisterous and bawdy style of fantasy is propulsively fun, as she pairs a serious (but horny) character with a light-hearted (but also horny) character who loves carousing, singing, dancing, and playing games of chance. Shull has a way of adding a slice-of-life touch to fantasy proceedings that centers the story around her protagonists, and both of them are memorable--both in terms of how they're drawn and their personalities. Hopefully, this makes it into a book one day. 


Michael Beachy's treasure-hunter story is a little visually overwrought, but he reins it in just enough to tell a clear and funny story. Mona's story about a bored wizard staging a tournament because he loves violence is heavy on pen-and-ink pyrotechnics, but her command over her line and clever storytelling techniques makes this fun, right on down to its cut-off ending. I get that it's part of a larger story, but not having any real closure in the story was distracting. The scratchiness of that story is followed by Stephen Pellnat's painstaking detail in service of some dynamic storytelling about a cat adventurer getting more than he bargained for on his adventure, and learning a valuable lesson along the way. There's another stylistic shift, to a sketchy, hatching-heavy story by Jackson Maceo Schleicher about a lack of honor among thieves as they look for a wishing egg. 


Rainer Kannenstine's piece is yet another visual shift, as it looks like scratchout white-on-black, with a simple, blocky line to tell this story of a grappler named Urta whose use of brute force eliminates the need for skill or magic in taking a dragon's treasure. She also has no problem declaring herself the sole recipient of the treasure and turns the dragon into her pet. My vote for most improved feature is Alex Washburn's newest entry about Clan Zargs. These ragtag adventurers get into genuine trouble, and Washburn tightens up everything here: his line, the storytelling, and even the characterizations. On the other hand, co-editor Zea's piece about a pirate challenging her family's lineage with the help of her hostage/protege/niece feels overblown and self-indulgent. She seems so delighted in her Captain Trub character that everyone else in the story is a means to the end of extolling her awesomeness. The story is still well-drawn, although the use of digital lettering takes me out of the actual story. 

While that story was a misfire, Fantology 3 not only holds up well on a story-to-story basis, the sequencing is also fluid and creates contrasts that make each story stronger. For an anthology with an open submissions policy, they did a remarkable job of putting together such a strong group of creators. It helps that there are regulars to anchor it, but this was the best all-around group to be featured in an issue so far. The conceit of Bartlebee the Bard introducing each chapter is fun, but it seems wholly unnecessary for one-shots. Given that some strips are in their third chapter, a summary of prior chapters would have been useful for readers. This volume will definitely delight readers looking for something a bit off-beat in their fantasy comics. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #25 Andy Warner

Andy Warner's versatile and pleasing line has led him to a cottage industry of writing the histories of familiar things. His first book was A Brief History Of Everyday Objects, and he's back in his wheelhouse with Andy Warner's Oddball Histories: Pests And Pets. Overall, this is a densely text-heavy comic that is still a light read thanks to just enough visual space and an amiable writing style that makes a reader want to turn the page and see what's next. 



In a non-narrative book that is essentially just a collection of interesting anecdotes, Warner nonetheless is able to establish a throughline in this comic. By focusing specifically on animals associated with humans, he's able to make this comic as much about people as it is about animals. Raising and domesticating animals has been crucial for food and companionship since the dawn of civilization. In fact, Warner makes a compelling that civilization as we understand it would not be possible without humans domesticating animals, and horses in particular. He also notes the side-effects of civilization attracting pests that are highly adaptive. 



Dividing the book into "creatures we find cute," "creatures we find useful," and "creatures that find us useful" clarifies this narrative, and he further whets the reader's appetite at the beginning of each chapter by noting a fact about an animal and giving the page number where this is explained. It's a clever way to keep things moving and pique interest in the subjects, by baiting the reader with weird facts and anecdotes while still referring to the overarching narrative of how humans and animals are connected. 



It helps that Warner's line has a nice, thick weight to it, and that fellow CCS grad Luke Healy did the colors for the book. The colors are bright but not overly vibrant, and they never interfere with Warner's line. Warner also adds a lot of humor into the book, giving the animals funny dialogue without going overboard. That humor helps leaven things like animals bringing the plague, the ways animals are frequently used for war, and of course the way humans hunt some animals to extinction. None of these things are the focus of the book, but Warner is careful to include them. The result is a funny, informative, colorful collection of facts that hang together because of Warner's overall organizing precepts. Warner has a knack for whittling down mountains of research and information into a readable gestalt.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #24: Michael Sweater, Good Boy!

Michael Sweater embodies the aesthetic of much of Silver Sprocket's publishing output. I'm not exactly sure what to call this--cutepunk? Nerdpunk? Stonergeek? What his work in particular reminds me of most is an update on comics like Hate!, only updated for a modern audience and drawn in an anthropomorphic style. In his Everything Sucks! comic, stoner housemates Noah and Calla go in search of a crappy fast-food burger. Noah is the classic Buddy Bradley irascible nerd with a secret sensitive side. Calla is a free spirit like Lisa, and their annoying, shit-stirring friend Brad is in the mold of Stinky. Brad urges them to get tacos instead, but Noah has that self-righteous, faux-rugged individualist energy that pushes him to ignore the feelings of everyone else. A disgusting act from Brad is later followed by his accidentally starting a grease fire, an escalation of comedic circumstances. Noah winds up unhappy in the end, of course. 


Sweater has always been one to organize with others, and in the most recent instance of this, he's co-editing the anthology Good Boy! with Benji Nate. I've actually reviewed the second issue of this, which was stronger than the first issue, which I'm examining now. Unsurprisingly, Nate's comic (which leads off the issue) is one of the standouts. Nate has been extremely prolific and continues to evolve as a cartoonist; this story is about a former Magical Girl who was part of a Sailor Moon-type team who is now trying to figure out life as the mother of a teen, especially as the former leader of her group is now mega-successful AND a mother. The story ends abruptly, which makes me think it's part of a larger project. This would be quite welcome, as Nate has a knack for translating that Naoko Takeuchi energy into a more naturalistic and far sadder setting. 



Flower Alligator's story takes the cute to a meandering extreme, while Konstantinos Moutzouvis' story feels stylistically derivative of Ron Rege' in a way that's largely incoherent. CCS grad Daniel Rinylo's stories about cats and frogs are beautifully spare, strange, and funny. The pencils vary between fragile and dense, while the added drawings at the bottom of the page add to the odd quality of these stories. Dave Mercier's comic about the Mario character feels like more filler. Sam Grinberg's story of anthropomorphic geometric figures obnoxiously getting in conflicts at a casino is interesting to look at, but the cringe humor falls flat. Bastian Najdek's three page sci-fi story is yet more filler. 


Fortunately, the back half of the anthology is pretty strong. Steve Thueson is another good example of this nerdpunk aesthetic, though he writes for a YA audience. His story is about a space messenger named Jake who gets roped into helping a rebel alliance. It is completely silly and absurd, but it works because Thueson has a deadly-serious approach to depicting the actual action. The character design and characters themselves can be silly and cartoony, but the stakes are absolutely life-and-death, which gives his story a great deal of energy. Joseph Romagano's lettering project out in the wild is the kind of experimentation I'd like to see more of in this anthology. 


Sweater's own "Everything Sucks!" story concerns Calla and Phillipe, the latter of whom gave Calla a ride in the comic reviewed above. This story involves them camping out in a cemetery and a highly casual offer from Calla to make out, which Phillipe objects to because he feels like a last option instead of something she really wants to do. Of course, this all leads to them encountering a serial killer whom Calla falls for and starts making out with. I normally associate Ashley Robin Franklin with horror, but her black-and-white story about a creep trying to capture a wild Catboy is absolutely hilarious. Of course, there is a total gross-out moment (it is Franklin, after all) but it just makes it funnier. 


The issue concludes with two artists that are among my favorite in the newer group of Silver Sprocket cartoonists. Alex Krokus nails that Peter Bagge-style of fucked-up, weirdo housemates even more acutely that Sweater, as he makes sure to include the dilapidated brownstone as part of this particular roommate drama. His harsher use of color and less cute character design (they are still anthropomorphic animals, like many of the characters in this anthology) adds a gritty quality that makes it funnier. Finally, Grayson Bear's mix of cute and psychedelia is some of the strongest work visually in the anthology, as their use of red wash and zip-a-tone adds a great deal of weight and depth to the page.  

The most interesting thing about Sweater and Good Boy! is this kind of cultural blender approach he takes with his work. This is a generation of young artists who have grown up reading and watching everything--generations of comics at their fingertips, all kinds of cartoons streaming, etc. The result is a genre mishmash that ranges from cluttered and confused to innovative and hilarious, mixing ideas and images from outside of comics as well as being deeply rooted in their history. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #23: Masha Zhdanova & April Malig

April Malig's zines are closer in spirit to classic perzines of the late 80s and 90s than typical diary minicomics, in part because she frequently eschews typical line art in favor of photos heightened with color changes. There's a wonderful, revealing chattiness to these zines, as Malig in the zine Leftovers says "I just made this for fun and to make something pretty (I feel like that shouldn't be such a weird thing to say?)" Indeed not--for Malig, there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Malig tends to favor bright and soft colors, taking photos and altering them to emphasize pinks, blues, and purples. A lot of Malig's zines and comics are about travel, especially in Asia, and she has a way of capturing the bustle of other places with both enthusiasm and respect. 



I Didn't Write Enough Postcards is Malig's travel zine about Singapore and Taiwan. It's text followed by a photo on its opposite page, and there's a wonderful breathlessness to Malig's narration. She's unconcerned with typical tourist interests; she's there to eat and buy manga and see friends, and other fun activities along the way (like seeing a Museum of Miniatures) are a byproduct of this point of view. There's an unspoken poignancy to all of this, as it was two months before COVID shut everything down. April's Food Zine #2 is great because it's so intensely local to her in Queens, and the reviews are so quirky, like a coffee shop that sells onigiri with a chatty, dad-like guy running it. You find that Malig doesn't care about "authenticity" in the least even as her palate is quite adventurous. Malig is after delicious food and doesn't care where it comes from, including a 7-11 with some surprising fare. 


Some Tender Nothing is a combo abstract drawing/photo zine that goes into full neon colors, mimicking the night markets and street lighting she sees. All I Do is Play Animal Crossing and Online Shop is a COVID journal that captures what that particular video game did for a lot of people: provide blissful distraction, pleasant interactions with friends, and a brief halt to thinking about grief and death. It's a mix of black & white cartooning and images taken from the game itself, which Malig deliberately blurs with reality. Finally, Rotten Roses 2 continues the story of four friends in a group chat who are obsessed with a particular boys love manga and its various adaptations into other media. There are two things of note here (beyond Malig's sharp character design): the celebration of fan fiction as a creative group exercise, and the ways in which a highly specific set of mutual and obscure interests can create lasting bonds. One tends to reveal oneself through the way one makes art, but fan obsessions can also expose intimate and personal details as well. All of this is somewhat impenetrable to a reader, but the specifics of the fandom are less important than the emotions it invokes. 

Like Malig, Masha Zhdanova's tastes are highly informed by manga, among many other sources. In her micro-mini A Comics Mixtape, Zhdanova offers an unfolding map of how and which comics influenced her over the years, starting with Vera Brosgol's Anya's Ghost, in part because it made her think she could draw her own comics. Zhdanova cleverly takes the reader's eye across the page, including "downstairs" as she continues to descend into her mind. She namechecks manga, webcomics, books, and frames from Soviet cartoons her father used to show her. 

Zhdanova emigrated to the US at age two, something she explores in A Grey Mountainous Curly Wall. This is about a song sung to her as a child and her subsequent feelings of alienation toward her old country. It's not just that she was socialized as an American; the fact that she's queer, Jewish, and progressive meant that she realized she'd never feel welcome. This comic represents an attempt to connect with the music of her childhood, music directly connected to resistance in its own way. 



Lilac, subtitled "A Horror Comic," plays on some of these themes. It's about a Russian girl whose mother forces her to devour 5-sided lilacs, because it will give you good luck on your exams. It's a horror story that's really about a mother denying her child an opportunity to be herself, as the girl (Lena) falls in love with another girl and they promise to go to school away from their small town. As her mother grows sicker and clingier, it's revealed that there's more than luck going on with Lena eating the lilacs. Zhdanova's line is simple, expressive, and harsh, even as she uses soft colors as a way to create emotional dissonance. Zhdanova has a lot of refinement and greater control of her line to work on, but she already possesses a special touch in writing stories about alienation. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #22: Andy Lindquist and Kit Anderson

Slipping, by Kit Anderson. Anderson has such a great knack for portraying loneliness, longing, alienation, and liminal places in a way that feels lived-in, gritty, and authentic. There's a question of the connection between reality and insanity and what exactly is real in her comics, a question that is rarely answered directly. Take Slipping, for example. This comic follows the monologue of a character (what seems like a trans man or non-binary person) as they explain the titular concept of "slipping." As relayed by their mother, it's a lack of awareness of one's surroundings that causes the Other Place to reach out and get us. Whether it's hell, oblivion, or something else is unimportant; what is clear is that it represents non-being at an ontological level. Anderson's scratchy line immerses the reader in every slow, painful moment, from stray body hair to pocked skin to slumped gestures. 

The monologue is aimed at a woman named Monday, who lived with the narrator until their neuroses (in the form of filling every empty second with sound) drove them away. Anderson imbues every quotidian moment in the comic (waking up, making breakfast, smoking a cigarette, taking a walk) with unspoken menace, as the reader is led to expect a "slip" for the narrator. When it comes, it hits especially hard because the narrator is making one, last desperate attempt to connect. The character's existential self-absorption inadvertently leads to their final, tragic fate, even as Monday is revealed to be worried about them. 


It's Going Fine and Who Lays The Layman? by Andy Lindquist. Lindquist's own takes on alienation are quite arresting. Lindquist zeroes in on character design, and it's got that slightly grotesque and distorted quality that Dash Shaw and Lillie Carre' both possess. In It's Going Fine, for example, the character of the mother is weathered and bespectacled, hiding years of pain behind those glasses. The story is about her daughter trying to talk to her in a very intentional way, trying to draw out her mother and engage with her as an equal instead of simply being ignored and lectured at. The daughter blows it by losing her tempo, leading her mother on an interesting segue: she tells her daughter about hearing about Sylvia Plath's death as a teenager. It was a shattering experience, so much so that she avoided the kitchen for weeks. It shaped her approach to fear: don't look. When her daughter asks if she's afraid of her, the other simply says that she loves her without answering the question. The horrifying last image is a visual representation of the mother's fear as she sees her daughter walk away. This is a sophisticated and devastating portrayal of generational trauma. 

Who Lays The Layman? is funny and sad, as it's about a superhero groupie who frequently uses a grindr-style app to hook up with a variety of metahumans. When they (a trans man) fall for a gritty superhero named the Sergeant, they feel the foolish, flushed feelings of connection that may not be real. When promises of meeting up again fade and a flirty text gathers dust, the groupie finds other company, and finds it lacking. One of the heroes, Glamorpuss, is hot and outgoing, but is not only lacking in bed, but is chatty in a way that the groupie doesn't connect with. Indeed, there are casually cruel to poor Glamorpuss, who wants to hang out and watch funny videos after sex, but the protagonist just wants to go home. 

There's a remarkable sequence where the protagonist compares being lonely at night and looking at dating apps like being high and watching fast food ads. Nothing seems better in that moment than getting that cheeseburger--and nothing makes you feel worse afterwards. That materializes when they meet a hero named Funny the Strongman, who is not only weird about being queer, he also misgenders them (twice), and then claims that his condom broke. It all ends as horribly and awkwardly as one would think, with our hero swearing off apps for a bit, only to get a text from the Sergeant. Lindquist touching on the essential queerness of superheroes is an homage to Watchmen, of course, but by touching on trans issues and issues related to both BDSM and consent, they take it a step further. In both of their comics here, Lindquist demonstrates razor-sharp storytelling instincts with interesting swerves, bringing a touch of horror into a story about family trauma and bring grief and deep alienation into a story about sex and superheroes. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #21: David Yoder & Amy Burns

David Yoder's best comics have always been his humor comics, and he's focused on that in recent years with his strips that react to movies. His Movies That I Watched minicomic is based on comedian Doug Benson's movie-a-day project where he was going to watch a movie a day for an entire year. Yoder one-upped that by attempting to draw a comic reacting to a movie a day for an entire year. Well, he managed to crank out 45 strips from this idea before succumbing to fatigue. While many of these strips are funny, you can see the fatigue start to build up as the art for the later strips gets sketchier and sketchier. Wisely, Yoder stopped and rethought the whole project.


What wound up happening instead was working with writer David Carter as they'd watch a movie together. Yoder would do a strip a week and Carter would write a full review as a sort of package item. In their David And David At The Movies collections, their collaboration works nicely in bunches, thanks to their different tones, styles, and methods of working. It's not just that Yoder tends to be more succinct than Carter because he's a cartoonist, it's also that he synthesizes that knowledge like a comedian--much like Benson. So his reviews aren't beat-by-beat, but rather feature some visual gags, digressions, and fantasy bits, along with actual analysis of the films. Carter thoroughly critiques each film from the point of view of someone who knows a lot about film history, and it shows. However, his reviews are in the same spirit as Yoder's in that they start as a dive into the particulars of the film along with the prior work of the actors, writers, and directors. Along the way, the reader becomes more aware of the overall aesthetic point of view of both Yoder and Carter. I thought their reviews of Hidden Figures were especially on target, with Yoder bringing the laughs and Carter waxing philosophical about the history of biopics. 

Amy Burns has a cute, spare style that lends itself both to absurdist humor and graphic medicine. With regard to the latter, she collaborated with writer Keilani Lime to do a book called No Spoons For You. This is a reference to Christine Miserandino's "Spoon Theory," a metaphor for those with chronic illness and/or disability to use in order to explain that they have a limited and variable amount of energy on any given day, measured in "spoons." When a person runs out of spoons for the day but still has things to do, they can "borrow" spoons from the next day at a high price, or simply be forced to stop, something that can be quite frustrating.

Lime puts this all in fantasy trappings with Burns giving the whole thing a positive sheen with her approachable and fun linework. There are gremlins that cause brain fog, supportive partners, managing medicines, and other struggles. There are funny repeating motifs (like a blanket, hot water bottle, etc being the main character Sunny's "best friend forever and ever"), but there's not so much a narrative so much as there a sense of trying to make readers understand what a struggle a single day can be without using a miserabilist approach. 

Burns' own work tends toward poetic examinations of their own medical issues or absurdist fantasy shenanigans. You'll Never Find The Sun is an effective allegory about ontology, imagining a time not only before one's existence, but before the existence of anything. Then the big bang is compared to one's birth, finding one's parent, finding one's parent...but not finding the sun. It's explained that this comic is a reaction to discovering a diagnosis of lupus, a disease that is associated with sensitivity to sunlight. The problem with the otherwise beautiful presentation is that this expression of grief feels private; the connection to lupus, to being unable to find the sun in the comic feels entirely unconnected. There's nothing wrong with a poetic and private expression of grief, but the explanation afterwards felt tacked-on. 



On the other hand, Belly Wō Belly: Bard Search, is absurd at every level. It's about a sentient stomach who is captain of the Queen's Royal Guard, who wears a human body as its armor. He's obsessed with gummies, who are both food and messengers, and his own ego. He begs the Queen to hire a bard to regale the People with tales of his glory, and Belly runs the search. He doesn't find a bard, but he does fill other open positions in the Queen's court, like Director of Waste Management. There are even sillier and delightfully self-indulgent digressions along the way, which only makes sense. If you're going to do a silly comic, you may as well go all the way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #20: Sam Held, Isabella M. Hall, Colleen Frakes



Attercop, by Sam Held. Anyone who's ever read The Hobbit knows that an attercop is a sort of insulting term for a spider, as it holds a double meaning as a disagreeable person. In Held's comic, there is a monstrous giant spider who wears an adorable straw hat who is kind and polite. Held's use of color makes this comic sing, as the spider goes about its day in the forest, being careful not to hurt smaller creatures as it looks around. The spider finds a book on gardening and is able to deduce its meaning from the images in it, and sets out to make their own garden, complete with scarecrow. This is just a delightful story that isn't much in terms of plot but still gives the reader some stakes as the spider is on a quest to make things beautiful. It seems like a perfect introduction for a wider series of adventures. 


Life With Diabetes! and Pawdust by Isabella M. Hall. Hall works in a clearly manga-inspired style; I'm not sure I could name the specific influences, but it's obvious this is the subgenre she's comfortable drawing in. Her Life With Diabetes! comic is presented as a rant, but it's honestly more of an entirely reasonable set of facts about type 1 and 2 diabetes, along with some very mild complaints about not feeling seen. (The irony is that this is actually the third minicomic I've seen from CCS grads on this very subject as living with type 1 diabetes; Sam Gaskin's Sugarcube and Nomi Kane's Sugar Baby are the others.)

So the comic revolves around seeing a social media post about the movie Turning Red and seeing one of the young characters wearing a diabetes patch. Hall goes into detail about how diabetes works, including the symptoms as well as the science behind it. Hall then goes back to the reference in Turning Red, and how few instances of a patch are in media. Hall says some other interesting things, as she regards being diabetic as part of her identity, and that if there were some catch-all cure, she wouldn't take it. In part, it's because she wants to be a visible role model--hence, this comic. The problem with this comic is that it's neither fish nor fowl; there's a tenuous personal narrative that is only really emphasized toward the very end. There's fairly basic graphic medicine content that's not really connected to any other narrative. There are instances of personal connections, like the diabetic teddy bear children receive to practice given injections on, but it's yet another fragment, not part of something bigger. It's a rant in the sense that it feels spontaneous and all over the place, but it feels restrained as well. There's a disconnect with Hall's dynamic art style, which makes it feel like more should be happening on a given page. 



If graphic medicine doesn't quite seem to be Hall's bag just yet, it's clear that their comic Pawdust shows off what they excels at. This is only the first book of a much longer story, From the very first play of this mother-son story, Hall's command over color is arresting but tasteful. She doesn't sacrifice her line to color, as the first scene is beautifully composed. The story blurs from black and white to blurs of color, with highly expressive characters in this story of a boy who has a connection to dying animals. Finding a dying bird on the seashore, his mom comforts him and tells him about how everything goes in cycles, and death is part of this. When they do a little ritual for the bird's soul, he sees it fly off, establishing a future plot point while finishing a key emotional beat. The story is set in the present, but there's something hazy about it, like there are lots of tricks of memory for the boy that flash into his mind's eye. There are plenty of visually spectacular sequences in the comic, but the key note here is Hall's overall sense of taste and restraint. 


Colleen Frakes is perhaps the most prolific of all CCS grads, considering her status as a member of its initial graduating class. She's also been one of its most consistent artists, as she long ago found a niche as someone who used fantasy genre trappings to tell stories with a deeply feminist bent. Her stories are often about families: dysfunctional families, found families, loving families, and families stretched to their limits. The perils they face are often faceless, terrifying, random, and merciless. Sometimes people are just in the way of monstrous appetites with no regard for life. Frakes can switch gears and do autobio with the best of them, however, and I've long admired her self-caricature for its expressiveness. Her line is so lively and is usually thick enough to add some real heft to her drawings. Let's take a look at her most recent minis. 



Clever Hanne Saves Her Sister From The Troll King is very typical of her work, and it was done over the span of a month in October of 2018. This is less a comic than it is a series of illustrations with captions at the bottom, telling the story of a young woman whose sister is kidnapped by trolls. As she pursues the troll to find her sister, she does various kindnesses along the way for various creatures she encounters and receives an assortment of useful items. When she reaches the troll cave, the Troll King turns her sister into a troll. The twist here is that the Troll Queen turns against her husband, turns her sister back into a human, and then later becomes part of the young woman's family. There are familiar elements from fairy tales, but the ending subverts aspects of these familiar stories. 


Iron Scars vol 6 and vol 7. Encompassing chapters 4, 5, and 6 of her epic series about a conflict between a family of witches and dark fey on an island, Frakes uses her own experiences in conveying the sense of isolation and weirdness of growing up with a bunch of other families in a remote location. The evil elves (of the Unseelie Court) are kidnapping kids from the village, including the kin of witches. These chapters represent the efforts of some of the kids to fight back by trying to learn the name of the Queen of the Unseelie Court to get power over her. There's also a chapter about the Sand Witch working to try to parley with the Unseelie Court, before they have to do something like go to war. Frakes' line is a delightful combination of thick, bold lines with sketched-out figures that allow the reader to fill in gaps. Her use of gesture in particular is a big part of what makes her comics fun to read. 



Your Mom Friend Is Not Okay is an infrequent example of Frakes doing memoir, something she only tends to do when she really has something to say. In this case, she writes about her harrowing experience giving birth. I've read a number of birthing stories in comics form (it's fantastic that it's become fairly common), but there's a sense where Frakes published this out of sheer frustration. Along the way, there are still some funny observations that have everything to do with an idealized conception of childbirth that rarely materializes. 

What's interesting is that Frakes did this using some prompts. For Hourly Comics Day in 2019, she used the mechanics of doing a comic every hour to talk about her birth experience, which was horrific. The strip serves as an introduction to the rest of the comic, as she notes that an emergency c-section incision was made before her epidural anesthetic kicked in, her midwives never listen to her, and her baby had to have an emergency blood transfusion. There was a hippie midwife who downplayed her fears, having to deal with a pain scale she didn't understand, and a friend who told her that babies freak him out and they were gross. (In other words, what NOT to say.)

Frakes also details how having a baby gave other people a sense of entitlement to her experience--especially her mom, who was angry that someone threw Frakes a baby shower but didn't think to invite a bunch of people that she wanted there. Frakes shows her mom a diagram of how to treat people in crisis; sending comfort and support to "outer rings" (friends to family to partner to patient) and move that in, and send complaints and "what about me" feelings outward. Thus the person in crisis doesn't have to deal with other feelings, and people at various stages in the circles have outlets. Frakes' strip about this is very funny, as her mom replies "Your grandma wouldn't like this," leading to a plop take. There are strips about introducing formula (always a touchy subject), her midwife's dismissal of her symptoms nearly leading to tragedy, going to the hospital anyway, and a rapid escalation of symptoms. Her mom was there to "help" and tried to walk off in a huff when she felt unappreciated. The comic concludes a year later with another hourly comic strip, shifting into a different new normal that is still stressful, right before COVID hits. Throughout it all, her line art shines, with her thick line for figures and finer line for expressions and features the bedrock of her lively cartooning. Frakes is generally a fairly serious storyteller, but this makes her moments of humor all the more effective; she's not so much trying to tell gags as she is relate the frustrating absurdity of certain situations.