Emma Capps is kind of an odd case to review. She's precocious and wants the reader to know it, plastering the fact that she's an award-winning 14-year-old cartoonist all over her comics and promotional material. This would be grating if she wasn't otherwise so endearingly enthusiastic about every aspect of comics and art. It must also be said that she sent me the most organized and best-looking press kit I have ever seen from an individual artist. There was a crisply-written letter of introduction, a selection of her hand-made postcards with personal messages, an impressive sheet with pull quotes, a business card and the comics themselves, all collected in a folder that has a Chapel Chronicles sticker on them. I'm not sure if her fastidiousness is a way of letting adults know that she's serious about all of this and wants to do the best job possible or if that's simply her nature. Either way, one couldn't help but be impressed with the packaging and her confidence.
The magazine-sized comic she enclosed is a collection of The Chapel Chronicles, Capps' webcomic. Chapel is loosely based on Capps, drawn with big red hair and huge feet. Despite the strip getting off to a rocky start when Chapel introduces herself as "zany" (violating the basic storytelling tenet of "show, don't tell"). Capps quickly wins the reader over with her charming and stripped down character design. These strips don't generally feature gags, per se; instead, they are built around the amusing observations and foibles of its lead character. Capps takes us through a night of playing board games with a babysitter, how Chapel does (or doesn't do) her chores, how Chapel becomes obsessed with Lady Gaga, and what happens when Chapel gets a pet hedgehog. It's all lightweight and cute, unburdened by pretension. What makes it worth reading is Capps' obsession with detail: adding eye pops, taking jokes to strange places (like popping into Alice's Adventures In Wonderland at one point) and even her artist's comments below each piece. The main problem with this comic is that her use of color is occasionally garish and overwhelming. There are times when she seems determined to have something eye-grabbing in every panel and relies on color splashes instead of the strength of her composition. Her drawings are certainly expressive enough on their own; a splash of color would more than suffice to provide a vivid reading experience.
Her more interesting and ambitious comic is Jam Days, an autobio story about Capps' quest to get enough cherry plums to make her own jam. Other than employing a lot of weird perspective, this is a solidly designed and attractive comic that brings life to some quotidian details about a day spent adventuring outside. The comic captures her constantly whirring mind, giving a fairly quiet set of events a surprising amount of momentum. Her use of color is much more restrained in this comic, and the result is a palette that flatters her linework. Capps has pretty good chops at this stage of her career, especially in terms of drawing from life and drawing objects. She's also a solid storyteller. It's obvious that she has a relentless work ethic, which is the only way a young artist can get better in a relatively short period of time. Capps' work at this stage is not unlike Ariel Schrag's first book, Awkward: enthusiastic, episodic and having more to do with being a child than being a young adult. I'll be curious to see how she continues to develop, what kinds of choices she makes as an artist and if her devotion to comics will remain steadfast as she grows older.