Let's take a look at some old and new minis from the cartoonist Cara Bean. Bean's been doing minis on and off for a few years now, but she seems to be really concentrating on comics in particular at the moment. As a result, she's rapidly evolving as a cartoonist.
The Gremlins Movie Incident is autobio that recalls her father taking Bean and her rambunctious siblings and cousins to the movie Gremlins. Though rated PG, its grisly (if cartoonish) violence and generally dark themes made it wildly age-inappropriate for little kids, so much so that it led to the PG-13 rating. This is a funny comic, but it's also about the way the film traumatized everyone who saw it in different ways. Bean thought that gremlins would come up out of the toilet to get her and she needed company in there; her sister was afraid they'd come get her at night. In terms of the art, there are three things I especially liked. First, the way Bean draws figures as looking slightly like sausages (or at times, like beans!) is amusing, especially when she gives them big, bulging eyes. Second, her formatting is all over the map in ways that keep the reader guessing: single panel per page images, four-panel grids, pages without panels where images bleed into each other and a hilarious single use of color that was the horrific (and comedic) climax of the story.
Ms. Bean's Art Class #1, is about Bean's day job as a high school art teacher. Bean's greatest strength as a storyteller is her ability to relate her students' stories on the page. There's a telling early strip called "First Day of School To-Do List" that involves being able to identify potential problem students as well as those students likely to need extra encouragement; her ability to sense what is needed for a situation seems to be a strength for Bean both as an artist and as a teacher. Indeed, this comic is all over the place visually: loosely-drawn stories with varying grid styles; illustrated text and charts; realistically-depicted figures that focus in on the intensity of their feelings; and quick drawings that get across a gag. The secret to Bean's success is her ability to wield authority in her class by way of never taking herself seriously. Every teacher wants their kids to listen, to participate and to be nice to the other kids. Instead of establishing that kind of order through fiat, she uses highly goofy humor and a willingness to be ridiculous. In these stories, it's amazing how well the students often respond to her silly sense of humor, especially because she is absolutely committed to the gag and encourages others to join in. At the same time, she also seeks to make an emotional connection with her students by encouraging their work and simply being nice to them, an approach that can help crack the most distant of students. This is an entertaining comic both because of her choices as an artist as well as her choices as a teacher.
Squeaky Noises is one of Bean's earliest comics. It's an interview between a squirrel and a rescued racing greyhound. Despite that interview format of the squirrel interviewing the dog, it's drawn in a realistic style that does well to understand the ways in which animals move and rest. It's obvious that Bean spent a lot of time drawing animals. What I look most about this comic is the restrained way that Bean attacks the sport of greyhound racing while urging people to consider adopting the animals after their racing days, when so many of them are simply put down. There are other clever storytelling conceits, like several pages of the squirrel approaching the house and jumping in (somewhat nervous about being attacked), then surprising the reader by talking. The final revelation of the squirrel being a security blanket in a very different sense is both funny and touching.