Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #10: Colleen Frakes

Iron Scars is the title of Colleen Frakes' new fantasy serial, and in many ways it's a departure from her past work, and in some ways it's a fascinating continuation. The story is set on a small island whose only connection to the mainland is by ferry, and there's a small community living on the island. That's a clever use of Frakes' own background of growing up on an island off the coast of Washington that housed a prison, as her parents served as staffers. It also features fantasy tropes like witches, faeries, shapechanging and magical objects & quests. Generally speaking, Frakes has tended to undermine fantasy tropes by either pointing out their sexist underpinnings or else simply reimagining them in the grimmest possible fashion. In stories Frakes has written involving children, she often taps into the idea of nightmares coming true, often in a way that's far worse than the original nightmares themselves. There is some of all of that in this story, but Frakes made one key change that altered the entire tenor of the story.

That change was setting the story in modern times. As a result, it made it easy for the story's central character, a girl named Tyee, to actively and hilariously reject magic in her life, despite being the daughter and granddaughter of witches. In Frakes' familiar, thick and brushy line (even the heavy line weight of the panels adds some heft to the narrative), Tyee rejects a magical reward from her (unknown to her) grandmother and throws back a talking fish that promises wishes. "Maybe I don't want a magical destiny", she protests. Witches are frequently seen phenomena, as the ragged Sea Witch comes ashore in a sort of effort to play with the children, whom she naturally terrorizes with her bizarre appearance. That's a nice bit of characters design on Frakes' part, who makes her a pile of seaweed and fish with a face. 

By the third chapter, Frakes reveals what the story is really about: intrafamiliar problems and the complication of mixing families and houses after divorce. The character design of Tyee's dad is wonderful, all scraggly beard and unkempt hair. This is where Tyee complains to her dad why he can't live with his partner Nils in the same house as her mom, which leads to the highly uncomfortable conversation with children about how sometimes parents no longer fit together. Frakes nails the awkwardness of that exchange. In the fourth chapter, we get a hilarious sequence where it's revealed that the witches of the island are mostly interrelated, not all of them like each other, they act as guardians of the island (and the world), and they all have other things to do. It's the last bit of narrative pipe that Frakes lays down before the action begins. Frakes ties together the family conflicts with the magical ideas in the story by having one of the teenage girls owing the faeries a favor--and that favor is to kill Tyee's mother, the witch. Frakes creates a nice atmosphere by framing that sequence with Halloween, blurring the lines between make-believe and magic even further. Frakes has certainly expanded her range and her ambition with this story, which looks like it's headed toward a graphic novel's length. 

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