Thursday, August 12, 2021

Miranda Harmon's Spring Cakes

Miranda Harmon, from the very start of her cartooning career, had a fully-formed style. She has a lively, fluid line that lends itself to cute but expressive drawings. It's no surprise that she's worked in animation in addition to doing comics. In a lot of her early comics, however, she had a style that was looking for a narrative at times. Her new book with Holiday House, Spring Cakes, shows just how much she's been able to lean into this style for a book aimed at new readers. This is part of their "I Like To Read" comics line that is a pretty shameless copy of what Francoise Mouly does with Toon Books, right down to the fancy endpapers and hardback format.

Nothing wrong with copying success; indeed, Mouly patterned her line after Golden Books. Little kids like hardbacks, and they are much easier to shelve than a comic book and much harder to destroy. It's just the right size for small hands to flip through. With Spring Cakes, Harmon overwhelms the reader with cuteness along with some low-stakes conflicts as three girls (Ginger, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg) help their mother make a special cake by going on an adventure to find the right ingredients. 

The thing that young cartoonists tend to struggle the most with, especially when they are working digitally like Harmon here, is not overwhelm their line with garish color. It's to Harmon's credit that while this book is one long bombardment of pastels, she keeps the colors balanced and surprisingly nuanced. It's clear she thought a lot about color and color theory to enhance her bold line without detracting from the narrative power of that line. In some panels, she uses an interesting technique where the top half of the panel is white, but it slowly fades into a light pastel. This avoids too much blank space without overwhelming the panel with a lot of color. Her character design is simple and expressive, with a sophisticated understanding of how to render garments. The book's tone is loving and warm, with little touches of tension throughout that are quickly resolved without being treacly. Harmon has really found her voice with the book, although I think her future will eventually lie in YA instead of early-grade books.