Minis Monday: Breakfast at Mimi’s; Mimi’s Doughnuts Zine Volume 1 By Marek Bennett

Posted by on May 24th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Self-published; 168 pp.; $12; B&W; Softcover (ISBN 9780982415306)

As was the case last week, “Minis Monday” is again something of a misrepresentation. There’s nothing mini about Volume 1 of Breakfast at Mimi’s, Marek Bennett’s self-published compilation of his strip Mimi’s Doughnuts.

These comics are selected from the first four years of the title, beginning in 2003. They chronicle the developments in the life of Shayna Mulligan as she grows from 13 to 16, awkward ages all. Bennett presents them with every bit of the lighthearted humor and carefree horror they deserve, the highs and lows of a youngster’s life as only a sensitive, imaginative, attentive oldster could depict them.

He had help. Bennett’s wife grew up in a family that ran a donut shop in a small town in New Hampshire during the `70s and `80s. In addition to inspiring the strip, her stories likely supplied the rock-solid foundations for Shayna and her family. In progressively presenting a wider community and its relationships, Bennett incorporated aspects from his own upbringing but was eventually driven “to invent stuff to make it all seem a little more believable.” To his credit, these extensions appear equally rock solid and seamless.

This combination of the subjective (in the form of respect for and fidelity to source material) and the objective (an artistically distanced ambition to make something out of such source material) forms the basis of Mimi’s sustained charm and continual attraction. These early episodes can at times remind one of Lynda Barry’s Marlys stories, with their ability to mimic the unimpeded sensibilities of a child, beginning with insight and insouciance. There are also overtones of Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse in the intimations of family epic, particularly as domestic comedy is broadened and deepened with the intrusion of noncomedic elements.

From book’s start to finish, Bennett’s talent as a cartoonist and his diligence as student of the medium are flagrant. His characters (at least the kids) are loose, flexible and lively cartoon embodiments. Staging, backgrounds and scenes are accomplished and practical. Bennett is not afraid to stretch to incorporate the special special effects available to comic strips and he has the professional chops to make them function properly. He’s conscientious about craft and product: One strip takes up the possibility that Shayna’s world is, generally, too wordy … but there’s a lot going on and, moreover, the sort of lives animated here tend to have a lot going on out loud. A clinching rebuttal would be that even at this length the book continues to visually and empathically engage.

The sustained attraction allows Bennett to broaden his narrative to less overtly comedic matters. Capitalism and the sense of community gets a going over as Donkey Donuts breezes into town with its “fancy signs … zany mascot … dumb t.v. commercials… [and] huge marketing budget.” Elsewhere, while advocating for spayed and neutered pets, Protecto the Panda asks a question to a class of schoolchildren: “To find a home for every cat in the U.S.A., how many cats would each person have to have?” As the volume goes on, it increasingly reveals the political and environmental sensibility that runs through The Granite State. It also broaches apolitical matters like dementia, death and child abuse. That Bennett can keep this all at human scale, can skirt pathos and bathos with a degree of adeptness and keep his creative head throughout, is singular and noteworthy: On a class outing, the school bus is held up for an anti-war protest occasioned by a National Guardsman killed in action. Says one kid “I heard he was nineteen.” Says the other “Man, I can’t imagine ever being that old.”

Because these are weekly strips culled from a larger continuity, matters of hilarity and crisis pass quickly, sometimes without the resolution or closure that readers might desire. Bennett has the last word on that, too. In the final strip, a musing Shayna wanders in winter down by the swamp. “You know how in school, they tell you every story has a: beginning middle … and end? I don’t think the world is like that … the story’s still going.”

Volume 2 promises, among other things, “Global warming … Attack of the earthworms … Mean boys … Comics vs. TV! … Plus Shayna’s starting to see ghosts all over town.”  Until then, the strip is gathered up in rolling chapters in individual issues of Bennett’s zine Mimi’s Doughnuts. Also, “Breakfast is served anytime at: www.marekbennett.com” and every man, woman and child in the U.S. would have to adopt six cats. I know, but that’s what Protecto said.

All images © 2010 Marek Bennet

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