Rich Kreiner: A Minis Monday Special Bulletin: Woman King

Posted by on March 8th, 2010 at 2:38 PM

A while back I took a look at a chapter, the second, of Colleen Frakes’ Woman King that was assembled, offered and reviewed as a mini. I found that segment to be a fine encapsulation in fantasy of a dilemma of leadership, experienced here by a young girl chosen to rule, in time, over a clan of bears. Originally I thought of the chapter as a morality tale (particularly in comparison to another Frakes title, Tragic Relief) and looked forward to the completed Woman King with anticipation.

Now that it has been completed, Woman King justifies the anticipation although that preview chapter does not prove in context to be quite the moral instruction I thought.

In a recent review of Frakes’ comics here at the TCJ site, Rob Clough noted that much of her work is inspired by and indebted to the fairy tale. They share a sense of spirit, tone, and narrative mechanics.

Now “fairy tales” is not exclusively intended to refer to the domesticated, cleaned-up Disney versions of stories crammed with fabulous wonders and momentous occurrences so entrancing to kids. Here we need additionally to include source materials, the riveting narratives that could also scare the wee out of the little ones and at the same time not bore adults to tears, in part because of their oddly profound if seldom examined resonances. You hardly have to be a Bruno Bettelheim these days to recognize that even while these tales wedded a degree of dark fascination to the miraculous, primal matters of deep-seated significance were also being addressed. Such matters may well play out only around the corner of the eye, away from full frontal spectacle of heightened drama and narrative hurly-burly. Often when attention was paid directly to these matters, they’d prove rationally elusive, inconsistent, refusing to stand up to direct scrutiny. They weren’t meant to appeal, to operate wholly, on an epistemological level.

Woman King has plenty of violence, plenty of innocence, plenty of the surprises and pleasures that accompany the proper unfolding of fairy tales. Though it is something of a “coming of age” story, it is casual with the conventions of genre construction, to say nothing of approved methods of child rearing. But doesn’t the presence of the astonishing and the magical give fair notice that, be it logic or narrative template, the applecart is going over? Won’t morality mean something different to someone who has dreams that come prophetically true? Depending on how you answer that, is the slaughter of innocents ever justified? What about the slaughter of the guilty? Who are the guilty? How guilty do they have to be?

Mystery underlies and it isn’t meant to be “solved.” It abides but never loses its sway or its open-ended appeal. An overarching directive propels the action here but it never carries the day, not entirely. There’s a permeability between what we know and understand and what is unknowable and completely understood. Fairy tales help traipse back and forth, bridging what on the surface appears to be paradoxical, like a Woman King.

All images ©2010 Colleen Frakes

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