Minis Monday: The Trials of Sir Christopher

Posted by on December 6th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

 


©2010 Colleen Frakes.

 

The Trials of Sir Christopher
Colleen Frakes
Black and white; 112 pp.
Self-published
Tragicrelief.Blogspot.com

The last time I wrote about prolific Colleen Frakes I considered referring to her as “The Hardest Working Woman in Minicomics.” That was a joke and a silly one, born of the parochialism of localized distribution for self-published comics and the regional nature of the resultant renown (such as it is). Still, there are spans when I think I could legitimately rename this column “Minis Frakesday.”

Point is, when you are as devoted to your art as she, you really need to change up your methods and challenges, just as any physical athlete would, in order to keep things fresh and to keep yourself engaged and hungry. Exhibit A is The Trials of Sir Christopher.

This comic represents Frakes’ participation in the National Novel Writing Month campaign, an experiment in artistic production designed to kick out the jams that might otherwise impede creative productivity. Accordingly, Sir Christopher was written and drawn as a graphic novel between “12:01 am on Nov 1st and 8:32 pm on Nov 29th 2009.”

In spirit if not in execution the exercise was like 24-Hour Comic Day for a month, with hopefully more time allotted for sleeping, eating better and other niceties of a richer life. Her effort was unusual and so were the results. By this I mean there’s much to appreciate here, but the book should not be seen as fully representative of her work, especially should it come as a first exposure.

Frakes often takes as a point of departure the format and trappings of time-honored literary lineages, such as myth, legend, fairy tales and, as here, chivalric quests. To these she adds her own distinctive touches, insinuates her own concerns, throws sand into the normal unfolding of those traditional forms and often douses conventional endings with cold water.

 


©2010 Colleen Frakes.

 

The opening line here is that of the King, leveling a royal charge upon his knight errant: “Cut the crap”… plus rescue the three princesses carried off by a dragon to its mountaintop lair. Exit Sir Christopher running, commencing the breakneck pace that hardly slackens during the course of book and month. It’ll be one adventure after another with gnomes, naiads, swords retrieved from watery depths, corpses, spirits, rocs, falls, fears, fires, the aforementioned dragon and a sacrificed sage. Plenty transpires with pretty much the same degree of logic as guided earlier paladins when they ventured forth from the Round Table.

Even at this speed there are, thanks to Frakes’ framing, moments of genuine drama and empathy. One of the more noteworthy involves Sir Christopher and his helmet. Hidden under it for the first hectic 20 pages or so, he generates little emotional interest for himself or his story. It’s a lack that’s not redressed until he loses said helmet and confronts, unarmored, a panoramic vista that stretches out before him. The scales drop from everybody’s eyes. As of that moment he becomes more recognizably human, a character suitable for empathy. Later he will regain his helmet for the debriefing during the denouement. But, at the very end, he’ll doff it again, mortal once more, for a quieted moment of unavoidably somber reflection. The book ends with a short story of Sir Christopher as the bodyguard of the King’s fifth wife, specifically addressing why she needs one.

As should be expected, the art for this project is sketchier than usual from Frakes. Composition remains solid while rendering relies more heavily on an open-figured cartoon shorthand. With all the settings, all the characters and all that transpires, there’s more visual scaffolding and fewer gestural lines. It reminds me of what has been said of run-of-the-mill manga: It has been delivered without ensnaring detail and encourages quick reading. Frakes’ art remains animated, spontaneous and, to be sure, comprehensible. Pages go by rapidly, the play’s the thing. There are ghost images that crop up increasingly from — I’m guessing — insufficient erasure as story and month speed to conclusion. They distract without impeding.

Of course, The Trials of Sir Christopher is better viewed as a distinct accomplishment in its own right irrespective of the circumstances under which it was produced or where it lies within Frakes’ growing canon. Speaking of which, our next installment? Minis Frakesday.

 

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One Response to “Minis Monday: The Trials of Sir Christopher”

  1. cfrakes says:

    Thanks for the review, Rich!

    You can read the whole story online here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenfrakes/sets/72157622602554973/?photo_deleted=4275073747

    And my 2010 NaNoWriMo effort (which I haven’t finished scanning) is here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenfrakes/sets/72157625170925253/