Minis Monday: Tragic Relief #9-10

Posted by on December 13th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

 


All art ©2010 Colleen Frakes.

 

Tragic Relief #9-10
Colleen Frakes
B&W; 48 pp. and 36 pp., respectively
Self-published
Tragicrelief.Blogspot.com

Last time out we looked at The Trials of Sir Christopher, the book that came of Colleen Frakes’ participation in last year’s National Novel Writing Month. As a Frakes fan, I was particularly interested in how this special challenge dovetailed with and deviated from the larger body of her work. Most prominent among the similarities were the nature of the content and her modus operandi, which is to say her taking narrative traditions, subjects and established forms and delivering them with a wicked curve, an artistically personalized arc that carried them to unanticipated outcomes. This much is once more in evidence with issues 9 and 10 of her ongoing if heretofore irregularly released title, Tragic Relief.

The books feature the opening two chapters of a larger tale, Basket Ogress. This is an idea that Frakes allows she’s been working with for some six years now. As it appears in these initial segments, Ogress is, in part, a vehicle for the retelling of native Northwestern myths which Frakes had enjoyed as a child.

The tale begins with a gal-pal sleepover of spooky stories and pillow fights. The festivities are interrupted by the abduction of one of the girls, the perpetrator being the legendary titular creature. The abductee’s immediate demise is fended off by her inventiveness, offering, Scheherazade-like, a succession of stories to divert her captor and would-be devourer.

As the larger narrative proceeds, both Ogress and reader are treated to shorter narratives of some standing. Frakes takes care to transport readers by means of these stories-within-story through recitative tempo and distinctive visual trappings. As to the latter, issue #9 adopts motifs and indigenous styles of totemic animals representative of the Pacific Northwest. Issue #10 boasts as lovely a maiden as I can remember Frakes expressly fashioning.

Unfinished, Ogress defies deeper evaluation other than to say it has been beguilingly begun. I particularly appreciate, in chapter two, the juvenile equivalent of the “armoring sequence” familiar from epic heroic poems. This is the concerted process whereby protagonists, in anticipation of climactic battles, ceremoniously don their fighting costumes and take stock of assets, attire and weaponry through ritualized display. (Check out your dog-eared copy of The Iliad, Beowulf, Le Chanson de Roland, etc. or, for a more modern homage, watch a newly sobered Lee Marvin strapping on his guns and positioning his hat in Cat Ballou.) In this case, the coalescing rescue party takes stock of its resources by mustering the contents of a child’s shoulder pack. (What? You think that’s minor? Go find the gratuitously pooping deer on your own then.)

The form and content of Basket Ogress once again testifies to Frakes’ status as inveterate yarn spinner. It’s a role just as evident in the issues’ follow-up stories. Issue #9’s “The Hunt” “happened when this cartoonist was looking at a lot of Frank Frazetta art, and decided she wanted to draw a jungle girl story.” Which she does, featuring as lithe and dynamic a hero as can be seen in her work. But even here, Frakes proves the restless creator, as the 11-page tale shifts from tropical forest to the feudal orient to a modern library and all the way back again, leaping well beyond the parameters of its initial inspiration.

Issue #10’s second feature is essentially a gag strip with its six-page, classically bell-shaped drama and an amicable laugh at its conclusion. In “Sir Christopher Goes on a Picnic,” the young knight meets — and how’s this for a curve? — a fetching vampire. Who wants his cake. Who saw that coming?

Frakes promises #11 of Tragic Relief and its next chapter of Basket Ogress during this winter, which I take as a promise to brighten up the season and lighten its travails.

 

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