More Dark Fancy From Colleen Frakes

Posted by on October 9th, 2010 at 5:38 AM

Rob kicks off a month of reviewing various comics related to students from the Center For Cartoon Studies by looking at Tragic Relief #8 and #9, by Colleen Frakes.

Much like Eleanor Davis, Colleen Frakes is building up a body of work that emphasizes the dark, earthy roots of fairy tales, fables and myths.  These comics have a meta quality to them, as Frakes explores fables within fables.  That’s especially true in “The Basket Ogress”, the story that Frakes is serializing in her Tragic Relief series after starting it in another mini.  This is a tale about how the mere telling of a story invokes it into existence; in this case, a slumber-party yarn of a monstrous female ogre who eats naughty children by roasting them on hot rocks actually brought the monster crashing into the house, taking the little girl who dared to speak of her.  In order to forestall her fate, the girl tells a story about Bluejay (which in turn involves other animals telling Bluejay their own stories of survival) and a village woman from the north who marries the great Sea Bear.

Frakes alternates charm (like a pet cat that starts talking after the Ogress attacks, quipping but otherwise acting like a disaffected feline) with the sheer terror of classic fables.  The initial scene where the Ogress smashes through the wall shatteres what had been a cute slice-of-life story, bending reality to a new set of rules.  Frakes combines a loose line with beautifully atmospheric brush strokes.  Her use of blacks adds to the dead-of-night feeling of her story, which makes her switches to the meta-stories all the more effective.  The story of Bluejay was done with few blacks (until Bluejay meets the Shadow People) and a much sketchier line.

In the course of two issues, Frakes balances a nearly-static metanarrative with a propulsive quest story.  The girl captured by the Ogress creates the meta-narrative as a way of preventing something from happening (her death), while her best friend picks up companions (the talking cat, talking snakes) on her way to complete her quest (rescuing her friend).  The only way this story could look better is if Frakes worked bigger.   Hopefully, when the story is complete, Frakes will be able to publish it in a larger format.

The back-up stories seem to be opportunities for Frakes to experiment in a slightly more light-hearted way.  “The Hunt” is a clever meta-story inspired by Frank Frazetta’s jungle girls, told in Frakes’ loose style.  When the jungle girl finds a book in the jungle about a princess killing a witch and finding a magic book, we see the jungle girl as a dowdy librarian, pulled back into her jungle story by a tiger.  The way Frakes slips from setting to setting while maintaining the looseness of her line is indicative of her growing confidence in her line.  The simplicity of her line is deceptive, like in #10’s backup story “Sir Christopher Goes On A Picnic”.  There’s not a wasted line to be found in her stories, allowing the reader to relish her pleasing character design.  Frakes is now confident enough in her line to throw in details like cobblestones without intruding into her characters, and equally confident in her character work so as to not over-render them. Hopefully we will see Frakes continue to grow in terms of her narrative complexity and thematic depth, while continuing to refine her line.

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