Flights of Fancy: Minis from Jon Chad & Sophia Wiedeman

Posted by on June 28th, 2010 at 5:56 AM

Rob reviews THE LETTUCE GIRL #1, by Sophia Wiedeman; and THE BIKEMAN #1, by Jon Chad.

THE LETTUCE GIRL #1, by Sophia Wiedeman.  There are an increasing number of alt-cartoonists who are reclaiming and reexamining fables, fairy tales and fantasy.  Sophia Wiedeman, in the pages of her SVA thesis project THE DEFORMITORY and a couple of mini-comics, is especially interested in examining fairy tales in a feminist light.  This first issue of THE LETTUCE GIRL is a new take on the Rapunzel fairy tale.  In it, a witch has a girl named Hazel locked in a tower so as to do knitting and act (presumably) as a sort of forced daughter.  As the issue ends (and after talking shop with a rival witch), the witch realizes that no child she steals will stay with her long–which is why she started growing her own daughter.

Wiedeman’s character design is loose and angular, with sharp chins and noses and dots for eyes.  In terms of page design, Wiedeman used a number of small panels per page, quickening the reading pace as the reader bolts from image to image.  While Wiedeman uses a lot of dense cross-hatching, she’s careful not to let it interfere with her character interaction or clarity of storytelling.  There was sometimes a fussiness that marked her earlier work, but she’s managed to find a balance between creating atmosphere and making the story clear to her readers.  I think the deeper issues that Wiedeman is going to raise in this comic (motherhood, the duties of being a daughter) won’t be realized until the next issue, but I suspect that the sort of emotional ambivalence that have been the hallmarks of earlier work will be on full display.

THE BIKEMAN #1, by Jon Chad.  Chad, a member of the faculty at the Center for Cartoon Studies, is a superb draftsman and storyteller.  Using a fairly strict four-panel grid, Chad introduces the reader to a strange fantasy world where workers use bicycles instead of beasts of burden for labor.  This story follows an elder and a peddling apprentice who seek out the Bikeman, a bear-masked human who commands a flock of sentient bikes.  This issue is an extended introduction to this fantasy world, establishing its mix of familiar fantasy elements (the quest, the mysterious shaman, vaguely-defined dark forces) and the anachronistic bikes.

The whimsical nature of Chad’s work reminds me a bit of CCS fellow Alec Longstreth, especially in terms of how meticulously he creates an immersive yet welcoming world for the reader to explore.  Every tree and every leaf are lovingly rendered, and the bikes are so faithfully drafted that they practically pop off the page.  In this instance, the realistic depiction of the bikes makes their actions all the more bizarre and compelling.  especially the way they nuzzle their leader.  When Chad does occasionally break free of the grid for a splash page, the effect is immediately impressive, as when we see the Bikeman’s cave for the first time or the absurdly delightful image of bikes wading in a stream, gathering fish.  Chad’s work balances an almost gritty naturalism with cartoonish delight on every page, a combination that seldom works well.  For Chad, it’s what gives his pages energy; the naturalism grounds the more fanciful elements, and the iconic character design attracts the eye and leads the reader from panel to panel.

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