Minis Monday: Color Comics by Colleen Frakes

Posted by on August 9th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

166 pp.; full color and then some; Self-published;

Last time out we looked at what I thought was a bijou of a minicomic: Colleen Frakes’ Revenge! This time we get a whole jewelry box, brightened to near iridescence with the addition of color.

This collection of mostly short works offers color in several guises, applied in different ways, delivering various effects and triggering varying reactions. There’s a pervasive intensity to the picture plane at work here, a real density not ordinarily found in Frakes’ comics. Color acts to unite what we’d probably call visual problem-solving for mature talents and spontaneous, natural ingenuity in drawings by children.

Take “The bridge of magpies,” the two-page retelling of an Oriental folk tale that opens the book. It’s a back-and-forth between heavenly black and earthly orange. The former is deep and spangled, as if done in embroidery or on plush, black velvet. The orange spreads out expansively, the color of the background, of the sky and of the grasses; it’s extended straight through to become the skin tone of the lovers. The audacity is that of Matisse in his Red Studio, of everyday objects made extraordinary through their contrast with the wall-to-wall, border-to-border rouge environment. In Frakes’ “bridge,” peasant life also becomes extraordinary, even eye-popping, with its river of vibrating blue, pants of loud green, hair of pitch black. And when heaven reasserts its dominion, color again clarifies the resolution in a materially satisfying way.

A two-page re-imagining of “SNEGUROCHA or The Snow Maiden” immediately follows. Again there’s a contrast of austere black and white and a profusion of mortal colors, but here there’s a sense of Chagall, had he given himself over completely to Fauvist liberties. In a love-at-first-sight moment, the sky is yellow. Tufted grasses made of white strokes dot a rounded pair of hills. One is orange, the other blue. On them sheep graze, plump in their fluffy coats of gold, blue, darker blue, yellow and rust. For the maiden, cloaked like Red Riding Hood, the sight of the shepherd knocks the hood clean off her head in a burst of celestial resplendence. Romance, and folk wisdom, takes its course.

After that, “Saint Patrick” gets a two page profile that’s more disabusing than biographical. Born in slavery, he escaped to France but was later called not to The Lord’s service but to that of Ireland. We’ll read “He never drove snakes from Ireland;” and “He was probably Welsch [sic: sorry!], not Irish,” and “He doesn’t want you to pinch your friends.” But we’ll also see how Frakes fortifies her bare-bone layouts with a clotted palette of earth tones. The Saint’s vision, appropriately enough, is an intruding, vegetative green. It swims over word balloons and flows across panel gutters, effectively presenting the experience as overwhelming and compelling. Figuration in the dream is classically rendered but elsewhere is unfussy, even crude. So’s the tinting, but that’s not the point. The episode concludes with Patrick, as an old man, speaking to us for the first time. He rambles on, blathering until he concludes with “…a blessing” and that’s the point.

The book’s longest tale features a welcome and … well, there’s no way around it: a colorful reprise of the players in Frakes’ Woman King. Here, within a forest of blue-barked birches that stretch up to balloonish crowns, the bear clan lumbers, assembles, gesticulates and attacks, all against saturated, heavily daubed backgrounds of ever-changing rainbow hues. In front of, next to and atop — pink on red, black on yellow, brown on blue, orange on yellow — the broad, bulky bears, like many of the other figures in Color Comics, have been outlined in white, seemingly without resort to guiding pencils. They too can vibrate from chromatic clash, adding to a sense of their vitality. The whole effect is that of taking a narrative color field painting to a body shop specializing in Kalifornia Kandy Kolor customizing. Like the other segments, this tale also comes to a satisfying conclusion, but distinguished itself in its humorous leave-taking.

There’s more: the deep hues of what I’m calling “my pretty bride,” so substantial they resemble the cobalts and leads of stained glass; the solid zones of opaque sea greens and dependable land browns with a dash of maroon depict the swimming lesson of “Summerbaby;” the colorized “origin” section of Woman King here too small to do it much credit (but what a lovely new concluding miniature!) but now I’m finding myself increasingly on the wrong end in the exchange rate of what a picture is worth in words.

In retelling fairy and folk tales, or in adopting their resonance and expeditiousness for her own stories, Frakes habitually narrates with a bracing directness. With color she adds a genuine, flaunty verve to proceedings and presentation. Making the charm in that look easy is the biggest news here.

all images ©2010 Colleen Frakes

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