More Fractured Fairy Tales From Colleen Frakes

Posted by on March 3rd, 2010 at 6:12 AM

Rob reviews two minicomics from Colleen Frakes: GIANT SIZE TRAGIC RELIEF and COLOR COMICS.

As I’ve noted before, Colleen Frakes is one of the most interesting and prolific graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies.  Her specialty is creating stories in the vein of fairy tales, and by that I mean the frequently grim and horrible stories that served to both frighten and delight children.  There’s always a touch of the fantastic in her stories that grounds the narrative as Frakes takes the reader into scenarios where something has gone horribly wrong.  The tragedy usually involves heartbreak of some kind, whether it’s a girl’s childhood monster-friend misinterpreting her interest in boys or a greedy prospector betraying the love of a generous fortune-teller.  GIANT SIZE TRAGIC RELIEF is a collection of minicomics about loneliness and the ways in which we try to combat it.

For example, “Changeling” is a quest story about a little girl who winds up in a frog kingdom, whose lonely king sought her help.  The toddler is the sort who is ruffled by nothing and is intensely curious, which put her in the position of being the heir to this kingdom in a surprising way (Frakes loves unveiling surprise twists in the final panel of her stories).  “Island” is a Jules Feifferesque story about a woman stranded on a tiny island, tormented by a lovesick trumpeter on a nearby island who won’t stop his incessant playing.  In this case, she takes extreme measures to ensure her eternal solitude.  “Robot” is a cute story (reminding me a bit of James Kochalka) of a robot who falls asleep under a tree that it loves, only to find it gone years after it finally wakes up.  The last image of the robot rescuing and treasuring a single leaf was a clever way of establishing a sense of connection in the most desperate of circumstances.

With a free-flowing page that eschews standard panel gigs, Frakes’ comics have the feel of a book of fairy tales.  Her bold brushwork dominates some strips, while a thinner line can be seen in others.  The former style tended to complement her storytelling more effectively; the figures in “Haircut” (which featured a finer line) seem to almost disappear into the page at times.  Of all the stories in this book, “Haircut” was the loveliest in design but the roughest in execution; it’s the one I’d wish to see redrawn at some point in the future.

COLOR COMICS is exactly what it sounds like–more “Tragic Relief” stories done with an eye-popping palette.  “The Bridge Of Magpies is one of the most striking, as Frakes went from black with color highlights to a powerful orange, with figures almost ethereal with the lack of black lines framing them.  “Saint Patrick” uses a more muted palette in trying to separate fact from fiction with regard to the hero of Ireland, one of the few saints called by a country rather than god.  The colors here are as varied as in the other pieces, but the use of colored pencils emphasizes line rather than a tension between positive and negative space.  Compare that to “Hunger For Knowledge”, where Frakes works with bigger figures & panels and once again uses negative space to create character outlines rather than black lines.

For an artist whose work is most notable for its bold brushwork in black & white, it was interesting to see Frakes stretch out a bit.  There were times that the color inhibited narrative flow a bit, but it was certainly a worthwhile experiment.  As always, Frakes’ narrative voice is assured and clear, leading the reader in and out of fables old and new.

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