Quest’s End: New Comics From Colleen Frakes & Alex Kim

Posted by on September 8th, 2010 at 5:09 AM

Rob reviews The Trials of Sir Christopher, by Colleen Frakes; and Eagle Flight Squad 2030 A.D.: Bird On Fire, by Alex Kim.

It’s been difficult to pin down exactly what sort of cartoonists Center For Cartoon Studies grads Alex Kim and Colleen Frakes are going to become.  Their comics overlap with genre concerns (especially fantasy, and to some degree, horror) but not in any conventional way.  Their work shares a certain bleak humor and obliqueness of narrative intent.  Both artists are skilled storytellers with unconventional lines.  With The Trials of Sir Christopher, Frakes employed a loose line as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge.  Kim took a couple of silly strips he did for an anthology and turned it into a ridiculous narrative still tinged with certain dark aspects.

Eagle Flight Squad follows Ambassador Sqwaa, a superpowered eagle who can shoot beams out of his eyes.  Acting as an ambassador between birds and humans, he acts as a protector against ridiculous threats like a fish who built an exoskeleton.  Kim plays on melodramatic superhero conventions, like the eagle and fish becoming friends before the fish went mad with grief after her father was killed, forcing Sqwaa’s hand.  Things escalate at a ridiculous pace from there in episodic fashion, as the dying fish gave her suit to a vengeful mole.  The mole kills the eagle’s wife, and he reacts by killing the mole and destroying the world out of grief.

What makes this comic work is Kim’s delightful character design.  His signature wavy-line style is perfectly suited for the eagle and its zap rays.  The ridiculousness of the battle suit the fish and mole use is simply a wonderful use of a funny image.  His use of blacks is masterful, especially in the way he renders mountains and night scenes.  The story acts partly as parody, but it’s mostly just a series of silly & strange ideas strung together.  The sheer joy of creating these images came across vividly on the page.

Frakes has always employed a loose and sketchy line, but The Trials of Sir Christopher is especially relaxed in its approach.  It’s a classic quest story, as a knight is sent to slay a dragon and rescue princesses.  Things go poorly at first, as he discovers the princesses are dead and the dragon chases him down the mountain with nary a struggle.  He’s aided by a lady in the lake with the gift of a sword, and a village of gnomes builds him a new suit of armor.  He eventually wins the day after some more misadventures, but his success is tinged with sadness.  It seems as though Frakes drew this with a pen rather than pencil & ink, in the interest of time.  NaNoWriMo is a speed-writing exercise, and Frakes upped the challenge by adding speed drawing.

The sketchiness of her art didn’t impede the narrative at all.  Indeed, the fact that her line is normally so loose gave her a certain freedom to go extra sketchy and scribbly when needed.  This is not to say that she skimped on detail: there were pages with elaborately-drawn villages and undersea castles.  The looseness of her line also helped with the action sequences, which, while slightly stiff, moved along briskly because of the simplicity of the images.  This is a more straightforward story than usual for Frakes, but it’s still characteristic of her larger body of work in the way it subverts fantasy tropes with dark humor.

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