For a some time now I’ve been considering expanding the scope of this column. What is a mini comic? They come in all shapes and sizes and are drawn by people as all levels of skill and success. Many are self published, but just as many are published by small imprints or other indie cartoonists. The idea that they come from people on the fringes of the medium; perhaps once true, is no longer the case. Though mini comics, in many ways, came out of ‘zine culture, the mini comic has transformed from an object to a genre. As such, it now encompasses a broad range of comics.
With that in mind, we will be looking today at two graphic novels from artist Colleen Frakes; Woman King and The Trials of Sir Christopher. In the interest of full disclosure, Colleen Frakes was a classmate of mine at The Center for Cartoon Studies.
Additionally, I was part of the critique group in which Frakes workshopped Woman King, and I was a member of the studio where The Trials of Sir Christopher was drawn. I will endeavor to remain as objective as possible. However, I have had the unique privilege of seeing both of these books as various stages of completion, and will likely draw upon that for my review.
Woman King is a lush and powerful book. Like much of Frakes’ work, Woman King has a timeless fairy-tale quality to it. It is the story of a girl who is adopted by a tribe of bears and groomed to lead them in their war with men. Like the best fairy tales, there is as much blood as there is sweetness, and Frakes’ spare drawing style heightens the grim circumstances in some unexpected ways.
The pacing of Woman King is languid without feeling ponderous. It does stumble slightly two-thirds of the way in as events come to a head; the helter-skelter chaos that the author is trying to convey becomes confusing in a way that works against readability; but that stumble is minor and brief. The book ends with the culmination of its lite-motif while at the same time finding time to lightly comment on the cruel cyclical nature of conflict.
The Trials of Sir Christopher is the result of a bold personal challenge: to draw a full graphic novel for National Novel Writing Month in November. To that end this 200+ page book is a resounding success, however on its own merits it struggles to overcomes the initial novelty of its conception.
Unfolding like a shaggy-dog story, we follow the titular hero of The Trials of Sir Christopher on his many adventures as he struggles to fulfill a destiny promised by a laconic Lady of the Lake.
Frakes’ normally spare style is pared down even further to the point where some pages come dangerously close to looking like thumbnails rather than finished art. This is the difficult balancing act that comes with cranking out one or more finished pages a day.
The final result is a fun and lively book, but one which lacks the power and storytelling craft of Frakes’ traditional work. It is still well worth reading, but if you’re unfamiliar with Frakes’ work, Woman King is a better place to start.