Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nearing The End: The Complete Peanuts 93-94 and 95-96

When Fantagraphics was given permission to publish The Complete Peanuts, doing so in chronological order, it gave the audience a chance to look at old work with new eyes. There were a number of rewards in the early going since so many of Schulz's earlier strips had never been reprinted, mostly due to the author's request. There were some gags he didn't like and others that he thought might become dated too quickly. Given his astounding seven-days-a-week workload for close to fifty years, it's no surprise that there'd be a few clunkers and even a few repeats thrown in there. What was revelatory about the first ten to fifteen years was the incredibly high hit-to-miss ratio in his strips. Something like eighty to ninety percent were at the very least good, and many of them were great. He'd take an idea and sometimes go on a two ore three week run with it.

The second big surprise was that once the strip moved into the 70s, it maintained an incredibly high level of quality, like between 65-75%. The strip was quite different in some ways, with the addition of characters like Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Woodstock and Spike, but that gave Schulz a chance to reinvent the strip with characters who were far more fully-formed than ciphers like Patty, Shermy, Violet, etc. Familiar characters like Pigpen and Schroeder also faded into the background a bit, because there wasn't much to these characters other than one or two gimmicks. While the tone of the strip became increasingly sentimental and sometimes nonsensical (mostly in the guise of Snoopy), the pathos of Charlie Brown stayed at the same level while the strip was deepened through the struggles of Peppermint Patty, who became the strip's emotional center and its soul in its last 25-years.

The impetus she provided sustained Peanuts through the 1980s. While not at the same overall level of quality, the strip continued to explore Peppermint Patty and her travails. Interestingly, that included her shoddy treatment at the hands of Charlie Brown, something that was never commented on by any of the other characters. Indeed, both Marcie and Peppermint Patty were fairly unabashed in expressing their affection for Charlie Brown, only to have it met with stunned silence, time after time. Charlie Brown may have been a loser in the context of his own peer group, but Marcie and Peppermint Patty were genuine weirdos, and he had no idea how to interact with that particular tribe.

This brings us to Schulz's little-discussed work in the 90s. One can see his line start to tremble as his once-confident minimalism sometimes devolved into figures that looked barely rendered. Other times, the lines, word balloons and even lettering shaky almost to the point of looking like it's vibrating. The volume covering 1993 and 1994 still has plenty of good ideas and great gags. Schulz is at his best when doing stories about baseball. It's Charlie Brown at his purest, as an idealist and optimist who never stops trying, no matter how many times he's failed. The storyline involving Roy Hobbs' (from The Natural) great-granddaughter, picked up now and again over the span of a couple of years, is a particular stand-out. It's an absurd concept that gives the strip a shot in the arm, as Charlie Brown actually wins a couple of baseball games going up against her, only to have her eventually reveal that she let him win because of her affections for him (once again rejected!) was the sort of heartbreak Schulz was so good at in the sixties.

Many of the gags here do feel like Schulz was "flipping channels", so to speak, as every day he'd turn his attention to something he thought was amusing, perhaps searching for a spark for a longer narrative. On any given day, that could be looking in on Spike; the struggles of Peppermint Patty in school along with her foil, Marcie; Snoopy as the World War I flying ace; Charlie Brown's bedtime existentialism, Lucy yelling and Rerun's consistent bafflement regarding the world. Only the baseball strips felt completely "lived in", as though Schulz effortlessly picked up the long-running baseball narrative wherever he left off.

Just when you thought Schulz was drifting, however, he'd uncork some solid continuing narratives. The strips set at camp are always strong, but the series where Snoopy's in the hospital were unusually touching. There was genuine emotion in Charlie Brown's concern for his dog, leavened by the comic relief of Spike, Andy and Olaf (Snoopy's brothers) showing up at Snoopy's bedside. The football strips are surprisingly visceral, as they are inevitably played in the mud and involve lots of hard hits. Seeing the sheer joy on the face of Peppermint Patty (and the ambivalence of everyone else) makes these strips a delight, and it's clear that Schulz enjoyed adding levels of detail almost unheard of in his other strips. The same was true for his series of D-Day strips commemorating its fiftieth anniversary, as Snoopy is depicted going through its hellish conditions with nary a joke to be found.  The most jaw-dropping strip is the Sunday cartoon where Spike details why he came to live in the desert: because he hated the experience of having to try to hunt and kill something. Again, this was a no-punchline strip that's emotionally raw, the kind Schulz would spring on readers after weeks of silly gags.

In the 1995-96 volume, the ratio of hits-to-misses starts to sharply drop. His most efficient joke machine, Sally Brown, starts to crank out the same punchlines again and again. Aside from an attempt to run away from home that's amusing, she falls prey to the same tedium that started to afflict most of his characters as Schulz appeared to be running dry of inspiration. In order to break out of the tedium, Schulz went against his own tendencies a few times. Charlie Brown meets a girl who wants to dance with him and he's elated, until he thinks he made her up somehow. When she proves to be quite real and asks him to a ball, he winds up getting kicked out because Snoopy crashed the party. While that's a more typical ending for a Charlie Brown story, the one where he comes in and mops the floor with a marbles hustler named Joe Agate is an unabashed win for "Cool Thumb" Brown. Perhaps the fact that he was sticking up for someone else (Rerun had his marbles hustled from him) made this work so well.

Snoopy's on the cover of this one as the World Famous Attorney, and he truly dominates the book. Some of his characters are truly awful (the card player named "Joe Blackjack" is perhaps Schulz's least inspired idea), but roping Spike into the increasingly-detailed World War I fantasy (here, Spike's in the infantry and stands in a trench) was actually quite clever and opened up some more storytelling lanes for Schulz. More and more, it became difficult to predict the strip on a daily basis. It frequently got weird as often as it was hacky or sentimental. That included Schulz more frequently altering the structure of the strips, going to one-panel strips with a sort of panorama effect of gags. That was often used for the strips where the gang was waiting for their schoolbus, which generated a new barrage of gags, as well as the weirdly contemplative strips where the characters would discuss Jesus (often asking if he had a dog) or Snoopy would make a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald. In continued stories, the one-panel strips stack quite nicely to create a visual gestalt that Schulz probably never even considered. Some of the low-lights (other than drawing kids with backwards-baseball caps) included a joke about "beak-piercing" and a truly lowest common denominator gag about The Macarena. There are moments of heart and wit, but 1996 was the first time Schulz really seemed to be in a creative rut. Considering that this came forty-six years into doing the same strip, day after day, it's not a bad record. I'll be curious to see if the final two volumes show Schulz shedding some of that sameness by getting weirder.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Incredible Journey: Ghetto Brother: Warrior To Peacemaker

The NBM-published Ghetto Brother: From Warrior To Peacemaker, is a slightly fictionalized biography of former Bronx gang leader Benjy Melendez. Set in the late sixties and early seventies, the book describes the human cost of gentrification and the ways in which a community can fall to pieces when abandoned by government support. That's especially true when the only ones remaining tend to be people of color. In situations like this, it's not unusual for gangs to arise, but the Bronx at this time was a special case, as over a hundred gangs were active, each covering a small piece of turf. Melendez, whom the authors spoke to extensively and even walked with him to his old haunts, proves to be the perfect subject for telling not only his story, but the story of a community.

Melendez compares the Bronx in the 1970s to the German city Dresden after the Allies firebombed it out of existence. The buildings were ramshackle and looked like bombs had hit them. For those who remained, for those who had no choice but to stay, their sheer willpower and resourcefulness created communities. Joining a gang was a matter of simple survival, but it also offered more than that. It provided structure for those where were abjected from mainstream white society, those who were abandoned, forgotten and left to rot. It was a way of creating a new identity that wasn't quite American (colonial) but also wasn't quite the ethnicity of their origin--which, in Benjy's case, was Puerto Rican.

The expressive, illustrative pencil wash style creates an atmospheric sense of decay but also life continuing to spring up amidst the ruins. The story is told with restraint, never seeking to create an exploitative or exotic narrative but instead staying slightly detached. The fact that it's told in past tense helps contribute to this sense of perspective, but it was clear that Melendez always was open to understanding the bigger picture, that the ways in which people interacted was bigger than just his local sphere of influence. That becomes especially clear when he met a Black Panther Party member who plants the seed of peace when he pointed out the facts: if the gangs continued to fight each other instead of fighting against their common predicament, they'd be unable to combat their real foe: the white elites and the government that represented their interests. A brewing gang war was the inevitable result of how the gangs were interacting, which was not unlike Thomas Hobbes' "State of Nature" in his political treatise Leviathan. When gang members competed for the same limited resources and territories with no guiding ethical principles whatsoever, it resulted in lives that were increasingly "nasty, brutish and short".

When a key member of Melendez' gang is killed in an effort to spread peace, Melendez had every opportunity to righteously declare war. Instead, his ability to access his own emotions and instead choose the moment to hold an unprecedented peace conference created an indelible moment that altered history. In a scene that was a sort of ur-moment of urban grit, one that would be adapted in any number of future films, Melendez declares peace and a treaty is established. The gangs turned negative activities into positive ones in an effort to improve their communities, using their reach and influence to create outreach, feed the poor, etc (in very much the same way the Panthers did). This helped to create an environment that, though till impoverished (and now plagued by drugs), was at least peaceful and integrated enough to help foster the birth of hip-hop in the 1970s. Indeed, the building the peace conference was held in later saw DJ Cool Herc host some of his first hip-hop shows.

The book also focuses on Melendez's family, both his family of origin and the eventual children he had, as well as the unlikely discovery that his parents were actually Jewish. The whole book is about a sense of personal discovery, a sense of trying to find a way to belong and become part of something larger than oneself. For Melendez, this shifted from being a gang member to becoming a practicing Jew, but it was all part of the same journey. The book ends with him about to talk to his children (whom he hadn't seen in years) and telling him his story, creating connection and pride instead of isolation and shame. It's a beautiful ending in a book whose slender and almost androgynous figures offer an interesting contrast to the self-perceived hardness of the gangs. The gang members were barely more than children, and Voloj and Ahlering get at the essence of this, that Melendez and the gang members were Lost Boys of a sort. The ending sees him come full circle in growing up. The artists don't have to hammer any of this out in an obvious fashion, letting the incredible details of the story speak for themselves.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kid's Comics: The Latest From Toon Books

Let's take a look at some of the recent releases from the increasingly ambitious Toon Books line, edited by Francoise Mouly.

Hansel & Gretel, by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti. When is a collaboration not a collaboration? When a writer uses previously extant images and reinterprets an old fairy tale. That's precisely what Gaiman (whose previous work with Mouly came in the Little Lit line of books) did here, taking Mattotti's haunting artwork conceived for an opera and adding his own spin on the classic tale. Mattotti is a master of shadow, nuance and form, and his drawings were deliberately simple and made to be seen big. Thus, the oversized deluxe die-cut hardcover edition of this book is the best format for overall impact and is most faithful to Mattotti's vision. For his part, Gaiman's reworking is clever and spare, one that hews closely to the darkness of the original source material. For example, Hansel & Gretel are taken to the forest by their father but at the urging of their mother, since the family no longer has enough food to feed everyone. Subsequent versions have made this the archetypical "evil stepmother" figure rather than a birth mother, which makes her scheming far more cruel. While this isn't really a comic, it's still a striking package that brings to life the gloom and terror of the original source material.

Written And Drawn By Henrietta, by Liniers. This book by the Argentinian cartoonist works on a number of levels. The genius of the book is that the "real" events in the book are drawn in a simplified manner using colored pencil, and the "fictional" events drawn by the titular character are drawn in an even more stripped-down fashion (the hand of a child), also drawn in colored pencil. The result is visually bold, clever and exciting. Thematically, having Henrietta draw a story in order to both entertain herself (and her cat) as well as address her fears speaks to the restorative power of art and its ability to communicate what cannot be communicated with written or spoken language. That deftly plays out in the way that her story about monsters and hats goes in fits and starts, as she challenges just how far she's willing to go as she improvises her story. The cohesiveness of the book's aesthetic brings across these points in a poignant and efficient manner.

The Suspended Castle: A Philemon Adventure by Fred. Better known as one of the founders of Charlie Hebdo, the late cartoonist's Fred's adventures starring a boy named Philemon are somewhere between Lewis Carroll and Winsor McCay in terms of their sheer weirdness with ironclad internal logic. In this book, Philemon tries to help his eccentric friend Mr. Bartholomew get back to the island he initially escaped from: an island in the shape of the letter A, which can be seen in any map as one of the "A's" in "Atlantic Ocean". This is Fred's great trick: he takes the figurative and makes it literal, but only in the most absurd and extreme ways. However, once he does this, the rules of that particular world are serious, immutable and logically consistent (precisely like Carroll). From landing on an island in the shape of an "i" (including a separate dot!) to an encounter with an owl lighthouse and walking on its beam of light, literal logic is taken to its most hilarious and nightmarish (but still funny) extremes, with the protagonists barely escaping and going home.

That's especially true in the detailed look at two different societies: a whale-galley propelled by slave-rowers under a cruel captain's arbitrary edicts and a group of pelican-flying whale hunters who live in a castle suspended by a chain in the sky, Fred pokes fun at a number of cultural and societal follies. In particular, Fred satires the military (in the form of the whale galley) and religion (in the form of the pelican riders), especially in terms of how ingrained bureaucratic structures defy all reason. That's especially true in the way they adhere to dogma in the face of contrary evidence. Most importantly, Fred lampoons their inability to even comprehend viewpoints different from their own, much less accept them. When Philemon and Bartholomew wind up back home after literally going down the drain, it reminded me a bit of McCay's Little Nemo waking up in bed no matter what happened in Slumberland. This is a fully-formed, ambitious and fiendishly delightful series.

Windmill Dragons: A Leah and Alan Adventure, by David Nytra. Nytra's work is aimed at older readers than most Toon Books, at over a hundred pages, it's a genuine "graphic novel" for kids. This is a visually dense book, as Nytra pounds the reader with hatching and cross-hatching on every page. There's very little room on each page for the eye to rest on negative space. Over the course of a hundred pages, this approach is a bit wearying, especially given the relative simplicity of the narrative. That said, Nytra combats that with the simplified faces of the children who are the main characters, who essentially get little more than a few squiggles for their visages. The way Nytra delved into myth and religion to derive the book's story was highly clever, as the winds were stirring up and turning windmills into destructive monster, which led the kids to find the source of those winds. Nytra's page-to-page impact of his images is impressive, but there are times the book felt a bit stiff in terms of panel-to-panel flow. The book feels more like it's illustrated than cartooned at times, even though so many of those images are strikingly beautiful.

Little Nemo's Big New Dreams, edited by Josh O'Neill, Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens. This is a distillation of the humongous Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, published by Locust Moon Comics. That anthology had a hundred cartoonists in full tear-sheet size, all doing their take on the classic strip created by Winsor McCay. This book features a quarter of those strips, in an edition that's about a third as big as the original. There were some logistical problems in making this transition. A number of the strips that are printed across two pages look a bit awkward with the book's spine running through the middle, though the designer's tried to ameliorate this difficulty as best as they could. The main problem I have with this book is that I'm not sure it's going to appeal to kids as much of the rest of the Toon Books output, especially since some of the homages here refer directly to characters in the original strip that a new reader might be baffled by.

That said, there are a number of incredibly clever and funny strips in this book that is especially effective in the hands of artists who are formalists and/or stylists. Peter and Maria Hoey's circular washing-machine comic is simply ingenious. James Harvey's ode to Manhattan by way of Slumberland is remarkable in terms of its structure as well as its stylistic flourishes. Cole Closser's strip about supporting character Little Flip is funny and speaks to Closser's incredible skill in rendering comics that fit in with McCay's aesthetic. Jamie Tanner's comic is appropriately creepy and disturbing, while Bishakh Kumar Som's strip is light and airy. Andrea Tsurumi's strip about Nemo going bra shopping with some denizens of Slumberland is another funny one that still manages to fit the aesthetic.The capper is of course R.Sikoryak's "The Interpretation of Wonderful Dreams", which is a mash-up of Nemo and the works of Sigmund Freud.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Autobiography Is Fiction: Gabrielle Bell

Gabrielle Bell is my favorite autobiographical artist, in part because she eschews so many of the medium's cliches. She draws diary comics that are revealing in some ways, but treats them as an exercise to write and draw (not to mention entertain herself) rather than as an opportunity to overshare or work out her anxieties on paper. Bell remains a bundle of contradictions as a person and an artist, and her new comic reveals this without her having to come right out and say it. Her most recent book, Truth Is Fragmentary (Uncivilized Books), sees Bell deep dip into fictionalizing her life in the most absurd ways. Essentially, when she gets bored, she simply starts making things up, which I find to be refreshingly hilarious. While she "spills" plenty of ink in that she reveals plenty about herself in how she interacts with the world, the book deliberately rejects any kind of conventional confessional approach and instead asks the reader if the wise-cracking Bell is to be taken seriously. All the reader can do is continue to ask questions, some of which she answers and others of which she deliberately leaves vague. At its core, this book is an autobiographical framework for frequent flights of fancy.

The structure of this collection of short stories, such as it is, centers around Bell's frequent travels thanks to her cartooning career as well as three years' worth of July diaries, where she did a comic per day for the entire month. Most of those diary comics tended to emphasize her frequently self-imposed isolation, providing a ready contrast to the strips where she's traveling overseas. This contrast highlights Bell's central, internal contradictions. On the one hand, she's a shy and anxious misanthrope who plays up her almost feral qualities. On the other hand she's engaged, witty and intellectually & emotionally curious. Going to foreign nations provokes an extreme blend of these states, with her natural awkwardness both exacerbated and excused/alleviated by being an American fish out of water--because she's always a fish out of water no matter the situation.

My favorite device of Bell's is her "unreliable narrator" voice deployed in meta fashion, pulling the reader out of the narrative and reminding them that she can manipulate the reality of her narrative on a whim, adding or subtracting real-life "characters" on a whim. It's a device that reveals the potentially fictive nature of any diary, be it an intentionally fictive left turn to smooth out the narrative or simply a result of one person's point of view always being unreliable as an absolute conveyor of the truth of a situation. In any event, Bell's tendency to do this is always good for a laugh.

Keeping that diaristic tone makes the fictional elements resonate and pop when something absurd happens in an otherwise mundane anecdote. There's a story about her friends abandoning her during the sudden zombie apocalypse that plays on her lack of useful skills. There's a running gag about bears that punctures reality with the same force as a well-landed long-form improv sketch. When she anticipates a friend visiting her with her newborn baby, Bell is surprised to receive the baby in a package mailed to her. Considering how deadpan her comics are, both in terms of narrative tone and the way they're drawn, these absurd little jokes land especially hard. That's especially true because she doesn't over-do them; her restraint as an artist is one of her best qualities.

One reason why this book in particular is so entertaining is that her need to entertain the reader is commensurate with her need to entertain herself. She repeatedly states that she hates drawing things that bore her, so she is perfectly happy to skip ahead and draw something that she likes. This is especially true in her daily July diaries, but it also applies to the meat of her foreign tours, as she frequently omits accounts of the actual events in favor of side anecdotes. That boredom is a manifestation of her restless and fierce intelligence. Bell frequently downplays her own eloquence and intelligence, especially when she's being translated, but at other times she doesn't hide the sharpness of her wit, like during her pointed critiques of literature--especially thinly-veiled autobiography. Bell's feminism is blunt and to the point, as she notes that men tend to get away with a lot more in their memoirs than women.

As to the details of the stories themselves, her trip to a comics festival in Stockholm is marked by her wanting to write about anything but the festival itself, talking about the difficulty of making the diaries themselves. This sort of meta-writing can often be tedious, but Bell is less interested in complaining than she is in making quirky, funny observations. Her trip to France includes meeting mainstream artist Tim Sale. Bell is amazed that he can make so much money selling drawings of Batman, which she briefly considers as a career move until she remembers that this would involve knowing about and drawing Batman. Her first July diary is more-or-less that last time Bell still feels comfortable writing about her quotidian adventures, but even here she subverts her own narrative by deliberately leaving out the exciting parts of her day-to-day life, like the actual party she was organizing for her book release. By contrast, her second diary opens with Bell declaring that she really has no inner life or interests, saying that she sits "quietly in a dark room until I'm needed". This is the diary that introduced the wackier fictive elements of Bell's work, like zombie apocalypses, recurring bear attacks (and ice cream sales) and other nonsense. While writing her third July diary in a rented house in a "writer's residency", she works in gags like a brain booster drink that makes her remember long-forgotten relationships and children. The final diary, at a comics festival in Colombia, makes great use of a fictional secretary writing all of these notes, ala the philosopher Montaigne.

As Bell has  matured as an artist and writer, her prose has become crisper and wittier. There's one sequence where she ponders "I am so lonely... and yet, I can't stand the company of anyone...(That is when the place fills up with ghost cats)", which is precisely what happens in the panel--a number of spectral felines crawling all over her. Regarding her social awkwardness she says, "When I walk down the street, the kooks and the wingnuts glare at me accusingly. They know I am just barely able to pass", with those passerby thinking "Traitor" as she walks by. Bell gets to the heart of why she does autobio when she starts off some strips by saying "It is humiliating to expose myself like this, but it is worse to try to hide it". Regarding meeting a cartoonist, she says "I knew this was my one chance to make a good impression, but I just wouldn't take it". This self-awareness is funny and brutal at the same time. Her line is also looser but also slightly thicker, and the drawings themselves are wilder, funnier and more expressive than some of her older work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Static and Motion: The Comics of Glynnis Fawkes

Glynnis Fawkes is a part-time archaeological artist, meaning that she sometimes goes to digs in places like Corinth and is paid to draw various artifacts. Having a skilled artist can actually bring greater insight into the artifact than a simple photograph. Her own personal work as a cartoonist centers around travel, her children and her place in the world of comics, as well as her interest in retelling old myths with a modern slant. She compares her work to that of Guy Delisle's in her mini Time Out In Palestine, which she was just finishing up when Delisle finished his comic. She rued the timing and similarity of the comics but was self-deprecating in terms of how Delisle seemed to handle the experience as well as what he had to say compared to her experience and comic.

However, those differences are precisely why I like Fawkes' work better. While Delisle is clearly a skilled cartoonist, there's an other effect that's at work in his comics that I find off-putting. It's not quite a colonialist attitude, but it's very much a Western perspective (that's especially true of his books about his experiences in China and North Korea). He also has a way of smoothing out the experience and his line that takes away the rough edges of the experience. Fawkes' work and attitude is truly warts and all. That's especially true when she talks about being a mother to two high-energy, lovable but highly difficult children.

The Palestine mini is a combination of Fawkes' sharp eye relating the details of daily life while living in Palestine and her desperately trying to keep her children entertained with very little outside support. With a tearful thought of "I might actually hate the kids! I'm a failure!" showing just how real she was getting with herself on one page, there are moments of triumphant days of keeping the kids intellectually occupied on others. The real treat here is her no-nonsense line getting down details as quickly as she could, because her children gave her few opportunities to work. Her loose line nonetheless allows her to capture essential details of each subject, especially with regard to to how they move in space and interact with their environment. In the image above, Fawkes captures how bored her daughter is with both the pose of her head and a single line of an eyebrow. There's no narrative to speak of in this comic other than a basic chronological one, and the comic is at times hampered by repetitiveness. That said, Fawkes gets that slow passage of time across with a great deal of force, so while the comic can be a slog at times, it's a slog that she experienced as well.

The Story Of The Cheese is centered squarely around her children and her experience taking care of them as a full-time mom. Fawkes delightfully manages to nail down the details of the ways in which her children are bizarre individuals. Her son, the incredibly intense and willful character whose in-store tantrum actually drove a merchant to shame her over his behavior, is mostly a witty but odd bystander in this comic (other than screaming "I DON'T WEAR PANTS!" when winter came). The more eccentric of her children is clearly her daughter, who has a crying jag when she thinks of her cheese being thrown away after she didn't want to eat it, of saying "You hate me" to her mother after an incident where some toast was thrown away, etc. Fawkes gets at that sense of time spent with children as simultaneously incredibly valuable and incredibly frustrating. She wants time to work, but she also knows that there will be a time when her kids will want nothing to do with her as teens. Once again, her body language is the star in these comics, especially the facial expressions of her kids that scream a thousand words.

Not having other people close to her to bounce off of made her Corinthian Diary less cohesive. There were certainly interesting moments, like when she discussed her career and method, or she reveled in the casual friendships she had made. At the same time, half of the book seemed to be about Fawkes scheming up ways to go to the beach or lamenting that she wasn't really part of the academic crew that hired her. The drawings are no less beautiful, but one got the sense that a comic about half as long as this one would have been just as effective and better paced. On the other hand, the short mini Woods Hole, based on a map of where her husband grew up, is succinct, evocative and revealing. She talks about the experiences that her husband had growing up in a tiny seaside village as well as her own experiences as a new mother living in the town. This is a comic about coming to terms with one's physical surroundings and looking for the most joyful aspects of them.

Fawkes' adaptations of the classics and myths are where she really gets a chance to go all-out with her storytelling capabilities. Bad Dad Agamemnon (an adaptation of Euripedes' Iphigenia in Aulis) is all about Agamemnon trying to get out of using his daughter as a sacrifice to please the gods and give his fleet wind so that the Greeks could finally attack Troy. The slightly abstract but highly emotive figure work in black and white reminds me a bit of Steve Ditko's work in some places, as Fawkes hits the high notes of grief, betrayal and loyalty.

Fawkes is also quite adept with a paint brush. Her four-page story about Alatiel from The Decameron is lusciously painted, highlighting dark blues, reds and exotic greens. The open panel storytelling style makes this an especially fluid read, as the images and narrative flow quickly into the next, creating a heady experience for the reader. Her Kinyras comic, on the other hand, was written by her husband, John Franklin, and drew on the academic side of things, as he contextualizes the myths behind this figure. He was known as a king who was seduced by his own daughter, as a king who defied the requests of fellow Greeks in attacking Troy, how in another account he hosted Helen and Paris, and his divine talent as a lyre player. Fawkes' experience in academia, combined with her lighthearted approach and figure drawing, made her a perfect partner for Franklin's research, anecdotes and theorizing about how certain mythological figures pop up again and again in different cultures.

While Fawkes could do quite well in illustrating comics about history, it's clear that her heart is in something more expressive, as The Homeric Hymn To Dionysus displays. Here, Fawkes seems to be using colored pencils and water colors, using sweeps of red and purple to tell this story of Dionysus being kidnapped by a group of sailors, only to meet their doom when the captain revealed a plan to try to extort the god. A lot of cartoonists have taken on mythology in their works, but Fawkes' experiences and contacts (this comic was translated by Gregory Nagy) make her uniquely qualified to really run with this idea, either as a longer project or an anthology of shorter stories. To a certain extent, Fawkes seems to be dabbling in comics more than jumping in with both feet. Her talent is obvious, but it feels like she's trying to find a project that's really worthy of spending an extensive amount of time on, given her status as a caretaker. When she does find that project and pours herself into it, I expect her to be able to shop it to a variety of places.