Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
At the Emerald City Comic-Con, I had to buy Drawn In, the book put together by several of Greg Hatcher’s ex-students – I think the editor, Katrina, would have ripped my throat out with her teeth if I hadn’t! This costs a measly five dollars, and I imagine that if you contact Mr. Hatcher, he would be happy to tell you how to get a copy. Who doesn’t like supporting new cartoonists in this glorious field of comic-bookery?!?
There are three stories in Drawn In, all very much in the manga tradition, as all these young whippersnappers think that Japanese stuff is, like, cool. If you can deal with that, bully for you. If you can’t, this is still a neat book because it’s always fun to see young people working things out and trying to learn how to make comics. I’m not the hugest fan of manga, especially the more stereotypical kind of art seen here, but I enjoyed this book because it was very fascinating looking at how the creators laid out pages and paced the stories.
Amanda Stephens provides the first story, “One Wish.” It’s about a lonely teenaged boy named Leo who wishes on a star for a friend. Of course, he gets one – an actual star who turns into a girl named Estelle (a nice touch by Stephens) to fulfill his wish. It turns out that Leo does have a friend, but he – Ken – is kind of a jerk to Leo, and Estelle wants him to treat Leo better. It is, of course, an extremely earnest story, but it’s not overly sappy – peer pressure and friends sometimes acting badly is part of high school and, occasionally, life in general, so Stephens’ point is well made. Art-wise, this is a nice story. She begins it with a full page of Leo looking up at the stars, and the night sky is some kind of wash/watercolor technique that would look better in color but still gives a good impression of the vastness of space. She does this whenever she shows deep space, and it’s a good way to contrast the prosaic Earthbound story with Estelle’s origins. Like many neophyte artists, Stephens has difficulty with fluidity, and the line work of the static images is much better than when she needs to show the characters moving too dramatically. Her page layouts are nice, though – there’s a couple of pages where she shows time passing with the old cliché of calendar pages wafting through the air, but she does a good job showing Leo and Estelle hanging out together on those two pages. The biggest issue I have with the story, in fact, is the lettering. Stephens hand letters it, and I hate to say that she letters like a girl, but she does – a lot of curves in letters that are made up of entirely straight segments (“W”s are usually the ones that get rounded the most), linking letters even though she’s printing, and capital “K”s that look like this:
It’s a bit hard to read, unfortunately, and believe me – I’ve read quite a lot in similar handwriting, so you think I’d be used to it. Stephens should think about using a standard font for her lettering or, I’m sorry to say, be more careful when she’s doing it by hand. But that’s just what I think. I’m an old man!
The second story, “Maneki Neko,” is by Alisha Dacus. It’s a charming story about a cat named Saki that that gives good luck, based on the legend of Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat. Saki wanders around Seattle looking for food (her owner hasn’t woken up yet and so she doesn’t have any food), and she encounters various people who get good luck because of her proximity. She wonders why she herself doesn’t have any luck as she looks for food, but of course, she does – she just needs to know how to look for it. It’s another feel-good story, a bit clever and a bit precious, but charming nevertheless. Dacus has a solid style – she shades more than Stephens does, and she shifts nicely from a thin line to a rougher line when the situations become more frenetic. She has some problems with perspective – there’s a scene where a baby in a stroller is rolling down a hill, and it’s not as exciting as it could be because we don’t get a sense of the steepness of the hill – but that’s part of the larger problem with the way the pages are laid out: Dacus crams a lot onto each page, and while that gives the story some intense momentum, it also inhibits her storytelling skills because her panel-to-panel work isn’t as strong as her figure work. It makes the few times when she does open things up very nice because we get a sense that they’re more important, but the story still feels a bit too crowded and, more importantly, unintelligible. Dacus doesn’t use gutters, either, so that each panel is separated from the others by just a thin black line. This is all technical stuff, of course, but it’s interesting to see that Dacus, and the two other creators, have figured out some things about writing comics but not others. There’s a lot to like about “Maneki Neko,” but it’s also the most difficult story in the book to actually read.
The final story is the first part of a webcomic called “Faleria” by Brianna Edwards. Edwards is the most accomplished of the creators featured here, and whether you like her story or not, you can tell she knows how to put a page together. She begins the story with a young girl, Elani, who lives in a world where enemies have attacked her royal family, and now her mother is trying to take her to be reunited with her father and brother. It’s very fantastical, with highbrow talk and weird creatures (we don’t see any, but they’re out there!) and then it’s revealed to be a dream. A college student named Danelle has been dreaming of these characters, but of course, Elani shows up and takes her and her best friend Sarah to her land because they need to save the realm. Or something. It’s the first chapter, so it’s unclear what the two girls are supposed to do, but they’re not in Kansas anymore. Edwards has a nice, bold line that helps when she “manga-izes” her characters – there are a few examples of the girls becoming those little smiling cherubs that manga artists dig, but Edwards’ design work is strong enough that it doesn’t look too silly, as it sometimes does (I know that’s my personal prejudice coming through, but I can’t help it). She paces the story well and does a very nice job with facial expressions to convey emotion and to move the readers’ eyes over the pages. Her layouts aren’t revolutionary but they’re solid, and she mixes some things up nicely. Edwards also is computer-savvy enough to use a good font (the constrast in the lettering between this and the first two stories is remarkable) and to use both shading very well and patterns that she obviously Photoshopped (or Illustratored) in, so that the characters look like they’re wearing actual clothes with prints on them. This isn’t, I hope, a slam on the first two stories, it’s just recognition that Edwards is more technically aware of how to create a comics story. I’m not sure if her story can rise above the fairly clichéd idea of a hero from our dimension saving a strange world to which she has a mystical connection, but Edwards does a nice job making the story look good.
I don’t love Drawn In, mainly because the stories and art really aren’t my cup of tea, and that’s fine. I would Mildly Recommend it, though, because it’s a very good look at young people figuring out what makes a comic work and how to tell a story through panels. Your enjoyment of the book might depend on whether the stories are for you, but for me, I like it because whenever I don’t love the actual plots, I really like looking at how the story gets told. These three young ladies are quite talented, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
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