Tag Archive for ryan kelly

Near Miss: Minx

minxLast year, I read Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe. The graphic novel is about a teenage girl, in attempt to make herself seem intriguing, fakes having a peanut allergy. It’s a lovely book that I feel deserved more attention.

But my one thought after reading it was “That could’ve been a Minx book.”

An imprint of DC, Minx launched in 2007 and was dead by 2008, but there were problems as soon as it was announced. The name Minx never bugged me — it was cute and just salacious enough — but the lack of female creators was an issue. Minx had too much to prove and had to do it too quickly.

But Minx ultimately faced a bigger problem than just skepticism: The books just weren’t very good.

The majority of the 12 titles follow this extremely set format: An introspective, outcast teenage girl flirts with danger and boys before learning some very important life lesson, delivered with some moralistic overtones. They play a bit too safely, shying away from any real issues. For a moment in Confessions of a Blabbermouth, there was an implication of possible sexual abuse before it was quickly resolved into a “twist” that had been obviously almost from the beginning. Emiko Superstar isn’t the worst of the bunch, but when compared to the devastating and beautiful Skim, also written by Mariko Tamaki, it feels obvious the Minx editors didn’t trust their audience’s ability to handle anything that could be perceived as “dark.”

If this was just one or two of the titles, it could be forgiven. But when faced with about seven titles that all share what is more or less the same character and the same plot dressed up in different ways, it begins to feel a bit paternalistic and tiresome.

Not every one is like this, though. Ross Campbell‘s Water Baby is refreshingly crude and physical and has teenagers that actually act and talk like teenagers. The New York Four, by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, has its issues, but at least felt like something teenage girls would want to read. I don’t know where Aaron Alexovich‘s Kimmie66 was originally pitched to, but with its twisty sci-fi story about identity, it’s definitely the oddball of the bunch (and is perhaps the most interesting because of it).

But I think beyond issue of repetitive plot structure, what bothered me the most about the Minx books is that they’re all basically a waste of good talent.

The editors had a good eye at hiring creators who appealed to young women but then buried the exact things that made them appealing to that audience.

Jim Rugg is a phenomenal artist, and while his work on both of the Plain Janes books is attractive enough, it lacks the kinetic, playful energy of his Street Angel. Both Andi Watson and Derek Kirk Kim are poetic, thoughtful writers, but Clubbing and Good As Lily suffer from the lack of their art. For the most part, there’s very little chemistry between the writers and the artists. These books feel like work for hire and it shows.

Still, there’s a part of me that admires Minx not for what it ended up as, but for what it wanted to be. Minx was definitely an attempt to capture the young female readers of manga, but I think it provided a point of transition for publishers to realize this was an audience worth catering to. I can’t think of too many graphic novels aimed specifically at teenage girls before Minx. I can think of way too many that have come out since then.

I don’t think it’s quite right to say that Minx opened the door for those graphic novels. But, at the very least, I think Minx deserves some credit for making publishers realize that there was a door worth opening.

Near Miss is a semi-regular feature that will be appearing on Comicsgirl throughout 2013-2014. This project is sponsored by Big Planet Comics.

Review: The New York Five

The New York Five

Buy on Amazon.com

I was prepared to write off all of the Minx line before I read The New York Four — finally, there was a book in this imprint I felt like teenage girls would actually want to read. Of course, ultimately, it didn’t matter since DC Comics dropped the Minx imprint.

But I was happy to see that The New York Five found a home in the Vertigo line. Sure, it was maybe a little outside of the typical Vertigo title — there isn’t an abundance of sex or violence here — but as far as comics that are for more than usual audiences, it fit right in.

I bought The New York Five happily. I want more comics like this, after all.

Well, maybe not exactly like this.

Picking up where The New York Four left off, our heroines Lona, Merissa, Ren and Riley are still dealing with the repercussions of their first semester, and they’re now all sharing an apartment. More or less. Lona is still coping with her new reality and who she is in New York; Merissa has family to deal with; Ren is a bit too much of a free spirit; and Riley is trying to make up with her estranged sister.

It’s a lot of drama and purposefully so. But I’d say it’s almost too much drama, especially once street kid Olive (the fifth in the New York “five”) is thrown into the mix. If you haven’t read the first book, you aren’t going to get to know these girls much at all — in writer Bryan Wood’s hands, they are broadly drawn character types. I wanted to get to know them, but that the whole point of this series was that the characters withdrew from each other, it was almost impossible to do so.

Ryan Kelly’s New York still feels like a real place, however, and his art gives these character life. They are still pouty lips and tousled hair, but their fashionable glamor is part of the reason why The New York Five works when it does — it feels aspirational. Even if you don’t want to be these characters, you easily admire them.

Still, whereas I enjoyed the intimate drama of The New York Four, The New York Five just seemed to pull in too many directions at once. I feel like it tried to be too big and lost sight of the power of just telling the stories of these four young women out on their own for the first time. Maybe if it had been five issues instead of four, I would’ve been happier with it.

But for all my complaints, I’d still pick up The New York Six if that ends up happening. Even if I wasn’t 100 percent sold on this one, I still want more like it to exist. I will still buy them. Clearly, for all my complaints about The New York Five, I’m still completely sold on it.

(This review is obviously based on the four issues of the limited series — you know, since the collected version isn’t out yet. You can still, more the likely, pick up the individual issues at better comic book stores. If you want it, I encourage you to do that, but I will happily take the few cents you would send my way with the pre-order of the collection.)

A pair of anthologies

Side B

Buy at tfaw.com

Side B: The Music Love’s Comic Anthology
I was excited to pick up Side B (2009, Poseur Ink). After all, I love music and I do love finding out how other people relate to music. Despite the substantial cover price ($23), I was more than happy to buy this at MoCCA.

While I know, for the most part, anthologies can be hit or miss by their nature, this was more “miss” than “hit” for me, sadly. It is, by no means, a bad anthology. I think I was just expecting something else.

Music is a huge topic and that seemed to be only guideline given here. Some creators used the topic to discuss their favorite band or a pivotal moment that occurred around music. For the most part, those stories worked the best for me. I loved Cristy C. Roads’ “Redemption Day,” which was more of an illustrated story than comic about how Green Day opened up a new world for her. While I’m not a Green Day fan, I could easily relate to the idea of finding that first band that meant something to you. Also great was Dave Crosland‘s wildly sketched tale of awkwardness around a crazy girl he was crushing on at a Modest Mouse show, “The Mouse, The Model, The Horse.”

A few people take a little bit different approach, like in “Torso,” written by Kat Vapid and drawn by Ryan Kelly. In this simple story, a punk singer finds solace at a country karaoke bar after being kicked out of her band. Kelly’s art reminds me of traditional superhero comics, with his crisp lines and strong, expressive faces. Vapid’s characters are quickly and well-defined. It’s a satisfying story, but I’d love to see more of these characters.

Still, Side B has too many meandering stories, like Josh Rosen‘s “Same Old Song,” which is just a Rosen analogue talking about music for three pages. His art is fine, but there’s no point here. And as charming as Katie Shanahan‘s “Musical Misfit” was, with its playful art, I didn’t come away with feeling like it really gave me any insight.

And I think that’s the problem with a lot of the stories in Side B. I understand completely that music is very personal so these stories are going to be personal. But “personal” doesn’t necessarily translate into “interesting.” I think it’s worth reading to an extent, and I certainly don’t regret buying it, but it’s not really an anthology I’ll return to. I think I’m going to end up passing this along to a friend.

First Harvest: Trees & Hills Comics Volume One

Trees & Hills is a network of cartoonists and comic book artists in Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. And for covering such a small geographic area, there is actually a surprising amount of talent there.

First Harvest (2009) collects several of the smaller anthologies the group has put out over the past few years. The diversity of comics here ranges from the simple to the ambitious, from the personal to the pretentious and the whole thing is a lot of fun.

I think I liked this mostly because it was different. When you read a lot of anthologies, you see a lot of the same names over and over again. And if you don’t, at the very least, you see a lot of the same type of comics over and over again (by which, I mean, urban twentysomethings dealing with love and life, although I do think a lot of indie comics are moving away from that). Instead, here, the vibe isn’t so much about impressing anyone with hipness as it is about expressing a personal worldview.

The pair of comics by Megan Baehr are probably among the strongest — they’re both wordless and deal with overcoming adversity and redemption. Colleen Frakes‘ “Space Ninja vs. Zombie” stories are hilarious and her simple art belies her understanding for the medium (I meant to pick up her Woman King at MoCCA, but then I both ran out of money and forgot).

Of special note to me was Tim Hulsizer‘s “House of Freaks, which is an illustrated recounting of one of the most brutal and heartless crimes I know of in recent history. He tells the story of the murders of musician Bryan Harvey and family in Richmond, Va., on New Year’s Day 2006. The images aren’t graphic but the words are and the juxtaposition is effective. As heartbreakingly awful as this story is, I’m glad Hulsizer told it.

I can’t get through this review without mentioning Jade Harmon who is a good friend of mine. We actually did a comic when we were 17 (no, you can’t see it) and it delights me that she’s in this book and I get to point out to everyone I know “I know her! I know her!” I realize I’m biased but her comics are among my favorites here — I love how “La Fenetre” unfolds and expresses the power of music to take us somewhere else (I think this would’ve been a good one for Side B, personally).

I couldn’t find a sale link to First Harvest on the Trees & Hills site, so I hope they have it available soon. It’s a great look at talent that I didn’t know existed.

The Problem with Minx

(Also known as reviews of Emiko Superstar, Janes in Love and The New York Four.)

I read Emiko Superstar and Janes in Love back-to-back on the train returning home from MoCCA (which tells you how long I’ve had them — they were giving them out for free). I more recently read The New York Four.

Emiko Superstar

Preorder from tfaw.com

Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Rolston, follows Emi, a slightly overweight and awkward half-Asian teenager in Canada as she finds herself drawn into an underground group of performance artists. I like Emi – I liked her geekier tendencies and her introspective nature. I didn’t exactly buy the whole performance artist scene – I didn’t believe that a guy who looked a lot like The Dude from The Big Lebowski would truly be able to get a group of young people to perform in a warehouse space, nor did I find Emi’s object of admiration, Poppy Galore, to really have that much going on. Her tentative, possible romance with Henry has a sweetness about it.

I did like the way everything unraveled, though, and how Emi realized everyone has secrets and can be surprising, including herself. Rolston’s art has a curvy softness about it that compliments the cuteness of the story well. But ultimately, I found Emiko Superstar to be fairly forgettable.

Janes In Love

Buy from tfaw.com

Janes in Love picks up where The Plain Janes left off, with the same creative team of novelists Cecil Castellucci and artist Jim Rugg. I think it’s basically pointless to read this if you haven’t read The Plain Janes first. To me, it was more of the same. The Janes are now dealing with the fallout after the bust-up of P.L.A.I.N. and find themselves drifting apart as boys enter the scene. The main Jane seeks a way to continue making public art while dealing with her mom’s reluctance to leave the house after a friend dies from an anthrax attack. I noticed a very subtle shift in Rugg’s art, emphasizing the various Janes’ ethnicities (I did a side-by-side comparison and the style isn’t that different, but it’s there). This one fell a little flat and felt a little unnecessary to me (I’ve read there will be a third one). Whereas the first book was about the girls’ self-discovery, they didn’t have enough to do in this one. The conclusion and reunification of the Janes came across as a little too neat for me.

And after I finished this one, I realized something about Minx: all the books have the same sorts of rhythm. They all emphasize some Big Important Life Lesson. They all share the same sort of pacing and the characters all have the same sort of epiphanies and self-discoveries. They all seem to learn that in the end, it’s best to be true to yourself.

I do think that’s an important message and one that teenage girls don’t hear enough, but the more I read of the Minx books, the more preachy they feel. Instead of being art or even entertainment first, they seem to be lessons in self-esteem. They seem to be more the sorts of books well-meaning adults and comic book bloggers (myself included) think teenagers should be reading. (I did a quick bit of research on some message boards where teenage girls hang out – I didn’t spend too long because I didn’t want to be creepy – and I didn’t find any mentions of any of the Minx books. I’m not sure if teenage girls are actually reading these.)

But I still keep picking them up. I keep giving them a chance.

The New York Four

Buy from tfaw.com

I was surprised to see that The New York Four comes closest to what I think Minx can be capable of. Coming from Vertigo veterans Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, the story follows reclusive Riley as she reunites with her sister and tries to make friends during her first year of NYU. The New York setting feels like the real New York (I like Wood’s little asides in his NYC 101 lessons) and not just some “exotic” tacked on locale. This is the New York where people actually live. Riley is an interesting heroine and as it’s delightfulas she breaks out of her shell. The rest of the “New York Four” – Merissa, Lona and Ren – feel a little undeveloped but I get the feeling Wood and Kelly plan to continue this story. While I think Kelly draws the girls a little too sexy, with over-emphasized lips and prominent bustlines, his art has an attractive grittiness to it.

But while Riley has her share of disappointments and Big Life Lessons – and, of course, discovers it’s best to be herself – this book felt different. There was drama. There was anger and love. There was uncomfortable situations. There was, in other words, the sorts of things teenage girls encounter every day.

I know that Karen Berger said that Minx is “real stories about real girls in the real world,” but I can’t help but want it to be more like the manga series Nana. Granted, in its own way, Nana is about as far from reality as you can get, despite not being fantasy, but underneath its rock-star melodrama, it feels real. It’s heartfelt while still being escapist. I want to feel the same way after I’ve read a Minx title.