Tag Archive for teenagers

Review: Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher

Part-Time PrincessesSenior year isn’t going as well as they’d hoped.

Best friends Amber, Tiffany, Michelle and Courtney perform as princesses at their local theme park, The Enchanted Park (which has seen better days) and are looking forward to their futures. However, as obstacles keep them from their perceived dreams, our heroines in Monica Gallagher‘s Part-Time Princesses (Oni Press, 2015), realize they can use their strengths and abilities to save their park from those who want to destroy it.

It’s refreshing to read a comic about teenage girls that’s not focused on them being misfits. Although our heroines are popular, they’re more Clueless than Mean Girls — they can be a bit self-involved but they’re well-meaning and each has her own motivations and interests, from the ambitious, smart Michelle to the dramatic Tiffany

Gallagher has a wonderful eye for fashion and the way teen girls actually interact. Each girl looks unique — down to her body type and style (Courtney is athletic and sporty, wannabe model Amber is tall and graceful). While Gallagher’s backgrounds are sparse, they focus the attention on her strong ability to convey personality and emotions through body language and facial expressions. The girls not only feel like friends to each other — they feel like girls you know.

While the story mostly proceeds with the expected beats as each girl finds her true abilities, there are a few curves — an unexpected romance, a hidden conspiracy — that keep the plot from feeling too obvious. Gallagher’s gift for the playful rhythms of life keep her storytelling strong and fresh.

As much as I love comics about girls and women in extraordinary circumstances (whether it’s real life or fantastic), it’s refreshing to read a graphic novel that’s about normal girls doing mostly normal things. I would love to see more comics like Part-Time Princesses in the world.

Digital review copy provided by Oni Press.

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.

Near Miss: BoHoS

In the late ’90s, a California teenager named Maggie Whorf and friends got into trouble for distributing a zine called “Whore-Hey” at their school. So of course, Whorf ended up writing a comic book. That comic was the three-issue series BoHoS, published by Image/Flypaper Press.

(I tracked down Whorf a few years ago and talked to her about all of this. For more background, please read Remembering BoHoS: A conversation with Maggie Whorf. There’s no need to repeat all of that here.)

Does BoHoS hold up? No, not really. Whorf had a good grasp on what it was like to be a teenager at the time, and her stand-in lead, Catherine Wheal, provided an easy entry point for readers (you know, if you were a teenage girl who could relate to a protagonist with blue hair) and that carries over pretty well, but jagged, technicolor art by Byron Penaranda and the dated references to Hanson and MTV’s Tabitha Soren place this firmly in the late ’90s. This is not one for the ages.

I actually read BoHoS at the time (the publishers reached out to me — an early web address for Comicsgirl is actually listed in the back of issue #2) and it may be the only Near Miss comic I read as it was actually being released. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still a comic I have a lot of affection and appreciation for. There was nothing else like it at the time and I’d say there really hasn’t been anything like it since.

True to Whorf’s zinester roots, the back of each issue had essays, reviews and poetry from other teenage girls as well as links to web sites of interest (this was the late ’90s — the Internet was still young for many of us). I liked that beyond the main story, it just wasn’t about Whorf. It was about other teenage girls that may not feel like they fit in and it wanted to give them a voice.

And certainly, teenage girls have always found places to share their thoughts, but I do wonder what shape BoHoS would’ve taken in today. I look at Tavi Gevinson and Rookie (and the fact that comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly was the one to put out Rookie: Yearbook One) and I just wonder what would’ve happened if Whorf had been in a world where she could’ve created a blog instead of a zine.

Which isn’t to say BoHoS was ahead of its time. It was very much of its time and not really worth reading beyond it being a piece of comics history. Still, it continues to delight me that nearly 15 years ago, a teenage girl got to write a comic that was published by a major publisher.

I think that continues to be an important thing.

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

Review: Drama

Theater is a strange life. Like many forms of art, it tends to attract people who don’t quite fit in elsewhere. For everyone I know involved in theater, this started early. It’s something they fell into and never fell back out of. It’s their passion. It’s their life. Even if they end up doing something else, they never quite leave it behind.

As much as Raina Telgemeier‘s Drama (Graphix/Scholastic, 2012) is about crushes and young love, it’s also about the theater and the community of friends it creates.

Our cute, purple-haired protagonist, Callie, has found her passion early. She loves theater — but refreshingly, her heart is backstage. It’s great to see a young girl character in a story about theater that isn’t interested in being on stage. She’s too busy making big plans for her set design and puzzling out special effects. She’s not toiling away in obscurity waiting to be discovered; instead, she knows exactly what she wants to be doing and does it well. She has her moments of self-doubt and confusion (usually involving her relationships with boys!) but her confidence in herself is delightful.

I loved the realism of Callie’s relationships with the boys in her life — her initial boldness with Greg and her tentative affection toward Jesse as well as her playful and sweet friendship with Justin. Equally great is how she relates to the girls in the book — while there is a bit of conflict with her best friend Liz, they’re clearly best friends. Even Bonnie, who’d be a “mean girl” in another book isn’t presented to be that much of a threat but just someone who runs in a different social circle.

I don’t think Telgemeier’s art has ever been stronger.  She seems to have pulled in a few more manga-inspired touches — big, expressive eyes and exaggerated facial expressions. As sharp and perceptive as her writing always is, much of the joy of this book is in the silent panels. Her ability to communicate complex emotions, from Callie’s joy, concentration and worry, and quiet moments with deceptively simple lines is unrivaled. Telgemeier makes comics look so effortless.

While my advance reader copy was mostly in black and white, the few pages of color by Gurihiru that I did get went far to set the mood of this book. I can’t wait to see the whole thing in color.

Perhaps the greatest joy of Drama is how perceptive an eye and ear Telgemeier has for kids of this age. She never talks down to them. One of my major complaints about a lot of middle grade and young adult novels is that the characters seem to act like an adult’s conception of what kids and teens should be like rather than how they actually are.  In some ways, Callie and her friends may seem a bit older than their 12 and 13 years, but in other ways, they’re exactly how I remember being at that age, just with more computers and text messages. You don’t realize how young you are: you end up being a strange mix of innocent and perceptive, smart and awkward. These are kids figuring out who they want to be and that’s something that’s easy to relate to at any age.

And to me, that’s the greatest takeaway of Drama: how much of myself, even now, I saw in it. I’d love to tell Callie and the kids her age reading about her that these things get easier — that boys stop being confusing and that everything goes the way you want. But I can’t. What I can say, though, is that if you believe in and admire Callie, you’ll have a pretty good head start on the rest of us.

Review: Teen Boat!

teenboatTeen Boat! (2012, Clarion Books) is about a teenage boy who turns into a boat named Teen Boat (in case, you know, the title didn’t immediately tip you off to that), Originally a series of (Ignatz Award-winning) minicomics, creators Dave Roman and John Green pull in amazing amount pop culture influences (Turbo Teen is an obvious reference point, as are teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek) into something that’s still fun and original. Trust me when I tell you that Teen Boat! is really one of the best things ever.

Teen Boat is mostly a typical teenager — he has a platonic best friend, Joey, and is in love with the exchange student Niña Pinta Santa Maria. He tries to impress the cool kids and he gets into trouble. He runs for class president and gets a part-time job. And yes, quite often he turns into a boat.

Roman and Green clearly had a so much fun making this — there’s a giddiness to the writing and the goal seemed mostly to make each other laugh first. They throw in pirates just because, why not? The characters travel to Italy mostly so Teen Boat can fall in love with a gondola (and the silent montage sequence of the date between Teen Boat — in his boat form — and the gondola is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen). There are explosions and mysteries and monster trucks. The writing is quick and clever and Green’s art has an animator’s eye for character design and expression. The rich primary colors do give a new dimension to the art that wasn’t present in the minis.

Despite all the references that are packed in here, Roman and Green just use those as a starting point. They provide a bit of a backdrop and texture, but the book doesn’t rely on them for its humor. If you’re too young to be familiar with them (or just don’t catch them), the book is still a delight.

I have one tiny complaint, though, but I want to emphasize it’s tiny. I don’t think the new material has quite the same energy as the material that appeared in the minicomics. I think this is probably only something you’d noticed if you’ve read the minis and that’s not to say I was at all disappointed. It’s all such great fun I just almost felt like I needed to complain about something.

Buy this book! Read it! Laugh! Tell your friends! I absolutely love that things like Teen Boat! exist in this world.

And just to link to it again, here’s Abby Denson‘s Teen Boat! song: