Saturday, December 01, 2007

Minx in review

(I said Minx, not minks, dammit!)

Well, it took me most of the year, but I finally read all of DC's Minx titles that I was interested in (passing on only Kimmie66 and Confessions of a Blabbermouth, the former of which has a premise that doesn't make me want to drop $9.99, and the latter of which got some pretty harsh reviews that also make it seem a poor way to spend a ten dollar bill).

There was a lot of talk inside the comics industry and the comics blabosphere when DC's girl-focused Minx line was first launched and announced, spurred on by the somewhat clumsy roll out (Karen Berger saying girls don't read comics when she meant girls don't read DC comics), the predominance of men making these comics geared towards girls (only two female creators involved in the first seven books announced), and the difficulty DC had in defining a line that ended up simply being young adult graphic novels.

Oddly, conversation seemed to die down once the books themselves started rolling out, with only the occasional review and creator interview appearing, and less of the ranting and raving associated with the announcement persisted. Did the books themselves shut up the critics, or did the critics just not bother to read any?

I haven't seen much discussion on them online, anyway—although Johanna Draper Carlson just put up something—but then that could be part and parcel to the fact that they are books aimed for an audience outside the regular comics audience...and manga audience...and even bookstore/art comics audiences, meaning, to a certain degree, we’re not supposed to talk about them. It could also be because they're damn hard for most of us to judge, let alone talk about.

Obviously, I don't have any data about how well they're selling, in the direct market or the library/bookstore market (where they're likely to do much, much, much, much, much better), nor much interest in looking what data is publicly available up. And, as a 30-year-old man and regular comics reader, I'm horribly ill suited to say if something is a book a girl would like or something a non-comics reader would like, and this is a line intended for girls who don’t already read comic books, according to DC.

So keep in mind all I can really do is offer educated guesses and not terribly valuable opinions. At any rate, here are my thoughts on the Minx line, presented in the order I've read the books. Good As Lily is the only one I bought off the rack at my shop the Wednesday it came out; I read the other three within the past few weeks, having found multiple copies of each at a local Half-Priced Books (Does that mean they're not selling well? Or just that a couple people in my neighborhood bought some and decided they never wanted to read them again?).


# of former girls involved: 0

# of former boys involved: 2

Who are they, and what have they done before?: Writer and cover artist Derek Kirk Kim wrote and drew the excellent graphic novel Same Difference and Other Stories. Artist Jesse Hamm makes his mainstream debut with this book, although he's produced minicomics, webcomics and appeared in a few anthologies.

What's it about?: On her 18th birthday, high school senior and drama enthusiast Grace gets a magic piƱata that somehow summons different versions of herself from different ages—6, 29 and 70—and she tries to keep them secret from her family while making it through her day to day life, which includes putting on a play, a crush on her drama teacher, and a crush from her longtime platonic friend.

Palpability to manga readers: Hamm's art isn't very manga-esque. Many of the characters are Asian, though, and some of the plotlines, and the something-wacky-happens-to-otherwise-normal-person set-up, will be fairly familiar to anyone who's spent much time reading manga.

Girliness: Mild to strong.

Is it any good?: Yeah, it's pretty great. There was some mild disconnect from how different Grace and her different selves look on the cover (drawn by Kim) and throughout the story, drawn by Hamm, but I really enjoyed Hamm's art, and look forward to seeing more from him in the future. Kim juggles the various Graces pretty well, and while they make for the story's hook, they are really just other characters, with the actual conflicts focusing on Grace's relationship with her family and her friends and her self, the selves helping and hurting her attempts to solve her problems. It doesn't quite work like clockwork, but there's some real emotion in this, and I found myself alternately laughing and getting choked up.

Will it hit its target audience?: Yeah, I think it's more or less a direct hit.


# of former girls involved: 0

# of former boys involved: 3

Who are they, and what have they done before?: Writer Mike Carey has written many mainstream serial comics I have not read, including Lucifer, X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, plus some that I have read (Spellbinders, Voodoo Child). Penciller Sonnie Liew drew Slave Labor Graphics' Return To Wonderland and wrote and drew Malinky Robot. Inker Marc Hempel pencilled The Sandman arc "The Kindly Ones" and has written and drawn many very awesome comics, including Gregory. The entire creative team previously produced My Faith in Frankie, a Vertigo miniseries collected into a Minx-like digest-sized trade.

What's it about?: Korean-American high-schooler Dixie is training for the national hapkido championship, but is thrown off-balance by fellow student and school cute boy Adam, whom she tries to impress with an expensive birthday present. Teen melodramedy ensues as the tries to win the championship and his heart and stay out of trouble with her parents and local bullies.

Palpability to manga readers: Strong. The teen romance, bully/bullier, and competition elements are all of the sort present in a lot of manga and manhwa. Liew's pencil style and sense of design is pretty unique, not falling into more representational or cartoony Western design or manga-like Eastern design, but having a sketchy, doodley quality that is more akin to what you'd see in children's picture books, illustration work and (in a few characters) political cartooning than sequential art.

Girliness: Mild

Is it any good?: Yes, it's very good. I'm a fan of Liew and Hempel individually and together, and Carey's written things I liked and things I didn't, so my expectations were kind of mixed going in, but I was really impressed. This is certainly the strongest of the Minx books in terms of book design (it resembles an actual wrapped gift, with the main character looking like a tag on it), and there are some really strong characters, both in their visual design and their story realization. Not only are the leads strong, but even the most minor of characters are unique— I loved Dixie's little twin brothers, for example, and cracked a smile every time they appeared. The story is constructed in that sort of perfectly pleasing way in which a great deal of seemingly diverse elements are introduced, and are all pulled together and resolved at once.

Will it hit its target audience?: Hard to say. I think the story will certainly prove appealing to new readers, but I wonder if Liew's style might be a bit of a turn-off to comics virgins. Despite the strength of his storytelling, it doesn't really look like anything that someone who's never really read comics before would be familiar with, and I wonder if it would repel them, or even just have a higher learning curve.


# of former girls involved: 0

# of former boys involved: 2

Who are they, and what have they done before?: Writer Andi Watson wrote and drew Glister, Slow News Day, Breakfast After Noon, Geisha, Skeleton Key and many other comics I don't like as much. Artist Josh Howard wrote and drew Dead @17 and Black Harvest, plus a few other things too.

What's it about?: Charlotte "Lottie" Brook is a goth London teenager who gets caught with a fake ID trying to get into a club and, as punishment, gets sent out to the countryside to live with her grandparents and work at their country club for the summer. There it becomes something of a fish-out-of-water comedy, but also a murder mystery, and Lottie tries to solve the weird goings on of her household and the village. Oh, and then it gets all Lovecrafty for, like, 12 pages.

Palpability to manga readers: Pretty palpable. Howard's art is strong influenced by manga, particularly in the character design of the females, but it tends to be even flatter and more abstract. In other words, it looks particularly manga-influenced to people who don't read a lot of manga; definitely influenced by manga-influenced art, if that makes sense.

Girliness: Mild. The protagonist likes clothes and talks about shopping a lot—girls like shopping and clothes, right? That said, all of those clothes are really, really small, and Howard's art seems to appeal more to boys and men than girls, I would think.

Is it any good?: I really like Howard's art style, to the point where he's one of the artists whom I read just about anything by, no matter how bad, just to look at the pictures. And Watson does a good job on Lottie's slang-filled voice, which is definitely unique. But this definitely feels like the first draft rather than a finished product, as it veers and lurches between genres at random. I think every review I've read mentions how out of left field the supernatural element actually is, so I was expecting an unexpected element and wasn't caught off guard by it, but, yeah, you probably want to foreshadow something like that somewhere. I mean, Scooby-Doo foreshadowed its monsters in every episode, and none of those were even real. Of the Minx books I read, this was by far the weakest.

Will it hit its target audience?: Maybe.

Anything else to add?: Yeah, you know, Josh Howard would have been a great artist on DC's current volume of Supergirl comics, wouldn't he? He's really good at belly shirts and micro-skirts, and he's much better at anatomy at drawing cute girls than pretty much anybody who DC actually hired for that gig.

Back on topic, why does DC mention Howard's Dead@17 being "Wizard magazine's pick as the #1 independent book to watch in 2005" on the back of the book (and on the online solicitation). I assume Wizard readers/peole who care what Wizard says about comics/anyone who even knows what Wizard is are well outside the target audience for Minx books.

Finally, this book also has the absolute worst cover. That image of white junior high girls at a school dance or whatever above the title? Nothing remotely like that occurs in this book. The club Lottie goes to is a goth club where everyone goes all out in their goth costumes. Also, that picture looks terrible juxtaposed against the Howard girl in a photo environment right below it (That juxtaposition does work pretty well, though, visually accentuating the culture clash that's the subject of the story—she's a two-dimensional comic book heroine in a three-dimensional photograph world!)


# of former girls involved: 1

# of former boys involved: 1

Who are they, and what have they done before?: Writer Cecil Castellucci is a prose novelist responsible for The Queen of Cool, Beige, and Boy Proof (none of which I've read). Artist Jim Rugg is responsible for (too) short-lived series Street Angel, one of the coolest comics in like ever, and has had short peices in a variet of pretty goon anthologies, like Project: Superior

What's it about?: A bomb attack in New York City stand-in Metro City transforms life for protatonist Jane and her family, who move to a suburb. Inspired by a sketchbook from a fellow victim of the attack, Jane decides to devote her life to art, forsaking the popular girls at her new school and forming an all-girl art gang with the three girls at the outcast, all of whom are coincidentally named Jane. The P.L.A.I.N. Janes' anonymous art attacks stoke (unattributed) post-9/11 fears of terrorism, causing a rift between the adults and teens in the small town.

Palpability to manga readers: Other than the digest format and black and white art, there's nothing particularly manga-esque about it. Some of the situations repeat what you'd find in shojo comics, but this book visually has more in common with Western art comics than Japanese pop imports.

Girliness: Mild to strong.

Is it any good?: The art is absolutely perfect. Rugg does his expected strong job, but I think this may be his best work I've seen. He finds a perfect balance between representational and subtle cartoonish exaggeration, turning in a series of character designs that are all distinct, realistic and highly pleasing to the eye.

The story is similarly well constructed, and Castellucci doesn't show any of the weakness typical of some prose writers doing their first comics (telling more of the story through the words than the pictures, using too many words, an omniscient narrator who checks in with various voices, etc.). Some of it struck me as pretty unrealistic in a way that originally grated on me—why use "Metro City" instead of New York? Why use a cafe bombing more typical of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict than 9/11 itself to address post-9/11 fear in our culture?—but that lack of realism coupled with other more highly manufactured elements lends the whole story a sort of fairy tale feel, as if that unreality is quite intentional.

Perhaps Castellucci is consciously telling a half-fable about the conflict of art vs. fear in modern America. I think the story could still be told if she were more direct in her address of issues, without sacrificing the more escapist, entertaining elements. The ending is pretty sudden, and leaves one of the main conflicts—the romantic one—completely unresolved, with a good character seeming to suffer punishment for his goodness, making for a pretty unsatsifying ending to an otherwise quite satisfying story.

Word at Comicsworthreading is that there's a sequel planned for the future, but there's no "to be continued" or official indication of this in the book istelf. If this were manga or an ongoing series from Oni, it would have had a "Volume 1" on the spine to indicate that it would presumably continue at some point, but not so. (Something for DC/Minx to think about in future printings, though).

Will it hit its target audience?: Yes, dead on.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm late responding to this, but good call on all the books (that I've read; I skipped Clubbing). I think I liked the art on Good As Lily a bit less than you did, but that's about the only place I differ from you. As I've said in other discussions, I think Re-Gifters might be the best one so far, but there's something about Plain Janes that really strikes me as notable; it might be my favorite. I haven't read the two most recent, and the reviews on them haven't been too kind. But I might still end up getting Kimmie66; I haven't decided.