I think we likely place too much emphasis on our “top ten” comic books of the year, as obviously with the thousands of comics out there in any given year, there is a much bigger difference between the cream of the crop and the bad books than there are between the best books. So rather than giving honorable mentions in my Top Ten Comics of 2012, I will spotlight a few of my favorites through New Year’s Day. – BC
One of the most compelling aspects of Raina Telgemeier’s great new graphic novel, Drama, is the way that Telgemeier realizes how when you’re in middle school, every day is like a big drama, even if much of the drama is inside your own head.
The drama in Drama revolves around the cast and crew of a middle school production of a fictional musical called Moon Over Mississippi. Our lead, Callie, is part of the crew for the play. The novel tells the story of her seventh grade school year. It is a charmingly enjoyable tale filled with strong character moments that is fun for all ages, but especially for you theater fans out there.
The stage crew of a play are, by nature, the unsung heroes of theater, but what really stands out about Telgemeier’s treatment of the crew is that she makes it very clear that these kids are here because it is their passion, not because they couldn’t get a role in the play or anything like that. Callie is an outgoing girl, but she is not an actress. She LOVES designing sets and costumes and figuring out how best to display the show. There’s a great bit where we see Callie go to the local book store to look at a big coffee table book about Broadway history. It is far too expensive for Callie to ever buy herself, but just getting the chance to come look at it every once in awhile is great for her.
Two pairs of brothers play major roles in Callie’s life. First is the crush she has at the beginning of the book, an older boy and his younger brother, who is also in the stage crew. The younger brother clearly is interested in Callie but she can’t see him for his brother.
Next is two new kids in school who are also into the theater. One of the boys is gay and Telgemeier handles his sexuality wonderfully. Not just in the way that she accurately shows how it is not a big deal, but in the way that Callie, despite absolutely understanding that the boy is gay, can’t help but become attached to him anyways, to the point where when he goes to a dance with her, she is hurt when he goes off to pursue a boy.
Like I said, it’s the little things that seem like BIG drama when you’re a kid.
However, while obviously Callie’s romantic entanglements play a big part of the book, a great aspect of the book is the fact that they aren’t the end-all/be-all of the story. “Who Callie ends up with?” is not an important answer in this book. She might end up with boy x, she might end up with boy y, she might end up single. It really doesn’t matter – her romantic situations do not define her as a character. I love that aspect of the book.
Telgemeier’s art is expressive and the colors of the book are vibrant. I love how Telgemeier knows how going over the top with character depictions can sometimes pay off big time. Here’s a nice example, where Callie shows one of the brothers (who is too shy to try out for the play) that it really isn’t that big of a deal to try out…
The expressions on Callie as she sings, along with the reactions of everyone else is priceless. Telgemeier captures the feel of the moment beautifully.
At the end of the day, I think Smile had a bit more heft to it, but that’s understandable considering it was based on Telgemeier’s actual life growing up, but Drama is still an excellent comic book. Telgemeier is one of the most dependably excellent comic book creators working today. I always know that I’ll get something great when I read her works.