PREVIEW: ALISON DARE
If you're looking for a comic for your daughter or your niece or your granddaughter or any other sort of young female potential comics fan, might I suggest ALISON DARE, LITTLE MISS ADVENTURES?
(Yes, it's appropriate for the boys, as well, but some of them may not like it since it stars "a bunch of girls." The book itself isn't tailored straight to girls, only, though.)
It's 48 black and white pages long for $4.50 from Oni Press, and it's due out later this month. J. Torres, the writing mastermind behind other books such as SIREN, THE COPYBOOK TALES, and SIDEKICKS is behind this one as well. Drawing and lettering it is Jason Bone, whose work has been seen in LOVE IN TIGHTS (an anthology series edited in part by Torres) and SOLAR STELLA, from Sirius Comics.
The book is described as an "all-new, all-ages adventure," and I'd be hard pressed to disagree with that. Most happily, it doesn't talk down to its readers. There's no didactic prose in the middle of the adventure. There are no cloyingly cute characters. There's no cool teenager speak. This book reads more like a Carl Barks Duck story than a "grrrlz" comic.
This is the story of a girl, Alison Dare. Her mother is a big-time archaeologist, and her father is a super-hero who can't keep his identity secret from his daughter and her friends. They delight in giving him a hard time about this, but without ever revealing to the outside world his secret. Alison, herself, loves to go to far off places for digs with her mother. It is there that her imagination often times gets the best of her, as she turns some small happenings into adventures worthy of Indiana Jones. Her friends back at private Catholic school adore her stories. She likes to show off for them. Her parents keep her enrolled at St. Joan's Academy for Girls in the vein hopes of giving her a more normal life.
The book itself is a series of smaller stories and vignettes, all of which stand alone just fine, but also link together to provide all the angles on all the happenings in the book. While Alison gets her chance in the first story to tell her terrifying tale, the second story gives the adult perspective on the same mummy-laced tale of despair. In the next story, her father fights "King Memphis," a supervillain possessed of rare and stolen gem. That gem figures into the next story or two, particularly when Alison and her friends have a real adventure.
Therein also lies the only weakness of the book I could find - "King Memphis"? There's got to be a better goofy supervillain than an Elvis impersonator! That clunked a little bit for me, but Torres only lingers on the obvious Elvis puns for a couple of pages and then quickly disposes of him.
Torres' story is fun, precocious, and adventurous. It's not anything that should scare a child. Yes, it's got a couple of thrills in it, but there's never any dramatic sense of impending death or anything that might scare a little kid. The book is just as great for little kids as it is for their parents, older siblings, and those of us who just enjoy a good, honest tale.
Jason Bone's artwork is well designed, easy on the eyes, and carries a great knack for storytelling. Picture the kind of storytelling you get in an Archie comic or a Carl Barks Duck comic or an animated Batman comic and you can get the feel for what you'll have here. The grid layouts are easy to follow. There are no radical page layouts. Backgrounds are present, the characters seem to physically occupy their world, and everything stays consistent.
The characters are easy to tell apart, and the kids look like kids, not adults or teenagers. The lettering, also by Jason Bone, is done by hand and has a wonderfully natural feel to it. It's not as clean or polished as the stuff I usually rave about. The balloons are sometimes lumpier than need be and the lettering can be spaced pretty far apart, but it just makes it easier to read without distracting from the art.
Please give this book a chance. It's not enough to pay lip service to the idea of getting kids active in comics. Even if you don't have a kid to share this book with, just help the sales figures and prove to Oni that there's a market for such solid comics. I've already been told there's a follow up mini-series in the planning stages, and if this book is successful, I'm sure we could get more. I hope so.
A COMEDIAN, EH?
ARM'S LENGTH #1 is a self-published effort from Mark Price, who won a Xeric Foundation grant for his work here. It's a 32 page black and white comic with heavy cardboard covers, and can be yours for $3.95.
The lead feature story is a sentimental story of a man starting out in the stand-up comedy business. He busts his hump every day working a day job while fighting for his big break inside show business. One day, he meets his idol, Bob Hope, and that provides him with the morale-boosting shot in the arm needed to carry on.
It's interesting on a few different levels. First of all, it shows us a bit of behind-the-scenes business of stand-up comedy. This is the story of a character who not only works on his jokes, but also studies the classic comedians to find out what made them tick and what made them funny. It's more than just coming up with funny material. (Sometimes, quite honestly, a joke is funnier because of its delivery than its actual yucks level.)
Secondly, it's a bit of a bittersweet tale - one coming from a dreamer. I won't give away anything more than that. But Price uses a couple of neat tricks in his narrative to show us this. He repeats a motif of smiling faces, eyes, and hands to help establish mood. The eyes of a hostile crowd all end up with their own inset panels.
One other odd trick: Word balloons encircle captions as the lead character tells his story. It's subtle, but effective. While quoting Bob Hope in a caption box, if Hope shows up on panel, he'll be speaking the caption.
Finally, the most important thing Mark Price pulls off with this story is the grandest illusion of them all: the lead character is not himself. This isn't an autobiographical tale. I didn't realize this until I read some stuff about the book afterwards. Price is so effective at sucking you in to his world and making the lead character so personable, that it's tough to realize he isn't speaking from his own experience.
Two other short short stories round out the collection. "The Artist at Sixty" is a wry look at Price, himself, in the future at a McDonalds. "Beat the System!" is a primer on how to score yourself some free food using the customer complaint number on food labels.
If you'd like to get yourself a copy of this book, just e-mail Mark Price, himself, at MrPriceman@aol.com for more information and get your envelope ready to ship out to Seattle.
MORE ON THE SPXPO
After Tuesday's column, I didn't want to leave anyone with the impression that the Small Press Expo is on the same level as one of the New York City cons, for example. This isn't a one-day show with a bunch of creators hanging around for the day. (Wait, the NYC shows don't have a huge commitment to creators. They're mostly dealers. Never mind.)
The point is: The SPXPO runs three days. Friday and Saturday are the days all the creators set up their tables, hang their shingles, hawk their wares, and talk to the fans. On Sunday, those tables come down and the panel discussions begin.
Unfortunately, because of my work schedule, I couldn't make it down for Friday. And because of my neighbor's wedding (congratulations, Steven and Kelly!) I had to jet out of town early on Sunday morning. That's why you didn't get the full blown coverage of the con that you got with Chicago and San Diego, where I flew out, stayed for a few days, and lived the high comics life.
Besides, as one who minored in American History in college (or "at university"), the lure of D.C. was too much to ignore while I was down there.
But I did have a good time in the brief couple of hours that I was able to make it down there. Maybe next year I can stick around for some of the high comics theory discussions.
SEE YOU TOMORROW!
Tomorrow: More Pipeline! Can't get enough? Come back tomorrow as the marathon Pipeline week continues with some more reviews and some responses to the decision from Marvel to hold off on releasing ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN until January, without any reprintings for the comic shops.