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Review time! with Dixie Vixens: A Lit Cigarette volume 1

by  in Comic News Comment
Review time! with <i>Dixie Vixens: A Lit Cigarette</i> volume 1

“But it’s a matter of time ’til you get yours, and I get mine; it might not be me but you’re gonna answer to somebody”

Dixie Vixens is the second book I’ve gotten from Creative Mind Energy, a family publishing company, and both have been pretty good so far.

Adrian Wassel, one co-founder, writes this, while Nathan Gooden (another co-founder) and Michael Colangelo are credited as artists, although Alex Filer is credited with “layout design,” so I’m not sure who does what (both Gooden and Colangelo studied animation, so I guess it really is more of a team effort for this comic). The story is credited to the founders of CME – Adrian, Damian, and Damian Jr. Wassel and Gooden, while Deron Bennett letters this. So there are a lot of cooks, but the broth, so far, isn’t spoiled! The book is “Part One,” unfortunately (“unfortunate” only because I always worry about new publishing companies not lasting long enough to finish their stories), and it’s $14.95.

Dixen Vixens is a frustrating book, because it’s only Part One, so Wassel hasn’t had much time to develop the characters, but there’s a lot of potential and the book looks great, so I’m willing to cut it some slack. The previous CME book I got, Gifted, has some of the same problems (it’s also “Part One”), which is why I hope that the company can keep going, because it’s annoying having a decent-yet-somewhat-unfulfilling beginning and never get more of it.

The elements in place – three nubile-yet-diverse recent college graduates, a bunch of racist rednecks, two Latinos about to be murdered, and a dark, lonely forest – are certainly both clichéd and potentially interesting, but so far, this is all set-up. We have Kat, the Southern belle sexpot; Alley, the pragmatic city girl; and Darcy, the “responsible” one, although Wassel does a really good job with the dialogue to show that they all belie or play with the stereotypes and through the course of the book they become pretty interesting characters. The two Latinos, Ricardo and Luis, aren’t in the book as much, but Wassel does a fairly decent job making them well-rounded characters before they become damsels in distress. The racist sheriff and his Klan are cardboard villains right now, but who knows what’s going to happen with them. The sheriff and one of his pals drag Luis and Ricardo from their car and into the woods, where they have an old-fashioned cross-burning going. Our three heroines, who are touring the South after graduation to get a sense of what they want to do next, foolishly drive onto a gravel road and crash their car to avoid a deer, and they decide to hike down the road to find help and accidentally come across the Klan.

Darcy carries a fancy camera (I can’t find if they say she’s a journalism or photography major, but she has a fancy camera), and when they come across the Klan, she takes several pictures before one of the men hears her and goes looking for her. They escape, but now the sheriff is on the case, and things don’t look good for our trio. Unfortunately, that’s when the book ends.

The best part of the book is when Wassel focuses on the three women, because he takes his time making them actual characters, which is nice. Kat uses her sex appeal to get directions (and some extra gas) out of a hapless 16-year-old boy at a gas station, but she’s self-aware about the way she looks and knows the effect she has on men, even though she also says she’s just a well-mannered Southern girl. Later, she tells the others about how her father taught her to shoot (which certainly won’t be important later in the series, right?) and says she was a tomboy before “these” showed up as she squeezes her large breasts. It’s a funny moment, because it again shows that she’s self-aware about how she looks and she just rolls with it. Alley is the cynical Brooklynite, who thinks walking through the forest late at night is monumentally stupid, while Darcy wants to believe she’s the most mature of the trio, as she has worked overseas in a troubled area and tries to be the most together of all of them because she takes responsibility for everything, but she’s also a bit “self-righteous,” as Alley points out, and she’s a bit more insecure than she puts on.

The girls’ insecurity is the most interesting part of the book, actually, as they’re all entering the “real world” and none of them feel confident about their prospects or even their looks. They’re all gorgeous, but Kat thinks the other two are “better” than she is because they’re skinny and she’s curvy, so she’s going to get fat. Alley doesn’t have any job prospects, while Darcy feels that her photography might not be “important” enough. I hope that Wassel keeps this from being too overt, because it’s a fascinating take on people who are leaving the relative comfort of school and losing any “safety net.” Most people, I would imagine, who leave college have some anxiety about what they’re going to do next, and Wassel does a good job with that. With the three young ladies, it just happens to coincide with a Klan meeting.

The art in the book is terrific, and I really do wonder how it’s split up. The setting is really nice, although the woods don’t look quite as thick as they’re supposed to be, which is odd. Other than that, we get a good sense of the isolation of the characters, as signs of civilization are limited to a few cars and the gas station on the first few pages.

The lines are long and sleek, making the action move very nicely, as Gooden’s and Colangelo’s backgrounds in animation come to the fore clearly. They use nice curved lines to make the characters look and move realistically, and the violence, although confined to a few pages, is brutal and personal. The artists use blacks very well to hood the eyes of the Klan members, making them far more sinister looking, and to silhouette the figures and the cross, which are surrounded by flames, backlighting it eerily. Of course, the women are beautiful, but in different ways that reflect their personalities. Kat wears a flimsy tank top and cut-offs, and she deliberately accentuates her breasts when she’s talking to the teenage gas station attendant. She has big, flouncy, blonde hair, which seems fitting. Alley is slimmer, with a fierce short haircut, and she wears a slightly (very slightly) longer skirt than Kat’s shorts and more of a shirt. Darcy wears long jeans and even more of a shirt, and the artists give her serious, black hair and a sensible but still sexy cut. They do a terrific job with the way these ladies react to each other and the events that occur during the course of the book – Kat plays up her sexiness to ridiculous degrees when she talks to the attendant, but when she talks about how much more attractive the other two are, her face is a bit crestfallen. Darcy’s anger at Alley’s dismissiveness is real, and her fear when she sees what’s happening is done well, but the artists are also smart enough to show how her body language changes when she switches to “photographer” mode – she puts her fear out of her mind temporarily and gets pictures of the atrocity of the Klan meeting. When a scumbag chases them through the woods, the artists do a really nice job raising the tension, something they did earlier when the bad guys were chasing Luis and Ricardo.

The coloring on the book is tremendous, too, as it’s all watercolors, with the artists using one color per panel. A lot of the setting is painted in with no inking lines, so the forest becomes eerie and almost ethereal. The artists use whites really well, too, to create headlight beams that fall across faces, creating purple or blue shadows as contrast. They use whites to create cones of light, cutting through the watercolors, highlighting the flashes of the sheriff’s siren and the merciless headlights. The biggest problem, honestly, is that the night isn’t dark enough – the palette doesn’t really change too much from daytime to nighttime, and even the choices of colors don’t shift very much – during the night, we still get some yellow panels, which is a bit odd. We know it’s night, but only because the characters tell us that it’s night. It’s strange, but it doesn’t ruin the artwork at all.

I’m already looking forward to the next volume of CME’s first book, Gifted, but I’m a bit more excited about this comic, because it feels rawer than that one (although Gifted is pretty good, too). If you haven’t gotten CME’s comics yet, this is a good place to start … with the caveat, of course, that it’s not a complete story. I feel confident enough in this volume that the writers will do better making the characters other than the main ones more interesting, and I trust the art will continue to look wonderful. I’m looking forward to more of this series!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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