Yes, it's a review of Greg Hatcher's students' comic! Can the universe survive?!?!?
Doodle Inc. is the anthology that the former students of Greg Hatcher's cartooning class put together recently so they could raise money for the class itself as well as various YMCA programs in Seattle. Our Other Greg wrote about it extensively a few weeks ago, and because I'm a
sucker good citizen, I ordered up the book! And now I'm going to review it!
I have a couple of caveats before I begin. Much of the art in the book is very mangafied, and I'm not the biggest fan of the "pure manga" style. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the way these young people draw, just that I find it's a bit of a barrier between me and loving the art completely. I've read more manga over the past few years than I ever have, but the manga I like tends to be a little less, I don't know, Sailor Moon, so I'm not quite on the same wavelength as these kids. Secondly, I want to point out that this ought to be review-proof - it's for a very good cause, and I would say you should pony up the five bucks for it no matter what the quality, because in a world where legislators have decided that the only purpose of school is to test the shit out of kids, programs like Greg's are dying on the vine, and anything that we can all do to keep them alive should be done. So there's that, as well. But other than that, I'm going to review this as fairly as possible, although you should keep in mind that I think it would be groovy if you could order a copy.
So, the book itself. It features a few short stories and some pin-ups, and the stories, unfortunately, are the weak parts of the book. Greg told me that he gave them a vague instruction to write something about their relationship with comics, and all but one of the contributors took him very seriously, so most of the stories are basically "I got into comics this way ..." kind of things. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the kids seem to have more flair for art than writing at this point in their careers, so they don't do much with the narratives. Most of the good parts of the narrative come from the art, in fact - the young ladies (the only male contributor actually writes a fictional adventure) do a very nice job showing the way their lives change as they grow up, but that's through the art.
The first story is by Brianna Edwards, and it's one of my two favorites in the book. Like the others in the book, she has a very manga-influenced style, but she has a very good touch with facial expressions that helps tell the story nicely, especially when she submits her work to "Mr. Hatcher" (who shows up quite a bit in this book) and doesn't enjoy his initial criticisms. She does some cool work with layouts, and she uses an interesting process to "color" a drawing of herself at one point - she draws a basic outline and then swirls grayscales inside the outline, showing her varied emotional moods as she prepares to open a college admissions letter. I don't know how she did it, but it's pretty keen.
David Lloyd's fiction is next, and it's not as good, unfortunately. Lloyd has an interesting idea for a story - a top chef who prepares meals for diplomats at the negotiating table is called back into action after retirement. He reunites with his former sous-chef, with whom he had a falling out, but they bury the hatchet before the protégé is called away on a highly dangerous mission ... which doesn't go well. Lloyd's idea is clever and his writing, while not great, shows some nice promise - especially as he has his main characters dance around topics a bit; Lloyd lets us make some of the connections, which is never a bad thing. His art is pretty rough, though - when he does close-ups, it's decent, but some of his longer shots have issues with perspective and rigidity. His rougher style seems to clash a bit with the manga elements in his work, too, so that everything seems a bit off. I like the idea of Lloyd's story a lot, but the execution is a bit lacking.
Aja Reb's brief story about her relationship with comics is next, and it's not bad, but it's pretty rough as well. Reb draws some very nice figures, but a couple of things bug me about her story - she alternates between good figures and sloppy figures, which seems to be a function of the amount of time she spends on each panel, and the lettering is very distracting. She hand-letters it, and her printing is what I would call "teenaged girl print" that you see, well, teenaged girls use a lot - very bold, with a lot of curves even when they're unnecessary. I've seen this kind of handwriting quite a lot from teenagers (mostly girls, but occasionally boys), and it's actually hard to read. Plus, Reb crosses things out instead of erasing or whiting them out, which is a bit annoying. I know this sounds like nitpicking, but when it happens so often, it becomes a problem.
The pin-ups are interesting because they showcase a lot of different styles that the stories don't necessarily have, even to the point of more abstract pieces by Lindon Schaab. Reb's pin-up, I should point out, is very good - again, it gets back to whether she spent a lot of time on it or not, and it seems with her pin-up, she took more time to do it. Then we're back to stories, as Amanda Stephens gives us one about her relationship with cartooning. Her art is rough as well, but she lays out her pages very well and is very good at expressive faces and poses - the panel of her playing video games instead of working on her comic is wonderful, dynamic, and full of verve. She's obviously much better at figures than backgrounds, which remain non-existent or very dull, but that'll come with practice. Her work has a lot of energy and a good sense of humor, which is a good place to start.
Rachel Townsend's story is next, and she has a slightly less manga style than the other artists in the book. It's still there, but tempered a bit. She also uses a different grayscaling method, although I'm not sure what it is (I'm dumb that way). It gives her drawing a bit more heft and polish, even though, like the other artists, she does figures work better than inanimate objects and has some problems with perspective. She tries some interesting stuff with the grayscaling when her character is daydreaming, making everything a bit smeared and dreamlike, which is an interesting technique. Plus, she draws a cool deadline monster.
The last story in the collection is by Katrina Varney, and it's my favorite in terms of artwork. Varney has a very clean, polished style, and her characters' acting is amazing (it's mostly her, as it's another autobiographical tale, but her depiction of Hatcher is pretty good, too). Her panel layouts are very nicely done, inventive but not too wild, and she really pushes the narrative along very nicely. She also does some nice things with point of view, emphasizing points well with as little space as possible so she can cram in a lot more visual information. This also helps contrast the panels where she opens up a little. Varney's not perfect, obviously (comic sans!!!!!), but she draws with a ton of confidence and humor, and it's fun to see.
There's a lot to like about these neophyte cartoonists - although I don't have much of an idea how good they are at fiction, their art, at least, shows a lot of creativity and energy even as there's room for improvement. I encourage you to pick up this book, not because it's the greatest comic ever (it's not), but because it's for a very good cause and because as young and raw as these kids are, they're still pretty darned good, and it's so much fun to see art that reflects these kids' passions and shows that comics are still pretty awesome. The link up there to Greg's post about this tells you how to order it, so get to it!