Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Me And Edith Head" and "Flytrap"

Though the term "After School Special" conjures up horrors of banality for those of us raised in the seventies, it's the way I'd best describe Me and Edith Head. That's not meant to be damning with faint praise, either: Me and Edith Head is an artifact from some parallel universe where those television morality plays were actually intelligent, witty, and complex. In a scant 16 pages, Sara Ryan weaves a story about the importance of teachers, the resiliency and strength of youth, the power of the written word, the magic of theatre, and much more. It's a simple story, but manages to tackle a lot by virtue of that very simplicity: Ryan focuses on the events and characters, not on investing them with portentous meaning. In a perfect example of "show, don't tell", she trusts her reader to do some of the heavy lifting, and that's a refreshing attitude in any popular media, much less comics.

Steve Lieber's visual storytelling is as wonderful as Ryan's script, as he uses simple, clean layouts to convey a lot of information and subtext. In the middle of the book there is a four-panel sequence that shows the lead character's room getting progressively cleaner, and it's worth the proverbial thousand words in terms of her character development. Though it's a story about a high scholol girl, Lieber doesn't take any visual shortcuts by using a generic "teen" model. The characters in the book are distinct individuals, some of who just happen to be teens. (As a note: The book features characters from Ryan's Empress Of The World, but doesn't require any knowledge of that novel at all.)

Compared to the denseness of Me and Edith Head, Flytrap feels a bit .... light. It's really a whole different beast, however. Whereas Me and Edith Head is telling a complete story, Flytrap is quite intentionally an introduction to a larger story. It's like an extended pre-credits sequence that sets up the status quo, breaks it, and introduces a new one. While some characters seem a bit thin and exist only as plot obstacles, the main character of Maddy is fully realized and rich, and has enough depth to build a series on. I'll look forward to more, but might like to see it in larger installments.

Though lettering is usually a lost art for me, it's one of the things that most leaped out in Flytrap. The uncredited letterer pulls some wonderful tricks in scenes where Maddy's trying to talk over a tow truck, and where she's cut off by her soon-to-be-ex. They express pace, noise, volume, and emotional state all at once ... the fact I can even say that about lettering surprises me.

What strikes me about both these minicomics is how free they are. Ryan and Lieber have set out to tell the stories they want, without compromising that vision to account for format. This is neither genre work nor artsy navel-gazing, and feels fresh and unique. In the eternal quest for "comics for the non-comic reader", both these books (especially Me and Edith Head) would be excellent suggestions. To order, check out the website. At two dollars each (including shipping), it's less than a gallon of gas and will last much longer.



Jon Silpayamanant said...

It's been awhile since I read Me and Edith Head. And to tell he truth, I remember just breezing through it--I don't even remember why I was too busy to pay close attention. I've read so many positive reviews of it that I think I should go back and really re-read it now.

Mark Fossen said...

My first read was breezy, too. I think because it's not trying to hit you on the head with it's artsiness. It was only when writing about it, and rereading it a few more times that i really started to appreciate what a tightly crafted story it is.