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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Five Choice Books of Small Press Expo Book 1: Woman King

By Max Evry

It is fun to imagine the whir of hundreds of printing presses and, yes, Xerox machines working tirelessly in the days and hours before the Small Press Expo kicks off each year. The two-day celebration of independent comics in Bethesda, Maryland attracts the many brave souls who put their hearts, minds, and cold-hard cash into getting their cartoon visions out to attendees, often made right under the deadline. Founded in 1994, SPX also provides cartoonists who generally spend much of the calendar year shackled to their drawing boards a chance to socialize with fellow artists and fans. It is not uncommon to see them take much or all of the profits from selling their own books and spend it on other titles.

For those attending it can be an overwhelming experience, with truly gifted creators often sitting at tables directly adjacent to self-publishers whose work, sadly, should only be used as crumpled-up packing material to ship more professional books. With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Is it a beautifully drawn title, or merely one with a nice cover? This series will shine the spotlight on five authors who represent the most promising emerging talents on the indie comics scene, including exclusive interviews where they discuss their process, their inspiration, and their joy in creating these works.

“WOMAN KING” by Colleen Frakes

While it reads like a fable in the Grimm tradition, “Woman King” reaches for far more complex themes of human nature than a mere morality tale. It weaves the story of a young child who is taken in by a clan of bears living in the woods. Determined to keep their land sacred and free of the taint of humans, they train the girl to despise her own people and use her as a leader in their war against mankind.

Even though the premise sounds like a hybrid of Philip Pullman and Robert E. Howard, the tone is far more nuanced, the images more gentle and haunting. This is a rather solemn meditation on nature versus nurture that just happens to be punctuated by moments of violence that leave the reader ambivalent as to which side is in the right.

“Woman King” won the Small Press Expo’s Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent, an award voted on by attendees. The recipient is given a red brick befitting its namesake, and on Sunday Frakes was displaying it proudly at her table.

Congratulations on winning the Ignatz Award! How did it feel and why was your speech so short?

COLLEEN FRAKES: Thanks! It felt...terrifying? Unexpected? Part of the tradition with the Ignatz is making the ceremony as short as possible so we can move on to drink tickets and chocolate fondue. That, and I really didn't have much to say. I'm not good with words, that's why I draw pictures.

What do you plan to do with your Ignatz Brick?

FRAKES: I haven't decided yet. I've seen my neighbor (Alec Longstreth) use his as a doorstop, and James Kochalka uses his to clean up cat puke. People keep telling me I should "put it on the mantle", but my tiny apartment doesn't have one. Right now, it's weighing down a pile of mini comics. That seems right.

What role has the Center for Cartoon Studies had in your development as a comics creator?

FRAKES: Everything about how I approached comics changed in my first year at CCS. They gave me the tools to start my career, and introduced me to a community of mini-comics artists and self-publishers that I would never have otherwise known existed.

"Woman King" deals with nature and gives the reader a real sense of being in the wilderness. Does nature figure prominently in your life or did the setting just come organically as a function of doing a book about bears?

FRAKES: I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and spent my teen years on an island wildlife sanctuary in the Puget Sound. There was a large deer herd, coyotes, harbor seal breeding grounds, and several active bald eagle nests, but no bears. I'm much more comfortable drawing dense forests than I am buildings or cities or anything with too many right angles.

Were you inspired by fairy tales/fables in literature or comics and if so which ones?

FRAKES: Most of my comics are based in fairy tales or myths. "Woman King" wasn't inspired by any particular story, but it is based on several fairy tale "types", stories of changeling children, people who change into animals or vice-versa, and stories about feral children.

Check out Colleen Frakes HERE: http://tragicrelief.blogspot.com


  1. Awesome Max! Thanks for posting this. Her artwork looks great, and unfortunately I never seem to make it down to SPX.

    Can't wait to read the other four.


  2. I'd love to make a book that looks like this someday. It has that indie softness that my books never seem to have.

    -joshua jenkins