Tragic Relief by Colleen Frakes
$9 US, 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, 80 pages,
As a cartoonist, I can tell you that it’s always satisfying to get a drawing right the first time out. To pick up a brush, dab some ink on it, and make a gesture on paper that results in, say, a cute mermaid, is one of the simple pleasures in an artist’s life. Colleen Frakes, a recent graduate of The Center for Cartoon Studies, provides us with that feeling of spontaneity in her Xeric winning graphic novel, Tragic Relief. No doubt, she needed to go back and refine, redo, but her work wants to jump around and she’s managed to mostly control the illusion of a free-wheeling paint brush moving from page to page.
She’s also good with characters and makes us care about this poor sad sack in a fractured fable who stumbles upon one fetching beauty after another. Each is a half woman/half creature but that’s okay by him. But then each dies at the hands of his devilish mother. With simple bold strokes, Frakes builds up the tension between mother and son. The son is an innocent boyish hulk, pot-bellied with wild hair and matching beard. The mother is a little doughy clump with dark glasses that black out her eyes and such pronounced creases around her mouth that her full face looks like a skull. Can you say, along with Norman Bates, “Mother!”
Even the pages that might look rushed I accept in the spirit of capturing an expressive look. Overall, I find myself coming back to the book and enjoying little scenes on their own. This comic has no panels, or words, which gives it a sketchbook quality with each drawing doing well in carrying its own weight. All the better to go back and linger over a haunting scene like that of a fallen Woman-Lion shot in the back with an arrow. It’s a good thing that this comic has no words. They would get in the way.
The epilogue brings everything to a satisfying resolution. Maybe we expect part of the ending but the last scene, down to the very last drawing, adds another dimension to what is a very chilling little tale.