Monday, September 7, 2009
MINX 2007-2008 (The Good and the Trite)
I just found out that the MINX line of DC graphic novels was canceled a little over a year ago, due to retailers ghettoizing the line, not including the books in the "coveted" teen fiction section. Truth be told, I noticed while in Chapters last, that the MINX line was erroneously placed outside the Manga section (MINX was conceptualized and created under the auspice that increasing numbers of girls reading manga might want something different in years to come), outside the graphic novel section and outside the teen reading section. Where were they, you ask? Between the humour section and a section dedicated to bizarre cultural interests. Since each MINX tome (every book is 176 pages long; not a good way to create freshness within your line, guys) is about some different sort of girlie clique, I sort of get the last part, but humour?
So, in honour of this dead line, and to make up for thrashing Token last post, I wanted to rank the volumes in terms of my desire for you to read them.
1. Ross Campbell's Water Baby (picture above)
Easily the most unique, emotionally thought-through, subtext-laden story in the line, Water Baby tackles unusual, often unlikeable characters, gives them believable voices, and never takes the easy way out of a scene. Fights feel real and bitter. Unresolved feelings linger and hide under newer and newer blankets of denial. Truth stings, and deceptions surprise.
But the real feat of Water Baby is making lesbian characters ring with pure reality. By not having the characters parading their sexual orientation around with the unabashed freedom of a naked Pamela Anderson running down a beach with a silk scarf, we're allowed to accept them for who they are. Reminders are slim, suggestions and allusions are scarce, and dart away like minnows when noticed.
Brody gets her leg bit off by a shark. Louisa gets her life bit off by her needy, repulsive friend. Jake, Brody's ex, beaches himself on Brody's sofa. The object, drive Jake home across several states. The complication, these are not three people who were meant to be in close quarters for that long. Throw in a tart of a hippie hitchhiker (not the biggest barrier break, I know), who's attraction to Brody might not be what it seems, and you've got one of the most confounding, engrossing, enraging road stories ever told for the teen crowd.
MINX books are about girls falling in love. They're pretty cliche that way. But Water Baby takes that concept and asks "What other loves are there to fall into?"
2. Mike Carey's Re-Gifters
The creative follow-up to the book that helped inspire the MINX line, My Faith In Frankie, Re-Gifters reunites Mike Carey with artists Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel. Both books survive on Carey's intimate understanding that you need to play with what's expected from a story to produce an emotion in the reader that's unexpected. Frankie ends with a relationship triangle that resolves itself the way readers and viewers probably wish more love triangles would end. Re-Gifters delivers the goods by setting up plot devices and blowing them away, revealing the underlying themes which both the reader and the characters will ignore before the end.
A Korean-American girl, known as "Dixie", living in LA makes a life for herself as a hapkido martial artist. Things can complicated when her disciplined life and her private life collide and intermingle, forcing Dixie to re-evaluate what's missing from both.
3. Cecil Castellucci's The Plain Janes and Janes In Love
While a few of the MINX books are about artists (groan), this one pays off because the talent that the artists have derives not from their inborn, whimsically self-unappreciated genius, but from their die-hard willingness to explore what they can do. The Janes are a group of four girls from wildly different backgrounds and social interests, all named Jane, who come together over lunch at school and decide to turn their city into an art project. The love interests (until volume 2, Janes In Love) take a back seat to the girls and their exploits (dressing all the fire hydrants up as Christmas trees, etc.) drumming up support from the younger locals and inspiring fear and reactionary hostility from the police and the adults.
After having it pounded into our heads throughout many, many years of public school that you have to be creative and expressive, it's nice to see what would happen if some kids actually took it seriously, and went beyond the constraints of societies accepted codes to do it.
4. Derek Kirk Kim's Good As Lily
About equally as good as number two and three on this list, Good As Lily takes a Freaky Friday/Multiplicity-esque concept and puts it to good, philosophical, epistemological use. Grace Kwon gets beset one night by the inclusion into her life of herself at 6, 29, and 70. You kind of have to forget the whole time paradox issue of why none of the versions of herself remember coming back to the newly 18-year-old version and having this little exploratory journey, but there it is.
Another wonder is why the older versions don't take advantage of the time difference to, say, stop a war or a murder, or help us invent practical, personal use jetpacks or something. Oh well.
Kim deals with the reality of Grace's situation nicely, not supplying her with a barn or something to hide her selves in, or giving her a bunch of friends and family who would be easily fooled into believing she has two new sisters and a new grandmother who she never mentioned before. He balances the absurd with the practical, allowing his characters to act out and be goofy, reining them in for the serious stuff.
The real meat, though, is in watching Grace cope with her situation, as she tries desperately to keep on track with her life, despite the fantastic scenario, in keeping a failing school play from crashing and burning. You want to be Grace, and have that access to yourself throughout life, to know what mistakes to accept, and what triumphs to recognize.
5. Aaron Alexovitch's Kimmie66
A fairly well-conceived future (although I think we'll be a little further along by the 23rd century) in which the internet is a lot more physically interactive than it is now. Kimmie66 wins points for being the only MINX book to set the scope of the story beyond the little bubble of the main girl's peripheral friends and family.
Despite the futuristic setting and concepts, the story's relatable. Telly is an online vampire who gets a suicide note from a friend she's only known virtually. And when a little research reveals that this now missing Kimmie66 was the daughter of the head of one of the biggest hardware companies in the world of internet business, Telly has to grope for any and every hidden talent she possesses in order to bring the truth to light.
6. Rebecca Donner's Burnout
Burnout begins the next phase of this list: books that aren't wholly amazing, but are worth it for a couple reasons. The two big draws here: incest and an irregular conclusion.
Unfortunately, I'm lying about the first one, and the second one I can't go into without giving something away. Suffice to say, this is the one MINX tale that doesn't follow the beaten plot path.
Back to the incest. He's her stepbrother. It's a question that seems to be coming up more and more in the popular media (since the advent of Jerry Springer): is it wrong to love someone romantically if they're related to you by blood indirectly? More importantly, does it even matter when you're living in a tiny logging town with no social stimulation?
My favourite line from the MINX description, "Desperate and confused, Danni wrestles with what she's willing to sacrifice as she confronts first love, family secrets and the politics of ecoterrorism..."
7. Mariko Tamaki's Emiko Superstar
While MINX tries to appeal to different ethnic backgrounds, the stories mainly concern white and Asian girls, which is fine, but I think if they really wanted to bolster their cred as a multicultural imprint, they might have expanded their horizons a little.
Oh well, you write what you know.
Inferior to The Plain Janes and Good As Lily in terms of being about an artist, the concept is still worth looking at. Emiko starts off another boring summer as a babysitter when she stumbles upon the diary of the closeted lesbian mother of the child she's minding.
Combine that with Emiko getting spontaneously invited to an art show held (gasp!) at an abandoned factory, and suddenly the friendless Japanese girl is a celebrity. Only, the spoken word she's passing off as her own genius is really a closeted lesbian mother's diary.
The story does handle nicely the tension between Emiko's desire to be as original and innovative as the artists she falls in love with, and her fake presentation of her own genius at an age when being fake seems like the only safe way to survive.
My problem with it stems from the glamorization of artist culture, and how it fails to touch on the vacuity of it. In other words, it reads like someone who wishes they'd found such an underground collective of hip and talented wizards.
8. Andi Watson's Clubbing
Hipsterism is a difficult subject to portray. You want the hipsters you're trying to relate to drawn into the story, but you don't want to alienate them by not walking the walk, talking the talk. On the flip side, hipsters are incredibly annoying to those millimeters and beyond across the other side of their purposefully marked line. For hipsters to enjoy a book that could be construed as a cynical attempt to exploit their devotion to their hipness it takes a leap of faith. For the unhip, it takes patience. And resisting the biological urge to close the book.
Unfortunately, the above paragraph could be the lead-in for most of the bottom half titles. But that's MINX's deal: selling the same story over and over, to slightly different hipnesses. In Andi Watson's Clubbing the hipness is British slang. The book comes equipped with a lexicon before the obligatory collection of MINX previews (which makes each book about ten percent larger than they would be otherwise) to help you understand what the people were trying to say in the book you just read. I wish publishers would put these sort of things at the beginning. So long as they don't spoil the story, why wouldn't you?
The story here concerns Lotte, a trendy, iPod-toting teen who commits a felony (I'll let you guess) and as punishment must spend the summer at her grandparents' golf course. Teen romance, classic literary references, and murder mystery ensues. It's soooo relatable.
9. Brian Wood's The New York Four
The pretension should ooze off that title enough to let you know this is where you should put the book back down, but no. Ryan Kelly's artwork is too alluring and you read it anyway.
What's shocking is that Wood's other books (Local, Demo, DMZ), are all genuine, in-depth portraits of hipster life. They don't gloss over the surface even if they do glamorize it. It's glamorizing of the Tarantino variety, and that makes it okay.
What shocks me about The New York Four is how closely it resembles The Plain Janes, without throwing anything in to make it interesting. Should the four spunky girls from different backgrounds all join a research group for fast cash? Who cares? Should the main girl date her sister's boyfriend? No. But why not? Does anyone want a list of underground bands that probably suck, and they'll never hear or have access to? Well, now that you mention it...
If you try to blot out the dialogue and plot the book actually serves as an okay guide to getting around New York City. So maybe it should've been filed in the maps section.
10. Mike and Louise Carey's Confessions of a Blabbermouth
Question: should you indulge your fifteen-year-old's desire to publish a book just because you're an accomplished author?
Answer: what the fuck is wrong with you, Mike Carey?
Generally blameless, Mike Carey co-authored this exercise in misery with his daughter Louise, presumably in an attempt to capture the true voice of youth for a youth-targeted imprint. While most of these stories are about youths longing to achieve great things with their lives, they're written by those with the life experience to know what's important about that.
Aaron Alexovitch's art is not enough to save the book, but it is enough to draw you in, and force you to reconcile why such great art should ever accompany such disengaging writing.
The story does almost nothing of interest besides it being about a girl and her blog. Unfortunately neither the authors, nor the lead character, have an ounce of introspection to see what grand generalizations result in, and how being a social outcast isn't always the result of being awesome.
I should mention that if I were to re-review Alisa Kwitney's Token I would put it in the slot above this one.
So, it's pretty hit-and-miss (with the misses outweighing the hits in terms of sheer volatility), but one thing I will say for MINX is the range of body-types that are presented. In a world where many artists display no range of physical interpretation between characters MINX's leads are easy to tell apart, and defy popular trends for the most part. The result is that the character of the women shine through their body traits and you take them on as people.
That might sound naive or shallow, but I think it's true that readers approach female characters differently. Male characters are generally allowed to be unique individuals, but females are expected to fit into one of several preconceived notions. It's like the difference in costume variety at Halloween time, as revealed by the Sex In The City movie. Woman can be witches or sex cats, but men can be virtually anything. MINX, had it lasted longer, may have played a role in helping reverse that trend.
(And I'd like to note that the books from MINX that I like, I really like, even though I've taken a chair to the side of the company's head more than once. The top five titles should be taken as straight-up recommendations. I just wouldn't want you to venture into the shallower waters if you thought that one good MINX book will invariably lead to another.)