DC Comics’ imprint for teenage girls, Minx Books, has kept up the quality since its highly successful — and extremely likable — debut title, “The Plain Janes.” The line is a fun mix of titles that opens up the perception of comics for a non-comic book audience, giving some idea of the breadth of the graphic novel form and just possibly assuring future audiences keep coming back.
This is good news, since comics have matured over the past decade and the best of the works — far from being the male-oriented superhero adventures most people expect — have been giving, ahem, “legitimate fiction” — as well as film and television — a solid challenge in playfulness, intelligence and invention. Giving teenagers something to read that invigorates their minds and speaks to their experience is the best way to keep them in the form as adults.
Most of the Minx output has not had the same calm tone as “The Plain Janes” — a book notable for many reasons, one of them being a delightful lack of histrionics while portraying teenagers — but has rather been defined by a cartoonish energy that takes advantage of the medium’s energy. — the best example being the new release “Kimmie66,” Aaron Alexovich’s cyber science fiction tale. In the future, virtual reality has been utilized to borrow of our current Internet landscape — social networks, posting boards, even a site like “Second Life” — and create “lairs” that everyone spends as much time in as they can, sometimes at the loss of “real life.”
For Alexovich, pointing out this loss isn’t a value judgment, but he does investigate all the implications of online relationships as he delves into the quest of our heroine, Telly, after she receives a suicide note from her best friend in the lair, Kimmie66. Telly has no idea who Kimmie66 is outside of virtual reality they share and the note only punctuates that point as she tries to uncover her friend’s actual fate— and a possible cross-lair conspiracy in the process.
Alexovich asks some of the big questions about the virtual social world that we are currently entering, but he does so while having a lot of fun. Action scenes and teen comedy are interspersed with themes exploring the ways in which people really do or don’t know one another, how much of reality and relationships are merely perceptions built from our own conceits and the ways in which identity is measured.
It really all boils down to socialization — the center of teenager life — and the settings and methods through which that pursuit unfolds. In “Confessions of A Blabbermouth,” — written by father/daughter team Mike and Louise Carey and illustrated by Alexovich — it’s once again a form of cyber futurism versus so-called reality. The story pits a hypersensitive teen blogger — Tasha — against an old school writer who is about to become her stepfather. Not an old guy by any measure, he doesn’t know much about computers and blogging and clings to his old typewriter
The irony of this conflict is that the typewriter and official publishing world become walls that cloister the writer from his audience and, therefore, reality. The blog — virtual communication though it is — represents something live and immediate and its informality holds more power by being closer than an arm’s length. Tasha is also editor on the yearbook — a print project for which she has little patience — and that proves a catalyst for action and self-improvement as she spars and bonds with her future step-sister.
Even in its embrace of the new, there’s something old fashioned about “Confessions” — it falls in the tradition of high school clique comedies — but its setting in a British public school, complete with the sloppy uniforms, adds some exotic verve for American readers. If you watch enough Brit-coms, you may well be familiar with some of the archetypes the book is playing on.
Such is the power of words, stories and fiction in the Minx Universe, whether on a suicide note or a teenager’s blog – or in family legends or cultural myths. In “Good As Lily” — written by Derek Kirk Kim and drawn by Jesse Hamm — the idea of life as a story with chapters is taken to its thematic and surreal extremes when Grace is faced with three other versions of herself — a toddler, a 30 year old and an elderly spinster — who follow her around and constantly interfere with her teenage life. This is juxtaposed against the reality of Lily, Grace’s sister, now deceased. Things to come are possibilities of reality and Lily only exists as a wisp as other people’s potentials.
In “Lily,” facing yourself is the same as facing your own story. A teenage sees versions of herself with regret, an emotion that many teens might claim to feel, but few can really feel the full power of. It’s in comparing this version of her story against the figurative specter of her dead sister that Grace comes to terms with the fact that one isn’t always the author of their own fiction, but it is a worthy pursuit to act like you are when you have the opportunity. “Lily does a good job at mixing hi-jinks with life lessons.
In “The Re-Gifters” — written by Mike Carey in peak form and lively cartooning by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel — the idea of taking a gift and passing it along to someone else becomes a kind of viral karma. The meaning of the gift changes with each giving and, with it, the situation of each recipient. In this way, a gift reveals the inner logic of each stop on the path.
The book follows Dixie, first generation Korean American in high school, ace student of the Korean martial art of Hapkido and child to people who lost their livelihood in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Dixie has a horrible crush on a kid in her Hapkido class that is getting her off track — and her impulsive tendencies, buoyed by her temper, are getting her in trouble.
Carey brings all these elements together with energy and wraps them around the notion of “re-gifting,” as well as utilizing the idea of “ki” — that being a universal energy that binds everyone and everything — in order to give power to a circular motion of good feeling. That is, the person who gave the gift originally, if they gave it with honest intentions, will benefit in the end from the re-gifting — it will return and energize the original giver with “ki” when they most need it, it seems.
The book is not overrun with new age or Eastern philosophies — these are merely the backs on which the characters intermingle in the plot. Mostly, it’s loud teenage fun, as Dixie learns about responsibility to others and, also, how to be a gracious warrior. There’s a lot of energy in this book and, as a character, Dixie leaps out of the pages.
The strength of Minx is that its works examine the life of teen-agers on several levels — the books will mean one thing to a 15-year old, but the stories and ideas can be revisited for years to come and will continued to resonate. The line may be marketed to teens, but its creativity rises above any marketing plan.