Welcome, dear readers, to another week of comics and commentary at Comics! The Blog! We kick things off, as always, by handing out awards for the Best of the Week – beginning with two Award postings, followed closely by the past week’s Best.
Avatar: The Last Airbender will probably go down in history as one of the best animated series of all time. It was beautifully drawn and animated. It paid appropriate respect to several cultures who are often ignored or misrepresented by mass media. It was funny and smart and beautifully structured. But almost more than all that, the world-building going on in it was so deep and complete that it lent the series a great amount of flexibility. It’s why they could do an episode about earthbending pro wrestling or have a character get in a rap battle, and have it play next to serious emotion and drama in the same episode without harming anything. That’s a depth that’s continued to Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru‘s comics over the past several years, and is still going strong in “Shells,” the Avatar story that opens Dark Horse Comics’ Free Comic Book Day 2014. This time,Yang is working with artist Faith Erin Hicks (pick up The Adventures of Superhero Girl or The Last of Us: American Dreams!) to tell a story that works not just because we know who the characters are, but because the world they exist in is so fully-realized and flexible.
I mean, this is a story where Sokka and Suki go to a store that sells collectible
comics shells and deal with a misogynist owner and employee who don’t think girls can appreciate what is to them a man’s hobby. This is not subtle. It is not trying to be subtle. Because you know what? If there’s ever a time you want to be telling kids that they are welcome and anybody who tries to tell them otherwise is an actual cartoon villain, it’s Free Comic Book Day, when a lot of people are going to be getting their first comic ever. It’s a day of industry outreach, so Yang and Hicks going full blast on a cancer in the industry using beloved characters is nothing short of a pure and nonstop delight. Plus, it matches nicely with David Lapham‘s Juice Squeezers story that closes the issue, which is basically about standing up to bullies. Dark Horse produced a progressive, entertaining, beautiful collection of comics on the day when the entire industry should be doing just that thing.
But like I said, it’s not subtle. Thankfully, it’s set in a fictional world that has always done a good job at blending its longer story arcs and established characters with outright lessons to its audience. Yang and Hicks not only bubble with love of this world, but understand its look and its voice. Sokka and Suki have very defined visual “voices” of movement in the cartoon, and what’s impressive is how well the book’s team makes it work. As nebulous a statement as this is, it just feels like Avatar: The Last Airbender, down to the historical flashback and Cris Peter‘s evocative colours. Hicks has long been an artist worthy of attention for her dynamic choreography, economy of line and ability to capture characters’ emotions in subtle ways, and I hope this introduces her to even more people.
All in all, Dark Horse came out strong on Free Comic Book Day by giving out an all-ages comic with three killer stories by three killer teams. Yang, Hicks and Peter especially did a great job tackling the always difficult task of adapting one medium to another, and they did it in a way that rang true. I wish I could have given them money for this, actually.