Woman King

Written by Colleen Frakes
Illustrated by Colleen Frakes

A bear is tired of losing what is his to the humans. It's time to take things back. He uses a young girl without fear as his avatar, and soon things are going better for the colony of bears. But things cannot stay this way forever, and when the young leader starts getting her own ideas, what will the bears do? Will they still follow the Woman King?

This a very odd little book. Frakes is playing with the idea of a savior figure (Joan of Arc comes immediately to mind because of the sword and the gender of the main character), placing an outsider human against her own kind in a war for the soul of the forest. There are echoes of these stories throughout the pages, from watching the girl progress over time to outside influences that challenge the paradigm offered by the elders (in this case, a fed-up one-eyed bear) to the fact that the final reality is not exactly as planned by all involved. The whole thing is done quite well, as none of it feels like it's cribbed from a particular source.

Woman King has some particular moving scenes, especially when the girl, completely unused to human society, reacts to the perceived cruelty of the humans. What at first is funny becomes deadly in a skillful transition that shows Frakes's range as a creator. I also like how she makes this a complete story while also leaving the door open just a crack to future tales. (Does anyone know if she did write a sequel yet? Her Tragic Relief webcomic doesn't seem to link to this.) We see our Woman King take control of her life, but there's plenty of life ahead for her to lead.

Frakes works in what I guess you might call the Center for Cartoon Studies House Style, if there can said to be one. She uses simple lines to get across her action, with very little background detail (mostly grass, trees, and rocks in this case) to distract the reader from the characters. Most of the action is in four square panels, with a few select splash panels that are used sparingly enough to have an impact on the eye. The art is not flashy, but it is effective. There's never a doubt about what is going on or how we are to interact with a scene.

Woman King shows that Frakes has a lot of talent as an illustrator. I'd happily read more of her work, and I hope to do so in book form again soon.