November 30, 2013

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Monkeybrain on the Brain: Avery Fatbottom Renaissance Fair Detective #1

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen Vaughn and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Written and Illustrated by Jen Vaughn

Avery is a young woman in charge of the local renaissance fair, filled with fun, hidden anachronisms, and a lot of sexual energy. It's Avery's role to keep everything running smoothly, but with an elephant on the loose and another eyeing her skirt, managing it won't be easy in this first look at what promises to be a fun series once it gets into further issues.

Jen Vaughn may be best known right now for her contributions to Adventure Time, but this is definitely not all-ages material. From the opening joke about the ladies preparing for the fest by showing a bit of cleavage (or at least making do with what they have), this comic very much imitates the tone and level of adult innuendo that you'd find at a flesh and blood renaissance fair. If you've ever had the pleasure of attending one (sadly, the one near me now is always around the time of all the comic shows, so I tend to miss it), part of the fun is in getting to be a bit more risque and flirtatious than you might be in your street clothes, especially if you're in costume.

It's clear that Vaughn has a strong affection for ren fairs, and that comes out in the pages of Avery Fatbottom. This first issue, while containing a lot of jokes and little bits that show the nature of our three main characters (Avery, her boyfriend Benn, and her best friend Gwen), is primarily centered on giving readers a strong sense of Avery's world, that of the fair itself. With Avery as Benn (and the reader's) guide, we see a bit of the sights and sounds of a renaissance fair. There are the drinks, the vendors, and the players, all of whom provide a (mostly) authentic experience, since there's always going to be some cheating involved for those who just want somewhere to drink a Miller Lite or buy a trinket to take home.

The best parts of the story are when Vaughn gets a little naughty. This is never crass or foul--everything is in the realm of double meanings and heavy flirtation, and Vaughn nails it in a way that's extremely playful, like when she draws visuals while Avery and Benn banter about euphemisms. An extended sequence about tail favors leads to the issue's climax, a nice touch layered into the plot. Jen has a great ear for dialogue and the way that adults who are a bit on the geeky side interact with each other, probably because that also describes her, too.

Artistically, Vaughn's style definitely shows her Center for Cartoon Studies background, with a strong focus on the characters and what they are doing. Every one of Vaughn's layouts is centers on the people in the frame, when appropriate. Our eyes are drawn to them, which means we can catch little things, like an eye roll, a meaning glance, or body language that reinforces the flirting.

Fans of Colleen Frakes and other CCS graduates will immediately recognize and appreciate the basic form of the art, with Vaughn adding her own touches, with thicker brush strokes and backgrounds that are more detailed than some of the other CCS grads use. We definitely get a strong sense of place from Vaughn's work here, which is essential to the overall experience.

Like October Girl and some other series from Monkeybrain, this one is definitely recommended but the reader also needs to be cautioned that as of this writing, there's only one issue. Thankfully, Vaughn ends it so that you don't need to read more immediately, but I'm sure you'll be left wanting more. I know I was, and this is definitely a series to watch as we move into 2014.