November 27, 2013

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Operation Margarine 1-4

Written and Illustrated by Katie Skelly
Self-Published

Margarine is the troubled daughter of a rich family that wants her to stop being a problem. Bon-Bon is a young woman she meets at a bar with a mean right hook. Together they're off on an adventure that involves vultures, motorcycles, and nuns in the first four parts of a story to be collected and finished by AdHouse Books in 2014.

Katie was kind enough to pass along these minis to me, and I'm very glad she did so, as they're a lot of fun, reminding me a bit of one of the 1960s "wild women" movies, except of course that this story is actually good.

We begin in the middle, with the first page introducing our two main characters. Skelly shows great ability to use black and white art to tell her story from the opening panels. The women are first shown as black shadows in what appears to be deserted landscape, with the exception of a bar. Our heroines wear contrasting clothes that display their personalities before they even speak.

The best thing on that page, however, is the last. Bon-Bon opens a blood-shot, weary eye, and we know this with just a few simple additions on the part of Skelly, like the displacement of the iris and showing her veins.

From there, we quickly backtrack to the origin of their meeting. Margarine has just escaped from another hospital that her family has stashed her in, causing embarrassment. When the man who ratted her out gives her grief, Bon-Bon clocks him and away they go, romping through the rest of the issues, which move between past and present.

What I liked best about this series is the fact that neither of the two female characters are willing to be pushed into a corner, either by male characters or society in general. While it sure looks like Bon-Bon has some dark history in her past (that may or may not be justified), she's very forceful and knows what she wants. Meanwhile, Margarine refuses to allow her family to define her, which is why she goes off with Bon-Bon in the first place. It's a really nice touch, especially as we watch Margarine develop her own sense of self as the story goes on, insisting on her own bike or wanting to freshen up in a desert pool.

Of all the little touches that make this series something I'd recommend, it has to be Skelly' use of eyes. From the cover to the final page, her characters' eyes follow you as you read about them, especially Bon-Bon. They're extremely expressive and always going to just the right spot. When Bon-Bon examines a gun, Skelly draws her eyes to be looking right at it. If Margarine is talking to someone, she's staring at them, not the reader. The size of the eyes in relation to the characters brings them to the forefront, but not in the same way as say a manga-ka might do. It is Skelly's only style, and it works extremely well.

When you combine those dynamic eyes with her panel compositions, the results pop. Skelly is not one for excessive detail. but the things she chooses to draw have meaning. We might not get a lot of signs that it's a desert, but we can tell that Bon-Bon is relaxed by the way she's posed on the back of the motorcycle. Margarine's resistance to her old life doesn't come in the form of page after page of story--we get it in her body language and again--those eyes that tell us so much.

The overall story of Operation Margarine remains very much a mystery by the end of these minis, and will presumably be cleared up (at least a little) in the collection, with its final installment included. There are people chasing Bon-Bon, and with money on both their heads, it's the worst kind of people. We know Margarine's motive for leaving, but why is Bon-Bon staying with her? It's going to be interesting to find out. In the meantime, I highly recommend picking up this series, which features an intriguing pair of women and some amazing artwork from Skelly, whose other comics I'm definitely going to be looking out for. You should, too.