December 17, 2013

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Snapdragon Queen

Written and Illustrated by Carey Pietsch
Self-Published

A queen and her consort live in great harmony until a drought causes a strain on their Kingdom. Now they must make a desperate leap of faith to restore harmony, but not all their subjects want things to go as smoothly as the rhymes in this really cute and enjoyable mini-comic from Carey Pietsch.

From a very early age, I was infused with a love for fairy tales, legends, myths, and similar stories, which is probably part of the reason I'm still reading comic books over thirty years later. I think this infusion of such tales from when they were little kids is common among creators or those who want to create, and that means we get a lot of stories that fall into the realm of fairy tale.

Unfortunately, not all of them are very good. They either try to be radically different and fail, or just copy what has come before. So while I tend to read a fair number of stories like The Snapdragon Queen, I don't always end up reviewing them because the best I can say is that they were okay.

Carey Pietsch, however, is a keeper. I had a pretty good idea I would like her work when I did my usual flip-through, and once I read this in its entirety, my opinion of Pietsch and her work only grew. She is a very talented creator who should have a bright future ahead of her, if Snapdragon Queen is typical of her abilities.

Taking on the onerous task of creating the entire story in verse couldn't have been easy, but Pietsch takes on the challenge with gusto. She nails the verse almost every time, using an ABAB pattern across the panels of a single page. Only in a few instances did it feel forced, with Pietsch stretching things or using a less than ideal word to ensure the rhyme wasn't broken.Given the story is about 40 pages long, she's allowed a few clunky meters now and again. I came away extremely impressed, and wondering if she'd ever consider writing an Etrigan the Demon story.

There are lots of things to like about Snapdragon Queen, not the least of which are the choices she made for the overall tone of the tale. Instead of falling back of fairy tale power relationships, Pietsch shows that the rulers of this community are equal partners, sharing in the work and caring deeply about one another. It's the male character who falls prey to the evil spell, that only the Queen can save him from in another nice touch. She also shades them to be people of color who rule over a multicultural court, which doesn't change the story but also helps to give this story a modern feel.

Verse is fine and character equality is cool, but they're nothing if the plot and art don't work. You can be as progressive and diverse as you like, but if your story sucks, none of that matters. Pietsch gets that, and crafts her story to fit the feel of a fairy tale.

We open with everything in perfect harmony, then move into the problem that requires a solution--and an opportunity for a villain to jump in and seize power. Our heroine must fight back or lose everything, and is driven to the edge, seeing a credible chance to lose it all. But because this is a fairy tale, we can get the happy ending, with all involved a little older and wiser. It's a classic fairy tale structure, and Pietsch uses it to great effect, with rhymes that emphasize the balance between delight and danger.

Because of this style, however, Pietsch's art has to bear most of the weight of the story. She can't have dialogue balloons or long explanations--the visuals must do all that work for her. This is where Snapdragon Queen really shines. Pietsch's art, which appears to be be line art shaded by watercoloring,* works in harmony with her plot to assist in giving readers the complete picture. From the common clothing worn by the Queen and King (no special robes for these green-thumbed monarchs) to the looks of determination on the face of an exploring party (while those left behind, like the Queen, show signs of distress and apprehension in their eyes and body posture), Pietsch's linework and shading make it easy to see what is going on, even without the helpful verses.

The linework in Snapdragon Queen is loose, allowing Pietsch to move her characters around as she wishes and gives her room to exaggerate when it helps with the storytelling. She's best with her figure work, which is extremely strong. Ironically, I actually like the panels best when Pietsch is not trying to fill it with backgrounds. Between the characters, the lines, and the shading, they can look a bit too dark or busy. That's the one area where I think Pietsch could work on for the future, because otherwise, I'm a big fan of her style.

Snapdragon Queen is a wonderful mini-comic from a newer talent who has a bright career ahead of her. Make sure you grab a copy of this one when you find it, so you can be one of the people to talk about her work before it's gracing the pages of a major indie publisher.

*I say appears to, because if you'd asked me, I'd have sworn on my 4th World Kirby Collection that Colleen Coover uses watercolors, but it's actually inkwash mixed with digital. Technology is an incredible asset to the modern artist, when used well.