Friday, July 22, 2005

Oni Love Can Break Your Heart

The Collected Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventure

The only thing bad about this book is the fact that it really shouldn't be so exceptional. By which I mean: why is something like a fun all-ages comic so elusive in today's marketplace? Or rather, more to the point, why is the American comics industry unable to produce them?

As recently as twenty or thirty years ago, something like Alison Dare wouldn't have stood out at all. There were dozens of comics specifically aimed at kids, and they didn't have any trouble selling them (well, most of the time). Now, of course, Alison Dare is one of only a few domestic titles specifically aimed at a general audience, and it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. Most sore thumbs aren't usually this adorable, but that's a different story.

J. Torres and J. Bone have chanced upon an interesting vantage point from which to explore some familiar adventure scenarios. Alison Dare is the daughter of both a super-hero and a globe-trotting archeologist, and as such her stories are free to wander over some fairly diverse territory without ever becoming too deeply entrenched in any specific genre. The freedom inherent in the premise is an example of clever world-building many modern creators might do well to emulate: Tintin and Donald Duck were incredibly versatile characters because their premises essentially enabled them to go anywhere under fairly straight-forward circumstances. Both Herge and Barks were free to set adventures at sea, in dozens of foreign countries both real and imagined, as well as any number of more mundane but still interesting domestic settings. Alison Dare seems to have the same kind of flexibility, albeit more generally informed by conventional heroic fiction.

But, gratefully, a multitude of sins can be forgiven by the fact that the characters in Alison Dare seem to be, for all intents and purposes, convincing pre-teen girls. Dare and her friends Wendy and Dot are neither young boys in drag or junior league sexpots, they are girls, with the girlish demeanors and preoccupations to match. This kind of veracity goes a long way with potential audiences. Kids can sniff out condescension or cluelessness a mile away. J. Bone's art does a good job of conveying appealing facial expressions and awkward body language -- if you've spent any time at all around the kind of gangly, slightly shy but supremely confident pre-teen girls depicted in this book, you'll see that they have a perfect grasp on the demographic.

My only worry is that a book like this won't be able to reach the audience it deserves. It’s a modest book with modest goals, not the least of which is entertaining a young audience. If they can get the books into the hands of said younger audience, they should be able to do good business. If it only ends up in the hands of middle-aged nostalgists, that will be a minor tragedy.

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