Friday, 14 June 2013

Minx Reviews: kimmie66

This week's Minx review is the graphic novel kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich.

kimmie66 is a sci-fi noir about gothic teen Telly's search to find out not only why her best friend killed herself but also who she actually was. In Telly's world people spend all their free time (and the majority of their work / school time) online in virtual reality habitats called 'lairs'. The real world just isn't cool enough anymore. Once you pick a 'lair' you have to stick to it for the rest of your virtual life (let's hope you still like now what you liked when you were seven) and hopping lairs is a serious offense. In your lair you can be whoever you want to be (as long as it matches the theme of your lair) however Telly's avatar is pretty much her, which is great for us to latch onto her as a character but not so good for her when Kimmie kills herself. Telly has never met her best friend in real life and realises that everything she knows about Kimmie is whatever Kimmie wanted her to know, aka nothing real.
kimmie66 was the final Minx title I read (I think I finished it two months ago) and I sought it out more to complete my collection than because I wanted to read it. In retrospect that was a very dumb attitude but quite a few things put my younger self off buying it when I had the chance:
  1. I judged the book by its cover. I couldn't deny the bottom half of the cover looked cool but the upside down line art of Telly looked a bit rubbish (the shaded version inside the book looks so much better).
  2. At the back of each Minx book are samples of other titles. The sample for kimmie66 was not elegantly chosen. It featured some incredibly unattractive man and generally looked like the art didn't fit the pages properly (I'll talk more on that later).
  3. I was still new to American and indie comics (I only read manga at the time) and was very close-minded about art styles.
The biggest positives about kimmie66 are the characters. Telly's humbleness is very endearing and combined with her uncertainty she becomes a unique 'detective' in what is basically a noir comic. The other characters also fulfil both the roles of stock noir characters and internet user tropes. Her helper is Nekokat (the queen of drama llamas), her brother is the guy who thinks with his fists (and the kind of idiot who trolls any Batman video on youtube that isn't set in the Nolanverse), super smooth hacker Coil is completely untrustworthy but completely essential, Kimmie's mother (a silver surfer) is the boffin with bad intentions, and not forgetting Kimmie who is the mysterious femme fatale.

The sci-fi setting is very imaginative - the most creative of the Minx titles - but it's detective plot is standard...there is only so much you can do in a single volume story. One of the biggest qualms people have is the 'confusing' ending. I wouldn't say it's confusing, I'd call it 'rushed'. Aaron devotes a lot of pages to establishing Telly's world and situation (which is very necessary) but means the final third of the detective story, though still packed with unique ideas, does not have enough space to use the same level of detail. Cramming so much in will always confuse people. Telly's personal ending is much easier to understand and better paced. It is very thoughtful and relevant and as someone who spent too much time making and breaking online friendships as a teenager I very much appreciate it.

The art is love or hate. I'd say the more inclined you are to indie comics the more open you will be to Aaron's style. If you've only ever read manga or mainstream American comics you'll probably hate it. The characters are very stylised (Aaron had previously worked on the designs for Invader Zim), the most stylised out of all the Minx comics. The characters are stubby and the backgrounds are usually quite bare. Aaron uses thick lines and extreme facial expressions to portray emotions. Looking at the images without the words they can tend towards the ugly but once you add the dialogue they become perfect.

A lot of the pages either have black backgrounds or are white with extremely thick black borders - these look fine - but about 10% of the pages are white without thick borders, it are these that look like they have not been sized to fit the page. It is very off-putting as it makes the book look amateurish which, considering Minx was an imprint of DC just wasn't the case. Whoever picked them as the sample pages for kimmie66 in the rest of the Minx titles doesn't deserve to work in a visual industry as there were much more attractive and representative pages on offer.

Five years on from when I first picked up a copy of kimmie66 I've read a hell of a lot more graphic novels. The biggest thing to change is I'm much more likely to buy a mainstream graphic novel by an indie artist now than one with a more stereotypical style. Of course story is paramount but those artists with unique styles seem to understand and express emotion and mise en scene so much more easily than those worried about accurately depicting muscle tone and hair strands. I think it's natural when you first get into graphic novels to judge a story by the quality of its art (perfect art = perfect story, right?) but as you read more you begin to understand that it is the synergy between the art and the story which makes a graphic novel work, not the art alone. Flipping through kimmie66 you may find the art too blocky and the expressions too over the top but once you start reading you'll understand how perfectly matched to the characters it is and how enjoyable those characters are.

You'll like kimmie66 if you like:
Serial Experiments Lain, Paprika, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, dystopian sci-fi novels such as Brave New World and those graphic novel artists from the 1990s who were mainstream whilst retaining very unique styles such as Sam Kieth, Bruce Timm, Tim Sale and Mark Badger.

Also by Aaron Alexovich:
Eldritch!, Serenity Rose and Confessions of a Blabbermouth (art only).

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