A comic loving guy from Omaha, Nebraska. Also host of Dan Dashly Discusses, the internet's 2,368th most popular youtube comic review show.
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Tomboy is the first solo series from comic industry up-and-comer Mia Goodwin, who already has an Eisner nomination under her belt. Cody Tromler takes the plunge into the chaotic world of magical girls and murder to tell us if Mia can work her Princeless magic yet again.
Tomboy seems like a very odd work from afar. Bright pinks and blues explode onto the screen amidst magical girls, murder, conspiracies and ghosts! The combination of a traditionally cutesy genre, like magical girls, and violence that should keep fans of Frank Castle happy, seems like a choice made only for shock value, Tomboy still manages to impress on nearly every level.
Action Labs might be a newer company and Mia Goodwin might be a newer creator, but they’ve both put out one doozie of a mature-audiences-only comic and that makes it worthy of a ComiConverse review!
Readers should be aware that some of the topics discussed are not for the faint of heart or children – unless they are very worldly children.
Addison Brody is typical teenage girl (boy how many times has that sentence been written to describe a story?) she lives with her constantly bickering father and grandfather. She likes field hockey and is obsessed with Candy Castle and Princess Cherry Cherry. She has a best friend, named Nick, who is TOTALLY not her boyfriend. Her life has been going well for the past 16 years. That is, until Nick is found dead in the river with a bullet between his eyes. When Addison finds out, off-hand, she is devastated, fate is funny though and on her way home she overhears two policemen talking about how they were the ones who killed Nick and his father; all for a flash drive with sensitive information on it.
Addison undergoes, what could be viewed as a magical girl transformation, and leaves two bloody cop bodies behind her on the subway. Now it’s up to her and her grandfather to bring the pharmaceutical company behind Nick’s murder to justice, without letting Addison’s father know her terrible secret!
Tomboy has a tall order ahead of it. Violence in comics is a frequently criticized topic, not that Tomboy is really that violent compared to, say, Prison Pit. In addition, the magical girls genre hasn’t really taken off in the US , since Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon left the airwaves. Mia Goodwin’s task is to work with a book about very specific genre of anime combined with Max Paynesque violence and produce an appealing comic. Lining those challenges up on paper spells out a book that shouldn’t have made it off the drawing board, yet Tomboy has one distinct advantage, an exceptionally talented writer and artist at the wheel.
The key to creating a book like this, that tries to blend two seemingly incompatible genres is to first and foremost give us a group of characters that we care about. A strong core of characters that we can latch ourselves onto and follow through the thick of the action. Goodwin clearly understands that and spends the greater part of the beginning of the first issue’s opening making us like Addison and her family. From her family’s bickering yet loving relationship, to her incredibly supportive friend Jessica, to Addison herself in all her childlike optimism (while it lasts). These characters have a very real human quality about them. Addison pouts when Jessica can’t spend her birthday with her, her grandfather grudgingly puts up with her cartoon obsession, Addison is teased about Nick; all of which shows us characters being happy and caring about their loved one’s well-being and happiness.
That is how a majority of real people act and it creates a situation where we aren’t left wishing some of the characters never bothered showing up. Every character has a role to play and things we can like about them and we are left wanting more of every character. This makes the tragedies that come later in the book much more powerful.
It’s not just real characters that make this book work, it’s the style in which the magical girl genre is injected into the the rather realistic and gritty world. The first time we see it in issue #1 is when Addison is grief-stricken by the loss of her boyfriend and simultaneously feels massive amounts of anger at the two policemen, who brag about stealing Nick’s half of their BFF necklace. These are things that would take a toll on anyone’s mind. The shaking and blackness of Addison’s thought bubbles and the sudden appearance of Princess Cherry Cherry paint a lovely muddled situation, where the reader isn’t sure if something magical is going on or Addison’s mind has shattered into a thousand pieces.
The second time we see the magic aspects show up is when Addison is trying to justify her precious actions to herself. She see’s Nick’s ghost and the Princess shows up again leaving us to question if the appearance of the Princess and Nick’s ghost is actual magic or just Addison telling herself what she wants to hear. The confusion between magic and reality leaves the reader wanting answers, which makes Tomboy compelling from Issue #1.
The last point that is important to note about the writing is that Goodwin attaches all of this to a rather simple plot (so far anyway) about a flash drive and a revenge story. That leaves the reader’s attention where it is desperately needed, on the magic and mental issues in the story. A simple plot to drive the story is a great idea for a book trying to make us question everything about the character’s mental state.
Finally, Tomboy also manages to keep us interested in the grandfather’s very murky past, which is a cliche in and of itself, but is portrayed in a way that makes sense as the plot unfolds. It’s not dropped on us. The only faults in Tomboy come from some rather convenient placement of characters and lines. The cops bragging about killing Nick, and Addison being in just the right place to hear about it, are a little too convenient for reality, but convenience can be allowed in a story to move the plot along, so it’s forgivable.
While the writing in Tomboy is a huge asset, the art is likely what will draw people in. Goodwin showed us on Princeless that she is an artist worthy of attention and Tomboy‘s art is even better, and may very well earn her the Eisner that she didn’t get for Princeless.
The field that this book excels at most is the colouring work, which is very important in the magical girl genre; even bleak ones like Madoka are packed to the prim with colors that would make a candy shop jealous. Goodwin packs in a few key colours really well, especially the pinks and blues, which are very important ones.
The coldness of the blue in the mask Addison wears in juxtaposition of the bubblegum pink of the text and Princess Cherry Cherry makes for a chilling scene. Then, there are the more subtle pieces of colour work, like the skin and hair tones. These may seem like small details, but they make the book enjoyable. Lastly, is the fact that this book has reds that are packed in so beautifully that Dave Stewart would be proud. Red’s play an important part in making violence in a book feel like it has real weight to it. If a pool of blood looks too pinkish it looks cartoony, which is a risk one can face with a book like this.
In addition to the amazing colour work, Goodwin manages to balance very realistic designs, especially when it comes to humans, no bits of anatomy are wonky. Faces are appealing in their design, yet not so heavily detailed that they distract from the comic. Then, when it comes time for something magical like Princess Cherry Cherry, we see a character that is cute enough to be ripped right from the pages of a manga.
Again, its the little successes that make the book so good, everything that needs to work does work.
Tomboy is a book that sets out to do something lofty – make a mature comic about magical girls that will appeal to audiences. Not a goal to be taken lightly, but through a combination of effective writing plot wise and beautiful art Goodwin crafts a comic that is enjoyable for everyone, not just fans of magical girls.
Tomboy was one of the best comics of 2015 and one to follow for all 12 issues.
Cody Tromler is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_Dashly
Tomboy is a book that manages to draw readers in with beautiful art and the promise of magical girl adventures. One of the best of 2015!