Written by Charles Meier
Chris Roberson just might be the bravest man in the business. Not many people could have made the decision he did, walking away from a successful career at DC over ethical concerns to strike out on his own, while being open and honest about his motivations. This decision, like any other, carries with it some very real consequences–his tenure with DC ended even sooner than he’d planned, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever work for them again, not that he minds. Roberson would elaborate further on the motivation for his decision to leave DC in subsequent interviews, highlighting such issues as sloppy crediting and how, while not so openly larcenous, the mainstream comics industry hasn’t moved nearly as far away from their sweatshop beginnings as they should have in the intervening seven decades.
Roberson has received numerous offers from other publishers in the days since; however, he’s opted to take things a step further, returning to his roots in independent publishing with the launch of Monkeybrain Comics this month. Co-founded with his wife Allison Baker, Monkeybrain specializes in digital distribution of creator-owned works. While the line’s seven launch titles all look to have potential, I’ve chosen to take my first look at this new imprint with Bandette #1. And if this issue is any sort of indication, then Monkeybrain’s future looks very bright indeed.
Written by Paul Tobin (Marvel Adventures) and drawn by Colleen Coover (Banana Sunday), this series seems–so far at least–to be an homage to European comics, telling the story of a devil-may-care cat-burglar and her teenage accomplices, a sort of Danger: Diabolik by way of Nancy Drew, with a trace of Tintin (writing-wise, at least; no ligne claire to be seen here). I say “seems” because I honestly have no idea which way this book is going to jump in the coming months.
In some ways, Bandette reminds me of Tobin and Coover’s previous collaboration, Gingerbread Girl. That book was a celebration/deconstruction of the “manic pixie dream-girl” archetype, unafraid to cast a spotlight on its darker elements while refusing to condemn it outright. This new series may be a return to the well–is Bandette a competent, self-assured thief not too proud to accept help from trustworthy assistants…or an insane, overconfident idiot in way over her head who will one day get herself and possibly several children killed? Or both? Time will tell.
Or not, as this may not even be the story Bandette wants to tell. This first issue sets up any number of potential directions for the series, from picaresque action to mystery-man police procedural to teen dramedy to spy drama to weird horror. And whatever Bandette ends up becoming, whether it’s all, some, or none of the above, you can bet it’ll be subverted all to hell. I walked into Bandette fully expecting it to be a kids’ comic, only for that notion to be dispelled on page three. And, you know, I’m not convinced it isn’t still a (older) kids’ comic–those two still had some of their clothes on. Also, underwear jokes.
This all has the potential to become quite the mess, but Paul Tobin’s writing plots a deft path through this narrative slalom course. When he wishes to do so, he makes the proceedings whimsical without making them insufferable. Though confident in her persona–and persona it pretty clearly is–Bandette can be caught off-guard (the aforementioned Page Three Incident), though she recovers quickly enough. And when he goes for realism, he never lets things get too dark, even when lives are potentially on the line. The dialogue is pretty snappy too–the contrast between the first “presto” and the last is clever, among other things (“this is called Justice. Or Larceny. One of the two.” Bandette’s satisfied with either interpretation).
The real draw here, at least for myself initially, is the artwork. Whether doing children’s comics, superheroes, or porn, Colleen Coover’s style remains among the most charming in American comics. Her wispy-but-not-fragile sense of anatomy works well with the overall artistic milieu. This is a Eurocomics tribute that avoids the trap of attempting to ape Herge or Moebius, utilizing a muted sort of Impressionism to create a Paris that exists only in dreams. While ordinarily I’m not especially fond of painted comics, Coover employs a tool missing from the box of Alex Ross and his vile ilk: restraint. The muted palette, delicate brushstrokes (I’m not certain if this was created digitally or not, but I suspect it was) and controlled washes realize a comic that captures the faded glory of an ancient city while still remaining vibrant.
I want to make something very clear: you have absolutely no excuse not to buy this. All the above described sequential-art goodness will set you back a mere 99 cents. The phrase “an absolute steal” has never felt more apt–I bought this comic all legal and above-board, no piracy whatsoever, and I still felt like I was taking money out of Roberson, Tobin and Coover’s collective pocket. I suspect this is intended as a loss-leader, but I fully intend to continue following this series even if/when the price goes up (hopefully not too much). I’m still something of a digital-comics skeptic–I don’t own an iOS device at the moment, and I’m loath to jump on a bandwagon liable to put Floating World out of business. I do hope a dead-tree collection of Bandette comes out at some point–I’m running out of places on my PC tower to scratch names onto and it’d be nice to have something to get signed. However, for those desiring to support independent comics, wish to thumb their noses at DC, or simply want to read a great comic by gifted creators, Bandette is a great way forward.
Bandette #1 is available now at Comixology.