Story, art, letters, colors by Abby Denson
Published by Green Candy Press
Reviewed by Brian Andersen
Abby Denson is one of those rare comic talents who is able to play both in the mainstream and indie comic book worlds without losing a smidge of her creative ability. Having written stories for both DC and Marvel (as well as other established comic companies) Denson is also a proud creator of her very own, very unique, brand of underground, ultra-hip comics - comics happily unhampered by mainstream superheroic requirements. In Denson’s more indie comic work she targets young, High School gay love in one graphic novel and then boldly tells the tale of an alien and a wheelchair-bound-teen finding love in another mini-comic, all the while writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, and doing pretty much everything but stapling the books. Her latest graphic novel, “Dolltopia”, is Denson at her indie best.
“Dolltopia” is more than just its fun, cute, simple premise about runaway dolls seeking refuge in an utopian like city (aka “Dolltopia”, natch). The book is also a deftly crafted social commentary of our modern society’s obsession with perfection, with the pressure we often feel to live conformists lives, and that driving need we all have to find a ‘home’ – ‘home’ being that comfortable, safe place where we can totally and completely feel free to be whoever it is we really, truly are.
That’s a hefty order for one comic to tackle. Thankfully, Denson is on the case. She smartly casts her book with character allusions to well-know, world famous dolls (Barbie, Ken, G.I. Joe) and in so doing Denson provides the reader with an almost instantaneous frame of reference - and a surprisingly powerful emotion link - to the characters. It doesn’t take much for the reader to be invested in the comic; we simply have to look no further than our own childhoods. I would venture to say that most everyone has had some relationship, either directly or via a sister/brother/friend, with one of today’s modern dolls. Surely most of us have played with at least with a Barbie, a G.I. Joe or one of those scary human-y sized doll heads little girls would use to practice their make-up and hair skills on.
Pulling on this shared social experience “Dolltopia” features a varied, colorful cast of doll characters – from ‘Army Jim,’ who ditches his packaged fighting attire for a rocking kilt and sassy tank top, to the alterna-girls Candy X and Candy O, who run the local Doll clothing shop – with the emotional center of the story sitting squarely on the plastic shoulders of ‘Kitty Ballerina’. Kitty is a hopeful dreamer, a doll who ditches her predetermined ‘perfect life’, colors her hair a bright pink, and hits the road hoping for a better place then what’s right in front of her. Kitty is anyone who’s ever wondered if there was something more for them out ‘there’ in the world. And unlike many of us, held down by our fear of the unknown, she’s determined to find out!
All in all “Dolltopia” is apretty great read. It manages to be joyfully cutesy, funny and sweet while also being thoughtfully deep and intelligent. This is the mark of a great creator, someone who can skirt the line between an almost child-like writing voice and a high-brow social commentator. On the art side - to the casual eye - this graphic novel may be easy to dismiss for its simplistic art style. Denson draws in a clean, flat, very paired-down manner, with limited details and very sparse backgrounds. At first glance the art may even appear almost ‘amateurish’. But to those who would skip out on this comic based on its more underground art style will surely be missing out. Where Denson may seem to lack a bit of polishing in her art she more than makes up for any roughness with her unabashed willingness to tell her story her own, non-conformist way. Denson has the ability to give each page an almost tangible energy, as though the reader can feel Denson’s love for comics with each panel, and throughout the entire graphic novel, her love and respect for the comic medium as a whole.
That’s one of the wonderful things about comics, and in art in general. All comics and all artists can’t, and shouldn’t, be the same. While some artists render simple, crude drawings to depict their stories, and others heap limitless details in a single, glorious panel, all have their place in comics. And “Dolltopia” deserves a place on any discerning comic reader’s shelf.