Winter Beard (self-published)

wbCathy loves Mike, but how can she tell him? Maybe by drawing a comic about her feelings? This Xeric Grant-winning graphic novel is that comic, laid open for the whole world to see.

 

 

The cover to Winter Beard by Cathy Hannah. Click thumbnail for a larger image.80 pgs B&W; $6.00

(W / A: Cathy Hannah)

 

Confessing your love to a friend by creating a comic book about your friendship: the very idea sounds almost too precious for words. Fortunately, what could have been a cavity-inducing nightmare is instead a bittersweet, memorable triumph. Winter Beard won a 2005 Xeric Grant, giving Cathy Hannah the opportunity to self-publish her surprisingly accomplished debut graphic novel, which is available online exclusively from the Midwest comics collective Short Pants Press.

 

Hannah tells the story of her burgeoning feelings for her best friend Mike in a series of short comic vignettes, each four-pages-or-less tale capturing a moment in time. Collectively, Hannah doesn’t so much tell a linear story as craft an argument for her feelings, building the stories off of each other to explain the thoughts and emotions that she’s kept from Mike throughout their friendship. If all this sounds remarkably similar to Jeffrey Brown’s groundbreaking graphic novel Clumsy, you aren’t the only one who noticed: Hannah herself points out the similarity in the pages of Winter Beard, referencing Brown’s book as what inspired her to craft her own work as she wonders whether following in Brown’s footsteps is really such a good idea.

 

Interior art from Winter Beard by Cathy Hannah. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Though Hannah may have borrowed her approach from Brown, they have hardly created the same book. Where Clumsy was a look back at a relationship after the fact, Hannah crafted Winter Beard as the story was still unfolding, giving Hannah the ability to capture the thrill and constant anticipation of a crush like few works in any medium. We see the pleasant thoughts of victory whenever someone assumes Cathy is Mike’s girlfriend, but we also see the agonies in every reality check from Cathy’s friends, or her own wavering confidence as she agonizes over what Mike’s reaction will be if she can drum up the courage to actually give him the comic. In between the ups and downs, Hannah explains her feelings for Mike with the kind of sweet, random moments that could only come from real life, brief tales of apartment hunting, house sitting, playing Battleship, and farting. Yes, farting.

 

Interior art from Winter Beard by Cathy Hannah. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Hannah keeps her art plain yet clear, with simplistically drawn yet expressive figures (think Persepolis‘ Marjane Satrapi) and pages laid out mostly in straightforward 9-panel grids. The dialogue is what really shines here; not only do Cathy and Mike come off as fully-formed characters but, surprisingly, so do all the myriad of friends who pop in and out with little to no introduction. They’re immediately identifiable without being reduced to stereotypes, and their interaction with Cathy is what sells the book’s reality.

 

Winter Beard was created as a gift for Mike, but one thing we get that Mike didn’t is the ending of the story in the form of a short epilogue showing Mike’s reaction to the comic. It’s a wonderful sequence that ties together the themes of the work beautifully, and while it lacks the punch-to-the-gut ending that made Brown’s Clumsy linger with readers, it’s  still a heartfelt and satisfying end to a highly enjoyable little romance. | Jason Green

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