Li'l Kids: A road to god knows . . . Adventure!, 2007
by Von Allan
Li'l Kids is a free minicomic that was distributed at the Alternative Press Expo (I have copy #264 of its limited 300 print run), starring younger versions of the lead characters in Von Allan's original graphic novel The road to god knows . . . Allan proactively asked me via comment just a few post ago if I would read and review his mini, and, I must confess, after reading his LiveJournal, which thoroughly, insightfully, and entertainingly examines his APE experience, I was hesitant to oblige. His analysis of the exhibitor/attendee dynamic at APE was so well written and precise, and in many cases so accurate and reflective of conversations I've had about the con before, that I was afraid of conversely disliking his book. In many past instances, I've had contact with a comic's creator after my review, but this is the first time such communication has come first. It isn't a good feeling to think that I could theoretically get to know someone only to tear the results of their hard work apart.
Fortunately, Li'l Kids isn't a bad little read at all. Mind you, I wasn't blown away, either, but my impression of this mini was definitely positively influenced by my impression of its author -- see, I know what Allan intended to do with this mini, especially by distributing it for free. While many small press outfits perceive APE as a money-making opportunity, Allan simply sought exposure, namely by familiarizing a new audience with his characters in an approachable way to garner attention and demand for his original graphic novel. Indeed, Li'l Kids is a no strings commitment to Allan's world, a stand alone tale that doesn't require knowledge of The road to god knows . . ., but still offers a foothold into its continuity. In the comic book industry, free original material is always a good thing -- this weekend's Free Comic Book Day is a testament to that fact.
Still, this freebie is essentially a seven page conversation about mothers and daughters, not without its intrigue but essentially void of any real action or progression. Now, I'm always keen toward comics that star children, since working with kids is my day job (if only I could get paid to read comics all day) and I'm often interested in how youth are written as characters. In this case, protagonist Marie and her friend seem rather sophisticated for their age, with little cultural colloquialism to betray a specific timeframe or setting; further, while Allan writes these girls well enough for the reader to forget that a grown man is behind the pen, they aren't definitively young women other than their ongoing discussion about their relationships with their moms -- an element that makes me wish I'd saved this issue for next Sunday! Anyway, a dedicated student of the fine arts might liken these girls' conversation to some modern Waiting for Godot paradigm, for while they essentially don't do anything, their interplay reveals a smoldering anxiety toward growing up, toward becoming the mothers they begrudgingly love. A geeky fanboy might shrug at the issue's relative inactivity. As a little but of both, the sophisticate boasts a moderate win. Good news for Allan, that.
Artistically, Li'l Kids starts strong with some modest sequential storytelling, losing some of its charm a few pages deep in favor of some talking head dialogue, only to end strongly again with a perspective-oriented splash. The preview pages from his original graphic novel in the back of this mini look promising, as I would imagine most of his efforts were dedicated to that project.
Overall, I enjoyed this little comic, but in a different way than I've enjoyed creator-owned books in the past. In this case, I read some of the personal opinions and perspectives of the creator first, so rather than introduce me to his work, this read offered a sense of finality and closure, a tangible example of the philosophy I know Allan implemented in its production. In that regard, I actually experienced this comic book in the successive order of its author's thoughts -- a rarity in any medium. That's a road rarely traveled, but always worthwhile.