Bets Are Off/Cakewalk Review

One of the many items I picked up at Comic-Con was this little gem. Creator Nate Powell recently won the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist and his awesome Swallow Me Whole (which I reviewed for Extra Sequential #3) deservedly won the Eisner at the Con in July. With this self-released 32 page zine, you’ll find two tales, in a flip book format, adressing similar youth uncertainty as seen in Swallow.

Powell, who expands his cool factor by being in a band called Universe, has such a distinctive style that colour seems just unnecessary. The wonderfully fluid lines, the slightly sketchy textures and the abandonment of typical panel borders that show in his work add to the meandering narrative that blurs fiction and fantasy.

Cakewalk/Bets Are Off

Cakewalk is written by Rachel Bormann and is certainly the highlight. Young Sara puts charcoal on her face and dresses up like Aunt Jemima, an African-American stereotype from America’s less tolerant roots. Now, being an Aussie I’m only vaguely familar with the association of the name (and my countrymen’s recent Hey, Hey It’s Saturday black-face sketch isn’t helping to educate us), so perhaps Americans may bring more emotional content upon reading this short tale. Apparently the term Cakewalk refers to a dance done by slaves in plantations in the 1800s. However, there’s no prior info necessary to enjoy this tale. Powell uses so few lines to such great effect that you can’t help but feel sorry for Sara and the rude awakening she receives from her students and teachers. She only wanted to be unique and daring like the character she’s dressed as, but amongst the vampires and Ninja Turtles she just comes off as an accidental racist. Bormann scripts it perfectly, chronicling the tragic steps of a young girl’s descent from naivete to adult truth.

On the flipside is Bets Are Off, all by Powell. Whereas he uses a lot of white in the Cakewalk pages, Bets is filled with black. The 9 page tale follows a young couple leaving home and is based on a song entitled The Get-Away by Pretty Girls Make Graves. It’s not as powerful as Cakewalk, but the lyrical dialogue gives it a certain emotional resonance.

If you’re a fan of Jeff Lemire’s work (The Essex County Trilogy, Sweet Tooth) you’ll find anything by Powell hard to resist. Both men show an uncanny ability to make only a few pages land with a thud. For more of Powell’s work, check out his awesomely-named website.

You can grab the Cakewalk/Bets Are off flipbook for only $2.50 from Microcosm Publishing.

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