Max & Lily
Boyish girl Max and girly boy Lily crack wise on anything and everything in their comic strips by Kris Dresen. The newer ones that ran online (link no longer available) are three horizontal panels, while the ones I started reading, originally in print collections, are based on a 12-panel grid.
These two good friends (who would be awfully neat people to meet) discuss current events, including society’s skewed priorities, sexuality, politics, and perceptions, as well as their personal lives. The overwhelming message is that we’re our own worst enemies.
Without the bite of the gestures and content, the distinctive art might be termed “cute”. The characters have dot eyes and simple angle noses. Even without eyes (for example, one strip has both characters wearing sunglasses), the well-observed gestures and body language keep the characters expressive. The simplification is needed to leave space for the text, since the strips are dialogue-driven. They’re also very realistic conversations, if you happen to know people this interesting and witty.
Dresen establishes setting very well. In the first strip, the two are talking over morning newspapers and coffee. One panel simply illustrates Max counting her change, an obvious but rarely-shown part of the process. The everyday tasks–like buying groceries, walking in the forest, or barbecuing–keep the subject matter in perspective. Even when the conversations range far and wide, the settings connect the concepts to regular life. More people should think about things like how history is taught (or not taught) in school, or the stereotypes around disease or weight, to give a couple of examples.
I worry that these cartoon characters are better aware and active than I am. Still, they’re not perfect, as when a strip complaining about the hypocrisy of politicians has the punchline of one of the characters not being registered to vote. There are also more personal concerns covered, like the pain of dating. Some are even poetic, like the strip that simply lists words that mean “female”.
This isn’t the comic for someone uncomfortable with views of the world outside the straight and narrow, because the ideas are refreshing and unrepentant. Max & Lily is thought-provoking, intense, light, and fun. Additional comics can be found at Kris Dresen’s website. Dresen also illustrated the Manya series, written by Jen Benka.