Lynda Berry’s The Freddie Stories
The Freddie Stories is a collection of four-panel stories involving the mentally-scarred little boy character named Freddie, and the countless and continuous predicaments he winds up in. Many themes are explored with this simplistic design of storytelling, such as trauma, parental neglect, race relations, and basically, tragedy altogether. It is truly amazing how these elements can be explored through the basic ‘doot-doot-doot-doot’ comic storytelling.
While the art seems crude and amateur, Lynda Berry uses her style to give the piece as a whole a more child-like approach. This aspect makes the brutal situations such as the house burning down, and Freddie’s skeletal hallucinations, more traumatic in atmosphere. It is an unspoken rule in storytelling, that in order to make something seem more dramatic, add a child. Since the main character is a child, it works very well, pulling on the readers’ emotions.
Of course, art like this, with dramatic scenes and traumatic characters, needs some comedy to lighten up the tone. No reader really wants to be thrown in the depth of Hell and be burned forever. Berry seems to know this, and deals with the grotesque and dark with dark humor, like Mr. File’s nose spray. This gives the readers a break from the dramatic tension, and it doesn’t drop the overbearing tone. There are sad moments, and funny sad moments.
As a fan of Will Eisner and Dave Gibbons/Alan Moore, I have to say my instinctual feeling from reading a graphic novel is thwarted. Usually, graphic novels give an equal balance in written words, and drawn emotions/explanations in order to make a great reading experience that uses both parts of the brain. I did not get this feeling from The Freddie Stories. I enjoyed the writing, and I enjoyed the art, but where it fell short was how dependent the drawings were to the words. It seems Berry is more of a writer than an artist, which I understand completely, but the art needs to have more of an effect on the words in order for me to absorb it the way where it completely absorbs me. This idea is mainly the difference between illustrated books and graphic novels.
To contradict myself, there is a fantastic example of what I mean on pages, 50-51 in the four panels titled, “Overheard.” In panel three, it shows Glenn the Spaceman by himself, and panel four shows Freddie surrounded by a large, darkened crowd of other kids. The disconnect between panel three and panel four work well with the comparison of Glenn being alone and Freddie being surrounded to bring out more emotion to the words; “ ‘I’m not his friend,’ I said, ‘I just know him.” It was true. But if I had known he was standing right there, I never would have said it” (51). The book had moments like this, but since every four panels are supposed to hold a single point of the story, I think there should’ve been more visual-written mastering. Many comic writers use the space between panels to execute the emotional hold of a story.