By Dustin Cabeal
I love it when the title of a book means one thing before you read it and something else entirely after you’ve read it. I’m sure that people who read the synopsis for Making Friends already got the double meaning, but I live in a strange little world in which I don’t. I mean like ever. In all the years of running Comic Bastards, I have actively tried not to read the synopsis of anything I’ve read. In fact, I didn’t even know about Making Friends until last week when creator Kristen Gudsnuk tweeted about it. That was all I needed to pre-order it. Anyway, maybe you’re like that too, and you’ll get the double meaning of the title after reading Making Friends, which you should totally do!
Making Friends is about a lot of things, not just making actual friends. It’s about the transition from elementary school to middle school/junior high/why do we still have both of these? It’s also about emotional development which is much bigger than just a focus on yourself, but focusing on the emotions of others. I’m not just going to hand you all of the messages of the book because then you’ll just read it for the gags and that’s cheating.
We start by meeting Dany and her family as they’re clearing out a deceased family member’s house. Her aunt and uncle are monsters, plain and simple; they’re monsters. Dany finds some old sketchbooks and asks for them, and after a fight, she ends up with one or two at the most. Eventually, we head to school with Dany, where she’s been separated from her best friends and feels she has no one to talk to in school. After watching an anime that is totally based on Sailor Moon, she draws the evil prince of the show in her dead relative's sketchbook… and the head appears in her room.
I’m going to go on a sidebar here. You’re probably curious about that last line, but with the mention of Sailor Moon, I must tell you a story. Sailor Moon came out when I was in middle school, at least in dubbed syndication over here. At first, I thought I would hate it, but I soon became an avid viewer. Flash forward to high school and my love for Sailor Moon was still present. While shopping at Kmart, back when Kmart was the only thing in our town, I found a Sailor Moon wand on clearance… it was still pricey, but it was on clearance. My girlfriend at the time said I should buy it and that I would regret not buying it and she was right. I didn’t buy it which is why you should always listen to your girlfriend/wife/husband/significant other because they know you better than you do and they’re always right. That said, I will never admit any of this, and the chances of that girlfriend or my wife reading this are slim to none… which is basically how marriage works, never admitting you’re wrong, but totally knowing that you are 100% wrong all the time.
So yeah, this dudes head appears and starts talking to her and is convinced that Dany is a princess. He has some grasp of the fact that he’s been brought there by magic, but he has no head so… yeah. Dany brings him to school with her and consults with him in-between classes when things aren’t going well. After a boy makes fun of her in class, she runs to the bathroom, bringing the evil prince with her. It’s here that she gets the idea to make a friend, someone that’s cool and will protect her from bullies, but is also in all the same classes as her. So she does, and that’s how Madison comes into her life, but with that… a lot of new problems that perhaps a teenager hadn’t considered before making a living breathing person.
This is some of Kristen Gudsnuk’s finest work. Her writing on Henchgirl is incomparable due to that being for mature readers and this being for a younger audience. Still, her humor and style are present all throughout Making Friends. Jokes like a kid in the background, asking if Dany is always going to be talking to her locker or when a teacher tells her to get to class, and she asks for five more minutes. These are the gags I live for when Gudsnuk is writing. Everything about her writing has been elevated since Henchgirl, and it’s exactly what any follower of her work wants to see.
The same can be said about her artwork as well. It’s cleaner, but still in her unique style which is recognizable at a glance. Gudsnuk’s artwork is more consistent, and overall looks better than ever before. All the cute moments in which Dany is gushing about the evil prince is adorable. There is a range of emotions covered throughout this story with anger, sadness, joy, confusion. You feel the lost sense of identity that Dany is struggling with. At times in our life, our friends play a key role in how we define ourselves, but especially during the tender years of middle school, and so much of that is present in the art.
Much improved is Gudsnuk’s coloring. The vibrancy of the colors, but then the uniformity of the color palette. That might seem like a bad thing to some, like “oh no, it looks like you colored this… in that same style, you use.” For me, someone who reads a ton of comics weekly and monthly, uniformity in the coloring is gold. It’s visually annoying to be able to tell when the colorist has changed and so to read 261 consistently colored pages is just wonderful.
Making Friends is frankly wonderful. It’s everything you want from comic books and goes to show why Scholastic is the most successful comic publisher at the moment. I’d much rather read a completed work like this than to have had it chopped up in issues. I don’t know if Gudsnuk has future stories planned with graphix/Scholastic, but I will be looking for them. Make no mistake; this is a comic book or graphic novel, whatever you want to call it I’m so tired of subdividing things because they’re all comics to me; it’s a comic book. It may not be from your tradition comic book publisher, but maybe that’s a good thing? Either way, don’t miss it. It’s great for kids, but extremely enjoyable for adults that are bound to pick up on all the subtle jokes laced throughout.