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Banana Sunday
Root Nibot and Colleen Coover
Oni Press, 106 pages

Banana Sunday
Colleen Coover
Colleen Coover recently moved from Iowa City, Iowa to Portland, Oregon where she spends most of my time drawing comic books. Her first major comic book project was Small Favors from Fantagraphics Books. She has done illustration work for several magazines, including On Our Backs, Curve, Girlfriends, Nickelodeon Magazine, and Computer Source.

Root Nibot
Root Nibot works at Powell's Books in Portland Oregon. In addition to Banana Sunday, he is working on a young adult series that involves some of the characters from the Banana Sunday comic as well as other novels under his real name of Paul Tobin.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

It is always a challenge to recommend recreational reading. What one person loves, another will find boring or even annoying or offensive. Even so, I can't help but keep trying, since it is obviously so important. Otherwise, why would people always be asking about what's good, checking best seller lists, reading reviews? But you know what is really hard? Trying to recommend erotica. Now here is an area of recreational reading where people tend to have wildly diverging interests and tastes! In this context, however, without doubt one of the books I can most confidently recommended is Colleen Coover's (along with partner, collaborator and writer Paul Tobin) graphic novels Small Favors.

Without digressing too much, I'd like to offer a few observations about porn comics from this bookseller's viewpoint. First, "adults only comics" are frequently vilified. I think this is probably because many people assume that despite the "adults only" label, they are somehow intended, or destined, to be read by kids. I think this attitude is probably only common among adults who don't read comics at all, because an adult who enjoyed sequential graphic storytelling (as Will Eisner liked to call comics) would never get confused about comics being only for youngsters.

It is also frequently assumed that only men read adult comics. I sell comics at many different venues. Most, but not all, of the customers who buy adult comics in my store are men. I sell comics at science fiction conventions. At SF cons, more of the customers for adult comics are women, but still most of the buyers are men. I think there might be a certain understandable reluctance on the part of many women customers to buy adult comics from me; after all I look like a skinny bear. It takes a while to learn that I'm not particularly dangerous. Heck, I'm sure many men are nervous about buying stuff from me! I sell comics mail order, and in this venue the percentage of women customers for adult comics is much closer to half. I also consign comics at a feminist bookstore, and while I don't spend a lot of time hanging out in the coffee shop observing who our customers are there, I think it is safe to say that most of the buyers of Small Favors are women. In both the serial comic book form and the book version, Small Favors has been one of the all time best sellers in the comic book department of A Room of One's Own Bookstore (Madison, WI).

Fantagraphics published eight serial issues of the Small Favors comic, and collected the first seven issues into two books. Then the news was that Coover planned to leave the series to work on a different, "all ages" project. As a fan of Small Favors, I was disappointed to learn that there wouldn't be any more, at least for a while. But I was enthusiastic about the prospects of new comics. Now, Banana Sunday has appeared as a book, after having earlier been published in serial comic book form by Oni Press. I wonder why Fantagraphics didn't published this project? Did they actually pass on it? Did Coover think that Oni would do a better job with an all ages book than the publisher of Peanuts?

Small Favors was similar to many or most porn comics in basic ways. For instance, the plots were not complex, and usually only involved set-ups to allow the girls to get busy with each other. Nor was the sex less explicit or graphic than the average "adult" comic. Coover described the stories as "girly porn" and they were Lesbian themed, but that in itself is not unique. The most unusual aspects of Small Favors was that the characters are cute, charming, endowed in only normal, average ways (thus, "small favors"), and unabashedly up-beat. The sexual situations are always consensual. One of the original conceits of Small Favors had that the main character was to be watched over by a guardian-imp because of her tendency to be over whelmed by her naughty impulses; but the little fairy, it seems, had lots of naughty tendencies as well, and also an ability to alter herself from tiny (thus, again, "small favors") to normal size.

The first thing fans of Coover's work will notice about Banana Sunday is that the character designs are very similar to those in Small Favors. While there is no reason for this to be a surprise, it is still hard to resist expecting the characters to sneak into a janitor's closet for a quick romp. Small Favors starts out overtly a fantasy, Banana Sunday seems initially to have a science fiction premise. As Small Favors moves along, Tobin and Coover seem to lose interest in the fantastic nature of the original story set up, and fewer references are make to the supernatural.

In Banana Sunday, Kirby Steinberg is a high school student, but also the guardian of three lower primates. She is transferring into a new high school, and her wards are to accompany her. This is of great interest to the student body, so Kirby makes several presentations to assemblies about the animals, explaining that they are the result of secret primate research done by her father. One of the first students to meet and befriend Kirby is Nickel, a high school newspaper reporter who suspects that Kirby isn't being candid about the nature of the primates, and tries to uncover the truth. The explanation which is eventually revealed is much more whimsical and fantastic than secret scientific research! Esthetically, this plot choice works for me, as I like comics that use extreme and unlikely situations. (Realistic comics? Why bother?)

Where I live, in Madison, Wisconsin "primate research" is a hugely controversial subject, a real hot button topic. Pioneering primate research took place here, and the university, scientific and medical communities in general have a huge commitment and vested interest in this work. On the other hand, there is also a large group of individuals opposed to this research, arguing that is cruel and unnecessary, as well as organized opposition from groups such as PETA. I have a feeling that Paul and Colleen don't experience this same controversial attitude toward primate research around their home in Iowa, given the neutral way it is presented in their story. If this story took place in Madison there would be protests! Well, maybe this could be background for future stories.

Tobin and Coover's storytelling here is very effective. The characters, human and animal, are charming and interesting. Kirby's main motivations are easy to understand, since we have all been in high school: she wants to find her place in that difficult environment. Nickel is an immigrant, and her particularly difficult acclamation to high school is in part responsible for her devotion to the role as a student reporter. The primates each have unique appearances and attributes: the brainiac orangutan, a spider monkey who is a flirt, and a sleepy, hungry, indestructible, fire-plug sized gorilla. The story is told with art, the character's dialogue, along with a lot more body language than usual in comics, even though it is a visual media.

Copyright © 2006 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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