Ultimate Kate or Die #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Kate Leth
Publisher: Kateordiecomics.com (self-published)
Price: $5 US/CAN
When I decided I would be attending DCAF: the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival this past weekend, I endeavored to familiarize myself with some of the cartoonists on the exhibitor list whose work I hadn’t sampled in the past, and one of Kate Leth. I’ve been aware of her for a while, as my local comics shop has had some of her mini-comics and this more polished comic-book collection of her web strips on hand for several months. I never delved into them before, but I’m pleased DCAF prompted me to do so. Leth’s work exudes a number of admirable qualities: whimsy, strong opinion, cultural awareness and openness. But what I enjoyed about it most of all was her brutal honesty, not just about the problems she’s seen around her in her life, but about her own challenges and perceived shortcomings. While the approach to the storytelling is different, Leth’s honesty is the same kind that makes Tom Beland’s True Story Swear to God such a compelling and personal series. Furthermore, Leth is definitely a name to watch for. While she’s had work published in such titles as Locke & Key and The Adventures of Luther Strode, she has worked lined up with Boom! Studios Adventure Time comics, and that will no doubt introduce her to a much wider audience.
Usually at this point, I provide a synopsis of the story I’m reviewing, but Ultimate Kate or Die is a collection of short strips originally published on the web, and few of them boast any real plot-driven content. It’s definitely more driven by opinion, but one of two themes play significant roles in most of the content. The most dominant one revolves around issues of sexuality, and the other is an exuberant love of the medium of comics. The earnest way Leth approaches the former is charming. While she acknowledges the ignorance that exists in the world, she really doesn’t come off as particularly judgmental, instead opting to try to inform and educate so people can understand and accept. The most memorable strips in this collection are in a four-page sequence about bisexuality, in which Leth approaches the subject in a matter of fact manner. It’s straightforward and effective while pulling no punches.
Balancing the more mature and reasoned elements of this comic book are the bits in which Leth celebrates the world of comics. Those parts — even those that present well-known, mainstream comics characters in uncharacteristic ways — boast an infectious innocence. Sometimes the innocence stems from a cute, child-like quality, and at others, it’s wrapped up in an enthusiastic and unapologetic bawdiness. Either way, there’s a lot of personality that shines through here, and it’s clearly because Leth has shared so much of herself in these panels.
Leth boasts a simple style some might perceive as being crude, but the simplicity and cuteness of her characters are definitely strengths that add to mood and appeal of the work. Her style reminds me of those of Junko (Cinderalla) Mizuno and Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley, with a bit of Kate (Hark a Vagrant!) Beaton thrown in for good measure. A couple of isolated pinups and panels here and there demonstrate she can go beyond the simpler, cartoony figures she usually employs, striving for a slightly more realistic look. There’s a cool Batwoman/Batgirl design that’s attractive in a Jamie (Phonogram) McKelvie kind of way. But Leth seems far more comfortable with the wide-eyed, stouter figures that dominate the book. Despite the simpler leanings in that approach, though, she still shows she can convey some convincing anatomy. The way the figures hold themselves and move works well.
Leth’s style (and the fact she’s lined up work on Adventure Time comics) might lead some to expect her work to be kid-friendly, but for the most part, it’s definitely meant for adults. Sex is not only discussed but depicted. That’s not a criticism, mind you. Leth’s willingness to touch upon what some see as taboo topics is one of the elements that make her work interesting. 7/10
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