Writer: Frankee White
Illustrator: Kat Baumann
20 Fists #1, cover, self-published, White/Baumann
WHAT IS IT?
20 Fists is an upcoming, self-published Action/Romance OGN consisting of 5 chapters over 3 black-and-white issues, before the graphic novel is published. The chapters mentioned above are 3 "rounds," where the action mainly takes place, and 2 "interludes" where the romance backstory is explored.
This review covers the first issue, which collects the first two chapters, Round 1, and Interlude 1.
20 Fists is like a '70s New York Teen Gang film, like The Wanderers or The Warriors, meets an early 2000s "will they won't they" rom-com, but gay.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The No Names, led by quiet and mild Chel, and The Big Coats, led by the loud and punky Billie, are two rival fist-fighting gangs. The gangs can't stand each other even a bit, and whenever both groups are in the same place, there's no way there won't be a fight.
But there's something more going on with Chel & Billie. Some eerie tension between the two that's different from the rest of the group's. Specifically, they have a past. Just one month ago, they were a happy couple.
So what happened to get them to where they are now?
The story. The story beats are done perfectly, putting the reader under the same tension the characters are feeling in Round 1, and getting them to invest in the relationship in Interlude 1.
The dialogue. Frankee White writes truly fun dialogue that flows well, and each character has their own unique voice (not in a Mark Twain way, but in a Brubaker or Walden way where you could tell who's saying what even if you didn't see who indeed was saying it).
The art. Baumann is INCREDIBLE. There are panels where you can tell what White wrote for the description and in theory, it shouldn't work. Maybe it's where a script editor would have suggested adding a panel in between or would recommend changing the previous panel to make it so that the artist could successfully draw the desired action, for example. Baumann manages to make those panels work just by sheer talent and vision. She also manages to masterfully draw both the action-oriented fight scenes and the more grounded scenes of romance to have different tones, which showcases her range.
The black & white. I'm typically not a fan of black & white comics. I firmly believe that color always helps get the emotions across to the reader majorly, and that every comic will be better in color, ONLY MAYBE UNLESS the art is specifically drawn to work better in black and white than it would have in color. So when reading 20 Fists, I thought to myself "WOW, Baumann understands so well how to make a black-and-white comic work, how to make it so that it doesn't need color. So imagine my surprise when I contacted White after reading the comic, AND HE SAID THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PLANNED TO BE IN COLOR, AND THE FINISHED OGN INDEED WILL BE IN COLOR, AND THAT THEY JUST DECIDED TO PUT OUT THE ISSUES IN B&W SO KAT CAN FINISH UP THE LINEART OF THE FUTURE ISSUES FASTER, INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON DOING THE COLOURING NOW… Kat Baumann you are incredible.
The lettering. I would call DC Hopkins a rising star letterer. They're still fairly new, but they're great, they're creative, they never put out generic stuff, and they're going on to work on big stuff for sure. DC Hopkins is the next Ariana Maher in my eyes, who only about 2-3 years ago was a newcomer and now has become my favorite letterer. And here in 20 Fists, Hopkins does a typeface that flows in so incredibly well with Baumann's art style that you'd think Baumann did the lettering. I hope they keep working together.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
The character introductions. There are none. You get to hear Chel and Billie's names quite a few times because they're the story's focus, and that is mostly it. I had to read it a few times to see the gang names even, and most other members aren't even mentioned by name. They're just there, and sometimes they talk, and when they do, the dialogue is written well for sure and you can tell the characters have been built in detail, but still we aren't given the said details, and so we know nothing about the characters.
The pacing of Round 1. Because it's mostly silent, the panels drawn give the tension well, but the build up to the action goes too fast, because there's mostly nothing to read. This especially hurts the book because, when there is something to read, it's good, so you end up craving some sort of secondary narration most of the time during Round 1. Chel monologuing a bit could've helped the book read much better, no matter what it was about really. Maybe it could've been character introductions of the No Names, maybe it could've been about Billie, or the Big Coats, or she could've gone into a Matt Wagner-esque talk about a subject that ends up relating to the second chapter. Anything, honestly, would've helped. This is a really good book that could've easily been an even greater one.
20 Fists #1, page 4, self-published, White/Baumann
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Fun action and even more fun romance.
Interesting characters that you wanna get to know better when you read.
And that ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL ART.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Broken Bear, Vol. 1 by Frankee White & Adam Markiewicz
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
If you like the art:
Meridian: A Graphic Novella by Kat Baumann
Shanghai Red by Chris Sebela & Josh Hixson
The Wilds by Vita Ayala & Emily Pearson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Frankee White – Writer
New Face: Frankee White's first graphic novel, Broken Bear, just debuted last year to much critical acclaim
Used to make a webcomic with Melody Calderon and James Hohenstein, called "Wolf on Vacation"
Kat Baumann – Illustrator
Multitalented: Is also a designer, storyboard artist, animator, & cake dominator
DC Hopkins – Letterer
Is a staff letterer for AndWorld design, the studio established by letterer, Deron Bennett
Multitalented: Co-hosts the horror podcast, Eerie, International, and the comics/pop culture podcast, Hideous Energy
Moniker: Their real first name is David, and they choose not to share what their middle name is
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these:
Physical: From the creators at cons! Go out to cons! Buy other stuff from them as well! Other comics, art prints, whatever they're selling!
Digital: From Frankee White's Gumroad
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Frankee White & Kat Baumann characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Frankee White & Kat Baumann or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED