“Drag Bandits” sounds like one of those titles resulting from a game of free association. But, no, it’s more to the point. This story features Stephen, a 17th century aristocrat, who enjoys robbing coaches in drag, thus the title. I’ve followed Colleen Frakes’s mini-comics for years and have always found them to be quite intriguing and reveling in whimsy. For this latest work, she teams up with Betsey Swardlick, who writes the story. Both are graduates from The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, led my master cartoonist James Sturm.
What is distinctive about this comic is how both Frakes and Swardlick dazzle us with inventive narrative and artwork in the service of such a marvelous confection. This is like a truly fancy dessert or souffle, delicate yet full of life.
There’s a quick pace and a highly irreverent tone throughout. It’s impressive how that is maintained for not only the story but for two epilogues. This is a comic that makes it look as if sprung forth from the dreams of an old gnome tucked away in some old castle. The images have a nice stark quality to them. The story has its own zany internal cartoon logic. The characters are surreal, the plot is surreal. What more could you want, right?
The description to this comic at comiXology states: “Tragic Relief and Retrofit Comics present Drag Bandits. The family friendly comic about cross-dressing and bondage! Drag Bandits put a new spin on the 17th century highway robber legend of ‘the wicked lady.'” So, what more could you want? Well, there’s your answer: subtext. Stephen’s wife, Louisa, enjoys a good time in drag too. The sexuality in this comic is fluid but the subject never gets heavy-handed or lurid. It’s all brought to you with discretion and style which makes suitable for all ages.
Just the mention of bondage makes me think of Wonder Woman. If we can deal with Wondy’s bondage issues, then we can certainly deal here. When many casual readers are looking for a comic with intelligence and substance, they might consider Wonder Woman. Nothing wrong with that. But what will likely satisfy them all the more is this comic and so many others out there like it.