By Kristin Summerson
Gretchen Hasse’s web comic Freaks’ Progress tells the stories of unique characters against the black and white backdrop set in a place not-Chicago-but-Chicago-like. Hasse’s characters jump off of the pages of the comic, telling tales filled with harsh moments in their changing neighborhood.
As of the time of this review, there are three chapters published, with more promised on the horizon every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Akin to character studies, each chapter so far has focused on one or two characters, their struggles within the city, and the problems they face and must overcome, always ending with a note of hope for the future. The first chapter introduces Lupita and Hazel, two best friends who want to start their own radio show, and Martin, Lupita’s older brother who sells his artwork to help out his family. Chapter two focuses on Max, who may or may not have ties with the mob. The chapter also features Jorge, Lupita’s and Martin’s father, and Reynaldo, an intimidating man who looks out for his own and employs Max. The third chapter focuses on Martin, but also on Fred, the owner of a coffee shop and good friend of Martin’s. The cast list makes the readers anticipate upcoming narratives centered around new major characters that will be developed in future chapters.
Hasse’s skillful use of photography as the background for her comics is beautiful and haunting. It gives a sense of reality to support these already believable characters. The art style catches your eyes as you sweep over the panels looking for the tiniest detail because you know each detail captures an aspect to the story. The panels are mainly in black and white, but Hasse adds a dash of color here and there (like one of the character’s shaded glasses and the neon lights of the bar’s name) to the scene or the character. One of the visuals that sticks with me is in Chapter Three: The Benevolence of Madmen page sixteen, has a black and white close-up photo of the moon as the background with emojis dancing around in the sky. The panel alone resonates with me, but in the context of the chapter… Well, just read it for yourself.
As the comic is on a digital platform, Hasse has a lot of artistic freedom, and she makes use of it very well. In Chapter Two: What You Know, on the neon colored coffee house there’s a blinking pink “e” with the whole sign pulsing as if electric. You can almost hear the buzzing emanating out of the screen. Even the tiniest detail adds flavor to each panel.
Hasse does more than a flickering neon light, however. Each of the three published chapters so far has at least one song accompanying the reading. The comic will tell you which song is playing and you have the option to click on the “Jukebox” section on the website and jam out to the amazing tunes as you read. It’s a whole other aspect to immersion as you read and experience things alongside the characters. The music adds so much feeling to the narrative, it would be a shame to not listen while you read. The only recommendation I can give would be to open the music tabs before reading so the pesky YouTube ads don’t hound your precious reading time.
The chapters have undertones of serious issues affecting every corner of the States and not just the snapshot of this city. Race, class, society, identity—all problems sink into each of the characters and suffocate them, but they push through.
All-in-all, Hasse’s digital comic Freaks’ Progress is an ensnaring visual story filled with a colorful cast of characters. Hasse’s manipulation of different art styles brings the stories off of the screen and straight into your heart where you see the world, hear the world, and feel the world as they do.