On the outside, Freddie may look like "a dumpy little kid in a hoodie, shorts, and sneakers," as her creator describes her. Inside, she teems with ideas and imagination: Observing the world around her—grownups fighting, schoolmates playing, city streets, museums—she blends it with fantastical animals and forms—mammoths, dinosaurs, manta rays, surrealistic creatures—into her own unique internal reality.
Hampshire College alum Melissa Mendes, who graduated May 20, brought Freddie to life in her Division III (senior project), a graphic novel titled Adventures of a Kid. Through the character Mendes explores her own ideas about childhood. Without ever uttering a word, Freddie gives the "reader" a child's eye view of such overwhelming topics as divorce, isolation, and wonder.
Hancock, Massachusetts, native Mendes understands Freddie as her "embodied childhood, the kid inside of me who never grew up and is still exploring and living in a fantasy world. I keep in touch with that child by drawing." But Freddie is also every child: "She's me, in a way, but she's also anyone else who's ever been a kid," said Mendes.
Education and linguistics were Mendes's areas of concentration in Division II. After spending a semester of field study last year at Massachusetts
Freddie first emerged in drawings and collages Mendes created for courses she was taking in Figuring Abstraction and in Dada and Surrealist Visions. The character then drove the narrative.
Among influences Mendes cites are children's book author Maurice Sendak, illustrators Rockwell Kent and Edward Gorey, comics from Peanuts to Love & Rockets, and etchings by artists such as Albrecht Durer.
Bill Brayton, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Hampshire College, said that Mendes's rigorous studio practice, powerful imagery, and creation of the student-run Hampshire Comics Collective effectively reshaped how comic book art is perceived at Hampshire. "She fused the intertwined histories and creative opportunities of drawing and comic book art into a visually rich personal landscape of characters and environments," Brayton explained. "Her wordless stories disarm the viewer with ideas and emotions and take us all back to a time when imagination and reality were seamless."
Art professors Brayton and Thom Haxo (chair) served as Mendes's faculty committee for the Division III. During her four years at Hampshire, she also took courses at all the other Five College schools (Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts).
"In the end, constantly drawing and creating was more important to me than having the final product of a distributable book," she wrote. She plans an Adventures of a Kid series. "Through the Div III process I grew more confident in my abilities as an artist, and in my commitment to the comic art world. I've come to look at my Div III as less of a culmination of my studies at Hampshire and more as a starting point for the rest of my life."
Mendes will work this summer in nearby Northampton at Mirage Studios, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, and is applying for a grant to make and distribute copies of Adventures of a Kid.