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American Elf 1999 By James Kochalka

American Elf 1999

By James Kochalka

James Kochalka began drawing his comics diary American Elf in 1998 while on a plane to the San Diego Comic Con. Almost fifteen years later, the comic is still kicking. It's an on-line serial now, of course, and our Superstar has kids and considerably less hair. Keeping in step with the digitally-delivered theme of the universe these days, Top Shelf Productions has made American Elf available in digital editions. So far, the years 1999 to 2001 have been released with undoubtedly more on the way.

Beginning at the beginning, 1999 sets the template with James depicting his everyday life in four panel strips. Whether talking about his "peenie" or describing the silly scene of a squirrel carrying a bandana up a tree, Kochalka uses the four-panel format to distill the basic feelings of the day through small, seemingly mundane events. The takeaway from these snippets of everyday life? Don't sweat the small stuff, enjoy them instead. [Top Shelf]

Mark Twain Was Right by Dan P. Moore

Mark Twain Was Right

By Dan P. Moore

The 2001 Cincinnati riots were prematurely relegated to the footnotes of American history, despite earning distinction as the largest display of urban unrest in the emerging 21st century, and the worst since the L.A. riots almost a decade prior. After the looting ended, lawsuits were filed and boycotts were launched and surely Fox News pundits had their fair share of words in defense of the cops on the street. Then suddenly, at the end of that summer, we had much bigger fish to fry and a lot of things dropped off the front page on September 12.

Dan P. Moore didn’t forget those chaotic times. As a young activist, still in high school, Moore was an eye witness to much of what went on in the days leading up to, and following, the civil unrest in his hometown. The spark that set off this powder keg was the shooting death of unarmed, twenty-year-old Timothy Thomas—the fifteenth young black man to die at the hands, or in the custody of, the Cincinnati Police Department in the previous six years.

Day-by-day and chapter-by-chapter, Moore fits together the pieces of the puzzle and constructs a story of racial profiling, economic segregation and the resulting civil and uncivil protest. Moore saw and felt the boiling anger on the streets of Cincinnati’s impoverished Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. What Moore was not a first-hand witness to, he accounts for through interviews with those who were there; activists, community leaders and the people on the street.

Moore is still growing as an artist, his style can be a little rough at times, but his journalistic instincts and story-telling chops make this graphic novel a compelling account of an important event in U.S. race relations. Like Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza, Moore, doesn't let us forget the smaller, forgotten battles in the larger struggle. [marktwainwasright]

Laffy Meal By Pranas Naujokaitis

Laffy Meal

By Pranas Naujokaitis

While perusing the wares of Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) this past summer (2017), I happened upon a table where comics artist Pranas Naujokaitis had set up shop. Pranas was selling his minicomic Unpresidented about President You Know Who—the artist's way of dealing with the horrific, surrealistic world of a puckered orange presidency, no doubt.

Being a little too informed of Trump’s antics myself, and feeling that art wasn’t really taking the edge off, I couldn't bring myself to pick up a comic on this particular subject. Other offerings included a number of  white paper sandwich bags screen printed with the initials RC in yellow, set against a red background, not unlike the McDonald's logo.

This Laffy Meal was actually created several years prior to CAKE and it’s a clever concept. It's a set of mini comics—decidedly unsupersized—about a family outing at a fictional Burger Clown restaurant. Each family member's POV is represented in a separate mini. There’s one for mother Claire, surly teenaged son Ted, little brother Joe, Dan the father, and last but not least, Sparky the dog.

Laffy Meal Pranas Naujokaitis

Each comic is between twelve and twenty pages. The gist of the story is this: Dad is struggling in his role as breadwinner; Mom is tired of trying to be positive all the time; Ted is just a teenager possessed by typical teenaged angst; and little Joe and Sparky just want to do their thing. They are a burger (Dad), fries (Ted), drink (Mom) toy (Joe) and packet of ketchup (Sparky).

It's an interesting twist on the format which earned the minicomic a nomination for an Ignatz Award and was the recipient of a DINKy Award for best mini in 2016. Perhaps enough time has passed for me to pick up a copy of Pranas' Unpresidented comic, but I don't expect that one will leave me wanting more Trump like Laffy Meal made me hungry for more minis (and horrible hamburgers). [Ghost Car Press]

On the Books: A Graphic Tale of Working at NYC's Strand Bookstore By Greg Farrell

On the Books: A Graphic Tale of Working at NYC's Strand Bookstore

By Greg Farrell

The retail book business has changed since the dawn of the Internet Age and organized labor has certainly seen plenty of shifts of its own since that time. A long recession followed by a sluggish recovery, the proliferation of ebooks, Nooks and that destroyer of worlds, Amazon.com have proven as harmful as the apocalyptic chain store threat of Barnes and Noble just a few decades ago. This is all evident in the graphic novel, On the Books, created by writer/artist/rapper and bookstore employee Greg Farrell.

This is Farell’s depiction of the 2012 labor dispute between his UAW union (United Auto Workers? Don’t worry, that’s gets explained in the book) and his employer Strand Bookstore. His is the POV of the, perhaps stereotypical, “over-educated, low-wage earning hipster” — the kind Republicans care about only slightly less than the under-educated low-wage earner, hipster or otherwise.o

New York City’s Strand Bookstore, once a haunt of such punk literati as Tom Verlaine and Patty Smith, has been in business for 86 years. It purportedly contains 18 miles of books and is a bonafide New York institution. The employees think this family-owned business can let a little more money trickle down to them. The owners feel otherwise and therein lies the friction among the fiction. Nothing new there. The book details the events that occurred during the buildup to, and the aftermath of, the summer of 2012. That's when things got sticky with protests and the intrusion of outside agitators, who may have had good intentions, but whose one-size-fits all tactics did little to help the Strand workers' cause.

Farrell gives us a history of the Strand as well as the United Auto Workers Union that represents the company’s 150 employees. Different points of view are represented, some opposed to a work stoppage, some accepting of its necessity and some falling right in between. Greg shares his coworkers opinions by including their own testimonials.

With such a gung-ho, anti-union presidential contender like Scott Walker looking to establish his union busting street cred on the national stage, the tension between workers and owners will be something we can expect to see a lot more of on our various electronic devices, but comics are as good a medium as any to get the news. [Microcosm Publishing]

Nine Gallons By Susie Cagle

Nine Gallons

By Susie Cagle

Nine Gallons is a comic tale of the author's efforts to participate in a Food Not Bombs chapter in the SF/Oakland area. As a volunteer Susie confronts resistance from friends and colleagues who question the motives of her efforts and even the overall ethics of this type of food activism. As a result Susie's feels at times hypocritical and worse; completely ineffective. Interesting questions are raised on a subject that I must admit I've never given much thought to, unfortunately, the answers are not so easy or apparent. [Microcosm]

Awesome Future: Stories of Victorious Action by Robnoxious

Awesome Future: Stories of Victorious Action by Robnoxious

By Robnoxious

It’s hard not to get caught up in the optimistic feeling inspired by the prospect of an Awesome Future brought about through Victorious Action. Robnoxious makes no apologies for accentuating the positive in a series of comics and stories that share a similar theme: Punks Win. Go Punks!

The book kicks off with a recounting of the time Rob and his friends found a piano on the way home from a punk rock show. There's the story of his family’s move from Colorado to Alaska in a converted school bus camper. In non-comic form, Rob describes a walk he took in Northern California, along a deserted dirt road at dusk. He also relates the tale of his vasectomy. Go Vasectomies!

There's a longer piece on Rob's trip to Southern California to attend a retreat hosted by Thich Nhat Hank’s monastery. "Maxx’s Big Day" is an illustrated story about a the day in the life of Rob’s dog Maxx. Awesome Future ends with the comic "Awesome Future" in which some weird comic characters (a dolphin, a pickle, a chicken and a catfish) get jiggy with it.

The future may be odd but it's certainly awesome as well. Go Awesome Future! [Microcosm]

My Brain Hurts Volume 2

By Liz Baillie

This book is a collection of issues six though ten of Liz Baillie's My Brain Hurts series and thus concludes the story. I have not read issues one through five and so I'm picking up the story here with Kate and Joey, two queer teenagers living in New York City. Kate and Joey deal with things that teenagers have to deal with the added difficulties of being gay. Joey struggles with his father's struggle to accept him, his recovery from a severe gay bashing, as well as his dependence on drugs and alcohol to deal with both. Kate confronts religious homophobes and a girlfriend that won't put out. And all this under the influence of raging hormones. [Microcosm]

Slap in the Face: My Obsession with G.G. Allin

Slap in the Face: My Obsession with G.G. Allin

By Justin Melkmann

Comic artist (and guitarist in the punk rock band, WWIX), Justin Melkmann created this comic book to chronicle his relationship with scum rock icon G.G. Allin. Justin is a self-professed GG junkie who has been a fan of the man since the late 1980s. As an angry young 18-year-old college freshman, Justin found that he identified more with GG than with the jocko-frat boys he was suddenly surrounded with. He eventually befriends GG after writing to him at the address listed on the back of GG's records. Justin suggested to his new pen pal that he film a documentary on his life. GG, receptive to the idea, introduced Justin to his brother and bandmate Merle, as well as the Allin parents and various members of GG's bands.

The documentary project was abandoned after Justin learned that Todd Phillips was also making a documentary film on GG (Hated). Justin switched gears and mediums and began producing a series of biographical comics on GG for the New York Waste. This eventually prompted a cease and desist order from the formerly cooperative Merle Allin. Surprised that Merle had a change of heart after he had condoned the documentary film idea, Melkmann shifted the focus of the comic away from GG's story, to his own story as an GG obsessed young punk. This comic is the fruit of that labor.

The drawings are crude, by Justin's own admission, but the story is an interesting one, following the evolution of one person's obsession with a controversial subject matter. It also provides yet another small glimpse into what some call the genius (and others call the depravity) of the ultimate scum rocker, GG Allin, who died of a drug overdose in 1993. It also documents the path of Melkmann's life from a drunken twenty-something slacker who's pissing his life away with drink and drugs, to starting his own punk rock band and eventually landing a job at the fledgling Daily Show, where he is still employed as a segment producer and music director.

Killing Time Before the Party: Comics About Playing in a Band by People who Play in Bands

Killing Time Before the Party: Comics About Playing in a Band by People who Play in Bands

By Justin Melkmann

This forty page comic compilation features, as the subtitle suggests, comics contributions by people who play in bands. Featuring twenty-two collaborators, Killing Time details the joys and pains of a life in rock and roll. We're not talking about a Van Halen/Aerosmith, rich-as-fuck lifestyle mind you, but rather a hand-to-mouth, labor of love existence stuck to underbelly of the underground.

Publisher Justin Melkmann was inspired to produce this comic after making the connection that people who play in bands must also possess talent in other artistic areas and no doubt made comics like himself. Melkmann relates anecdotes of his time in NYC punk band World War IX. Abby Denson (Liberteens, Girlymen, etc) turns in "Bass Mistress" a comic about her love affair with the bass guitar. Other notable contributions include an an illustrated European tour diary of the band Nightingales by Christy Edwards; punk rock drummer/cartoonist Brian Walsby dispels the myth of being a punk rock drummer/cartoonist and Sergio Zuniga provides us with the violent yet humorous "I'm in a Band" comic about the perils of rockin' out.

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