Reviews by Chris Auman, unless otherwise noted.
Music is fixed in time like our memories. We all have those songs or records and bands that seem to belong—not to a certain time in history, but to a very specific time in our lives. These memories can be especially powerful when they represent a tumultuous or painful part of our lives. They have lasting power over us. They’re hardwired.
On January 30 of this year (2012), I received an e-mail from someone purporting to be Shia Labeouf. This Shia Labeouf claimed to be thee Shia Labeouf. At the time, I wasn’t even sure how Shia Labeouf was spelled (it's spelled Shia Labeouf). Anyway, this Shia Labeouf professed to be a fan of Reglar Wiglar comics reviews (believable enough I suppose) and that he himself was a “WANNABE CARTOONIST", as he typed it in all caps—yes, Shia is an all-cap-typer. Anyway, I wasn’t convinced that I wasn't being punked by S.B. Sweaty or Ashton Kutcher pretending to be Shia Labeouf. I consulted with a few trusted colleagues to see if the story sounded plausible. I was met with a round of skepticism. I Googled “Shia Labeouf comics artist” but came up with nothing. I decided it was for real anyway and responded, telling Mr. Labeouf that I would try to get a review up in the “not-too-disant future”.
I quickly got self-conscious. Would I treat Mr. Labeouf the same as any other aspiring comics artist wishing to share their work with a larger audience? Or would I suffer from some sort of Hollywood bias and not want to displease a megastar? Would I stroke his ego or would I make him an easy target for critical rage. I had fantasies of reaching out to Shia, giving him advice, nurturing his talent and eventually being flown all over the globe on whatever a press junket is, attending Hollywood premiers of major motion pictures with eye candy dangling from my arm. I punted the ball to S.B. Sweaty and forgot about it.
Well, suffice to say, S.B. has never met a deadline he liked, so consequently he's never met a deadline. LaBeouf's comic PDF languished on my hard drive for nine months. That is, until I came across a link to a Rolling Stone interview with none other than Shia Labeouf, WANNABE COMICS ARTIST. I had indeed fumbled the ball and missed the boat, to mix a metaphor. Apparently Shia has self-published physical copies of his work and is reportedly selling them for as much as $20 in some stores. That might be a crime, but that means this was certainly no prank and now I can confidently critique the work.
Or can I? The truth is, it's pretty rudimentary. It's not awful, but it looks like the work of someone just starting out in comics. But that's what it is. It's the first attempt at a comic by an admitted newbie to the medium. This isn't exactly like Jordan deciding to play baseball. I don't think Shia is going "all in" at the expense of his movie career. Someone who has the cash to get their books printed and into stores has an edge on most amateurs, of course, but that shouldn't be counted against him. I like the coloring which may be watercolor or colored marker, can't tell. There are some good visual panels. There are some minor spelling errors, sure, and the story is a little generic and a bit juvenile. It's the tale of a biker dude named Raven who attempts to jump his hog over a canyon. Spoiler Alert: Poor bastard doesn't make it. It's got a dream-like quality to it and it does have a sex scene, so there’s that. The lettering could be more legible. A small point I would make as well, is that a hat is not necessarily a sombrero even if the hat wearer happens to be Mexican, but you know, whatever. I'm interested to see what the future holds for Shia GONNA BE COMICS ARTIST LeBeouf and I'm sorry this "review" took over nine months. That's a long time even for me.
PRISON PIT #4
Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics)
If you think Loady McGee is a little too reserved and Angry Youth Comics are a little too vanilla for your tastes, Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit series might be just what you're looking for in this universe. This is Ryan’s depraved ID unleashed in its purest form: blood, guts, genitalia and fecal matter abound—actually they don’t abound so much as they’re sprayed all over absolutely everything in a fantastical sci-fi orgy of digustedness. Foul creatures stalk and kill each other as they drop F bombs and leap into giant vagina’s. Arms are lopped off and things get porked in obscene fashion. This should be required reading in every elementary school across the nation. I should be locked up in a prison pit just for saying that, especially since I really don’t mean it. I only said it so I could make myself look edgy and sound like I get it, but I don't get it 'cause there's nothin' to get. If you are going to lock me up, however, be sure to lock me up with Johnny Ryan. I got some questions for him.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Johnny Ryan.
BUY: Prison Pit Vol. 4
John Porcellino (Spit & a Half)
JP is back with another issue (#73!) of his King-Cat Comics and Stories. Hunkered down in South Beloit, IL when not on the road selling his wares, John has ample time to make note of the local nature scene. In this issue, we get an update on unusual groundhog behavior, a story about the hunt for an elusive cuckoo bird (spoiler alert: it's not a cuckoo bird), the "King Cat Top 40" (which seems to be only 36 this time.) and my personal favorite, a “Spotlight On: Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel”. See, I always thought this particular small mammal was called a chipmunk. It's not. It's a thirteen lined ground squirrel but feel free to call it by its other names, like grass whistler, flag squirrel, prairie striper or leopard spermophile (that means seed lover, but I agree, it sounds real dirty). Living in Chicago for so long, I had completely forgotten about this adorable little squirrel-type creature. I started seeing them again after moving to Wisconsin where they are in abundance. There are wild animals in the big city though. There’s plenty of fat squirrels, gross pigeons, wiley raccoons, a few rabbits and the occasional opposum and coyote if you can believe that. Once a cougar even made it into Roscoe Village only to be shot by a cop (after first shooting an air conditioning unit). Apparently the thirteen lined ground squirrel does not dig big cities. They prefer an easier lifestyle and I can now relate. At any rate, I now love thirteen lined ground squirrels and think chipmunks suck. Thanks John!
MARK TWAIN WAS RIGHT
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 LA 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 those days leading up to, and following, the civil unrest in his hometown. The spark that set off the 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.
INTO MY HEART
The second issue in Grant Council Thomas' My Life in Records series further examines the comics creator's life in vinyl. No, Grant isn't in a band (that I am aware), he doesn't run a record label, nor does he work in a record store, but rather his comics deal with his memories of listening to records in his formative years. Like its predecessor in the series, Into my Heart is shaped proportionately like a seven inch record (though smaller). The comic looks great in full color on glossy paper too. Into My Heart opens with a flashback of three-year-old Tom willfully disobeying his mother and taking a plunge into the big kid pool, almost drowning in the process. This ties into the baptismal theme of Tom accepting Jesus and letting him into his heart. The concept of letting Jesus live in your heart had confused the younger Tom who heard these lyrics on a record as a child. An older Tom reflects back on the meaning that he now fully accepts.
AMERICAN ELF 1999
James Kochalka (Top Shelf)
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 Am 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 every day 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 take away from these snippets of everyday life? Don't sweat the small stuff, enjoy them instead.
BUY: American Elf Volume 2: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries Of James Kochalka
RYDER ON THE STORM
Ryder On The Storm is an absolutely terrifying, erotic, and spectacular graphic novel. One of the best I’ve read in several years. Its chalk full of mystery, freaky-deeky sex, supernatural monsters and some good ol’ fashioned noir-style storytelling. Author David Hine has outdone himself creating a landscape and universe which the reader can’t help but wish to know more of.
The hero of our story is Ryder, a private eye called in to investigate a brutal suicide/possible murder. As Ryder delves into his investigation he finds himself in the middle of an erotic world of debauchery and dark folklore where love and pain become one in the same. What was once thought to be mere superstition is soon revealed as fact; an ancient race known as Daemons have been living alongside man for thousands of years and Ryder has just found himself in the middle of their ongoing war for control over the human race. Fighting alongside the beautiful and mysterious Katrina Petruska and the last of the daemon hunters, Charles Monk, Ryder must work against time to save his own life and find the truth behind a powerful sect of Daemons who exert their control over the city. Wonderful storytelling with plot twists and fascinating characters make this graphic novel one of the most exciting and compelling to hit the shelves.
The illustrations done by Wayne Nichols are beautiful and the perfect medium to bring Hine’s story to life. Such a detailed and harrowing story demanded just as talented of an artist and Nichols comes through with flying colors. Any less of a story and the illustrations would have been a waste. Fortunately we have an incredible tale filled with captivating characters. I recently finished another graphic novel, Legends: The Enchanted, which utilized around 15 characters and somehow managed to screw up every one of them, making each character a pointless plot device which no reader could possibly care about. David Hine uses about as many characters yet succeeds in utilizing each of them as they should be used. Well-sculpted characters with depth and emotion drive this incredible story. Each character, setting, and backdrop seemed to have been specifically chosen by Hine to push his story forward. I cannot stress how much of a joy it is to find a writer who knows exactly what he is doing.
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft and supernatural stories in general will love this comic. Fans of mystery and noir will also be satisfied. And those of you with a little “naughty side” would also do well to pick this one up. To be quite honest, I feel as if everyone will be pleased after reading this novel as magnificent storytelling and wonderful illustrations make it more than just your average comic book—Henry Rentas
Ed Piskor (Top Shelf)
This review has moved here.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Ed Piskor.
LEGENDS: THE ENCHANTED
Nick Percival has created a visually stunning graphic novel; reimagining a fairy tale world full of gruesome creatures, dark magic, and nasty ol’ hags. Unfortunately the artwork is the only bright spot of the novel. While this is an imaginative reimagining it is also, regrettably, more of the same of what we’ve come to expect from authors who take far too many liberties with the stock characters they use.
It appears as if all of Grimm’s Fairy Tale characters have grown up to become a band of gruesome anti-heroes known as the Enchanted; a rag-tag group of immortals who all enjoy the same hobbies of killings trolls. This idea could have possibly made for a decent story but a rushed script makes for an exciting but ultimately unfulfilling graphic novel. Legends: The Enchanted is simply another failed attempt at profiting over the unexplainable craving for the reimagining of the sweet fairy tale characters we all grew up with. We’ve seen it before in comics (Fables), several movie attempts (Snow White and the Huntsmen, Red Riding Hood) and now a television series (Once Upon a Time).
Percival does create an interesting story but seems to think that by using well-known characters he can simply skip the character development found in most well-crafted tales. Why are Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio, and Little Red Riding Hood immortal? At what point in between Mother Goose’s tales and Percival’s reimagining did they suddenly acquire a taste for mercenary work and ninja-like combat skills? As one goes through this novel you begin to question why the author even bothered using these well-known characters. They are so far from being anything like the characters they’re based upon that Percival might as well have created entirely new ones.
I’d give you a plot summary but that seems rather pointless as this novel is just 100 pages of your favorite childhood story characters gruesomely killing or being gruesomely killed. That being said, Legends: The Enchanted is a gritty and beautiful comic and an absolute joy to look at but drab storytelling and an unimaginative script unfortunately prevent it from becoming something more. If you just so happen to be a fan of gritty fairy tale characters then by all means pick this one up! Otherwise, your money will be better spent elsewhere. The Enchanted isn’t a bad comic, but with graphic novels like My Friend Dahmer being released why bother with a brutal rehash of Jack and the Beanstalk?—Henry Rentas
Vol. 1: Requiem for the Dead
While Hotwire may come off as nothing more than a pathetic attempt at combining Blade Runner with Poltergeist, those readers who are brave enough to foray past the first few pages are in for a treat. Our story takes place in a technology-ridden future where ghosts, for lack of a better word, roam the streets as blue fog, in the form of people and, in some special cases, monsters. Enter Alice Hotwire, a detective exorcist complete with a pretty face, a plethora of unnecessary sarcastic remarks and a smart-ass attitude. In short, she’s the girl of your dreams—the one Mom always warned you about.
Exorcising ghosts (or blue lights as they are called in the novel) and keeping her co-workers off her back is all in a day’s work for Alice, but when these blue lights become increasingly violent, Alice has to become more of a detective and less of an exorcist to solve the mystery. This shift is what makes the read so great! What could have been a cheap imitation of Ghostbusters quickly becomes an excellent mystery novel when writer Steve Pugh shifts gears and lays off the sci-fi and delves into a far more compelling story.
The novel is a little difficult to get through at first. I often found myself rolling my eyes as I frustratingly made my way through some clunky and comically unrealistic jargon/dialogue. The further you read the better it gets, however, and the novel quickly stands on its own drawing less and less from outside sources. A lot of the charm of this book is a direct result of our heroine, Alice Hotwire; the type of woman that most men absolutely hate but secretly dream of taking out to dinner: she’s mean spirited, reckless (and a pain in the ass!), but she does what she does well and she looks good doing it to. Expect to see more of Alice Hotwire in the future as most people will be picking up the next chapter of her story, not because of the compelling narrative, but simply because it’s HER story. But that’s not to say there’s nothing to be gained from Pugh’s storytelling ability. What we have here is a captivating sci-fi mystery tale with some very interesting twists which will intrigue many readers. It’s almost a shame that the main character actually overshadows a really quite interesting story, but I have a feeling that is exactly what writer Steve Pugh was hoping for.
This graphic novel is going to entertain a lot of people but if you’re not into sci-fi I’d stay away from it. If you’re into dystopian futures, piña coladas, ghosts, getting caught in the rain, sassy heroines, or just looking for an interesting read you should definitely pick this one up! (Or give me a call.)—Henry Rentas
MY FRIEND DAHMER
by Derf Backderf (Abrams Comic Arts)
This review has moved here.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Derf Backderf.
BUY: My Friend Dahmer
Steve Broom (Coal Minds)
The Call is writer/artist Steve Broome’s on-line graphic tale of the lives of three mythical and mystical African tribes who must turn to a new generation to confront an uncertain future. Broom allows us to observe these tribes as they hunt, gather, survive and perform spiritual rituals. While the story may be set in Africa, it is a purely fantastical tale trading in magic, witchcraft, assorted sorcery and strange forest beasts whose screams can be captured and turned into spells. Broome creates such a visually sweeping setting for his characters to inhabit (pun intended), that would only be better served in full color. The black, white and grey tones don’t make for the most visually appealing panels, but the action scenes are well done and create nice tension in the story. Speaking of the story, I was a bit lost in places as the storyline jumped from character to character and tribe to tribe in the space of a few pages but this may not be the last we've scene of The Call which could easily develop and fit into a larger, more comprehensive, narrative.
Phase 1, Part 2
John & Charles Agbaje (Central City Tower)
The Central City saga continues in Part 2 of John & Charles Agbaje’s graphic novel, Project 0. Although the story is only just beginning, from the action so far, it appears that the Outsiders are dead set on sabotaging the military equipment of what one can only presume to be an intrusive, authoritarian government—isn't that just like intrusive, authoritarian governments though? It looks like our young protagonists (Aatu, Bea and Owen, introduced in Part 1) are going to get caught in the middle of the struggle where they'll likely play a pivotal role as they try to find the last piece of their rocket puzzle. New installments of the comic are already available on the Central City website if you can't wait for the next issue.
HARVEY PEKAR'S CLEVELAND
Harvey Pekar & Joseph Rembrandt (Top Shelf/Zip)
Harvey Pekar was as much a part of the city of Cleveland as the city of Cleveland was a part of Harvey. Hardworking, loveable, irritable, almost at peace with failure, the man and the town seem interchangeable. Don’t take my word for it, I’ve never been to Cleveland. Not once. Take Harvey’s words. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a posthumously published work of Pekar's writing, illustrated by Joseph Rembrandt. In the first part of his last graphic novel, Harvey tells the history of his city from its humble beginnings as a part of the Western Reserve up through its rise and fall as an important industrial and economic player. Cleveland’s is a history not dissimilar to many American urban centers: industrialization, segregation, immigration and white flight all leading to loss of industry, population, tax revenue and resulting in decay and decline—it’s all there in Cleveland, "the mistake by the lake".
The second part of the book is Harvey’s own history with Cleveland. From his childhood through his divorces, American Splendor readers will be familiar with many of the characters and situations. It is good to catch up with Harvey at the end of his life. He's still the same loveable curmudgeon—maybe a little less bitter, although he was always the first one to remind himself of how things weren’t all that bad after all. He was still sharp and full of observational humor and wit even at 70 which, let’s face it, isn’t that old these days. Harvey Pekar's Cleveland is a fitting recap of his American story. The story of Cleveland continues.
BUY: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland
DAMAGED #4 (Radical Publishing)
Damaged is a noir crime serial with bulging muscles, big guns, and Russian mobsters. The politicians come corrupt in San Francisco. Some of the cops do too. The good ones have their hands full chasing vigilantes bent on extra-judicial revenge. No need for a messy trial, better a messy crime scene.
Henry Lincoln (estranged brother to ex-Police Captain Frank Lincoln) has broken ex-cop Isaac Lordsman (it’s gonna get biblical) out of prison. Smarmy mayoral candidate Shane is in bed with new crime boss Oksana Oloaf, who tells a cute tale about her dead husband wrestling with his conscience, and his reluctance to rape her when she held out. Now that’s one tough broad!
Lots of blood, explosions and gnarled men at war with criminals, buddy cops and buddy ex-cops both out for justice—Manila Ice
Phase 1, Part 1
John & Charles Agbaje (Central City Tower)
Brothers, John and Charles Agbaje have been creating comics and stories together since they were kids. The pair have created Central City Tower as a collective of sorts. The main focus now is the on-going graphic novel, Project 0. In this thirty-two page, black and white book, (also available for download) the Agbaje brothers begin their story in an indeterminate time and place, presumably Central City. Part One introduces us to three friends, Aatu, Bea and Owen who are searching scrap yards for the parts necessary to complete the rocket they are building. This rocket will eventually take them away from wherever they are and to wherever Owen is from. Owen is an "Outsider" who fell from the sky and who possess powers that make him an outcast from the community where Aatu and Bea live. Drawn in a Manga style that allows for some fast moving action scenes, Project O has set the stage for the ongoing development of stories and characters in conflict with their environment.
EVERYTHING DIES #7
Box Brown (Microcosm)
According to the Eridu genesis story, four gods (An, Enlil, Enki, and Nintur) got together and whipped up our planet and populated it with people who would soon become raucous and not much reverent. This pissed off Enlil in particular, who convinced the other three gods that them people gotta go. Thusly there was flooding and the peeps were destroyed save for one King Ziasudra who was advised by Enki to build an ark and find two animals of every kind and yada, yada yada—you know the rest.
Comics artist, Box Brown, tackles religious myths in his Everything Dies series. Originally slated for at least six issues, #7 is the latest with this creation story and flood myth found in old Sumerian texts (you may recognize it from your bible where some of the names have been changed and the four gods have been scaled down to one prime mover). Funny, succinct, simply rendered, and without any sort of religion (pro or con) heavy-handedness that tends to polarize readers. It’s a comic for Enki's sake! [everythingdiescomic.com]
John Porcellino (Spit & a Half)
Number 72 of King-Cat Comics and Stories finds John recovering from the end of his second marriage. There's a a move to Florida and a new relationship. There's the end of the new relationship which results in an eventual move to South Beloit, Illinois (population 8,401). This is where John currently resides in between his jaunts across the U.S. selling his wares at various small press and comics fests. As in past issues of KC, we get snapshots of John’s life in the form of comic strips and sketches taken from ideas and notes he jots down in his notebooks. There are some “South Beloit Journal” strips depicting life in a small town (doing laundry and watching basketball at his mom's, checking his e-mail at the library, etc.). There's the “King-Cat Top Forty” with recommendations on books, music, movies, towns and sports teams that give John a boost, and there are various and sundry anecdotes, stories and observations on life's seemingly mundane moments that one can only hope will serve a purpose in retrospect.
By Vyatcheslav F. & Nickolay P. (Ag Digital)
The folks at the start-up, Ag Digital, bring us this twenty page, full-color graphic novel. It's full color, sure, but that's not to say that it's full of color. In fact, it's a pretty drab backdrop to the dreary existence the book's characters find themselves—like their lives, the colors are muted. Not Alone is a story about being alone. It's about alienation in a relationship between a husband and his wife and child. The story is simple with very little dialogue: man wakes up in the morning, he kisses his wife as she lays sleeping, but something’s not quite right. She appears to be a mannequin. Time passes. They argue over the breakfast table. “Don’t yell at me,” the man says, but his wife's expression never changes—how could it? She’s made of plastic. In the end the roles are reversed and it is the man who becomes inanimate. At least that's how he appears to his wife, but maybe this is just the way they see each other. Maybe this is the way we all see each other?
MY LIFE IN RECORDS
By Grant Thomas
My Life in Records is a comic book about Grant’s life in records. Records, as in the vinyl variety. The book is proportionate to a 45 record, but smaller, and features an A side and a B side. Side A starts with "Prologue," in which Grant waxes nostalgic on his formative years listening to, and playing music. “Side by Side” is a story, perhaps autobiographical, about three young brothers and their early love of drawing and listening to records, Bert and Ernie in particular. Side B features two more short tales on the effects music had on Grant as a kid. "Little Wooden Head" concerns Grant's Pinocchio worship and "Bad Mountain Record" recounts the time Grant played one of his parents' good records on a crappy Fisher-Price turntable. You can almost hear that needle scratch.
An On-line Graphic Novel by David Halvorson
Comics artist David Halvorson has created a three-part (so far) on-line graphic novel in which pint-sized super heroes battle evil during recess at Armstrong Elementary School. Fourth grade characters like Clinton, (the drawling cowboy sheriff), Scrap and Yoshi (super heroes in their own right) wage war against cootie plagues, schoolyard zombies and treasure hungry pirates. In addition to being a talented artist, Halvorson is a good writer and storyteller. His fantastical playground tales flow well and the writing is clever and quite funny. Creating a comic specifically for the web allows for Halvorson to execute some cool visual tricks on the page. Like their print counterparts, on-line comics are still read from top to bottom, left to right, but because you’re scrolling down, the action is hidden until you get to it. The impulse to sneak a peak at the panels of facing pages has been removed in this format. This allows the artist to create an almost cinematic visual effect, like the opening of the third chapter "Rise of The Wreckyard." The top of the page starts with a few descending word bubbles set against a blue sky. It pans down to a blazing, playground pirate ship where a fierce battle is being fought on deck. It's a nice contrast that would be difficult to pull off in an old school comic. The tales of Armstrong are still unfolding with “The Ballad of Sheriff Davenport" up next.
DODO COMICS #2
By Grant Thomas
Issue number 2 of Grant Thomas’s Dodo Comics continues in the vein of its predecessor (that’d be Dodo Comic #1, if you’ve been keeping track). There are four strips in #2. The first is an homage to Sergio Leone in which Grant duplicates the Spaghetti Western director's close-up/long-shot film-making style in comic panel form. There’s an art school inspired strip, "Drawing from Life," concerning the sketching of live nudes. Grant attempts a comics pantoum with "Visions of Johanna’s Concert," in which certain panels repeat at certain points much like the poetic form. Lastly is, “Why Have You Shut Your Eyes,” the second installment of stories Grant took from the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers.
DODO COMICS #1
By Grant Thomas
Grant Thomas is a cartoonist and art teacher living in Champaign, Illinois and DoDo Comics is his latest comics series. Rather than simply draw autobiographical strips about life’s everyday occurrences, Grant experiments with the comics form. Using an idea expounded upon by Neil Cohen at Comixpedia.com, Grant treats his strips as visual poetry. By establishing a rhythm through the repetition of certain types of panels (polymorphic, amorphic, macro and micro refiner) at certain points, Grant seeks to create a poetic continuity while challenging his skills as an artist and storyteller. “Where Do Ideas Come From?” (they come from Idea Gnomes btw) is one such attempt where Grant employs this technique. In other strips, Grant incorporates lyrics from Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna" in his own version, "Visions of Gehenna"; he offers his own interpretation of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel as well as adaptations of pages found in the magna Lone Wolf and Cub and Akira.
Devastator is a comedy magazine in digest form. It contains comics and other writings of a satirical nature intended to make you laugh, preferably out loud. It succeeds in this endeavor. Number four is the "Arcade" issue, although nostalgia is really the theme here. This is immediately evident from the flip side of the book, which is a parody of my beloved Choose Your Own Adventure series from the 70s and 80s. Writer John Ford skewers the genre with “Night at the Arrrrr-cade!” where the second person you get’s trapped in a haunted game room. They’ve got everything down to a tee in terms of the fonts and writing style of those books and Marc J. Palm’s cover is spot on in it’s imitation.
There’s comics too, with James Kochalka delivering a Glorkian Warrior's tale in “Attract Mode,” Matt Taylor’s "Marriage Command" is good for a giggle and Edmund McMillen serves up something called “Meat Boy and Dr. Fetus” in the tradition of Goofus and Gallant.
Some of the satirical targets of Devastator are either before or after my time (probably after, sadly) like Amanda Meadows' "Mr. Do: Return of the Dino Drones" which parodies Scholastic Publishing’s Blast into Books series, of which I am unfamiliar. Judging from this piece, however, I get the gist of what those books are like. I know the type of crap education publishers try to download to developing brains.
Even the revered Atari 2600 is not spared the comedic wrath of Devastator. John Schnepp delivers a withering indictment of Atari’s 1979 game "Adventure" titled "Sadventure". And deservedly so, I mean, did they really expect us to believe that floating duck was a frickin' dragon? That game sucked on so many levels (pun intended).
And there's plenty more in this issue that a brief recap, such as this, is forced to omit. In short, Devastator showcases a mountain of talent by writers and artists who also contribute to some big names in comedy from Conan to the Onion News Network. And it looks great too.
Stories of Victorious Action by Robnoxious (microcosm)
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!
THE COMICS JOURNAL #301
When did The Comics Journal get so freakin' fat? Weighing in at one and a half pounds, this 624 page sucker features more of what you love (or hate) about comics criticism: long, detailed interviews and reviews that will take you days to read. Absorbing, or perhaps tedious depending on your mood, this is a beast I’ve been wrestling with for a few months. This issue features an interview with R. Crumb conducted by Journal publisher, Gary Groth. The topic of discussion is Crumb’s illustrated creation story, Genesis. Groth questions Crumb on the development of his technique over the years, his creative process for this project and what led him to begin his adaptation of the ultimate beginning. The interview is followed by a roundtable barrage of praise and criticism from over a half dozen art and culture critics, who either praise Crumb or take the artist to task for a variety of sins.
Also featured in #301 are sketchbook/interviews with Tim Hensley, Stephen Dixon and Jim magazine creator, Jim Woodring, from whom Groth seeks to find an answer to the question of why Woodring is compelled to draw such repulsive images. Turns out Woodring doesn't really know.
MAD Magazine fans will appreciate the transcribed, transgenerational conversation between the 89-year-old Al Jaffee (creator of the Mad fold-in) and Michael Kupperman (a current pop culture provocateur) in which the two artists talk about art as work, art as satire and art for art’s sake.
Adding further heft to the issue is Tim Krieder's arugument with himself over the question of whether or not Dave Sim’s epic Cerebus comic should be considered a major work of art? I must admit that I haven't been swayed that it should, but I also haven't made it to the end of Krieder's article and I've only made it through Volume 1 of Sim's 16 Cerebus volumes.
But wait, there's more, including an article on comics pioneer and "Dean of Amercian Cartoonists," John T. McCutcheon; an interview with Joe Sacco concerning his graphic novel Footprints in Gaza; reprints of the "Gerald McBoing Boing," strip penned by one Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Suess; and a slew of other aritcles, criticism and opinion that I haven’t even gotten to yet—all wrapped in a fantastic Robert Crumb cover taken from his Genesis book.
BUY: The Comics Journal #301 (The Comics Journal)
INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS TWO
Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf)
Somebody watched a lot of cartoons when they were a kid... Here's a hint: it was Jeffrey Brown, but that's a given with the second installment of Jeffrey's Incredible Change-Bot series. The story line parallels that of the multi-million dollar franchise of movies, cartoon shows and cool morphing toys: Robots, however inadvertently, invade Earth and one poor bastard Bot gets left behind. In Jeffrey Brown's version, the two robot factions, Awesomebots and Fantasticons, struggle for control of their home planet. In Part One, these Bots crashed on Earth in an attempt to flee their embattled planet of Electronocybercircuitron. After an epic battle on Earth, in which the Awesombots were victorious, both parties departed for greener pastures. Shootertron is the ditched Fantasticon who finds himself deserted on our planet and that's where Part Two picks up. The Change-Bots once again crash into Earth and meet up with their long-forgotten pal. The Bot nation needs to learn how to get along to survive on their adopted planet. The results are quite funny and the one-liners are fired off like lasers (bew, bew) but with more frequency. Although I found the book funny, the humor is not aimed at adults specifically—at least not at the expense of younger readers. There's some groaners in there for sure, but if you appreciate bad puns you are in luck.
It seems like Mr. Brown has a lot of fun drawing his Incredible Change-Bots. There's a child-like playfulness to them (the colored markers help) and each Bot has it's own personality in addition to it's unique morphing ability. Kids and adults will find Shootertron and Company not only cool-looking but endearing, and in keeping with the Transformers tradition the story is to be continued... "probably".
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Jeffery Brown.
BUY: Incredible Change-Bots One
Incredible Change-Bots Two
NINE GALLONS #2
Susie Cagle (microcosm)
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 arguments are made and the answers are not so easy or apparent.
TEN THOUSAND THINGS TO DO
Jesse Reklaw (microcosm)
TTTTD is the year-long, illustrated journal of artist, Jesse Reklaw. Originally appearing as a series of mini-comics, the diary details (in four panel comic form) Jesse's daily life living and working as an artist in Portland, Oregon. Self-doubt, bouts of depression and booze, creative spurts, good times with friends, playing music and also mundane everyday activities all get recorded, sometimes with the help of guest artists. Jesse tracks his sleep schedule, as well as his coffee and alcohol consumption which he is then able to use as a tool to gauge his mood and behavior which is useful for a little self diagonosis. TTTTD is an ambitious project and an interesting glimpse into the creative life.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Jesse Reklaw.
AL BURIAN GOES TO HELL
Al Burian (Migraine)
According to Al Burian, and I'll take his word for it, Al Burian Goes to Hell is a 'bootleg' comic that was published without his knowledge or permission. This according to Al's website. You can read the post here. The comic is what Al calls "homework", drawn for a college class when he was twenty-two. From what I gather, it was for some sort of literature class, and has been dubbed "a loose comic interpretation of Dante's Inferno." Al, like Dante, takes his own journey to hell also with the guidance of Virgil. Along the way Al meets John Hinckley, Lee Harvey Oswald and a few friends of his who offer little guidance for Al in his journey. Al's version of hell appears to be a somewhat existential wandering between work and questioning the meaning of his pathetic, angst filled existence. I have no idea what the actual assignment was, but Al Burian Goes to Hell is no doubt a creative approach to the subject so I hope he got at an A or at the very least a B+.
HENRY & GLEN FOREVER
Igloo Tornado (Cantankerous Titles)
"Henry from Black Flag!" yelled Danzig before "We Are 138" on the Misfits Evilive EP. Like a clarion call proclaiming their love . . . . er, uh, maybe not. Anyway, this book of mostly single panel comics is based on the comedic potential of an imagined relationship between these two classic punk front men.
So, regarding this book, you know, I asked myself, do these guys deserve this? I mean, they both started out in awesome bands (and yeah, I know Henry was in S.O.A., also great, before Black Flag, but I'm referring to Black Flag here) and in the interest of full disclosure (and just to brag!) I saw them both in 1983. And I saw the five piece Black Flag, with Dez on second guitar, which Joe Carducci considers the best line up. So, anyway, I have to admit, I was/am a big fan of these guys and their bands. However, as many musicians do, Henry and Glenn seemed to embark on a Sting-like career trajectory in which each new record they put out (Rollins Band, some Danzig stuff) had a diminished quality from the previous one. Eventually their classic material is almost eclipsed by their terrible new stuff. Also, Glenn probably lost the last shred of his sense of humor some time during Samhain. So, maybe Glenn deserves some ribbing. Henry sort of laid off the music in favor of his punk rock stand-up (uh . . . I mean 'spoken word') which I found to be funny about 50% of the time. Plus there was his talk show, his acting career, etc. So, maybe his actions don't automatically make him eligible for ridicule, but judging by his blurb on the cover of this book, I think he can take it.
So, I'm going to say maybe they both deserve a little bit of abuse, despite the fact that there are plenty of actually gay punk people who, you know, might take some offense here. But, you're probably wondering about the content of the book, and yeah, I guess I laughed at some of the gags. Mostly when they referenced Misfits or Black Flag lyrics. And I assumed this would be more narrative, but it's a loosely tied together series of panels concerning the cohabiting Glenn and Henry and their neighbors Hall and Oates (these guys did not need to be in here) with some non sequitur stuff thrown in. I don't know, I think it could have worked better as a story—Chris Butler
BUY: Henry & Glenn Forever (Comix)
(Big If Comics)
Pood #1 comes in the form of good old fashioned funny pages in the Sunday comics tradition. That's not to say that these strips are the usual light-hearted fare that passes for comics these days. Nope. They're a little bit darker. Sixteen full page, multi-panel strips including "USApe" by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, "Cochlea and Eustachia" by Hans Rickheit (read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Hans) and "Baby Slithers" by Sara Edward-Corbett, among others.
MY BRAIN HURTS Vol. 2
Liz Baillie (Microcosm)
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 gaybashing, 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.
BULLETINS FROM SERBIA
E-mails and cartoon strips from the front line. This reads like
a diary because it is unclear who the initial audience is, but it is actually
e-mails sent from Serbia during the NATO bombing in early 1999. The author of
these bulletins is Serbian comic artist, Aleksandar Zograf a.k.a. Sasa. We get
bits of information and perspective from Sasa on NATO activities and the effects,
both mental and psychological, that the bombings had on the Yugoslavian population.
My only complaint is that it's light on comics, but as Sasa admits in his letters,
it's pretty had to concentrate on drawing comics in such a chaotic and unstable
environment. Bulletins is an interesting documentation of the first war (or
conflict if you prefer) that was lived vicariously through the Internet by people
on the outside. Although access to the news was sometimes shut down for days
at a time, it was never totally shut down and communication was never completely
severed. Much to the annoyance of the governments who waged war I'm sure. A
good document of a piece of recent history that most Americans, no doubt, have
BUY: Bulletins from Serbia: E-Mails & Cartoon Strips Frm Beyond the Front Line
Jesse Reklaw (www.slowwave.com)
Dreamtoons is a collection of Jesse Reklaw's comic strip Slow Wave. The gist
of the strip is this: Jesse draws your dreams in comic strip format. Of course
anything to do with dreams, dreamers and dreaming is bound to be a surreal experience
and the comic strip format is no exception. These are quick, four paneled synopses
that are impossibly to the point (if you've ever had a friend tell you their
dream you know what I mean). Having no first-hand knowledge of the dreamer:
personality, age, sexual orientation, gender (even what they ate for dinner
that particular night), there's no real chance for interpretation which is a
boon or a bane depending on your proclivity to such things. This makes good
bedtime reading, you know, to get you in the mood for a good snooze, and in
this case that should be considered a compliment.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Jesse Reklaw.
Horrible horrible is absolutely correct but Ivan Brunetti's comic world, like
taboo subjects in our society as a whole, is fascinating and hard to turn away
from. Pedophilia, murder, drug addiction, rape-you think these subjects aren't
humorous? Well, you're normal and you're probably right but you also haven't
stumbled across Brunetti's comics. Cathartic perhaps for their creator, a guilty
pleasure for the reader, Ivan the Terrible's Haw cartoons contain the absurdity
of Sam Henderson's Magic Whistle while pushing the envelope well past Kaz's
Underworld. Spend five minutes in Ivan's cruel shoes and see what you think.
THE MAGIC WHISTLE #6
Sam Henderson (Indy World)
This issue won't disappoint those accustomed to Sam's brand of absurd and hilarious
cartooning. It is my theory that this is the kind of drawing most cartoonists
secretly want to do, but don't allow themselves to publish. That's just a theory
and it's open for debate.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with Sam Henderson.
SKETCHBOOK DIARIES Volume 1
James Kochalka (Top Shelf Comix)
This is a collection of about a year's worth of four-panel comics that serve
as a diary of the life of cartoonist James Kochalka. It's complete with all
of the mundane observations, daily insecurities, and small joys of day-to-day
existence. Much like life itself, this comic has you feeling happy one minute
and depressed the next without any real good reasons as to why.