New review for My Life in Records #3 by Grant Thomas, and those people are still working on the roof while I type this. Again, it’s freezing outside. Makes sense to me.
My Life in Records #3
I’ll say this right off the bat to save some suspense: this comic probably has the most realistic depiction of playing with toys that I’ve ever seen. Not just the simple act of playing with them, which is easy enough to show, but the ways that the experience changes when he plays with his brother, how the music from the “Star Wars” soundtrack enhanced the experience, and even how his brother making sound effect noises added on top of it all combined to form a completely immersive experience. If you grew up playing with toys it’s hard not to get more than a little bit nostalgic for the simplicity of it all, and the magic that was required to make it all work. Do kids today play with toys or is it mostly computers and handheld games? If that’s what they mostly use, they’re missing out. Anyway, the rest of the comic deals with Grant’s grandparents and the way that his grandfather had an amazing video/audio system at home, taping movies off TV so that the kids could watch. Well, when I say movies I mean “The Empire Strikes Back” specifically and, again, it’s hard to appreciate what an amazing experience that was back in the day when you could think of almost any movie right now and be watching it within five minutes. Crikey, this is getting far more nostalgic than I intended. Grant also deals with the time that his gerbil got lost after they left it playing in their Ewok village, and how they were so excited to watch “Return of the Jedi” that they took a wrong turn and ended up getting slightly lost going to their grandparents. I should also add that there was a great finale to that story (with the reaction of the grandfather being priceless), but I won’t ruin it for you here. It’s another solid issue in the series, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. This is a little pricier than past issues at $7.50, but it’s full color and worth it.
New review today for Magic Whistle #14 by Sam Henderson. Also, why do apartment complexes decide to replace tiles on a roof in a rain/snow storm in the dead of winter when there’s no leakage? Because that’s what’s happening outside my window right now.
My favorite Sam Henderson is filthy Sam Henderson, and he’s fully back in that mode with this issue. The last thing I read of his was an all-ages collection of strips, which was still great, but severely lacking in the number of “fucks” thrown around. And, as the man has proven countless times in his 20+ years of making comics, he has no trouble putting out a thoroughly hilarious comic. Which, as always, is problematic to review, as there’s only so many times I can say that this part or that part was comedy gold. If you’re new to comics and just now hearing his name, there’s a wealth of older material out there from the man that I’d highly recommend if you enjoy laughing. If you’re already a fan, then you should know that the strips in here include some very modern pickup lines, the return of Dirty Danny, easy ways to ruin a joke, an update of his classic strip about LSD with him using his modern sensibilities, how the older cast was always better on SNL (told from a perspective 700,000 years in the future), new shows coming this fall, and Nancy and her exploding head. Scattered around the comic are his usual single panel gag strips, and nobody does them better. Still, the highlight of the comic was the story on high school urban sex legends and the descent of that story into complete madness. The image of that guy slipping on the condom, rolling down the stairs and eventually turning into a giant rolling ball of snow had me practically crying, which is as high a mark as a funny book can achieve. Anyway, there probably wasn’t much doubt from anybody who has read this site for any length of time that I was going to highly recommend it, so no surprises there, but come on, who doesn’t like to laugh? Buy this and laugh! $4.99
New review for Monkey Squad One Annual #2 by Doug Michel, and although last week was a mess, I shall attempt to do regular reviews for the rest of the week. Assuming that the universe is done messing with me for now…
Monkey Squad One Annual #2
If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you started off reading terrible superhero comics when you were a kid. Or maybe you were lucky/smart enough to only read the good stuff forever, I don’t know. But let’s say that you read the superhero stuff and thought it was awesome, mostly because you were a child. When I was a kid there was also a yearly issue called an Annual, and these generally fell into one of three categories: either a standalone story that was too big for a regular comic, a part of a much larger crossover event, or a glorified filler issue (meaning a meandering story with pinups and/or character bios to pad out the page count). As much as I’ve been loving this series lately, this issue sadly falls into the latter category. Mostly! This requires an explanation. The point of this issue in theory is to fill in the holes of other recent issues. What happened between certain panels, why one character showed up covered in feces, a few more possible alternative universes that were cut because he ran out of space, etc. And it’s a good theory, as Doug has done an excellent job of building a universe for himself that has plenty of room for such digressions. But stuffing them all into one issue like this makes the whole thing feel scattered, and the concept itself makes that impossible to avoid. If and when he puts out a complete edition of this comic, I’d highly recommend slotting these stories in where they’re supposed to fit instead of putting them all together like this, but I am very much not the boss of him. There are also 8 pretty solid pinup pages, with my only problem being the cardinal sin of so many pinup pages: not putting the names of the artists on each page. Sure, they’re all in the front, but many people are too lazy to go back and check such a thing. So overall, if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of this series, I’d still recommend this as is. If not, maybe wait for the collected edition, if that ever happens? Either way, #13 (of the regular series) starts off a six part story, so I’d recommend that as more of a place to get started on this series if you haven’t already.
New review today for Tomboy by Liz Prince. Yep, two graphic novel reviews in a row denotes a trend for sure.
Last year I wrote a review for the sample chapter of this book, and my only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And yes, I did acknowledge that that was a stupid complaint to have for a sample chapter. This time around the whole book is here, and it is exactly as fantastic as I had figured. That’s right, at this point I just automatically assume that any comic of Liz’s is going to be fantastic. A high standard to live up, but she hasn’t had any trouble with it yet. This one starts out at the beginning, with Liz in the middle of a crying fit because she was told to try on a dress when she was 4. As she points out, she wasn’t big on throwing fits back in those days… unless she was told to do/try something girlie. From there we get the story of her life, of her trying to fit in while also not fully understanding why she should have to try, of her learning that lots of boys who you think are your friends are actually trying to date you, and of the almost casual bullying that would be a part of her daily life for the vast majority of her time in school. But she also met more than a few great people along the way, people who could steer her in the right direction and make her understand that there wasn’t a thing wrong with her. I do wonder how Liz would have turned out if she hadn’t met the older lady who put out a regular zine, as that was how she got her “training” in comics, but it sure seems like she was set up to be awesome from a very early age. If you’re a lady who had issues like these growing up, I have to imagine that this is going to bring back some serious memories. If you’re just a regular old former (and, let’s be honest, current) misfit like me who never quite fit in any particular clique growing up, you’re still going to see lots to remind you of school days. And I have to admit that the way she got out of wearing dresses to mass was genius. My trick was a clip-on tie (strictly forbidden) for mass day, then lying brazenly about it whenever I was called out by a teacher. Good thing none of them ever gave it a tug. Hey look, there’s me reminiscing about high school days! See, I told you this book would bring up some old memories. It’s a damned fine book, and even the epilogue was a thing of beauty. Read it and enjoy, unless you were the magical person who was completely fine with every aspect of your growing up. I doubt that such people even exist. $15.99
New review for Andre the Giant by Box Brown. What else needs to be said?
There are two main groups of people who know about Andre the Giant: the ones who knew him from wrestling, and the ones who knew him from The Princess Bride. There’s some overlap, granted, but if you’ve heard of him today, it’s probably through one of those things. If you somehow don’t know him, or only know him through images, the man lived quite a life, and Box Brown does a hell of a job telling that story. The basics of Andre is that, at his largest point, he was 7’4″ and over 500 pounds. His disease led to him eventually shrinking as he had to hunch to keep up with various body parts and joints failing, but there’s no getting around the fact that he was a giant man. Full disclosure here: I was a wrestling fan back in the Wrestlemania III days, and recently uncovered an old program book of mine from Wrestlemania IV (I went to see it at a theater in Chicago, not the actual event). There was a championship tournament set up for IV and the program had a section where you could fill in your guesses for how it would go. Andre, to my mind as a child, was clearly going to go through all four rounds and win the championship. In reality the poor guy could barely move at that point and he got counted out (along with Hulk Hogan) in his first round match. That’s throwing the timeline off of this review a bit, but figured I should throw it out there somewhere. Anyway, this book tells brief snippets of his childhood (including how he had to stop riding the bus at 12 because it would no longer fit him) and how he basically stumbled into wrestling as an adult. He was a natural, and I had no idea that he was as agile as he was back in the day. He could do leapfrogs and dropkicks, two moves that require the wrestler to get completely off their feet. He was later told to stop doing all that high flying stuff and move as little as possible to appear even more intimidating, but man do I wish I could have seen Andre the frickin’ Giant dropkick somebody. The bulk of the book recounts various incidents on the road and at wrestling shows, and Box makes it very plain in the intro that wrestlers are notorious for embellishing their stories, but he did all he could to get to the truth of everything. The big highlights are the preparation for his big Wrestlemania III match and a detailed retelling of the match itself and his time working on The Princess Bride. I had never heard the real story behind the last couple of years of his life, and had no idea that he was still wrestling in Japan basically right up until the end of his life. It’s cliche to call somebody like Andre a “gentle giant,” and he more or less was, but it’s also clear that there was only a certain amount of shit that he was willing to take. At least that was the case in bars; the casual cruelty of way too many humans was just something he had to live with. If you’re curious about the man, this is the book for you. Ever wonder how he was able to use an airplane bathroom? How people would move him if he ever got drunk enough to pass out (and good lord could the man drink)? How they were able to perform surgery on somebody that size? Every bit of that is in here. I can’t recommend this enough, both as a biography of one of the most fascinating man who ever lived and as a graphic novel. Box has really outdone himself here, and his obvious passion for the subject is delightful. Read this and enjoy! $17.99
Two new reviews to start off the New Year (and yes, I do realize that I’m staring the year on the 5th): Death in Oaxaca #1 by Steve Lafler and Bear, Bird and Stag Were Arguing in the Forest (And Other Stories) by Madeleine Flores.
Bear, Bird and Stag Were Arguing in the Forest (And Other Stories)
There are a fair amount of fables adapted as comics out there in the world, correct? It seems like there are, but I’m drawing a blank now that I’m trying to come up with them. I’d say that I’m losing my memory as I get older, but I’ve always had a crap memory. Anyway! If that isn’t a thing that happens all the time, the fables being adapted into comics, then it should. The first story in this bunch (and the title of the comic) is either a fable or a story that should have been a fable, and it deals with those three animals trying to figure out which one of them should rule the forest. They go to the forest witch to have the matter decided, and the witch tells them to each bring her a royal item to help them decide. I won’t ruin anything here, but those items are both more and less important to the deciding process than the animals were led to believe. Yes, it is possible to be both. But wait, there’s more! Other stories include a spirit being woven into various items to help protect a baby (and eventually a child), the soul being expelled in little bits all the time and what eventually becomes of it, and what happens to eyeballs after you go to sleep. Or possibly just after Madeleine goes to sleep, or possibly it’s just a story and not meant to be taken literally. I prefer to take it literally for the mental images alone, and I will not tell you what they are because you haven’t read the story. Yet! Because you really should. This is a solid collection of stories, each of which will stay with you long after you finish the book. Hard to think of better praise for stories than that. $6
Death in Oaxaca
Since it’s right there in the title, I’d better get something out of the way up front: nobody dies in this issue. Spoiler alert! Ah, it’s always funny to put that alert in after I spoil something. Yep, that’s my resolution this year: instead of not spoiling anything, I’m going to spoil everything! Or not, I haven’t decided yet. Either way that’s not a giant spoiler for this issue, as that “#1″ next to the title sure implies that there’s more of this story to come. This series is all about a family who moves to Oaxaca to immerse themselves in the local culture and landmarks. It doesn’t hurt that it also seems to be cheap as hell to live there, and the man in the family is an artist who does freelance work to make some cash. Anyway, the bulk of this issue sets up the family as distinct people: the dad (Rex) is afraid of his own mortality and has an interesting visitor pop up regularly in his dreams, and the mom (Gertie) has a secret life on the side to keep things interesting on her end. The logistics of her secret life intrigue me, and I assume that some sort of “origin story” is going to be coming along shortly. Of course, there’s always the possibility that this will another in the endless series of first issues that never have second issues, but I’m choosing to live in hope. Oh, and there’s also something seriously wrong with their new landlord, but I’m not going to spoil that. Huh, so much for that New Year’s resolution. It’s an intriguing comic and it’s good to see Steve Lafler making comics after his Bughouse days. Granted, it’s likely that he’s been making comics this whole time and I just haven’t seen them, but either way it’s new to me. $4.99
I reviewed Get Over It by Corinne Mucha just a couple of weeks ago, and if I ran the world these two books would be sold as a set. Corinne’s book goes point by point through an excruciating breakup, her denial after the fact and multiple aborted attempts to get back together. Alone Forever, on the other hand, is all about Liz living the single life, crushing on guys here and there but basically being OK with being single. Mostly. It’s complicated. These are strips taken from her website, so there isn’t a straight storyline (although it’s not like it’s difficult to follow), but the theme remains the same. Liz hangs out with friends, goes to see bands, crushes on various guys (with beards; that seems to be a requirement), has ill-advised attempts to go out with wingmen, notices that she seems to be wearing the same clothes as most of her crushes, and details a series of OKCupid dates that mostly go horribly wrong. OK, they all go horribly wrong in one way or another, but that doesn’t seem to be an odd result from using that site. I’m in serious danger of just spilling all of the beans on all of the various strips, but I have to mention that I love how her cats will not let her wallow in self-pity. My cat is a notorious asshole (to other humans and only occasionally to me), but she will not stand for any sort of crying either. See, all you monsters who hate cats? Dogs love you all the time, while cats love you the most when you really need it. She also included fake Valentine’s Day candy messages on the inside covers, and you should really take a few minutes to read them. This is a pretty damned great collection of strips, and I can’t recommend it enough for any other single people out there. Couples, butt out. You’re happy enough already. $9.95
It’s a sad fact of my upbringing, but whenever I read a book like this I can’t help wishing that overly religious people were forced to read it. Not for punishment, but because I think it would help them understand humanity a bit more. Not that this book aspires to anything so lofty as all that, and you can tell the theme right from the title. These are the adventures in cruising from Brontez, told in full (and often hilarious) detail, and he has no interest in worrying about the delicate sensibilities of anybody. Which is great, as this book would have been ridiculous if it was censored. He writes a story of whatever happened on one side, and Janelle Hessig illustrates them on the other. The image of his drunken face, covered in cum and heading back out to a wedding, was my favorite, but there are lots to choose from. Subjects of these stories (and he’s nice enough to include a map of these encounters in the front) include his finally hooking up at a punk bar, getting fucked by Santa, the reality of a job working in a bathhouse, the family guy with all the warts on his dick, the straight guy and his trouble with condoms, all of the shit that guys with big dicks think they can get away with, getting fucked by a ghost, the homeless guy (and how it was bad to discriminate), the locker room guy, and fisting while on shrooms. And more, but I should leave some surprises for you. If you’re prone to fainting spells and fits of nervousness then maybe you shouldn’t read this, but for everybody else this book had me laughing plenty, those illustrations by Janelle made great stories even better and I even learned a few new terms which, considering all the gay friends I’ve had over the years, I didn’t think was even possible. Buy it and enjoy, is what I’m trying to tell you. $10
If there’s one thing that has remained the same over my years of writing about comics, it’s my absolute abhorrence for spoilers of any kind. And yet, for the 8 stories in this volume, all I want more than anything is to talk about the endings and how brilliant each and every one of them is. I won’t, of course, but man is it tempting. The stories in here involve the circumstances behind the disappearance of a young woman, a man who wakes up one to discover that he is missing a head but somehow still living (and what he does about it), a man who is the only one to see plumes of smoke rising up from over the hills, the death of a solitary man and the life of a creature who remains in that house, the focus group tested message going out from a shady military group, the rules of hell and “living” in it on a day to day basis, a man with the remarkable gift to transform anything he sees into anything he wants and what he does with it, and Death itself giving an interview to promote an autobiography. Summarizing these stories like this may make them seem simple, and that is the furthest thing from the truth. There are layers to each of them, and good luck reading this without having at least a few of them stuck firmly in your mind, waiting to pop back into your consciousness. The art is perfectly suited to the writing and, even though I didn’t know about these two before reading this book, I really hope there’s more out there from them, as this book is absolutely captivating. And for only $12.99, it’s even a bit of a deal. For whatever it’s worth, this is one of my favorite books of the year. Buy it for yourself and see if I am correct! $12.99
Mimi and the Wolves Act I
All of these years reading comics and I think my favorite thing about them is still having my expectations utterly subverted. This one briefly shows all the characters before the action gets started, and most of them look cute or possibly even a little wacky. But, as you may have guessed, that’s not the direction this one ended up in at all. Things start off with a slow build, as we see a mysterious figure in the forest before finally meeting our heroine (Mimi) and her mate (Bobo). We see them going about the daily lives, happy as can be, before they go to bed for the night. Mimi has been having dreams her entire life, and they make her profoundly uncomfortable to think about, apparently because they involve some horrific creatures/images and seem to end with her quite enjoying something sexual (it’s all still a little vague). Mimi arranges to have a lucid dream so she can confront the woman she keeps seeing in this dream, and that conversation leads to her hanging up icons around the forest. These icons bring the attention of the wolves that are mentioned on the cover, and their intentions seem good, but it’s probably too early to say for sure. The rest of the comic deals with stuff I shouldn’t be talking about, so I won’t. See how easy that was? It’s a solid start to a series that I am very much looking forward to. The art is tremendous and evocative, the writing fits the images perfectly, and it was a blast to read. So maybe you should too! $12
Damn, now that’s how you put together a fantastic anthology. The stories in here are of various lengths, but it gets going with a 20 page story by Eric Orner dealing with his coming to terms with his sexuality, dating a woman in college, having a right wing nut of a father and generally not having much of a source to educate himself about being gay. The social progress this country has gone through in the last five years on this front has been staggering (it’s like the majority of the country realized all at once that they were being homophobic assholes and all decided to stop and pretend like it never happened), but it’s stories like Eric’s that remind the youngsters that there were very few options when you were growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s. The closet was a lifesaver back in those days. Anyway, I’m rambling, and I haven’t even gotten to the other 32 (!) creators in here. Highlights include (and I don’t think there’s a single actively bad story in here, for the record) Annie Murphy’s story about her elderly closeted relatives and wondering what their lives were like, Marinaomi’s first time being an awkward threesome, Ed Nuce and the rules of survival at death metal shows, Dylan Edwards and his childhood friend who referred to his Transformers toys with headlights in robot form as women to try to even out the gender imbalance, Justin Hall’s story about dating a man with (unbeknownst to him) serious mental issues while Justin just thought the guy was trying to work out his life, Jennifer Camper’s hardboiled detective story, Terrance Griep’s most painful wrestling injury, Edie Fake’s hilarious two pages of jokes told by somebody trying to pay to get into a sex show, Steve MacIsaac’s coming face to face with his childhood bully and the unlikely way the conversation ended up going, Andy Hartzell’s story of Pvt. Manning (in his own words) talking about his potential gender reassignment surgery on top of trying to come to terms with his conscience about all of the awful things he knew that the U.S. was doing around the world, Carrie McNinch’s first summer love, and Sasha Steinberg’s triumphant tale of a drag queen buying panty hose. That’s right, I somehow didn’t mention Howard Cruse (who’s been at this for decades and who at least partially started gay comics in general), Craig Bostick, L. Nichols or Rob Kirby, all favorites of mine. So that should tell you the level of quality you’re going to be getting here, right? Oh, and since I’ve been cranky about it in past anthologies, I should mention that Rob does everything right in editing this thing. Creator names at the top of every page? Brilliant! Check it out and enjoy, but set aside an afternoon for it, as this here is a hefty pile of stories. $29.99
With the gigantic caveat of “best of the year of graphic novels that I’ve read.” Which, looking over the past year, is a pretty short list. I seem to be slipping in the quantity of reviews, so I’m either running out of steam completely or last year was just abnormally busy for me. We’ll find out which theory is correct together next year which! Anyway, I’ll be re-posting reviews from the past year at of some of the best graphic novels of the year. Please note that this is not a “Top 10″ list, that the books are in no particular order and that it is possible to love very different book equally. And as I’m only posting graphic novel reviews, I should at least mention some of my favorite series/creators of the past year, so in no particular order: Sam Spina’s TARN (Sam Spina in general can do no wrong), Brian John Mitchell and his countless great series, Ohio is For Sale by Jon Allen, Slaves of the Megapode by Rob Jackson, Towerkind by Kat Verhoeven and Ryan Cecil Smith and his sprawling, ongoing SF series. Granted, that list looks short, but there also aren’t all that many ongoing series that I read. I think Dave Sim’s record of 300 issues of a single series is safe forever. OK, happy New Year week everybody, regular posting will resume on Monday or Tuesday of next week!
It seems incredibly reductive to call this a break-up comic but, well, it is a graphic novel that goes through Corinne’s break-up with a serious boyfriend in detail. If you hate such things I guess you should avoid this, but that can only be the case if you’ve solved the mysteries of all relationships and have no use for such things any more. And if you’ve done that, please share your wisdom with the rest of us! Ahem. This one starts off with Corinne setting the stage, explaining how she moved across the country to be with her boyfriend and how there’s nothing neat about a break-up and that the very term should probably be changed. From there we see her pinpoint the exact moment when things started going bad, and it’s a doozy. She asked him where he saw the relationship going (this was after three years of dating) and he made it perfectly clear that he could never see them getting married, and that even though he definitely wanted kids he could not see them having kids together. Unsolicited relationship advice for the youngsters: this right here is the moment that you run. Three years is a long time to be dating, and if this is still the perspective of your significant other while you think this is the person that you’re going to be spending the rest of your life with, run for it! He/she can’t lay it out for you any clearer than her boyfriend did here. Still, that would be a very short comic, and she already explained that break-ups are never as neat as the term implies, so after breaking up a few months later she spent the next few years pining over him, pestering her friends with stories about it, and trying to break things down so that the whole relationship made some kind of sense. This is where the comic really shines, as she goes to great lengths to show that reason is often not to be found in a situation like this, no matter how hard she tried. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but she seems like a much more grounded person these days, and that’s one of the few benefits of getting your heart broken. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this, cringing at a few bits that struck too close to home while laughing at others for the very same reason. If you know someone who has recently been dumped and they’re going through something like this, buy them a copy (or go to a local library, you cheap bastard) and they will thank you for it. Reading this might not make the pain go away, but it will make a break-up easier to live through. $15