Update for 6/17/21

New review today for So Buttons! #11 by Jonathan Baylis and a gaggle of his artist chums.

Baylis, Jonathan – So Buttons! #11

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So Buttons #11

I guess I shouldn’t be amazed that Jonathan managed to put this together during a global pandemic, but I am honestly a little surprised. Sure, it’s not much different from normal, I imagine: Jonathan writes the stories, asks his various artist buddies if they can draw the stories, and the comics magic happens. Still… kudos! If you’ve never read an issue of this series before, these are autobiographical tales taken from Jonathan’s life, sometimes drawn by entirely new artists, sometimes drawn by a few favorites that he’s used in multiple issues. Also I noticed that every past issue of his series is currently in print (including the collected edition), so if you’re intrigued, get caught up! The man can tell one hell of a tale. Just wanted to get that out there in case I got distracted in the middle of the review. So what’s in this comic that was produced during a global pandemic? Would you believe only one story involves the pandemic, and even then only briefly (and tangentially)? It’s true! For everybody that remembers and appreciates Basil Wolverton’s work, Jim Rugg’s cover art is goddamn amazing. Subjects in this issue include the mythical Laphroaig 15 year scotch and the lengths he went to to try and get it (before it was eventually released as an anniversary edition), his work as a “make a wish” escort and the time he met John Cleese (this one takes you on some twists and turns, as there’s some serious danger that John’s going to end up being an asshole to this kid), his time at school abroad in London and how the comic shop he discovered there led him to small press books, visiting his old Waldenbooks job after it had been turned into a bank, his grandmother’s obsession with Bazooka Joe gum and how that eventually (kind of sort of) led to a job as a Topps intern and finally his tribute to Carol Channing (who shares a birthday with him). There are also a few more wordless pages, but I have to leave something as a surprise. And his bios of the artists tell you a lot about them and why he specifically picked each one for each piece. It’s a steal for $5 and I’m always happy to see a quality series like this make it to double digits while showing no sign of slowing down. Give it a shot if you’ve never tried his stuff before, and if you’re already a fan I guess all I had to say was “hey everybody, a new issue of ‘So Buttons’ is out!” $5

Update for 6/15/21

New review today for Queen of the House by Grant Thomas. You know, I had a few plans for the 20th anniversary of the website (coming up in a couple of months, believe it or not), but it’s starting to look like none of them are going to be ready in time. And if there’s a more apt celebration for this particular website, I don’t know what it could be.

Thomas, Grant – Queen of the House

Website

Queen of the House

The thing about Grant’s comics is that they generally come in one of two forms: dense, meticiulously detailed comics like his “My Life in Records” series (and a few others) or these teeny tiny minis like Queen of the House. I’m guessing that if you look at the price tags (generally $1 for these and $7ish for the other series), but what’s a good way to let people know right off the bat? And is it really important to do so? It’s not like there’s any more inherent worth to one or the other; some people just have a minute to read a comic. Eh, who cares? How about this: if you see a scanned cover that looks unnaturally gigantic, it’s probably my scanner taking a huge image of a tiny comic. It it looks proportional, it’s probably one of his “regular” comics. Well, that was a pointless digression, but what I was trying to get across is that this is a tiny comic and there’s not a lot to say about it. We see the adventures of a cat left home alone, and we see it end with the one thing that’s always guaranteed to cheer up a cat. It’s cute, and us cat owner types will find a few things to love here. Other than that I can talk about the new kittens I got a month ago, or I could just recommend that you send Grant $5 and tell him to give you a few of these l’il comics so that you can get a sense of what he’s all about. $1

Update for 6/3/21

New review today for Rust Belt Review #1 by Sean Knickerbocker and about a half dozen other artists. Enjoy, anthology junkies!

Knickerbocker, Sean (editor) – Rust Belt Review #1

Website (for Sean Knickerbocker)

Rust Belt Review #1

Hooray for a big old comics anthology! And by “big” I mostly mean the size of the actual comic (which wouldn’t fit entirely on my scanner) rather than the page count, which is still more than respectable. This has stories from six artists, about half of which I’d read before. I should also point out that the second issue is coming out in a couple of weeks (6/14/21, readers of the future), so for all of you skeptics that think series like this rarely get beyond the first issue, in your face! One of Sean’s goals (from his introduction) is trying to find a way for artists to diversify their income, as this issue was done in a time when in-person cons wasn’t an option, and it’s not like that’s generally a big moneymaker for the artists anyway. First up is a story by Andrew Greenstone about a cult that kidnapped 100 people and forced them to compete in trivia and games, with death being a very real possibility if you get something wrong. I want to quickly complement the layout of this book: the artist’s name is at the bottom of every other page and the title is on the opposite page, so there’s not the danger you get in some anthologies of stories with similar art styles briefly running together. Next up is Caleb Orecchio’s series of short pieces (that all tie together beautifully) dealing with a group of children, their animal pals and their bullies. And one poorly timed erection, but I don’t want to spoil anything. MS Harkness’s piece about a bank robbery is so amazing that I don’t want to give a thing away about it, so I won’t, but I will say that it got a literal “lol” out of me. Juan Jose Fernandez has a more contemplative piece about yearning featuring some haunting video game-esque imagery. Sean has a couple of stories with the same dirtbag characters; in one the losers are given an ultimatum to clean up their act, and in the next they receive an unexpected windfall while nefarious forces plot in the background. Yep, that one is obviously of the “to be continued” variety. Finally there’s Audra Stang telling a story that connects to her overarching narrative in her mini comics, further cementing the need for a complete edition when it’s all said and done. This is a damned solid anthology, and after looking at the list of artists in the second issue it’s looking like that one should be great too. There are a few pieces that look to be continuing in the next issue, which is a solid way to keep people coming back for more. I hope this works out; there are too few ongoing comics anthologies for my tastes. $10

Update for 6/1/21

New review today for Save It For Later by Nate Powell, which if I was dictator of the world I’d make everybody read. Of course, then this book would be protesting me, which might cause a time paradox of some kind.

Powell, Nate – Save It For Later

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Save It For Later

If you’re not political, if you’ve somehow managed to maintain that state of blissful ignorance into 2021 after everything that’s happened the last several years… well, shame on you, but this is also a note to say that you won’t be interested in this review. I will say that maybe reading this book will get you off your ass and you should give it a shot, but if you’ve convinced yourself that everything is going to work out, nothing I say here is going to change your mind. So what’s this book about? It’s an unapologetic call to action (whatever that means for each person) and an unflinching look at what’s happening in our country, which covers quite a bit of ground. I think it’s Nate’s best work, and the guy has been around for ages, so that’s saying a lot. Yes, March was amazing, but that was John Lewis and Nate, this one is all Nate. After a brief introduction where he goes into what the book is and isn’t, he starts the first chapter with a quick punch to the face: the day after Trump’s election in 2016. I’ve seen books reference this, sure, but it’s a clear indication right off the bat that he’s going to dig into everything. The first chapter is devastating, as it details Nate’s depression, how quickly the white supremacists came out of the woodwork to celebrate, and what small measures they could take in their lives to make any kind of a difference, or at least to make their voices heard. The second chapter shows them making the choice to explain to their young child exactly what type of a person Donald Trump is, how he’s constantly lying and without any redeeming qualities, but how she shouldn’t worry, as his opponent was obviously going to win. This also led to them having to tell her what happened the next day, and their daughter ended up having to comfort them after the conversation. The third chapter is “the parenting chapter,” I guess, as they watch old footage of John Lewis getting assaulted by cops and some white nationalist marches with their daughter, leading to an awkward conversation where Nate has to defend the cops as not all bad (despite what he’s thinking as he’s saying it) and explaining to her why it’s wrong to ever use a swastika, even when playing. He also tells the story of his first time seeing the Ku Klux Klan having a demonstration in his home town and how his parents tried to laugh it off at the time. The fourth chapter is almost sweet, as it tells the story of how he took some friends with him to a comic convention in 2011 and how seeing it through their eyes gave him a new appreciation for cosplay. That was the case, anyway, until the Nazi cosplayer showed up, all smug defiance, and how he eventually chose not to confront the guy. The fifth chapter is the densest in the book, and it should be required reading for anybody who wants to get into the head of a white supremacist, as it’s unsparing in its descriptions of who these people are, how they justify their actions and how the bleeding of colors from their chosen flags means a whole lot more than some bullshit “blue lives matter” nonsense. For the sixth chapter we get the coronavirus, which tied neatly into the theme of manchildren who are contemptuous of science and want praise for doing exactly what they want at all times. Finally the last chapter is a small guide to what anybody anywhere can do to protest whatever is important to them and how it’s important to design your sign so that anybody objecting has to side purely with evil; “No Nazis anywhere,” for example, is tough to get too mad about without really telling on yourself. I don’t usually go into this much detail in reviews, but I’m still just scratching the surface of what he’s accomplished here. It’s not a bullshit message of “we’ll get through this together” without details, and he readily admits that he doesn’t even know how much worse things are going to get by the time the book is published. It’s a clear-eyed look at how perilous the current moment is and should frankly be given to anybody who’s too complacent in their life. If you don’t try to get them to be better, who will? $25

Update for 5/28/21

New review today for Beastly by Ben Cherry, as I am ending the week with polar bears. Happy weekend everybody!

Cherry, Ben – Beastly

Website

Beastly

It’s another gorgeous wordless mini comic from Ben, on a completely different track from the last one we saw. It’s a simple enough story, but it’s fairly devastating. There’s a hunting expedition (the time frame of this one is left up to the reader; my guess is that it’s meant to take place decades ago, but I could be completely wrong on that) that manages to tranquilize a polar bear. This isn’t the wanton murder type of hunting, as this guy brings the bear back in the hopes of making money off of it. The bear is placed in a cage for a public viewing, but the public isn’t particularly interested, and the bear isn’t particularly motivated to put on a show. The hunter, unable to blame himself for this state of affairs, starts drinking heavily and berates the man he’s hired to take care of the bear. Unfortunately, he does this as the bear’s cage door is open for feeding time, and I should probably stop there to preserve at least a little bit of the mystery. It’s another intriguing comic from Ben, and as always I’m curious to see what he comes up with next. $4

Update for 5/26/21

New review today for The Tay Bridge Disaster by David Robertson, which may or may not be your favorite story of a bridge collapsing. Depends on where you live, I guess.

Robertson, David – The Tay Bridge Disaster

Website

The Tay Bridge Disaster

Is this David’s first comic that’s only about a single subject (not including comics about dreams)? Probably not but I’ve forgotten the other ones because my memory is crap. If only there was some way to check, like a global database of everything that’s ever happened. This one is based off a historical tragedy, so you can Google some images if you’d like after reading it. I know I did! David does a nice job of laying out the history, getting the reader familiar with the architect, listing the theories behind the collapse (he says that nobody knows for sure, although Wikipedia thinks that mystery is settled), showing the construction, etc. There were several warning as the bridge was being constructed, which led to quite a few people who were able to use the “I told you so” defense. The architect behind the bridge didn’t live long at all after its collapse; it seemed to destroy whatever will to live the man had left. The bridge became the only consistent means of travel across the river, as the ferry service was shut down after a few successful train crossings. Things seemed to run fine for about six months, but when it gave out, it gave out in brutal fashion. I do like the idea that the pillars have never been removed and still remain next to the current bridge. It’s a nice memorial to the people who died as well as being a monument to checking your work, I guess? David also includes some poems and tributes to the incident that came out shortly after it happened, including some poems from the man who was thought to be the worst poet in the world at the time. It’s a fascinating story all around, even if it’s lacking in some definitive answers. Not that that’s David’s fault, it’s just that historians can’t seem to agree. No price listed, but probably around $10ish (check with David through his website)

Update for 5/24/21

New review today for Forever and Everything #6 by Kyle Bravo! He’s the guy with the action star name who does diary strips about daily life and raising a family.

Bravo, Kyle – Forever and Everything #6

Website

Forever and Everything #6

In case you’re curious if a guy who does regular diary style comics kept going during the pandemic, the subtitle of this one is “the pre-pandemic naivete issue.” Which makes me naturally curious to read the next issue, as I’m oddly fascinated to see how artists handled the past year, so I may break my usual “don’t review the same artist twice in quick succession” rule. Which gets broken every now and then anyway, and it’s not like I have a boss breathing down my neck one way or the other. Anyway! This is a collection of this strips from right before the pandemic, which was formerly known as “normal life.” Subjects include watching a bird frenzy, modern technology helping with the lawn mowing, trying to explain that he’s not up the task of making a phone call to the doctor adequately, the checklist when he leaves the house, termites, dipping fries in milk, the thought of being trapped in a dentist’s chair listening to the hygienist, trying to maximize his reading time, attempting the ill-advised trick of urinating into an empty bottle while driving, explaining the meaning behind the terminology of ska fans to his young daughter, and a few other things that I’ll leave as a total surprise. As always, I chuckled more than a few times reading this, and yes, that does count as a recommendation. This is also a series where you’ll be OK if you haven’t read the first five issues, so jump in wherever, give it a shot! $5

Update for 5/13/21

New review today for The Woodsman by Rob Jackson. Maybe it’s his opus? Nah, I think that guy has even bigger books in him. Just a theory!

Jackson, Rob – The Woodsman

Website

The Woodsman

Is this the longest book that Rob has done? At 88 pages (according to his website anyway; he doesn’t number his pages and it’s not like I’m going to count them) it has to be close. This is the story of an aspiring writer who goes out to a secluded cabin in the woods to try and find some inspiration. Yes, I’ve seen stories start with this premise before, but believe you me, none of them came close to going the places that this one did. Anyway! Our hero (Bill) tries writing for a few days, has no luck, and eventually runs into the Woodsman as he’s out hunting and laying traps. They slowly strike up a friendship (I’m most likely rounding up a bit with that word), and they get to talking about previous writers that have also used that cabin for inspiration. The Woodsman reveals that they all had similar problems, and he offered each of them a deal: if they write a story for him, they were guaranteed to get back on track with their own books. Bill recognized a few of the names, so clearly the deal worked for them. He thought about it for a few days and agreed to the deal. The next thing Bill knew, he had significantly fewer blank pages in front of him and his writer’s block was gone, so he spent the next two weeks writing what turns out to be his best book yet. Still, the uncertainty haunts him. What happened that night? What did he write for the Woodsman? Surely it wouldn’t hurt to go to the Woodsman’s cabin and take a look, right? This is the point in the review when I can’t say much more, because despite the fact that I’m maybe 20 pages in at this point, there are so many twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil any of them. There’s the question of the nature of the Woodsman, what the other writers remember about their deals, what each of them ended up writing for him, and about a dozen more questions that I’m not even going to mention. It was riveting all the way through, who could ask for anything more? If you’ve somehow made it however many years reading this website without reading one of Rob’s books, this seems like an excellent place to start. No pesky series to get bogged down in and his artwork is as good as it’s ever been. Don’t ask me to do the currency conversion thingie, but I think this would be roughly $13 here in the U.S.

Update for 5/11/21

New review today for Plastic People #7 by Brian Canini, and I’ve maybe reviewed more of his comics than anybody else over the years? I’ll have to do a count one of these days to see. The second guy I review this week is also pretty high up that list…

Canini, Brian – Plastic People #7

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Plastic People #7

(I’m going to assume that everybody reading has at least a passing familiarity with the events of the previous issues)

This time around we finally get to spend some time with the family of the murdered woman, and can I just say that this format is finally growing on me as a way to tell this story? Sure, you’re only getting a fragment of the big picture each time, but it’s a self-contained fragment, and it’s clearly building towards something. This one starts off with an ad for a new action movie (called Terror Stopper, and I’m astounded that nobody has used that title until now. It tells the whole story!), and then we briefly meet the family who’s waiting to identify the body. They meet the detectives, but even when they see the body they’re not sure. One of the drawbacks of living in a society full of people who all get the same plastic surgery, I guess. Once again it’s tough to review one of these shorties without giving too much away, so I’ll just say that what does identify the body (and how the mother instantly recognized it) was not what I would have guessed, and her brother has a one track mind with what’s really important. With this issue I’m halfway caught up to what’s out there already (I just saw #14 listed on his website) and thoroughly hooked. I’ll also point out that the compendiums put together three issues at a time if this pace is just too slow for you, so maybe consider going that route? $2

Update for 5/5/21

Only one review this week, as there’s an election going on. A very small one, granted, but it still means a lot going on at work. New review for the collected Big Questions by Anders Nilsen! Which really deserves its own week anyway…

Nilsen, Anders – Big Questions

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Big Questions

So a little bit of personal history is necessary here. I started reading Big Questions around when the first issue came out in the late 90’s. I liked it quite a bit, although it seemed to be mostly gag strips and birds having philosophical debates. I read the first 7 issues but lost track of it somewhere along the way. Reading back through my old reviews it’s clear that I was loving it, but hey, there are a lot of comic series out there and I only have so much money (meaning: very little). But then some stimulus money came around, I checked out the Drawn & Quarterly shop and hey look, a collected edition of this book came out almost a decade ago. Whoops! Well, a giant book of funny strips and random philosophical discussions could be fun, so I picked up the hardcover version. Revisiting this so much later, I have one main question to start: why isn’t this book in the pantheon of greatest books of the genre? I haven’t seen every top 100 list, granted, but I don’t recall seeing it on the ones that I did read, and after reading this, it seems like a glaring omission. Anders explained in his afterward that he did start off fairly meandering, but the story got clearer to him as he went along, and when he had the chance to put everything in its proper place here, he really nailed it. For the purposes of this review I’m going to assume that you missed this completely when it was around. If you read a few issues back in the day and are just curious if it ever came together: yes it did, and you should buy a copy toot sweet. For the newbies, this is the story of a few dozen birds, a grandmother living with her mentally challenged grandson, a snake, an owl, some dogs, a few crows, a crashed plane and the pilot. Oh, and Greek mythology, the underworld, destiny, free will, and faith. This books takes a little while to get going, and the pace is never frantic, outside of a few fight scenes (in the context of this book, since it’s fights among animals, they’re fights for their lives). If anything it’s closer to the few manga books that I’ve read in that there is no sense of a rush to tell the story. Anders mentions in another note that he takes a perverse pleasure in drawing the same panel over and over again with only slight changes every time, and he uses that to full effect here. The story in a nutshell, and I’m bound to miss a few things: a bird is searching for his missing mate after their tree is chopped down, a giant bird (what they don’t understand to be a plane) has come crashing down into a house, another group of birds has found a giant egg (what they don’t realize is a bomb), and the giant bird has also hatched a human (who they don’t understand is the pilot). Oh, and there’s the family in the woods. Some of these birds fixate on the giant egg, others on the grandson, and others on the felled giant bird, each doing their own thing. They interact throughout the book, try to convince the others of the wisdom of their particular course of action, and just generally try to get by. The art consistently improves throughout (and it amazing for the vast majority of it), the story is completely compelling (I’d recommend starting this when you have a couple of free hours, as you won’t want to put it down), and most of the characters get solid endings. Not necessarily happy, but the only endings they could have had, really. I feel like I missed a major piece of comics history in not reading this book until now, frankly. If you love comics, this is absolutely required reading.

$45 (softcover) $70 (hardcover)