Update for 9/28/16

New review today for Teaching Comics Volume One by Alex Nall. I’m posting this before the debate, but Trump looked really stupid, didn’t he? And he said about a dozen things that should disqualify him from being considered human, let alone a viable presidential candidate, right? I’m really going out on a limb here, I know.

Nall, Alex – Teaching Comics Volume One

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Teaching Comics Volume One

Have you ever been a teacher, or wanted to be one? Or have you ever just wondered what their life was like? Or maybe do you just like entertaining comics? If any of these things apply to you, maybe you should give this one a shot. This covers roughly six months in the life of Alex as a teacher (I think; not all of the strips were dated), and it’s all over the place. I don’t mean that as a criticism, it’s just that between this and some other conversations I’ve had recently I get the impression that the life of a teacher is basically spent in a constant state of low level panic at the thought of losing their job, while still secretly hoping deep down that something happens to prevent them from ever needing to teach again. While ALSO being genuinely rewarded by the rare moments of creativity and inspiration from the students, and driven to hopelessness by the conditions in the school/classroom and the general apathy of the students most of the time. Like I said, there’s a lot going on here, and Alex does a fantastic job of conveying that on the page without ever getting preachy or morbid about the whole thing. Subjects include his being in charge of the iPods for the school, managing to inspire a few kids to draw about their favorite wrestlers or music, how the look and sounds of a school can be the same as when he was a kid but somehow vastly different, being baffled by the elimination of recess, wondering if he’s doing any good, getting his drawing class cancelled and taking over teaching disabled and special needs kids, meeting a new girl, and a number of the various interactions he’s had with his kids. He clearly had a wealth of material to work with here, and the story of the kid lining him up, bowling him over and then declaring him his soul mate was one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages. So yeah, this is very much worth a look. $20

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Update for 9/26/16

Yes, sporadic reviews probably will be the norm through the end of this year, as the upcoming election slowly eats me alive. Sorry about that. New review today for Cassie Chadwick: Queen of Cleveland by Caitlin Cass.

Cass, Caitlin – Cassie Chadwick: Queen of Cleveland

Website

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Cassie Chadwick: Queen of Cleveland

I haven’t even gotten a chance to review Caitlin’s last comic yet after my old scanner blew up, and she’s already done with another one. Feel shame, slow comics artists! This is the story of Cassie Chadwick, a lady who figured out pretty quickly the easiest way to gets lots of money: by fooling rich people into thinking that she already had money. It was ingenious, even if it didn’t work out too well for her in the long run. Is it getting into spoilers if I say how it turned out for her? She’s been dead for over 100 years. Then again, I didn’t know how it all turned out until I read this comic, so I’ll leave it a mystery for you. Anyway, she married a few rich people (one at a time), conned a few others, did a little time in prison and then figured out that the world runs on gossip. So she very carefully arranged to be seen leaving the house of Andrew Carnegie, one of the more famous rich people at the time, told one person that she was his illegitimate daughter and then let the socialites do the work for her. Something like this would be a little trickier to pull off now with the internet around, but I’ll bet it’s still possible. This is another solid, informative and thoroughly entertaining comic by Caitlin, who is basically a one woman crash course in the history of the strange and disaffected in American history. So have you heard the rumor that I’m the illegitimate son of Bill Gates?

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Update for 9/16/16

New review today for Flying Sausage Academy #1 by Rob Jackson, happy birthday Kathie!

Jackson, Rob – Flying Sausage Academy #1

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Flying Sausage Academy #1

This review will serve as your regular reminder that Rob Jackson is a comics making machine and you should be ashamed that the amount of comics you make in a year will never match his. Luckily it’s not a competition, but there are very few comics artists working who’ve put out the amount of quality work that this guy has over the last decade. And he has a consistent track record of being nice enough to finish his comics series, meaning that you shouldn’t be afraid of future disappointment with that “#1” in the title. Believe me, he knows where he’s going with this. This, by the way, being the story of a new kid at a school who’s given the instructions that he can’t get in any trouble for fighting. This immediately puts the new kid in a tough spot, as the school is run by a bully named King Penguin. Who looks like a weird human/bird hybrid. Yes, this is mentioned almost immediately by one of the characters, and other characters include a pirate (complete with peg leg), a student in full armor, a teacher who throws hot soup on unruly students and a headmaster in wizard robes. This issue sets up this world nicely, as our hero has all kinds of trouble fitting in without causing any sort of problems that would attract the attention of his father while navigating a world with that bully after him. And the several other school factions that could theoretically protect him from this bully, assuming he can figure out what they want instead. His mother is a mystery; she’s bedridden behind some curtains at home but we never see her. So yeah, this is a nice solid bit of world building, with a varied cast of characters that could go in a number of directions moving forward.

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Update for 9/14/16

New review today for Forever and Everything by Kyle Bravo, and I am back to doing weird future reviews as I get busy at work with elections stuff again.

Bravo, Kyle – Forever and Everything

Website

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Forever and Everything

I do very much love it when artists don’t get offended by a past criticism of mine. It doesn’t happen often; the most common reaction when I get a response to something critical I’ve said is thanks, that at the very least maybe I’ve made them think about things in a different way. And sure, sometimes people get mad, as it’s not like I’m going to be right in every thing that I think, and there are even times when I’m having a shitty day and I say something awful in a review as a result. Very rarely, and I’ve gotten better at that over the years, but I am only human. Anyway, long and pointless intro short, I mentioned in the review of Kyle’s last comic that his early drawings “looked like garbage.” Instead of taking this personally, or even giving up because one guy on the internet said something bad about an aspect of his comic, Kyle thought it was funny and even mentioned it in his intro. To be clear, the rest of my review mentioned how much better the book got as he went along, and that sloppiness was an inherent danger of daily diary strips… eh, that’s why I keep an archive here. Read it yourself for the whole story. My point being: artists, never take critics all that seriously. Me, I’m just in it for the free comics. So how about this comic? Kyle has decided to keep going with his strips, but instead of continuing to do them daily (with a small child that’s a dicey proposition anyway) now he just draws them when possible and “as funny or interesting things occur.” That right there should be the motto of all daily diary artists, but then I guess that would take the “daily” out of the equation. Kyle also makes the interesting choice to really maximize space, as strips fill out each page, with them being continued on the next page until they stop. Meaning a strip can be four panels and done or 12 panels and done; once that happens he puts up a title card to signify the start of the next strip to move you along. Environmentalists, shouldn’t you have figured this out years ago? Think of all the paper just this one guy is saving. Subjects in here include the ongoing development of Jamie, having chickens, not having chickens, making a mural, injuring himself, being away from the family, the personal woe of headaches, accidentally getting a faux hawk, and jury duty. It’s some pretty solid storytelling, but the only complaint I have is that after ten minutes of looking around online I’m still not sure where exactly people can buy a copy of this book. The only thing I’ve seen is an Etsy listing that has this for 69.93 SEK, which sounds totally made up. That should always be easy to find for anybody looking for your name. But hey, send the guy an email, that should do the trick too.

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Update for 9/12/16

New review today for Libby’s Dad by Eleanor Davis. Maybe I can do reviews every other day and keep that consistent? Sure, let’s work with that theory and see what happens.

Davis, Eleanor – Libby’s Dad

Website

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Libby’s Dad

So the thing about kids is that it’s easy for them to be assholes. Which isn’t a judgment; assholes make the world go around. But when there’s a rumor about the father of a girl in a group of friends, and when said father holds a slumber party for this group at his house (a new house from the ongoing divorce that comes with a pool), that rumor is going to get talked about eventually. Things start off with five girls at this pool party, but a sixth member of the group is missing. It turns out that this girl is missing because the mother of this girl heard about the rumor too, and she didn’t to take any chances. The rumor? That Libby’s father, during an argument in the divorce proceedings, threatened to shoot Libby’s mother. There were no independent witnesses to this comment, and the story came from Libby’s mother, but nobody knew quite what to believe, especially teenage girls with no frame of reference. The girls manage to have fun anyway (well, Libby seems a bit withdrawn), until one of them accidentally knocks over a bottle of nail polish and realizes that they’re going to have to get Libby’s father to help. And who knows what his reaction will be? This is another gorgeous comic from Eleanor and she does some amazing things in this full color format. Artists don’t always get credit for utilizing colors well, but they should and she does. I was going to say that she should stick to color comics from now on, but then I went back through some of her older reviews on this website and she does amazing work in black and white too, so never mind. It seems to be the whole “making comics” thing that she’s good at. So yeah, it’s well worth a look. $8

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Update for 9/6/16

New review today for She’s Not Into Poetry by Tom Hart, which is a collection of all of his early mini comics. So yes, you now live in a world where this exists. Congratulations, you’ve made it!

Hart, Tom – She’s Not Into Poetry

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She’s Not Into Poetry

Do you ever feel like you’ve wished something into existence? Well, that’s this graphic novel. I’ve been hoping for a collection of all of Tom’s early mini comics basically since a few of them went out of print in the 90’s, and here they are. All the titles are in the tags and sure, I have copies of about 2/3 of them, but that’s still 1/3 that I previously had no access to. And since I have some of the original comics, that means that I have 20 year old belly lint by Tom Hart, because he taped that to two of his minis. Um, yay? Does that mean I can clone him once the technology is perfected? I have to think through the ethical implications of that responsibility. Oh, am I not talking about the comics yet? How about this: these comics were a solid chunk of the reason why I fell in love with small press comics, and the fact that these had mostly disappeared down the memory hole in the early 00’s was a solid chunk of the reason why I started a small press comics review site where books like these could all be lumped together. So yeah, you could say that the guy influenced my life just a bit. Oh, here’s one valid question I could answer with this review: do these comics hold up as more than nostalgia? Yes. Yes, they do. Want specifics? Wodaabe Comics is the earliest (and rawest) and it still made me laugh several times. Love Looks Left, if there is any justice in this world, is being taught in all these various cartoonists schools as the perfect mini comic. Maria mixes some casual background horror with a quiet day with the ducks with an obsessed stalker seemlessly. New Hat and Ramadan are both basically prequel comics for Hutch Owens, even though I’m pretty sure Hutch Owens was done at roughly the same time. Vital supplementary comics, the both of them. This comic does make me miss the days when I could occasionally come across a new Tom Hart mini comic in Quimby’s or Chicago Comics, and it looks like those days are gone for good. But it does fill me with hope to know that a guy with this brain is helping to teach the next generation of cartoonists. Just in case you are the only person on earth who has every single comic here, this volume does contain a new introduction, afterward, and a list of his favorite things/influences/people, then and now. $14.95
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Update for 9/4/16

Sorry about the sudden absence, but all is right with the world: I have a working scanner again. Now if I could just figure out how to use it… eh, who has time to read the instructions. New review today for Magic Whistle 3.0 #1 by Sam Henderson and a few other artists. In theory reviews should now be back to normal, at least until the upcoming election removes me from humanity entirely for a few months. But the next week or so should still be good!

Henderson, Sam & Various Artists – Magic Whistle 3.0 #1

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Magic Whistle 3.0 #1

We can all agree that the world would be a better place with more Magic Whistle in it, but Sam Henderson is just one man with other demands on his attention. What’s the solution to this problem? Bring in more funny artists! That’s the general idea with this latest version of Magic Whistle, and it’s a fantastic idea that works splendidly in this first issue. Sam does his thing better than most funny people so you know going in that that’s going to be good (check the handy chart to see what gum is called in your state; Ohio is “Pennsylvania asparagus”). But what about the newbies? Well, to start with, I think they’re all oldbies (i.e. people who have been making comics for years now), so no worries on that front either. John Brodowski (if you’re a regular around here that should be a familiar name) has a series of strips involving Sid and Sid (basically a carnival barker and a mute ghoul, although it’s probably best not to know for sure exactly what they are) spreading knowledge and horror wherever they go. Manuel Gomez Burns picks apart the traditional gag comic, spending a lot of time with the character in the last panel who always plops over in horror/outrage/hilarity and exactly what might make this character tick outside of the frame. Leah Wishnia devises the ingredients necessary to create the perfect spitball and show the devastating effects of such an object. Jesse McManus’s comic might require some knowledge of older Magic Whistle strips (mostly the ones where the bear and the human exchange body parts with each other with joy and hilarity), but he injects some unsettling realism into that hypothetical situation. Finally there’s Ansis Purins, another familiar name to regulars around here, with an oddly sweet tale of brothers with little in common who go out to plant a tree. And because it’s Ansis, some version of zombres are of course involved. Here’s hoping that increasing the pool of funny means more Magic Whistles in the world, because we’re all going to need something to laugh about over the next few months, he said, injecting a slight political note into an otherwise non-partisan review. Don’t vote Trump, you dummies. But do buy this comic, because it’s funny. $5.99

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Anniversary Week Extravaganza! Day 5 (8/19/16)

OK, that’ll do it for the nostalgia tour. Back to regular reviews next week, meaning sporadic and based on free time. But I did put in an order for a new scanner, so that shouldn’t be a problem for much longer. I’m pretty sure that 15 years makes me something like 100 in internet years, but it has been a lot of fun much more often than not, and I know that I helped at least a few people out along the way. As for how much longer I’ll keep doing this? How about this: at the exact moment when I’m not excited to see what comics are in the random package I just got from Kiev, or Ireland, or Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Denver, or where-the-hell-ever. It’s clear to me that I make a poor proper adult, so that time probably won’t come for several years yet. Now if only I could find the time to fix all the typos from the old articles, update all the contact info, put the review dates back to their original dates, fix the online store, replenish the stock in said store with books that’s weren’t all from the aughts, start interviewing comics creators again… Which reminds me, if there’s an eccentic millionaire out there who wants access to all the old mini comics in the world, get in touch! I’d quit my day job in a second. Thanks for reading everybody!

Grant Reynolds

Rafer Roberts

Johnny Ryan

Steve Seck

Katie Skelly

Steve Steiner

Dan Taylor

Esther Pearl Watson

Julia Wertz

Jeff Zwirek

Anniversary Week Extravaganza! Day 4 (8/18/16)

OK fine, so there are a LOT more of these than I was anticipating. It’s a pleasant surprise. And that’s without me including people who have been doing this for 15+ years while I’ve only reviewed one or two of their books, or people whose books I’ve never reviewed because I frankly didn’t feel worthy to do it. Los Bros Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Eddie Campbell, Chris Ware, all of those people have shaped my views on comics to an immeasurable degree. But smarter than people than me can talk about them in any kind of critical detail.

Kris Lachowski

Dave Lapp

Jeff LeVine

Carrie McNinch

Tom Motley

Kelli Nelson

Anders Nilsen

PANEL Anthologies (Columbus Ohio convention books)

Marcos Perez

John Porcellino

Anniversary Week Extravaganza! Day 3 (8/17/16)

Quite a lot of flashbacks are hitting me as I dig through the archives; even a surface dig of this many reviews is bound to do that. What happened to all these artists who released a half dozen books over the course of a few years and then vanished? Are they happy and fulfilled now? Are they still drawing but just no longer releasing comics? What about Tony Consiglio, who was a favorite of mine for years (and who had the best rebuttal to Dave Sim’s speech at SPACE 2004 that was humanly possible)? Drop me a line is you’re somehow reading this, sent me comics to reviews many years ago and are still reading about comics while not making them. I do wonder sometimes

Emi Gennis (I don’t think she’s actually been around that long but I’m cheating on this one)

Jenny Gonzalez

John Hankiewicz

Tom Hart

Sam Henderson

Paul Hornschemeier

Kevin Huizenga

Max Ink

Rob Jackson

Dave Kiersh

James Kochalka

Anniversary Week Extravaganza! Day 2 (8/16/16)

Turns out that there are way more artists who have been working for 15+ years than I thought, so this might actually take more than a week to get through them. If you’re wondering why the dates on the reviews don’t seem to indicate that this website is in fact 15 years old, blame that on an update in 2010 when I tried to fix a bunch of links/typos/misc problems. I was told that it would keep the original review dates, that didn’t happen, and since it would take months to go back and figure out the actual publication dates (if it was possible at all), I left it alone.

Brian Canini

Isaac Cates (& Mike Wenthe)

Chris Cilla

Ryan Claytor

Max Clotfelter

Jaime Crespo

Mike Dawson

Brad Dwyer

Austin English

Robin Enrico

Neil Fitzpatrick

Renee French

Kelly Froh

Anniversary Week Extravaganza! Day 1 (8/15/16)

The actual date when I started this website has been lost to time and a few different hard drive crashes, but I know that it was in August of 2001, and I know that I had 100 reviews written when I put the website online. I wanted it to look like it had come out of nowhere, which it more or less did. This week I thought I’d post links here to some of the people (and companies) that have been making or releasing comics since at least 2001. I’ll probably get some of these wrong, as there’s no historical database for comics artist (right?), but at least it’ll be close.

Trevor Alixopulos

Graham Annable

Pat Aulisio

Peter Bagge

Suzanne Baumann

Gabrielle Bell

Sean Bieri

Pam Bliss

Gareth Brookes

Jeffrey Brown

“Update” for 8/10/16

Due to my busted scanner (I’m hoping to get a new one this week or next week, I just bought way too much furniture when I moved and am very broke at the moment) I’m not going to to review the new comic from Caitlin Cass yet. It’s about R.R. Whitehead, is another in her “Great Moments of Western Civilization” series and is so new that it’s not even on her website yet, but you should go there anyway and ask her if you can buy a copy. But I didn’t want to talk about it without any images attached, so the reviews is on hold. I did want to throw in some news (assuming anybody reads this far on the non-review posts): this month marks the 15th anniversary of Optical Sloth. Balloons, all the balloons! So I had a request to anybody who has been making comics for a very long time, like for example 15 years or longer (especially if I’ve already reviewed some of your books): send me the latest thing you did! I’d like to do a very tiny retrospective of some of the comic artists I’ve reviewed over the years, and having your most recent books would be most helpful. Or if that doesn’t work out (since this is ridiculously late notice to be throwing this out there), I’ll at least go through the reviews over this month and see for myself who I’ve been covering the longest and post links to their stuff. Oh, and there will also be another artistic improvement to the site soon, but that’s still top secret for now.