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!
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.
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…
(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
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…
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)
New review today for Zirp #6 by Till Thomas, which should be a great chance for you to catch up on your German if you know the language. If not, it comes with English translations, so don’t fret.
Ah, foreign language comics. Sometimes they’re impossible to review, sometimes (like with this one) the translations are right on the bottom each page, making it a breeze. Of course, there was also a fairly long interview in German included and what looked like some reviews for his past work, but I’m sure the man was limited in the number of pages he could use, and you can’t translate everything. It also came with a music CD by Flamyng, which I’m listening to as I’m writing this. This isn’t a music review website, but I like some of it quite a bit (mostly the wordless stuff), other songs not as much. Fine, all the bells and whistles are out of the way, what about the comic? He mostly keeps the words to a minimum anyway, and the comic also includes three fold out double sided spread pages. The story starts off with our hero riding his bike home, and along the way this somehow seriously annoys a furry that was picking up very shiny loose change from the street. Maybe it was the wind from his bike? In any case, the furry takes out his rage on the next person to ride a bike in that area. Our hero (Lenni) then tries to nail down some banking rates, visits his sick mother, and takes his child to the beach, where they see some of the most striking visual imagery of the comic: several large balloon animals, the type you’d usually see in a parade. From here we learn that he is not at all on good terms with his ex, and I should probably stop there before I tell you the whole comic. The book is gorgeous, the story is solid (apparently the first part of a series), and it comes with a free music CD. What more could you ask for? $12
New review today for the triumphant return of Matt H. in Miss Fortune! I do give some hints at who he is in the review, if you cannot rest until you solve the mystery of the H…
Long, long time readers of the website take note: this is the same “Matt H.” that wrote several issues of a comic called Flame Broiled way back in the day. As is the case for an increasing number of creators, he requested that I shorten his name here in case his students try to Google him. That’s one thing I never would have anticipated when starting this website almost 20 years ago: that so many people would become serious professionals and have concerns about people being able to see their past work. I mean, in hindsight, duh, but it never occurred to me. This is Matt’s first comic in roughly a decade (I think; don’t quote me on that) and it’s a simple enough formula. The hero of the story, Miss Fortune, is constantly being talked into things that she shouldn’t be doing, what with that foreboding name and all. Chunks of the early strips are very static (it looks like Matt used the same cutouts several times), but it gets more involved and frenetic as the strips move along. Subjects include the wisdom of this particular lady holding a baby, nailing a picture to a wall, plugging in a phone charger, dogsitting, feeding a sick man hot soup, or (by the end) just standing around the graveyard. There are some funny bits; the punchline for that final strip in particular was hilarious, as was the bit in the graveyard. Who knows, maybe this will get him back in the comics game. Meanwhile, if you’re curious about his past work, I’d recommend his series in Flame Broiled dealing with the time he met Harvey Pekar, or maybe his attending a horror convention if that’s more up your alley. $6
New review today for How About A Nice Big Cup Of Climate Grief? by Jep. It’s a real feel good story!
How About A Nice Big Cup Of Climate Grief?
This comic is all about a subject that I find myself thinking about more and more lately: how does a person continue to blithely exist in a world that seems completely committed to doing nothing at all to help alleviate the inevitable climate crisis, especially when we’re already most likely past the point of no return? Oh, and I should mention: if you’re looking for laughs here, it’s best to move along. Jep has managed to include more than a few funny bits, but it’s mostly as grim as the current reality demands. Jep has a basic plan: instead of spending the rest of his life agonizing over this issue, he has decided to really hone in on the subject for a couple of dozen strips, and then basically “fake it ’til he makes it” for the rest of his life. If he can hold to it, it’s not the worst plan in the world! Constant low level dread and blinding rage at the people who don’t give a shit about it doesn’t seem like the best strategy. Of course, this was all before covid, which has been a helpful reminder for everybody that things can always get worse. Anyway, you know the basic idea of the comic (him working through his feelings on the thing that will most likely doom the generation behind us but maybe not us (“us” being the 40+ types)). He helpfully includes one villain with each strip, but that’s what you’d call a target rich environment. Specific subjects include the youth movement (and how embarrassing it is that the only hope for change has to come from teenagers), the unlikelihood of global cooperation, how the rich probably aren’t going to be too bothered by things, how dumb things were in the 80’s (which is still a far cry from how dumb they are now), his trip involving a deadly heat wave in 2018 that really solidified his thinking, how annoying the blissfully ignorant are, the idea of leaving it all behind and heading for the hills, and the species that will most likely thrive. There’s plenty more, of course; this is maybe the most textually dense book he’s ever done. If you’re somebody who’s willing to confront this issue head on, read this comic, maybe his idea of getting this out of your system will work for you. If you prefer ignorance, I guess this review is as bad as you’re likely to feel about all of this, so congrats on making it this far in life without a conscience I guess? $8
How about a nice peaceful comic to review! It’s Nibble #9: Meet Fish Boy! by Tom Cherry. In other news, I’ve been digging through my old stuff in the hopes of finding what’s left of a penny that my cat swallowed when she was a kitten (it’s a long story, but since she lived for 19 years after that I guess you could say things turned out OK). I’ve had no luck so far, but I am rediscovering all kinds of original art that people sent along with their review comics back in the day. Some of them aren’t even making comics anymore, but maybe I’ll start posting some images just for the heck of it.
Nibble #9: Meet Fish Boy!
That, Aquaman, I tell you, he gets no respect. This isn’t actually about Aquaman, of course, it’s about Fish Boy, who has little to nothing to do with Aquaman, other than being maybe just a little bit of a parody of the guy. Fish Boy can breathe underwater, and no matter how long he stays underwater, his skin never gets pruney. And… well, that’s about it as far as super powers go. He’s not respected by his peers, he’s not feared by his enemies (if he even has enemies), and he has no luck with the ladies. Or lady, anyway. This is a short comic from Tom, but he manages to include several funny “facts” and there’s more than enough room for poor old Fish Boy to take a metaphorical beating. He even has a fun King Cat parody cover towards the back, which fits better than you may have guessed. It’s an enjoyable romp and it’s a measly $.50, what more could you ask for?
Just a little note to let everybody know that I’m OK (I know that a pandemic is a bad time to vanish for a few weeks) and the reviews should start up again this week. My 20 and 1/2 year old cat Sassafrasquatch died a couple of weeks ago and, well, that stopped any motivation I had to write about comics. I tried a few times, but nothing came out. For anybody who’s been reading this website for all or most of its run, if you’re doing the math in your head, the 20 year anniversary of this site is coming up in August. That means that Sassafrasquatch was around for all of it, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to stop mid-review because she demanded to be picked up, or to be fed, or just that I stop doing anything other than pay attention to her. I’m trying to think of a way to eulogize her, as I sit here and wait for her ashes to be delivered (and I have no idea what I’m going to do with those), and I don’t know where to begin, and every time I try I start tearing up. She’s been one of very, very few constants in my life since my early 20’s, and now she’s gone. So yes, the comics reviews will start again, because I need all the distractions I can get. But if you notice that things are especially dour around here, at least now you’ll know that there’s a good reason for it.
This book is one of the rare ones that is actually bigger than my scanner, so there’s actually a bit more to that cover around the edges. Just in case anybody was curious where that creek ends, I guess? Anyway, this is a collection of odds and ends covering roughly 20 years of Anders’ career and, once again with this sort of book, believe you me: no matter how much you sought out his work over the years, you don’t have all of the strips in here. They cover too wide of a range, and they come from some really obscure sources. Outside of that magnificent title, what’s in here? Stories include bookend strips asking “Why does graphic storytelling matter?” (with two very different answers, and also no answers at all), a graphic representation of how the choices you make ripple out to effect everything else, a gigantic and mesmerizing double page spread that I’ll leave entirely to the reader, a series of sketchbook pages dealing with a whitewater rafting trip (and, naturally, all the philosophical and mundane questions that came up), a sketch of some famous comic characters (that I didn’t recognize until his notes at the end of the book), Superman chatting with Dan Clowes, his redrawn page from an old issue of Fantastic Four (with his own dialogue), the inside of a head as the cosmos, his jam with Gabrielle Bell (they went back and forth in his sketchbook), his experiences with covid (and the death of George Floyd), and his interpretation of all of history, including the stuff that hasn’t happened yet. There’s also an insert of a holiday price list, and while this is one of those things I want to mostly leave to the reader as well, here’s one question: how much would you pay for the ability to walk through walls? Read this to find the answer! As always with Anders’ work, my saying “this part of the comic is about this thing!” barely scratches the surface of what he’s trying to do. The section where he details all of history (including some pretty specific details about his own life for that section) could be a comic all by itself, and his suggestion for a covid game to play with yourself could also be a mini, let alone the rest of the strip that dealt with everything else going on at the time. This guy is one of the best around, and he’s still making comics as of 2021, which is a damned good thing in this bleak mess of a world. $20
New review today for In Your Next Life You Will Be Together With All Of Your Friends by Anders Nilsen. I also finally got around to getting the mammoth collected edition of his Big Questions series, so I’ll probably be rambling about that soon as well. It’s Andersmania!
Hey, did this website change fonts on me? Eh, I kind of like this one, so it’s fine. Always keep in mind that, despite almost 20 years running this site, I’m the technical equivalent of the people in post apocalyptic movies that stumble across a running power plant. As long as things keep humming, I’m fine. Any sudden changes, look out. Oh, and a new review today for Man Made Lake by Aidan Koch, which was sadly the last of the mini kus books. But don’t fret! Their website already has 4 new books available, so it’s only a matter of time before I get my grubby little paws on them…
This one was a bit of a roller coaster, but it ended up asking some pretty profound questions. Roughly the first half of the comic is a wordless series of images, first of a person in various poses before transitioning to images of a fish. From there the images join together and we see the person talking in a therapy session. This is yet another comic from mini kus where I’m reluctant to say too much about it, as we’re already halfway through the comic at this point, but hey, I can throw some generalities your way, right? It asks questions about the onset of awareness, and the relative meaning of the time before and after that awakening. It also leaves as an open question the idea that we can ever return to that previous innocence/time of harmony, all while poking a bit of fun at the transactional nature of therapy sessions themselves. There are also a lot of pretty colors if I’m starting to lose you a bit. Seriously, it’s another fascinating journey through the mind in a mini kus book. One of these days I’ll tally up the percentage of “good/bad” minis from these folks, but I’m going to guess right now that it’s about 90/10, maybe even more. In other words, if you just randomly buy a comic from these folks, you have a solid shot of hitting a winner. But hey, before you go random, you already know this one is a good one… $7