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New review today for Rust Belt by Sean Knickerbocker. It comes out today! Which might be a first for this website in terms of timeliness.
There’s a whole lot to unpack here in this collection of 7 stories from Sean. Some of them connect directly, others maybe tangentially, others not at all. Or they all do and I missed it because I am human and fallible. Either way, they all share a vague sense of a lack of identity, of wondering if it’s worth it to keep going each day the same way things have been going. In other words, America 2019! I’m going to start at the back, with the last story, mostly because I read this hours ago and that’s the one that sticks with me the most. Internet Persona starts off with a man recording a right wing rant in his truck, mostly because his wife has banned him from doing it in the house. His rant gets picked up by another right wing pundit (who was banned from Buzzfeed for racist comments), the man is thrilled and eventually has a long conversation with his hero. He gets some advice and eventually a job offer (sort of), but it’s clear all along that the guy with the bigger profile is running a grift. Meanwhile, the rising star didn’t do much to disguise his identity, so eventually the truth about him gets out, leading to him losing his job. His wife sticks with him through all of it, and it’s an all-around indictment of that culture. If I had a complaint about it, it’s that I could have used a bit more time with the wife. Why put up with as much as she did? Granted, he was always nice to her, but he had an obvious temper, and that sort of thing rarely ends well. Other stories in here include a boy named Chad in school who finally gets teased too much (his crush leaving town didn’t help matters), a failed attempt at pretending that he’d read a book in a book report, a store manager who’s hanging on by a thread and gets offered a demotion at a terrible time (probably my second favorite story, it’s basically a man who’s done all the rationalizing that he can that things are going to get better eventually), a drunk and a broken toy, and finally a woman who’s broke and out of food long before she gets her paycheck. It’s grim at times, but it all feels real, probably because a lot of this stuff is playing out in small towns right now. Sean does a thoroughly impressive job with this graphic novel, and once again when my main complaint is that I wish some of the stories had been longer… that’s the sign of a really great book. $18.95
OK, I’m trying something different but familiar this week: five reviews! It’s been awhile, but I think I have my schedule worked out so that a daily update is possible this week. Come along for the ride and see if I’m right! New review today for School Approved by Alex Nall.
Here’s a fun mini with Alex teaching some of his kids in a computer lab. For those of you who are just seeing his name for the first time, Alex has done a few books about his experiences teaching, and they’re pretty much essential reading for any teachers or anybody who is thinking about becoming a teacher. This one is short but effective. Things start off with Alex reminding the kids of the rules for the lab (don’t go to non-approved websites, don’t kick the table because you might bring the whole computer down on top of you), but those rules seem to go out the window pretty quickly. Well, the rule about non-approved websites, anyway. A few of them play a computer game, and another asks Alex about his experiences with chat rooms. This leads to a flashback of his actual experiences with chat rooms growing up (since you’re reading this on a computer of some sort and I’m guessing it’s not your first time online, I’m guessing you can imagine it), which obviously leads to Alex lying to them about it. The rest of the book is all about Alex being in awe of these kids (and maybe a little jealous) because they’re starting their lives in the online world, so who knows what they’ll be able to do with it when they’re grown up? It’s a cute and hopeful story, and those are always good to see. This isn’t listed on his Tumblr page, but I’m guessing you can contact him about pricing. I’d guess $4, but I’m notoriously terrible at guessing such things…
This is looking like a busy week coming up (as was the last one, which explains the lack of updates), so I might not be able to get any reviews up until next week. I do have some comics here to review, it’s just that real life is getting in the way. As always, any eccentric millionaires out there who want to give me a pile of money so I don’t lose all those hours to an office job every week, let me know!
Website (of some strips, his website isn’t working as of this date)
Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover! Eh, sort of, anyway. If you find that cover image horrifically offensive and want to immediately write a letter to the editor, any editor, you should quit reading right now, because that’s one of the least offensive strips in the book. Joan’s strips are (almost) all single page silent strips, each filled with vibrant colors, and each at least mildly horrifying. Oh, and hilarious. Did I mention that part yet? The theme, if I could even hope to assign a theme, is mostly escalating madness. Things seem slightly off in the first panel, we pull back to see that it’s even worse than that in the second panel, the third panel might begin to drag the reader back to sanity before the fourth panel completely blows that away. And there are usually still two panels left at that point. Picking a sample image took longer than usual, mostly because so many of them are so funny and/or alarming. Again, it’s probably one of the tamer strips in here. Multiple babies die in here, and it’s played for laughs every time. On a personal note, the local library system here has this book in their catalog because I recommended it (anybody can do it, it’s not like I’m the master librarian for Columbus Ohio), so I feel pretty good about warping some minds. If you liked this strip (or any of the strips in the website link), give this book a shot. It’ll mess with your head, but what’s wrong with that? $14.99
New review today for Merchants by Rob Jackson. Somehow I managed to miss SPACE again this year, so if anybody has new comics from the convention that they’d like to send along for review purposes, please feel free.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever offered an alternate title for a comic in a review before (it’s pretty low down on my list of priorities for a great comic), but I’m surprised that Rob didn’t go with the obvious one here: Lute Brute! Granted, you’d have to read the comic for it to make sense, but Rob created a star here, and I for one would love to see an origin comic. Granted, the Lute Brute plays a small part in the proceedings here, but his reign of lutey terror effects just about all of the other characters in one way or another. This is (maybe?) Rob’s first graphic novel, but that’s based on my famously shoddy memory. He had a few series that could have easily been collected into graphic novels, but this is the first one I remember that came out all at once like this. It’s the story of a cast of characters (helpfully labeled on the inside front cover), their dealings with their bosses/rulers, the motivations of the rulers/bosses themselves and how difficult it can be to find good help or competent people in positions of power. Still, one of the main images that’ll stick with me is that of poor Edwardo being terrorized by the “pling” and “plong” sound effects of a lute being angrily wielded. One thing that this page count (roughly 100) does it allow Rob some room to breathe; he’s usually quite verbose, but this time around there are several sections with little to no text, where the action or the setting speaks for itself. It was a thoroughly entertaining read with a few sections where I laughed out loud, which is always a welcome surprise. Give it a shot, one of the most prolific artists in comics today could use your support! $12 (ish)
New review for Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels, whose middle name I misspelled all along, starting maybe 15 years ago. My apologies, and to make it up to him everybody should buy this utterly unique science fiction graphic novel.
It seems like I’m on a roll recently with reconnecting with comics artists past, people whose work I’ve enjoyed but lost track of over the years. I loved Changers, another series of Ezra’s, but it seemed to vanish. Well, after reading his website I now know that it just moved on to a series of other mediums, much like this story was apparently an interactive app for years before the book was published. I’m very much a “published work” kind of guy, so I’ll just focus my comments on that. Because when it comes to the story itself, this one is in a league of its own. Stunning, inventive, viscerally disturbing, oddly hopeful at times while completely hopeless at others, it’s yet another difficult book to talk about without giving some things away, and this time I’m going to do that. So if you’re just looking for the gist: this is an incredible science fiction story that everyone who can read should check out. Clear enough? This is the story of a retired couple with money who end up funding a controversial project with the condition that they be the first test subjects. The project? Human cloning. But upgraded human cloning, meaning the new versions would be better in every way than the old ones. This is slowly established (unless you’re one of those dummies who reads the back of the book first; don’t do that to yourself), and the slow burn is what makes it all the more horrifying. As this is the first test of the process, things go wrong in unexpected ways. The clones come out (for lack of a better term) half-baked, not fully formed, looking more like potatoes than people. And there’s also the unexpected fact that they can’t be very far from their clones without both of them falling ill and possibly even dying. The bulk of the book is about the elderly, frail humans getting to know their other selves; the differences, the similarities, where it all went wrong in their lives and how their clones could do better. I’d recommend this book for the conversations alone (neither of the humans are dummies, but they’re still outclassed compared to their clones), but every aspect of the story comes together so beautifully, I’m able to unreservedly recommend the whole thing. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and this is coming from somebody who’s sick of clones in stories and thought there was no new narrative ground left to cover. Wrong again! $19.99
It’s unintentional science fiction graphic novel week! What can I say, it just worked out that way. New review today for On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.
I almost always choose a sample image that I feel is most representative of the story, but in a case like this, when I’m dealing with an epic with countless moving parts, I just choose a page at random. A peek behind the curtain! This is Tillie’s third (or fourth) book, which started off as a webcomic and ended up becoming a 530ish page science fiction masterpiece. Yeah, I said it. There’s so much going on here that’s impossible to encapsulate in any review, so I’ll try to at least hit some of the high points. At a very basic level this is the story of Mia, told through two different stories: her back in 9th grade and her friendship with Grace, and her five years later with a spaceship crew whose job is to go around the galaxy, fixing up old and damaged buildings. So right off the bat we have a science fiction concept that was new to me, and I’ve read a ton of the stuff. In going back and forth between the two stories we gradually learn more about Mia, her friends at school, her co-workers (and eventual friends) on the ship, and what led her to that ship. Tillie, maybe more than any other skill (and she has bunches), seems to intuitively know when to tell, when to show, and when to just let something go for the sake of the story. For example, there are no men in the story. It’s not mentioned anywhere (unless I missed something, but I don’t think so), but we’re far into the future, so it’s not like it would be a constant topic of conversation, so it just never comes up. She also has a knack for making things seem effortlessly alien. Amazing things in the background that are glimpsed briefly but never seen, all of the other oddities (to modern eyes) that are just clearly part of their daily lives. There’s a lot more tension and drama than I’m mentioning here, but since we don’t see that until we’re about 300 pages in, I’ll leave it to you to uncover. To wrap up I’ll just say that I’ve read two of her books so far, and they’re both among the best comics I’ve ever read. And, if nothing else, I’ve read a whole lot of comics in my life. If you have any interest in science fiction, or just a really amazing story, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot. $32.99
New review today for My Troubles With Crumb #1 by Matt MacFarland, which he was nice enough to send my way after I expressed curiosity. And people say there are no benefits to being an unpaid comics reviewer!
Full disclosure here: I was a big Robert Crumb fan back in the day. How could you not be? He’s long been one of the best comic artists to ever live (I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag and even I know about the wonders of his crosshatching skills) and he influenced more than one generation of cartoonists. Still, his portrayals of women and minorities was more than a little problematic. I’ve been meaning to go back through his comics but haven’t done it yet, meaning I’m just going to review this comic and not all of Crumb’s work. This is a shorter comic than I was expecting (6 pages; Matt does list that fact on his website, so that’s my fault), and a good chunk of it is Matt’s history with the man and his art. As it should be; it wouldn’t be much of a comic if it didn’t show his perspective. One thing I was hoping for here were more direct examples of Crumb’s problematic work. I get it if he’d rather not draw his own versions of those problems, as that would just perpetuate it. But I was looking for references to a few comics/graphic novels that were particularly problematic, and he doesn’t list any of them here. Well, he does list one story, but that’s only to illustrate that Crumb has apologized for some of his past stories. So should Crumb’s work be consigned to the dustbin of history? Based on this comic alone, no. But Matt also has a second issue where he deals with the racial aspect of his work, so my conclusion could change after that one. As for this one, it’s still an intriguing and thoughtful read, but it would have been helped by some specificity. $7
New review for The President Killed My Dog #2 by Chris Kostecka & Dietrich Smith.
There was always a chance that this series would lose me, and it sure looks like that process started with this issue. I still mostly like the premise, although it would have been a more solid connection if the President’s limo was directly responsible for the death of her dog, instead of it just being basically a traffic jam that did it after some random asshole hit her. This time around we learn more about her history with her dog, her husband and his very convenient underground escape tunnel, and her quest to either get bullets for her gun or a new gun. A lot of it felt like wheel spinning, to be honest. Killing time until the real action of trying to get to the President starts. And it’s not terrible, it’s just that my suspension of disbelief was failing me completely by the end. That’s saying a lot when I’m already on board for the “out for revenge against the President and his dog” concept. But… OK, there’s no way to do this without spoilers, so off I go. Generally speaking, if you liked the first issue there’s enough here to keep going with this issue. But there’s a moment when Mary crashes her car into the gun shop after hours to take what she needs, and it’s just absurd. The idea that there were no cameras or security alarm was shaky enough, but even giving them that there’s still the fact that cops surround her house in the morning. Because she hadn’t been paying her mortgage, nothing to do with the gun shop. Anyway, she starts shooting at them, either hitting three of them or picturing it so vividly in her mind that it left me confused as to whether or not it actually happened. Which would take her completely out of the moral high ground. Even if that was just her picturing what could happen, her house still explodes in a great ball of flame at the end, meaning she definitely killed some cops (and repo men) when that happened. So now she’s going to be a fugitive going after the President, and I can’t imagine my problem with the believability of what’s happening is going to improve when that’s going down. So yeah, maybe it picks up after this, or maybe it starts making sense. It’s also possible that it gets thoroughly ridiculous from here on out. We’ll see! $6.99
New review today for Defiling the Literati by Alex Schumacher, which is as good a time as any to say: hey, do you make comics about politics? Send them my way! I’m always happy to see more that actually take real world concerns into account.
I’m often confused by the lack of comics about current affairs and/or politics and, as always, I’m also confused as to whether there’s a vast array of them out there somewhere that I haven’t seen, or if they really are just a rarity. Either way, it’s always welcome to see a comic like this, where current events are addressed with some skill and a message. The sample image is from a simpler time, when it was obvious to all that the American people as a whole were not dumb enough to fall for a man who was only famous for being a con artist for decades. Oh, and for a catch phrase on a scripted “reality” show. Sigh, the good old days. The rest of the book is a mix of strips with a message and other strips that are just funny. There’s room enough in this world for both! Subjects include tricking hipsters with laced weed, where obsolete pieces of tech end up, managing time online (along with several other observations about aging), and the messages of Satan (in the form of a homeless woman). There are also several strips about Mr. Butterchips, a drunk monkey, and I was nervous about those, and that type of strip can go wrong in a hurry. But the bulk of these were funny with some accurate and heartbreaking messages, as Alex seems to have a pretty firm grip on what he’s doing. Subjects include the low wages of an organ grinder, getting dumped, dealing with people knocking on your door and asking for political support, the struggle to not comment when somebody posts something bigoted and/or stupid online, getting help when you need it for suicidal thoughts, several tragedies that seemed to happen right in a row, and a devastating suicide note from a sexually harassed woman. So yeah, once again there are funny bits and bits with a message; not that those bits can’t be funny too. It’s an eclectic mix that works well together, and I’d recommend it highly for anybody who thinks comics need at least a dash of more real world events and opinions. $7