Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews

Williams, Erin – Commute

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Commute

Two things are true about this book: it’s going to make you uncomfortable at some point, and you should really read it. Yes, that includes the dudes. This is as open and raw a memoir as I’ve ever seen, and since I’m in year 19 of reviewing comics on this website, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen a whole lot of them. It’s also so packed with stories that I have no idea where to begin. The beginning, you say? Sure, let’s get literal. Things start off small, with a story about her daily routine before work, including the 16 step makeup process that’s supposed to make her look like she’s not wearing makeup. The next story is also fairly mundane, about walking her dog and the various things she sees along the way (for what it’s worth, I agree with her: she probably saw a meth lab). With the next story, though, everything gets weird, and it stays various degrees of weird the rest of the way. It starts off with a listing of the 6 other people on her daily bus ride, but when a new person gets on who reminds her of a fling, we get more details of that awkward mess. Which leads to a story of another mess, and we’re off to the races. Subjects in here include her method for telling if she had sex the night before (while she was an alcoholic; she’s since recovered), SO many observed creepy male gazes (either directed at her or others), trying to decide while on a train late at night which one of the two dudes on the train would try to rape her and which one would help her, the three Jims and what they taught her about men, the first dick she ever saw, the sliding scale of what constitutes sexual assault, talking about Freud with somebody who still believes in his bullshit, how half naked ladies are trying to sell her something everywhere she goes (mostly in billboards and ads), and how much was taken from her piece by piece. That last one is daily interactions with men, how thoughtless they can be at times (if not mostly), and how few of them really stop to think about what kind of effect their actions have on others. It’s an incredible book, and yet another example of my trying to save money by using the library ending up backfiring because I’m definitely going to get my own copy of this book very soon. Any woman who reads this will sadly find a whole lot that’s familiar, but maybe they’ll find some useful tips on how to help get through it. Any man who reads this… take it to heart. Even the “good ones” have room for improvement. $24.99

Scheer, Rachel – Around the Neighborhood

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Around the Neighborhood

Comic strips! Since the newspapers seem to be shutting down one by one (and the comics section is always the first to go, way before they actually shut down), you don’t see them as much in the local alternative papers. And the ones in the regular papers are the same strips from 50 years ago, so where can you get indie comic strips? Seems to be just down to mini comics at this point. Yep, you guessed it: this is a collection of Rachel’s comics, mostly single page strips with a few longer ones thrown in. She’s a relatively recent transplant to Seattle, so most of these deal in one way or another with her new surroundings. Subjects include the various thought bubbles going around while somebody else is singing karaoke, too many totes, some people who stopped by the yard sale, the joy of not getting hit on at the bar, the reactions she got from friends and family when she moved to a different side of the country, hats, what she did on her snow day, how to tell if the local sports team has won without watching the game, quick excuses when you want to avoid a conversation, baby’s first eclipse, getting back to the “good” air quality, and tales of bad haircuts. Plus more stories, but I’m obviously going to leave some as a surprise. Rachel’s pretty great with the observational humor, and since strips are as compact as stories can get, this is a more dense book than you might think. Check it out, and you can’t really go wrong just ordering a few books from her while you’re at it… $4

Una – Becoming Unbecoming

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Becoming Unbecoming

There are times when I’d rather let the synopsis or a blurb speak to my thoughts on a book, and it’s tempting to leave it at that blurb on the front cover. But that’s cheating, so I’ll look straight at the horror depicted in this book instead and try to give you some coherent thoughts about it. On the surface, this is a memoir of Una’s childhood and how it intersected with the string of murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper in the 70’s. The cops were completely out of their depth and focused on the wrong things; since they assumed he was targeting prostitutes, in a way they “deserved” it, right? And when other victims came forward that didn’t fit the profile, well, the killer must have messed up that time. It was a hell of a way to grow up, with visible evidence that adults didn’t value women. They certainly didn’t believe their stories. Una’s story is also grim, but the way she approaches her trauma almost makes it… there’s not an English word that would fit here. It comes at you in waves. She’ll mention a boy she met when she was younger, and then an older man, but it’s vague enough where you can hope that nothing horrible happened. Then she’ll come back to it and mention a couple more details, but you can still convince yourself that she escaped the worst of it. Then finally she describes the incident, and as the reader you have nowhere left to hide. Still, growing up in this environment left her with nobody to talk to, and since she had technically been involved in the acts, she got a reputation at school. Or, as she put it, she lost her reputation, before she ever really got a good look at it. The rest of the book details her environment with these killings going on; how she dealt with childhood, life, her family and her fellow students. It also offers advice to women reading it now, some scientific theories for how people could be that way, how there’s nothing that really separates men who rape from men who don’t in terms of upbringing or a “cause.” And the ending, with images of the lives these women might have led, and her own questions about how her life could have gone without these traumas… it’s devastating stuff. If you’ve ever dealt with trauma yourself, this book could do you some real good. If you’re just an average person (whatever that means), this will help you see certain aspects of reality in a new light. In other words, it’s very much worth a look. $23.95

Brosh, Allie – Hyberbole and a Half

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Hyperbole and a Half

You’ve seen Allie’s work. Go ahead, take one look at that cover and tell me you haven’t seen a meme with that artwork, or part of a story, or maybe even a whole story if you’re lucky. I was all set to write a review that basically badgered people into buying her book and giving her money, seeing as how the world has seen her work for free for years, but then I did some research into Allie. That website, for example? Seems to be dead, or at least full of viruses (according to my malware detector, anyway). She apparently went to reddit for a but, but ended up leaving that too. Basically she’s been “off the grid” (meaning internet; here’s hoping her actual life is going swell) since 2015 or so. Maybe if there’s a sudden surge of sales of her 2013 book she’ll return and give us all more stories? Hey, it’s worth a shot! If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen her work, welcome to the internet! Thanks for somehow ending up on my website and this review before anything else. This book is a collection of stories from her website, with several that are entirely new. “Makes you laugh, makes you cry” is a cliche, sure, but that’s literally what happened here. There were several stories where I literally had to put the book down because I was laughing too hard to read it, and there were a few especially grim bits too. More funny than anything, if I had to put them on a weird story scale, but they cover damned near anything. I feel like I know her dogs (simple dog and helper dog), and I’ve rarely seen the quizzical doggie head turn done better. And she’s painfully open and raw in her discussions of depression, which to her ended up as a complete absence of emotions. Other stories deal with her discovering a time capsule from child Allie to her adult self (and the advice that she would give to several iterations of her younger self), how she tricks herself to get motivated, an epic quest to eat a cake after discovering sugar, how her mother got her lost in the woods when she was little, how she moved across country and how it affected her dogs, living a lie as a hot sauce fan, how a goose terrorized her house, the terrible parrot toy, and about a half dozen more that I’ll leave as a surprise. I checked this out of the library, but this is one of those books that I’m going to buy sooner than later, as I already want to revisit a few of these stories and/or show them to friends. And since her website is down, we have to go back to paper. Buy her book! There is absolutely no way you’ll be disappointed. Yes, I’m that sure! $17.99

Stang, Audra – The Audra Show #2

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The Audra Show #2

For those of you who read the last issue and/or review, you might notice that the entire cast is different from the first issue. My theory is that Audra is setting up one of those vast interconnected universes like the Marvel movies and that she’s going to cash in in a few years with the Audra-verse. Until then, I’ll just confine myself to talking about her comics, OK? Well, like I said, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious connection to the last issue, but I’m guessing they’re both in the same town. Or it told me that they were both in the same town and I managed to forget in the three months between reviews. Oof, here’s hoping it’s not that, my memory is terrible enough as it is. This issue starts off with Adelaide throwing rocks at what appears to be an abandoned food truck. Bryson joins her and starts throwing rocks too. They then decide to abandon this pursuit for their ice ray gun, but since it hasn’t been perfected yet, they end up firing a sparkler gun. This goes into the truck and starts a fire, and when she tries to put it out she discovers that Oliver Chance (famous lead singer for Sunset October) is stuck in the truck. Once they pull him out, they discover that he has too many limbs. Roughly eight too many, which might help you narrow down what happened to him. No more spoilers from here on out, but Adelaide has an excellent reason for why she doesn’t just flee from Oliver in terror. It’s another solid issue, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the next issue connects to these too. $4

Dupille, Natalie – In Spite of Ourselves

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In Spite of Ourselves

It’s the first review of 2020 and it’s for a book with a listed publication date of January 2020. This website has never been more current! Enjoy it for this one comic, because that’s not going to last. This is listed as a graphic novella; there was a time when I remembered the cutoff point between a novel and novella, but that information has since flown out of my brain. Anyway, this is a autobiographical tale of an Oregon bike ride with Natalie and her partner Allie. They have a clear plan for how they’d like things to go, events on the ground force them to change their plan very quickly, and they soon settle on a second plan. The comic does a nice job of bouncing back and forth between things that happen on the road (good and bad) and the tension that comes in any relationship when you’re on a trip together, particularly a trip where one half of the duo feels constantly less than their partner because one of them is the more accomplished cyclist. The people you meet along the way are always half the fun of road trips (or, if they’re not fun, great fodder for stories once you get back), and Natalie put more than a few memorable characters into this one. If you’re a fan of the comics travelogue format, this one is a welcome addition to the genre. Or if you’re just a fan of autobio, there’s enough drama and uncertainty to keep you happy. If, however, you’re a fan of robots, you’ll have to find another comic. I realize I could say that for almost any comic, so I’m not sure why I mentioned it here. Give it a shot, is my point. $15

Lacour, Kate – Vivisectionary

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Vivisectionary

Long time readers of the website will know that I sometimes have little to nothing to say about a book. Often that’s not a knock on quality, it’s just that it’s better to let it wash over you without getting bogged down in jargon or me trying to explain every little thing about it. In fact, if I have an overarching philosophy when it comes to comics, it’s that: point out that a great thing exists, then get out of the way. Well, there is nothing like this book out there right now. Absolutely nothing. Whether it’s something that will enrich your life is up to you, but if you’re a fan of the odd and bizarre, this book deserves to be on your bookshelf. OK, here’s the part where I try to explain this coherently. The sample image gives you some idea what to expect, but there’s also not another image in the book that resembles the sample, so maybe it doesn’t. These are a series of images, each a progression of a thing that could occur in nature, if nature was magical and/or mythical. Or perhaps some of these things have occurred and we just don’t realize it in modern times. I know I’ll never unsee that image of the square pigs. Is that happening? In 2019, probably not. In a few more years, who knows? Other images deal with hummingbirds feeding off fingers, fetus as a temporary head, how those snakes got on Medusa’s head, the construction of a third eye, love and fear coming together, and knitting a brain. That’s maybe 1/10 of the images in here, and those are some of the ones I could sum up, meaning the real oddities are still to be discovered by the reader. Check out some of the images on her website if you need further convincing, but I’ll just say that this book is a unique thing in this world, and everybody who’s a fan of that sort of thing should give it a look. $25

Canini, Brian – Plastic People #4

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Plastic People #4

Murder! Remember, that’s how the last issue ended, so naturally that’s where this one is going to start. Honestly, it’s like you’re not reading the issues in order. Anyway, we learned in previous issues that murder was rare, but we learn exactly how rare in this issue: it’s been decades since they’ve had one to investigate. And since everybody looks more or less the same (and perfect, according to their societal norms), any woman this doctor sees reminds him of the victim he has to autopsy. We also get couple of tantalizing hints as to what might be happening, but they’re only hints for now. As I’ve been saying, the man has at least 10 issues done already and this is only #4, so clearly there’s more of the mystery to be discovered. $2

Baylis, Jonathan & Various Artists – So Buttons #10

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So Buttons #10

It’s the 10th anniversary issue of So Buttons! And no, it’s not quite an issue a year, if you go to his website you’ll see a few more issues here and there. Anyway, this is a hefty issue, with sections involving Birth, Life and Death, so the man covers a lot of ground here. I will just say before I get started that I’m sorry for the loss of his dog Mocha; as somebody who owns a cat who’s been around a little longer than this website (which started in August 2001, so you do the math), the whole pet mortality thing has become very real to me in recent months. Self-indulgent aside over, how’s the comic? The “Birth” section has two stories, one about Norman Mailer (and, oddly, another reminder that I should find a biography of Rip Torn ASAP), and another about how Lorne Michaels got his first literal seats at SNL from George Steinbrenner. Next up was the “Life” section, and it’s probably a good sign that this was the biggest section. Stories in here include his son’s first day of preschool, his idea of what his parents collected, a gone but not forgotten old Manhattan restaurant and how he tracked down a cookbook from the chef years later, and his reaction to the David Cronenberg film Crash. Which, as he makes emphatically clear, is a very different film than the one of the same name that somehow won as Oscar a few years later. Finally there’s “Death”, and in those two stories he talks about how important it is to be a bone marrow donor (if you’re younger than 45, sign up!) and another about the death of his dog. Here’s to 10 more years (or longer) of So Buttons, the man has a natural gift for storytelling. $5

Canini, Brian – Plastic People #3

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Plastic People #3

We dig a bit more into the overall world with the third issue, even if the main characters seem to be missing this time around. That’s OK, especially since Brian already has at least 10 issues of this series done. Two big (probably? I don’t know Brian’s master plan) pieces are introduced this time around: getting tattoos and how they’re illegal body modifications, and a popular online dating website that guarantees you’ll be matched with an equally perfect person. It also ends in a murder, which is about when things tend to pick up in a story, right? I also wonder if the particular tattoo style has any larger meaning in the story but, again, that’ll probably be revealed in the other comics that already exist. The series seems like a winner so far, so maybe you should buy a few issues and see for yourself. $2

Scheer, Rachel – Flights Grounded

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Flights Grounded

Remember when 9/11 was supposed to change everything? If you’re too young to remember the day, this review probably isn’t for you. The comic still is; it’s never a bad idea to learn about your history. But yeah, the 18 years since have not exactly shown America at its best. Anyway! Not trying to get political, but it’s hard to avoid. This comic is a great idea, as Rachel compiles the stories of her immediate family (father, mother, brother and herself) and what they did on that day. Her dad worked near the Pentagon and saw the huge clouds of smoke, her mother worked in a classroom and didn’t see any images of the attack until she got home, her brother was in a PE class, and it took Rachel a while to understand exactly how big of a deal the whole thing was. These stories all come together naturally, as her family obviously ended up together later that day. Also interesting were what they remembered from the other reactions at the time, that’s the kind of thing that gets lost in the rest of the madness. As for me, since this seems like as good a time as any to reminisce, there are two big things I remember about 9/11: how a lady at my temp job, after watching coverage with the rest of us for about half an hour, got fed up and said “OK, we get it, back to work everybody!” (nobody went back to work). The other is my scheduled flight to New York on 9/13 for SPX, neither of which ended up happening. But I still have the ticket around here somewhere! $4

Nall, Alex – Kids With Guns #1

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Kids With Guns #1

It’s not what you’re thinking based on that title! Or it’s probably not what you’re thinking, anyway. I can’t read your mind. The first issue deals mostly with Milo (a ten year old boy) and Mel (an eighty year old neighbor). I got the ages from Alex’s website, but they’re probably mentioned in here somewhere and I just missed them. Anyway, Mel has made a gun for Milo that shoots rubber bands. He mostly uses the gun to shoot at his action figures, with a points system that they use when playing together. Mel is clearly Milo’s confidante; after Milo accidentally breaks a window Mel coves for him. We also see glimpses of Mel’s time as a soldier when he was much younger, including one particularly heartbreaking scene that’s going to play a bigger role later. Says I, like I know what Alex has in mind. It would be an odd thing to never mention again, how about that? We also meet Milo’s younger neighbor (in kindergarten, she’s clearly adores Milo) and a older boy who seems like a perfect bully stereotype, but he hasn’t done any bullying yet, so maybe he’s just a large child. There’s a lot in this first issue to make me want to see what happens in a second issue, so I’d say it’s a successful first issue. $8

Canini, Brian – Plastic People #2

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Plastic People #2

Is it cheating if I review these comics two at a time? Because I’m enjoying the setup of the story so far, but at 8 pages each there just isn’t a whole lot of space for story progression. Oh, the problems of running a small press comics review website. Since I’m sticking with the single issues for now, what happens this time around? We get to learn a bit more about our hero, and while he may not be an asshole, he’s at least asshole-adjacent. We also learn that his job is to go to the perfect people around the city (which, if you didn’t read the first issue, seems to be everybody) and deal with their problems. The problem, this time around anyway, is that a lady fell down the stairs and broke her nose. The punchline is that she fell because she was distracted from another personal problem, and each of them would fall into very minor categories for humanity today. Like I said, I’m intrigued to see where this is going, which is a pretty good place to be for the second issue of a (so far) ten issue series. $2

Robertson, David – Bell Time

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Bell Time

Who out there has seen Peggy Sue Got Married? It’s a movie from the 80’s, and the premise involves Kathleen Turner going back in time into her teenage body because… reasons. I’ve never seen it, but it was David’s inspiration for this story (based on his afterward), and he hadn’t seen it either until he was doing research for this story. In other words, if you love complaining about trivial things and are a huge fan of the movie, there’s probably stuff in here to get you worked up. For us relatively normal folks, there’s a lot to like here. It’s a full 60ish page story, with a bit in the middle with school tales from what seems to be mostly family members. I’ll leave those alone so you’ll have a mysterious treat in the middle, but how about the main story? It’s all about Lenny, a boy in school who was recently bullied with an egg in the face. He saw that movie, had some thoughts about how that would work out in real life, and returned to school the next day. When he was there he heard bells (that only he could hear), followed them and suddenly found himself in his adult body. Adult Lenny ended up as the school librarian, which didn’t exactly lead to a lot of respect from his peers. To me this comic comes close to being a horror story, even if that doesn’t seem to be the intention; to get the chance to be an adult when you’re a bullied teen and then be trapped dealing with fights and mayhem from other teens while you’re trapped in an adult body is a nightmare. It’s interesting to watch his perspective change of the other teachers as well as how he sees the students. No spoilers, but his “I’m an adult and you’re not” mindset held quite a long time as a solid bluff. Overall this is another really solid comic from David, with funny bits and insightful bits mixed together. Unless you have a phobia about being trapped in a high school library, give this one a look.

Canini, Brian – Plastic People #1

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Plastic People #1

Is Brian the most prolific comic artist going today? Is there a contest for that sort of thing? There’s not (that I know of), but he’d have to be high up the list. Brian sent me a few new comics recently, as I’ve somehow missed him at the last couple of local comic conventions. He sent a few issues of this comic along, and when I went to link to his website I saw that he already has ten issues done. 10! Granted, these are 8 page minis, but that’s still a better pace than a lot of artists, and he’s also always working on other comics. Does it seem like I’m stalling a bit on the actual review? Yeah, that’s probably because I am. This one starts off with a perfume ad that morphs into two people having sex. They get interrupted when our hero (I’m assuming) has to leave because his ride for work has arrived. They get into a brief argument, as the woman thinks that his female ride was hitting on him, and that’s that. If that makes it seem like everything is simple and straightforward, it’s really not. Everybody in this town has gotten plastic surgery, meaning all the women look the same and so do all the men. I’m curious to dig into this and see where it goes from here, as I already have a lot of questions. Which means that a first issue did its job, and this is one of those rare first issues where you already know there’s plenty out that’s already completed. I’m assuming this one will have significantly less punching than his Ruffians series, but who knows? Check it out, maybe buy a few issues while you’re at it to see where this is headed. $2

Hooyman, Kevin – Elemental Stars

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Elemental Stars

Who’s up for a good quest story? As is often the case, the journey here is far more important than the destination. Then again, that’s when all the action happens here, so what do I know. This one starts out with Bird-Man having a dream about a crystal city. His friend (?) Alvum wakes him up, they chat briefly before Bird-Man decides that he has to tell everyone he knows about this dream so that they can all find it together. As he sets out on his journey we learn more about the other characters that are with him, along with which characters were not invited on this trip and why. I don’t know what these creatures had against Hedgie, but that little man seems very useful in a crisis. Oops, almost a spoiler! That was a close one. I almost told you about how Hedgie went full kaiju… darn, I did it again! Anyway, this is a delightful mini, where there’s somehow time to make each of these half dozen characters a fully realized being. Kevin did some really solid work here, so give it a shot! $6


Jackson, Rob – Meat Grinder

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Meat Grinder

More than once I’ve thought that I should gather up all my old Rob Jackson comics and read them again. The man has been doing this for quite a while now; I’m curious to see what’s changed. If you knew my (nonexistent) organizational system you’d know why that always up just being an idea, but today a second thought struck me: maybe I should go back and read just my reviews for his books. I have to have written at least a couple of dozen reviews of his work over the years, and I’d be astounded if I hadn’t repeated myself in that time, probably several times over. For example, one of the first things I thought while reading this was how impressive Rob’s ability was to create a fully formed world, then move onto something completely different in his next comic and do it all again. This one is filled with characters that bring up a lot of questions, but chances this is all we’ll ever see of them. I should probably get to the comic, right? Right. This is basically one long cooking contest, with the stakes being pretty damned high if our heroes end up as losers. There’s the glutinous ruler, the other contestants, the judges, our hero the clown and his two helpers. Then there’s the meat itself, which is a delightful source of suspicion all the way through the ending. As always with one of Rob’s comics, there was suspense, surprises and more than a few funny bits. Seriously, if you can get through that sample page without laughing, you might be dead inside. Check it out, give the man some money so he keeps making these things. Probably around $6, but I don’t know the exchange rate at the moment…

Mihailova, Liana – Neverending Race

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Neverending Race

Dog shows! There’s a whole lot that goes into them, the care and feeding of the dogs specifically. This comic compares and contrasts the dog to their handler, tying a link between each of their ambitions and goals. Is there also a subtle dig at the treatment of these animals and what they get out of the process versus the handler? Eh, maybe, if you look at the last page. Or I’m putting my own biases into it, which is a constant problem. Liana does a masterful job of blending the dog and the handler into one, sometimes leaving the reader unable to tell where one ends and the other begins. The dog putting its handler through the paces, for example, is an image that’ll stick with me. This comic is at times adorable, haunting and seemingly inevitable. An odd mix, but it all blends together more seamlessly than you might think. Give it a shot and you might earn yourself a treat! $6

Cholst, Rachel & Boyle, Angela – Artema: The Beast #2

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Artema: The Beast #2

Here’s a questions for the pedants in the audience, since clearly this series is going places and I’m going to have to figure this out eventually: is it best to list this as “Artema #2: The Beast,” since each title is apparently going to have a different subtitle? After all, this isn’t “The Beast #2.” Oh, the worries you have when you’re running a small press comics review website! Yep, the struggle is real. Anyway, the subtitle is accurate this time around, as Artema goes full beast here. Her fighting skills make any sort of combat a joke for whoever she’s fighting (except for the fact that she’s killing whoever she’s fighting); towards the end of the issue she takes out 1000 soldiers more or less by herself. Along the way she meets a few more people that I assume are going to become more of a factor as time goes on, and ensures that she makes a lifelong enemy out of the enemy commander. Still more questions than answers for me, but since this is only the second issue that’s still the way things should be. Rachel and Angela are on a good pace here, seem to be getting the support they need from their Kickstarter (and hey, chip in if you like them; I’d link but they’re on Facebook, so just follow the link through the website for Artema). I’m especially intrigued by the title of the next one being “The Lover” after so much mayhem in this issue, so here’s hoping they don’t stop now! $5


Aushenker, Michael – The Brooklyner

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The Brooklyner

Here’s the thing about humor: it’s subjective. I know, pick your jaw up off the floor, but some people actually think Adam Sandler is still funny, or that those “Scary Movie” films are the height of hilarity. They’re wrong for me, but they’re not wrong for them. Even though I think they could do better, that part of what makes us better people is challenging ourselves to grow and expand our horizons, that garbage is still, to them, funny. I bring all this meandering nonsense up so I can seamlessly segue into talking about this comic, which is a collection of rejected strips that Michael sent to The New Yorker. Now, I haven’t read a New Yorker strip in years, outside of the few that run alongside other articles I’m reading online. It’s been ages since I’ve found them particularly funny, and Michael felt the same way, seeming to notice a dip in quality over recent years. So he thought something along the lines of “hey, I can at least be as funny as these strips,” and sent these along in 2018. They were all rejected, so now his question is this: are these rejected strips funnier than what’s currently running in their magazine and, if not, are they even funny at all? This is all from his afterword, by the way; I’m not the first successful mind reader in history. So, based on all that I said above, including my ignorance of the current New Yorker strips, are they that funny? Well, I never laughed out loud reading this, but I rarely do for their strips either, so I’ll give them a tie. But several of these strips wouldn’t feel out of place if I first saw them in their magazine, so in that sense I’d say these were successful. Read it for yourself to make up your own mind, you don’t need me to tell you what you think is funny. $3