Category Archives: Reviews
Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if I gathered all the William Cardini comics I’ve picked up over the years, took an afternoon and read them all in a row. I’m honestly not sure what that would do to a person. I mean that in the best possible way, of course; comic-induced madness always seemed like a likely fate for me. This is the story of… you know what? I’m cheating on this one. Here’s the description lifted from his website: ” The Miizzzard descends into the Urscape and gets slabbed. Take a psychedelic, enigmatic journey with the Miizzz through 20 pages of textural, intricate drawings at the speed of one panel per page.” Yep! Trying to read one of his books quickly, without taking some time on each page to soak in everything that’s happening, is really a waste of an amazing comic. Can you describe it to a friend over lunch? Not coherently, no. But reading his comics tweaks that certain something in your brain that’s convinced that other worlds and realities are always there, just out of the corner of your eye. If you’re interested in a peek into that world, this guy is one of the few people out there who seems able to see it clearly. Give it a look, see if you still perceive the world entirely the same way when you’re done. $6
This is a wee thing of a mini comic, which means it’ll most likely be a short review. It’s been decades since I was raised religious (Roman Catholic), so I can remember the gist of the story in this comic, but I’ll get enough wrong so that this might be funny/enraging to anybody who takes it seriously. Palm Sunday is a Christian holiday. I think it’s before Easter? Followers wave palm fronds to signify… something something Jesus. How did I do? Eh, that’s why Google exists; if you’re curious, go nuts with the searching. Anyway, this comic is the silent tale of Grant (or a stand-in) getting a palm tree, caring for it, having some issues with it and finally having it grow into a full tree. There’s a brief shot of Jesus with people waving palm fronds at him, so I guess it’s triumphant? Again, I’m long out of the religious world. Anyway, this would probably mean a lot to a religious person in your life, maybe as a stocking stuff, but for Easter. You know, this is actually small enough to fit into a plastic egg, with a little creative folding. Perfect!
Jaime has a new website! I just wanted to make that clear for everybody who only reads a sentence or two of my rambling reviews. And this is his first series to get to five issues, so congrats to him! He mentions in his intro that he attempted to make this an all humor comic, as he knows that some of his stuff gets heavy. Despite the fact that I usually love his stuff, every time an artist says something like that my immediate reaction is “I’ll be the judge of that” and, well, what can I say. I laughed out loud at the end of three of the stories and grinned at the end of the fourth, so I’d call that a successful humor comic. Stories in here include aliens demanding to see our leader (and while I usually hate giving away the gag on a sample page, this was just too good for me to resist), a tale from his childhood about him and a friend trying to avoid a bully that ends with the bully throwing a spear at them as they were fleeing (and probably my biggest laugh of the book), how he came to accept the spider in his house (OK, maybe the final panel of this one was the biggest laugh in the book), and a story about the teenage years of Jesus that he held off on publishing until his very Catholic mother passed away. So if you usually like his stuff but find him a bit heavy, this comic is for you! If you have good taste and already liked his stuff, you already know that you need this in your life. Oh, and if you managed to get a copy of Tortilla #1, he apparently lost the original artwork and the comic is out of print, so you might be sitting on a goldmine. Billionaires buy comics too, right? $4.50
The Ghost Pirate #1
Are you interested in ghosts and/or pirates? If so, I’d say the title has probably already convinced you to give this one a look. If not, there’s an awful lot in here about a ghost pirate, as you may have guessed,so maybe it’s not for you? What’s that, you’d like my impressions before you make a decision? OK, but just so we’re clear, I am mostly not interested in ghosts and/or pirates, so bear that in mind. This one starts off in 1775 with a group of British soldiers defending an island. A pirate shows up, murders almost everybody, digs up his old treasure, murders every other pirate who helped him dig it up, then opens up the box. Very bad things immediately happen, to the pirate (Molitar) and the lone British survivor of the massacre. From there we go straight to modern day, and a good chunk of the rest of the book is spent introducing the characters, what their lives are like, worries, motivations… character building! It’s a great idea in a first issue, and kudos to them for doing it when so many first issues are about bang for your buck. There’s a fair amount of that in here too, don’t get me wrong. Once our heroes move to the island a string of deaths happen, which leads to the mandatory creepy old resident telling them the story of the pirate and the curse that befell the island after that. Huh, I can’t remember the last time I used “befell” in a sentence. Feels like I should stop there. It’s an intriguing beginning, and I still have a lot more questions than answers. If the price I saw on Michael’s website is correct, $12 is a little steep for the first issue of a series. Yes, I know that is costs more to produce and distribute your own comics, but that’s a graphic novel price, not a comic price. But if you’re a fan of the subject matter and don’t mind the cost, you’d probably get a lot out of this. $12
A peek behind the curtain: generally speaking these days (2019) I review a few comics on the weekend, set them to appear during the week and go about my life. Usually I read a few comics on Saturday or Sunday, see if I have anything mildly compelling or interesting to say about them, then say it regardless. Magic! Anyway, I say all this to point out that I read this one a week ago and I’ve been bouncing the main story around in my brain that whole time. Does that mean I’ll have something especially profound to say? Eh, probably not. But the fact that it’s wedged into my brain (that’s already chock full o’ comics) is notable. Hi, there’s a comic I’m supposed to be talking about! The main story is about a fictional (?) family or a mom, dad and daughter. One day the mother leaves “on a trip,” nobody will talk about it and on that same day a mysterious visitor with a head bandage showed up on their doorstep. Our hero (the daughter, Abigail) tries to get to the bottom of just who this guy is, using increasingly esoteric methods. Until one day, it’s no longer and issue, and she’s left even more confused that before. The kicker puts the story into a whole new light, but I’m not going to give that away here. There are also a few other short pieces in here, one about a man cleaning a mall while he’s trying to compose the perfect sentence in his head (all creative types can relate to working while your mind is a million miles away), another about a cat with regrets, and a brief philosophical discussion by two… creatures on the back cover. The comic looks fantastic, the main story in particular (but really the whole thing) is great, give it a shot why don’t you? $5
The Rain is Slow Coming
I’m not proud of it, but the twist in this one got me. Sure, if you think about it for a few seconds it doesn’t make sense, but it’s the sign of a great storyteller if you forget all about that kind of thing while you’re in the story. This is the tale of a farmer and his tiny daughter, maybe five years old tops. His wife has died in an accident and he’s in danger of losing his farm because he can no longer afford it and can’t avoid the bill collectors forever. Meanwhile, his daughter is oblivious to all of this and is fascinated with crocodiles, watching that segment of Peter Pan over and over again. So one day they’re out on the farm, the dad is waxing philosophical and the daughter wanders off to the pond. Once she’s there she thinks she sees a crocodile, but it’s only a frog. She loses her footing, tumbles down almost into the water… and that’s when she realizes that something else is in the water. It’s a riveting and oddly haunting story, so give it a shot why don’t you! $6
When is it OK to lie to your kids? Is the Santa and Easter Bunny stuff OK, but not real life events? Is it always OK if you’re “doing it for their own good”? Or is it never OK? It’s all abstract to childless little old me, but that’s the subject Steve explores in this issue, using a tale from his childhood and one from when he was raising his daughter. The first story had a helpful page where he nailed down exactly how old he was when the story took place, then his mom made a fantastical promise/threat to him, and the lesson stuck with him. Or did it? Later, when he was trying to convince his daughter to brush her teeth every morning, he told her that going outside with unbrushed teeth would kill the trees. As she was three, she believed this completely, and his problem was solved. Except, well, now he’d demonstrably lied to his kid, so how does that effect them long term? It was a good idea to use the dichotomy of his own childhood to compare to raising his own child (that Maya Angelou quote was brilliant too), and it’s a thought-provoking little mini comic. Parents, maybe you could learn something here. Other people, this might remind you of the times your parents lied to you as a kid, and that’s always fun! $2
Feels like it’s been ages since I had to go with “Various Artists” for the author name but, well, the premise of this book is apparently that it comes out several times a year with different artists every time. And since it’s put out by something called “Giggle-O-Gram Studios” and I can’t bring myself to put that in the title line, here we are. And I’m a little annoyed that the only website I can find is a Patreon page; not that there’s anything wrong with asking for help, I just generally prefer to link to the fundraising page and a more neutral website. Ah well, can’t have everything! There are three stories in this issue. First up is a story about a movie star crocodile by the aforementioned studio with the terrible name. It looks like it’s continued from the last issue and continues into the next one, but this chapter deals with our hero (or maybe villain? Again, missed the first chapter) watching a procession of other animals coming out of the shower after filming and finding out that each and every one of them is a fraud. Charles Brubaker is up next with a tale as old as time: the first experience of a young child with coffee ice cream. Finally there’s Kaoru Greendrake with a twisting tale about a passport from a made-up land… but what’s if it’s real after all? It’s an interesting mix of stories, but if you’re going to continue one of them from issue to issue some sort of synopsis would be helpful. Other than that, give it a look, see what you think. There’s always room for another regularly produced comics anthology!
The saga of the growing children continues! OK, it’s a stretch to call raising children a “saga,” but I’m sticking with it. This one starts out with Kyle bringing home baby Polly, their new daughter, so I clearly missed an issue or two. The format of the comics themselves seems the same: Kyle uses as many panels as he needs to tell his story, then puts up a title card and moves onto the next story, with all of the pages getting filled in this manner. I’m still a big fan of this idea, of not boxing yourself in to a set number of panels per strip per day. My only quibble is that I wish he’d put a date on each strip. Not essential (the strips are obviously in sequential order already), but helpful. Subjects in here include adjusting to life with a new baby, keeping up with the other child (Jamie), Kyle getting back to work after paternal leave, his house getting broken into, why we have to wear pants when we go outside, and getting beaten up by a baby. I was impressed that he even mentioned politics; so few cartoonists do any more. He has to deal with getting a racist text from an aunt, making the decision to not attend a July 4th celebration due to too many racist relatives, and just dealing with the fact that that gross thing is still president. It’s June 2019 as I’m writing this, so fill in his name if you’d like. He also makes an idle observation that perhaps he needs more therapy to deal with his relatives more easily, to which I say: don’t bother! You’re in the right, they’re racist as can be, and you continuing to go and be in their presence, striving all the while to make THEM feel better about themselves, is the absolute wrong way to handle it. The only leverage you have to get them to better themselves (as their child, nephew, grandchild, cousin, whatever) is your presence. If they want to see and be around those adorable children, they have to give up the racism. Seems fair to me, but that’s just my opinion. Meanwhile, if there’s anybody out there keeping track of such things, this is one of those diary strip comics that I thoroughly enjoy. There are plenty that I don’t, so that’s notable! $6
This is one of those times when the synopsis on the back cover was a lifesaver, as it revealed a key fact that I somehow missed. Was it obvious in hindsight, or even regular sight? You bet! I missed it anyway. This is a silent tale from an old favorite; Hironori is on this website in a couple of anthologies, but a clear sign of my opinion of him at the time is that I used his stories for sample images for each comic. Anyway, this is the story of a young boy who sets out to visit the house down the street. He is joined by the kid (?) on the cover, they stick around for coffee and doughnuts, and finally agree to bring a book to another house up the hill. This particular house gave me Jim Woodring flashbacks, and I only mean that in the best possible way. The intended recipient is sick (or possibly just sleeping? These are the ambiguities that come from a silent comic), but they manage to deliver the book, and I should probably stop describing the story now, because there’s not much of it left. His art style is adorable while still being vaguely unsettling, which is not an easy line to walk. Yep, the conclusion is inescapable: it’s another winner from the fine folks at mini kus. They should really put out a stinker just to keep me on my toes… $6
How is it possible that I’ve been writing reviews on this website for 18 years now and there’s nothing here by Lisa Hanawalt? It boggles my mind. Granted, most of you already know who she is and buy her books, so this won’t be new information to you. But even if you’ve already read this, read it again! Trust me, it’s as funny as you remember. No, this is more for the few who have somehow never heard of her, who have never seen Bojack Horseman (you’ve had plenty of time to see that by now, come on people) or her new show Tuca & Bertie. She’s A writer on Bojack, but she’s the HEAD writer for Tuca & Bertie, meaning it’s a lot more like her humor, and you should all watch it. Good lord, have I really not mentioned her comic yet? Yeesh. Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of strips and stories, roughly 90% of which had me laughing out loud. Yes, literally! I could only read so much of this book at once, as it was causing me physical pain from laughing. If there’s a stronger recommendation to be had, I don’t know what it could be. It’s tough to even describe her style, but I’ll make a fumbling attempt at it. Some pieces in here are food reviews of a sort, mostly in text but with illustrations, of her trip to Las Vegas, her family vacation to Argentina, her time swimming with otters (and how she knows that she’s experiencing the high point of her life while she’s swimming with them), a review of some of the many street vendors in New York City, and her day spent at one restaurant and its owner. There are also paintings (I’m currently trying to limit myself to just buying two of them), several pieces that are all text (like her attempt at corporate logos or her famous baking tips), and what sure looks like the first appearances of Tuca in Bertie in raw form. I haven’t read a book this funny in ages, so this absolutely gets the highest possible recommendation from me, whatever that is. Huh, turns out I really should have made up a ratings system years ago. Whoopsie! $24.95
Pandemonium! If I only had one word to describe this graphic novel, I’d probably go with that one. This is the story of a civilization that’s going through some serious changes and strife. Vague? Sure! It starts off as the story of a father and his daughter after they get kicked out of their protective custody. They’re on the run because their skin is a highly sought after commodity, and they would both obviously very much prefer to keep their skin. From there we learn a bit more about these two before they’re captured by a ship full of Jeffs, which is apparently what each dog (that walks like a man) is called. They meet several more of their kind and are released into the wild for the purposes of being hunted by rich people. Well, rich creatures of various types, anyway. They have maybe the most cruel weapon I’ve ever seen: a gun that neatly removes the skin, then compels the skeleton to hand the skin to the shooter before it disintegrates. I’d probably better quit with the descriptions or you’re going to be completely spoiled, but I will say that I haven’t even mentioned the Hermans, B. Flump or Caligula, despite the large roles they play. Or Captain Littlehead! Calling something a “wild ride” is about as cliched as it gets, but damned if that doesn’t describe this comic. The constant battles with creatures great and small (and terrifying), the struggle for civilization (such as it is), even the emergence of a villain that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to our current main villain in charge of the U.S., all of it is harrowing, and gorgeously drawn. If you’re up for having your brain messed with, give this one a shot. $21.95
Please don’t ask me to explain my opinion on daily diary comic strips, because it turns out that I have no idea. I thought that I was over the format entirely, but here Liz is with a book of 366 strips from 2016 (it was a leap year Top Shelf Comix, fix your totals!), and I was delighted and amused throughout. Delighted at least in part because of the saga of her cats (they’re in the sample strip because, even though other strips might have been funnier, I love the way she draws cat so very much that I couldn’t pass it up), but there’s a whole lot to like here. She avoids the major pitfalls of the diary strips, where the creator would run out of things to say and then do a strip about how they had nothing to say. She maybe did that once or twice here, but even then she’d have something insightful to say about the reasons behind the lack of a story, or some other fact to keep things moving. Subjects in this collection include Liz getting engaged and then married (in as low-key a fashion as I’ve seen; it didn’t even take up the entire strip for either day), the ongoing struggle between her cats Dracula and Wolfman, buying a house and all that comes with it, making a big move, and keeping all of her various projects on track while doing daily strips. And, obviously, a whole lot more, but you probably already figured that out from the whole “366 strips” thing. As I said, this is from 2016, but as of early June 2019, it looks like she’s still going with the strips. I can’t read them all because you need to donate through Patreon to do it, but I can think of very few people more worthy than her to support with your comic monies. Hell, I’m probably going to end up getting one myself, mostly because the suspense of whether or not Dracula and Wolfman ever got along is going to bug me until I learn the answer. So yeah, it’s another amazing book from Liz. Buy it, make her rich! Or at least financially solvent… $19.99
Well, it’s finally happened. In hindsight, it was bound to happen sooner or later with the mini kus books. As somebody who’s supposed to have something to say about all comics great and small, I find myself… speechless. Here, I’ll give you the synopsis on the back cover (always worth a look): “What happens if you are bored, live alone, have six arms and a magical imagination?” What follows is a wordless story depicting just that, with a finale that clarifies the meaning of the title. The images were often hypnotic; the undulating of her six arms reminded me of watching a spider or an insect with many legs walking around. Baffling as it may seem to those of us with two arms and two legs, having all those limbs would be natural if you had them your whole life, and Rebeka did a masterful job of conveying that impression here. Is it worth a look even if I’m more or less stumped? Absolutely! It’s a mini kus book, and I get the feeling that conclusion is going to pop into my brain at an unexpected moment in the future. $6
Von Allan! It’s been ages. To give you a peek into my life that nobody asked for, a few months back a bookmark of his old book (The Road To God Knows…), sort of shifted to the surface of one of my comic piles. Yes, it’s probably almost exactly what you’re picturing from somebody who’s gotten review comics on a regular basis for the last 18 years. Anyway, seeing that made me wonder what the guy was up to, and suddenly he sends me two new books (I’ll be writing about the sequel to this soon). Kismet! Or coincidence. Either way, good timing. So what’s this one about? It’s complicated. Or very simple, depending on how you look at it. This is the story of Lauren, Patty and Sanko. Lauren has just quit the police force, as she’s not able to put up with the abuse and corruption as a black woman. Patty is her mother and is dealing with complications with her heart following a fire in the laboratory where she cleans up at night. Sanko is a very good boy. Lauren’s story is what keeps everything grounded; she loves being a cop but can’t stand by with what’s happening, so she has no choice but to quit. The decision is clearly hurting her, as she listens to a police scanner in her apartment and ends up getting physical with a corner drug dealer after quitting, something that almost comes back to bite her later. Her search for a job, any job, is entirely too real, and heartbreaking. Things take a turn for the fantastical with Patty, as she grabbed something from the lab during the fire that seems possibly sentient and shows a protective streak towards Patty. This element plays a small role so far, but it seems like it’s going to come up more later. It’s an interesting mix of relentless realism (seriously, that job hunt was soul crushing) with a supernatural and/or alien component. I’m curious to see what happens next, which is always the goal with a first volume, right?
Once again, it’s taking all I have not to just paste the synopsis on the back of the book here instead of writing a proper review. When you pick up these mini kus books, don’t sleep on those synopses; each one of them is a work of art. And yes, I’m just assuming that you’re buying some of these books, because why wouldn’t you? Bright, vibrant tales of all sorts from all over the world? Seems like an obvious buy to me. Oh right, the comic. This one’s a little bit autobiographical, in that it starts with our author telling the reader about a heart condition of her mother, which also ended up being the same heart condition of her sister. From there things get more than a little bit abstract, as she wonders about the ability to communicate with someone who has already gone, and whether or not what’s stopping us is our own stubborn perception of only three dimensions. The images, before and after the story takes this turn, are captivating, full of details that come together more fully as you take in more of the story. Perhaps this should be an autofill comment on my part by now, but my repeating it doesn’t make it any less true: this is another triumph from the mini kus folks. Give them money so they can keep this up! $6
For the last issue I had some problems with Matt’s lack of specificity in his complaints. Sure, it’s easy to call Crumb a misogynist, and it sure feels right based on his past work, but using specific examples would really bring it home. Well, this time around he uses plenty of examples of Crumb’s racism, and I’d have a difficult time arguing with any of them. He also takes aim at six other male cartoonists from the time. Still, it’s not about them, they’re just a useful example of the culture in the 60’s. Matt spends most of the rest of the comic going over his own history of racism, although I’d argue that one racist comic in high school is maybe not enough to still be calling yourself a racist today, especially because a defining characteristic of racism is an inability to see yourself as racist. The point is that he’s learned from it and grown as a person; is there any chance of similar growth from Crumb? Based on his “defense” of this problematic work, it doesn’t seem likely. So here we are: Robert Crumb has made some racist comics over the years. Which leaves me with one simple question (that’s going to have a different answer depending on who you ask): what’s his legacy? It could be argued that underground comics would have never made it, uh, above ground without his work and influence. And I’d still argue that some of his comics, especially the ones where he unflinchingly deals with his own neuroses, are brilliant. Does it all get chucked into the racist bin? Can we separate the worthwhile stuff as a society and use that while downplaying or ignoring the racist books? Hell, I don’t know, I’m just some guy who writes about comics. They’re interesting questions though, and this comic is as good a place as any to start asking them. $8
Refugees! If you’re anything like most humans on this planet whose world hasn’t been literally or figuratively blown up, chances are that you don’t give them much thought. Or, if you’re one of far too many Americans, you want them to “go back where they came from” or only worry that they’re “taking our jobs.” Well, it turns out that refugees are people too. I know, right? This book does an excellent job of detailing Ali’s time teaching a comics class at refugee camps in Berlin. It shows the welcome the refugees got at first, how that gradually became less welcoming before becoming overtly hostile at times. The art that some of these people produced was remarkable, but just as remarkable was WHY these people were making that art. Sheer horror is oddly missing in these stories, but it doesn’t take much poking around in their art to see some of the mental scars from their journeys. Many of them left family behind, usually with no clear picture on when or even if they’ll ever see them again. In these 200 (ish) pages Ali talks about the bubble that served as a camp (it’s a literal inflatable bubble), the dangers of arson that they all faced once the general public opinion on refugees started to sour, the endless free time the refugees had to fill for themselves with no jobs or tasks, how some people grew or changed while others just vanished, and even a little bit about Ali’s love life. It’s harrowing stuff, hopeful at times but also clearly aware of the systemic problems that seem to be stopping any sort of actual solution. I’d recommend this book pretty highly to anybody who wants to see what the actual refugee experience is like, or as a gift to any giant racists that you have left in your life. $24.99
Maybe you’re one of what must be very few people in the world who saw that title and thought “huh, I wonder if it’s referring to the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the same name.” Yep! Good job, you! I’m also sorry that you sat through that movie at some point in your life. Still, as this is a mini kus book, it’s not like it’s a straight adaptation of the movie, or even that it has much to do with it. Things start off with a couple in bed together, with the woman trying to get the man to feel the movement in her pregnant belly. He can’t seem to get the timing right so he can’t feel anything, she goes back to sleep and he decides that he wants to more fully experience what she’s going through. The rest of the comic deals with his efforts in this area. These efforts are adorable at times, but they’re not without the barest hint of tragedy. How did Arnold have that baby in Junior anyway? Yeesh, maybe it’s best not to think about it. Meanwhile, this is yet another winner from the mini kus pile. $6