Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews

Drescher, Joakim – Motel Universe

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Motel Universe

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

Prince, Liz – Look Back and Laugh

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Look Back and Laugh

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

Lukosus, Rebeka – Oops

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Oops

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

Allan, Von – Wolf’s Head Volume 1

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Wolf’s Head Volume 1

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?

Puiupo, Paula – Maunder

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Maunder

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

MacFarland, Matt – My Troubles With Crumb #2

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My Troubles With Crumb #2

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

Fitzgerald, Ali – Drawn to Berlin

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Drawn to Berlin

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

Socal, Alice – Junior

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Junior

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

Knickerbocker, Sean – Rust Belt

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Rust Belt

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

Nall, Alex – School Approved

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School Approved

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…


Cornella, Joan – Zonzo

Website (of some strips, his website isn’t working as of this date)

Zonzo

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

Jackson, Rob – Merchants

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Merchants

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)

Daniels, Ezra Claytan – Upgrade Soul

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Upgrade Soul

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


Walden, Tillie – On A Sunbeam

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On A Sunbeam

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

MacFarland, Matt – My Troubles With Crumb #1

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My Troubles With Crumb #1

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

Kostecka, Chris & Smith, Dietrich – The President Killed My Dog #2

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The President Killed My Dog #2

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

Schumacher, Alex – Defiling the Literati

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Defiling the Literati

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

Thomas, Grant – Dodo Comics #5

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Dodo Comics #5

If anybody out there is a student of mythology, I have no idea if this version of Medusa is “correct.” As it’s a myth, it’s open to interpretation anyway, right? Grant has the first part of his series about Medusa in this issue, and we start off with her on a throne, with snakes coiling around her feet. From there we flash back three years to see her in a quieter time. Water is scarce and there are only three sources, each with their own conditions for access. Medusa eventually falls in love with a man who’s in charge with one third of the water, which leads to other women helping out, which leads to guys being assholes about women being in charge. Yep, that has been an awful, stupid constant throughout history. Anyway, I’ve already given away large chunks of the story, but this is the first part of an unknown number of parts, so there’s a lot more of this story to come. Grant’s books are consistently engaging and this one is no exception. I’m curious to see where this one is going, so give it a look if you have any interest in mythology or just happen to like Grant’s other comics. $3

Knisley, Lucy – Kid Gloves

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Kid Gloves

Future readers of this review, I’m writing this a couple of days after finishing Lucy’s last book (“Something New“), and I’m still mildly feverish from a cold. One of those facts will be useful for some context, while the other is more of an excuse if I start to ramble more than usual. This book is a direct follow-up to her last; that book tells the tale of all the planning that went into her wedding and finally the wedding itself, while this one is all about all the planning and troubles that went into conceiving and eventually having a child. I recommended the last book to anybody even thinking about planning a wedding, so you’d think I’d recommend this book to anybody even thinking about having a baby. And I do! I very much do. Lucy did an amazing amount of research. But I also very much recommend this book to anybody who thinks that they have a valid opinion about pregnant women, types of birth control, the history of medical research into pregnancies, or just the reality of living while pregnant. I read constantly so I already knew a lot of these facts, but frankly there were even more that I didn’t know. Morning sickness, for example. As Lucy shows, we mostly know it from sitcoms, where the pregnant lady excuses herself for a quick barf before rejoining the group for their adventures/hijinx. In real life it’s more like weeks if not months; some women have to be hospitalized for the entirety of their pregnancies because of it. And it’s not one quick barf, it’s constant, overpowering nausea. It also often has to be dealt with with a smile, as this is usually before a pregnancy is announced to family and friends. She describes it as akin to the worst hangover morning she’s ever had… but for weeks. Let that one sink in, drinkers. It’s also rarely mentioned in popular culture just how common miscarriages can be (1 in 4 pregnancies!), which can serve to make women think they should be ashamed of their miscarriage, or that they must have done something “bad” to cause it. And the state of research into pregnancy, really right up until the 1900’s! Just think of how misogynistic society as a whole was for most of those years, then try to picture any serious research being done into the mysterious but “evil” lady parts during that time. Somehow, the reality is even worse than that. Labor pains were seriously thought of as something that women deserved because of the myth of “original sin.” Doctors said that kind of shit! Agh, sorry, I’m getting off track, and mildly enraged. Lucy didn’t have an easy go of it with the pregnancy, nor with the depression that came from some of the complications. But her honesty and humor in dealing with it all made this book a complete joy to read. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, which I wasn’t expecting given the subject matter. Look, I can’t order everyone to read every book I like. Would that I could! But before you even think about offering advice to the pregnant lady at the bus stop on whether or not she should be carrying that thing, read this book, or at least do some research. Believe me, they probably don’t want to hear from you, and you probably don’t have as much useful information to give as you might think. $19.99

Telgemeier, Raina – Smile

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Smile

It’s been at least a decade since I reviewed one of Raina’s comics. That’s been one of the weirdest parts of running a comics review website for so long: I tend to lose track of artists, even the ones I really like, because I get buried in review comics and/or don’t have the resources to buy all the graphic novels in the world. It’s true, this isn’t a lucrative gig! Still, I reviewed the first Smile mini comic in 2008 (ish? The actual date is lost to time; too many site rebuilds), thought it showed a lot of promise and that it might end up being her best work yet, and then… nothing. As I don’t have kids, I had no idea for years that Raina became a rock star in the young adult book world, with several different graphic novels and a devoted fan base. And she’s a legit #1 New York Times best seller! Don’t mind me, I’m just always happy to see ridiculously talented artists make a living off their work, let alone become famous with it. Anyway, I’ve always wondered what the finished Smile would look like, and since I now live a block away from a library (in one of the best library systems in the country), I can find out. No big surprises here, but it’s pretty great. The mini comic I reviewed ages ago basically just covered her injury and initial reaction; obviously this is able to get into much more detail. The basic story is that Raina knocked out her two front teeth when she was in 6th grade. Well, she knocked out one tooth and knocked the other one up into her gums. Yeah, take a minute with that one if you need to. Anyway, this is the story of the next four and a half years of her life, of all the various procedures, operations and headgear she’d have to deal with to fix her teeth. Obviously this would all be rough enough at any time, but she made the transition from middle school to high school while all this was happening, and all the gory details are included. I can also see why she’s become such a star with the kids, as this book dragged me right back into my own middle school experience. She has to deal with crushes on boys, boys having crushes on her, her friends both having her back and not having her back, and an occasionally obnoxious little sister. This is one of those times when you REALLY don’t need me to tell you to check an artist out, as most people reading this have undoubtedly already read her work. But just in case you’re one of the few people who haven’t, maybe start here? As for me, I’m going to go back and see what else I missed from her over the years. $24.99