Update for 5/24/16

New review today for Shioya Reko by Graeme McNee, and I’ll try to put up a few more reviews this week but things have picked up a bit at work, so no promises.

McNee, Graeme – Shioya Neko

Website

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Shioya Neko

Local comics often have a deeper meaning for the people in the area covered, and that is certainly the case in this book. This comic is the silent story of a cat on its travels through Shioya, which is a small town near Kobe, Japan. Several local stores and buildings are featured, and Graeme was nice enough to include a letter with his feelings on those locations to help me along a bit as a reviewer. It’s clear that they’re near and dear to him, but if you’re one of the people reading this who aren’t familiar with the location (and I’m guessing that’s most of you), you’re in luck! It’s also a completely adorable story about a cat wandering around the city and its interactions with the local animals and people. It starts with its casual escape from its home (it was unclear if it was escaping or just an outdoor cat), as it follows a bird, then a bug, and the stumbles across an ominous larger cat. Not to worry though, no violence here, as it then moves along to a charmed (and sleeping) construction worker, an indifferent smoker and a cranky old man who’s just trying to rake some leaves in peace. I’ll leave the rest of the journey for you to discover, but it’s never anything less than thoroughly charming throughout. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world I’d recommend taking this book and do a little walking tour, as it sure looks like Graeme did his research. I should also mention that this originally started out as an exhibition requested by the city, as they wanted a way to showcase the town, and he (wisely) added the cat (which is “Neko” in Japanese) to it. Hey look, you learned something today!

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Update for 5/19/16

New review today for Alien Beings from Laura Kenins, which is #42 (!) in the mini kus series of comics.

Kenins, Laura – Alien Beings

Website

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Alien Beings

Somewhere out there (assuming comics like these are still even sold in physical stores), somebody bought this thinking they were getting an alien abduction story. Too bad, suckers! Instead you got a comic about the slow dissolution of a marriage as experienced through the eyes of the young daughter of the couple. Oh, and some unexplained lights. Those lights were a really innovative way to start the book, as it was a typical ride home with the kids in the back seat and the parents in the front (singing along to the radio, so clearly they weren’t always unhappy). Suddenly they saw lights floating above the car, causing them to stop for about 10 minutes (as remembered by Laura, assuming this is autobiographical). From there things took a sharp turn at home, with the parents increasingly arguing with each other until they eventually take the kids aside and tell them that the father is going to rent an apartment alone. All along the way this is taking a toll on Laura at school, as she kind of likes a boy at school, but not as much as the music her parents were listening to would indicate. As the marriage falls apart she also concludes that all love is hopeless anyway, so there’s no point in liking that boy anyway. Laura develops a fascination with all things related to aliens and also tries to come up with a plan to get her parents back together, all while getting constant “helpful” books from other friends and family dealing with how to cope with divorce. Laura going back and asking her parents about those strange lights they saw before the divorce is the kicker, but you can find out how that went for yourself. It’s a perspective on divorce that you don’t usually see, and it was a story that was very well told.

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Update for 5/18/16

New review today for Cats and Witches #1 by Charles Brubaker.

Brubaker, Charles – Cats and Witches #1

Website

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Cats and Witches #1

OK, I guess technically this isn’t false advertising, but I was expecting a cat-heavy issue this time around. And sure, there several “ask a cat” strips, but the rest of it is all about witches with no cats involved. Yes, this is my fault for expecting such a thing, so there’s no reason to blame Charles. The bulk of this comic is about Koko and her brother Jodo and their various adventures. They crash land (with a funny bit about them trying to decide the softest thing to land on while they’re falling), end up sleeping in a “cave” (you might figure out this gag before they do), and head off into town to do some shopping. They then meet a frog who says he’s a prince that needs to be kissed by anybody willing to say that they’re a princess, so the rest of the story is their search for that person. Some funny bits for sure, but it’s obvious that I was hoping for more cats. Which makes me biased and therefore a terrible reviewer, but I never claimed objectivity. Subjects for the “ask a cat” strips include the reasons for their hatred of water, why they have so much attitude, why they ask for belly rubs when they clearly don’t want them, why Ben Franklin is considered one of the main sources of evil, the merits of long haired and short haired cats, whether or not a cat would make a good superhero and to please stop leaving dead mice in shoes. It’s another solid comic from Charles and this time around there’s even a full color cover, so give it a shot. Unless your heart is also set on an all-cat comic, in which case check his back catalog. $3

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Update for 5/17/16

Two new reviews today, for Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa and Can’t Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine edited by Melissa Mendes and featuring a bunch of artists you already know and love.

Mendes, Melissa (editor) – Can’t Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine

Website

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Can’t Lose

I’ve read plenty of anthologies over the years that I’ve been writing reviews here, but very few of them could qualify as a love letter. This comic here? That’s exactly what it is. This is 20 of some of the best artists going right now, and they all have one thing in common: an obvious love of the tv show Friday Night Lights. If you’ve never heard of this show, or if you dismissed it out of hand because “it’s about high school football,” all I can say is that you missed out. There’s still time to fix your mistake, as it’s still on Netflix as of May 2016; just watch the first few episodes and try not to get hooked. Or maybe the fact that so many great artists came together for this project will clue you in to how great of a show it was, I don’t know. Does it seem like I’m not reviewing the stories? Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’m just trying to convert the last few decent people in the world who haven’t already seen this show. Frankly, I remember most of the stories as giant hearts on the page, so it’s tough to write anything mildly intelligent about that. OK, I’ll flip through this again. Highlights include the Tim Riggins cut-out doll as the centerfold (comes with different outfits!), Tim Riggins in the year 2050, a story about young Billy Riggins, the conversion of a skeptic into a fan of the show, how the team playbook got leaked to a rival, a growing rage of somebody trying to convert friends as they get increasingly sleepy while watching the show, and Coach Taylor sitting on the Iron Throne. Seriously, if nothing else, just look at that list of artists and give it a shot for that reason alone. Or do it the right way: watch the series, then go back and enjoy this fanzine. I’m not going to close with the team motto right here, but know that I am thinking it.

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Sakugawa, Yumi – Ikebana

Website

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Ikebana

If you’re wondering if you have difficulties connecting to things emotionally, read this comic. If that ending doesn’t effect you in some way then I have some bad news for you. This is the story of Cassie, a young art student whose senior project involves an “organized bio-painting/ritualized movement piece.” It starts off with her standing in a small dish of water, naked except for flowers over her breasts and a pair of underwear. She also requests complete meditative silence for the piece, which is almost immediately disrupted when one of the students starts to criticize one of her choices. From there she leaves the bowl of water and walks out of the classroom, leaving the students confused as to what to do next. They finally follow her as she walks through the city and tries to ignore the stares and catcalls she gets from people on the streets. Eventually all of them, even the teacher, give up on her project and leave her on her own… except for one other student who is fascinated by what’s going on. This could have turned into a gimmick fairly easily, or it could have been played for laughs, or it could have even ended up salacious. It ended up being none of those things and instead is one of the better cases for the purity of artistic expression that I’ve ever seen. It looks like Yumi has a few other books available, and after reading this I am very curious to see what else she’s done. Artists of the world and anybody who has ever been ridiculed for sticking to their guns, this is required reading. $5

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Update for 5/13/16

New review today for The Index #5: The Scrolls by Caitlin Cass. Happy weekend everybody!

Cass, Caitlin – The Index #5: The Scrolls

Website

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The Index #5: The Scrolls

Don’t mind the weird discoloration in the upper corner; that happened on my end somehow and not from Caitlin. This one ended up in a random corner of my apartment, so I apologize for the lateness of the review. But since this series is amazing I thought a review was still a good idea, and it’s not like a bunch of the reviews on this website are all that topical anyway. Caitlin does an amazing job with the recap in this issue, as she somehow sums up the madness of the past four issues on a single page of text. Yes, you should still read the other issues, but the recap can get you by if you haven’t. This time around John has gone off to look for food and/or an exit, while Susan has realized that they’re in a psychological landscape and that she can eat whenever she wants. As she’s eating she chats further with Diogenes, discusses what exactly he is and learns that the many scrolls in the library are all books that she’s already read. And, as nobody remembers books word for word, they’re only the most important bits of those books, or the parts that she studied and underlined in school. Meanwhile John is freaking out and looking for help from the scrolls, but the only help there is in the form of literature. There’s still obviously more of this story to come, but it doesn’t look like it’s gone on past this book according to her website (unless her website hasn’t been updated in awhile). Maybe she’s putting it together into the first volume of a graphic novel? Here’s hoping, as this needs to be seen by book lovers everywhere.

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Update for 5/12/16

Only had time for one review today: Drawing is Hard by Adam Meuse.

Meuse, Adam – Drawing is Hard

Website

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Drawing is Hard

At this point you could almost call “comics about how hard it is to draw comics” a genre of its own. Did the daily diary strip start that trend or is that just where they tend to show up the most often due to deadline pressures? Either way, this is one of the better examples of the genre that I’ve seen. Things start off with Adam’s brain pulling up a chair so that he can have an honest conversation with Adam about art, the futile pursuit of perfection even with constantly increasing skills and how it’s easier to thrive on potential than it is to risk that potential on actual art. It’s a fascinating conversation, with both sides making some really great points. Adam is still unconvinced by the wisdom of the brain, which is when his heart comes into the picture to share his opinion. It doesn’t say much, but what it does is devastating (which is what makes that ending so much more perfect). If you’re an artist who has ever doubted him or herself (or, in other words, an artist), this comic will speak to you in a big way. Any doubts you have about leaving a mark, or making a great work of art, or just being good at your craft are addressed here. If you’re not artistically inclined, it’s always fun to step into their heads for a few minutes, right? $5

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Update for 5/11/16

New reviews today for Theth by Josh Bayer and The House in the Wood Part One. The SPACE pile from this year is getting a bit thin, with the exception of one guy that I’ll most likely dedicate a week to pretty soon.

Tervo, Cailey – The House in the Wood Part One

Website

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The House in the Wood Part One

This will be an odd review to write, because it’s for an interactive comic. Granted, comics are printed, so it’s hard to interact with them, but these were all originally panels on Cailey’s website and readers were invited on the path that the character should take. Which is a great idea; I’ve seen “choose your own adventure” comics, but for this comic it looks like the other possible path that could have been taken for each panel was simply never written and drawn. Or maybe they were, which would be an interesting comparison if a collected edition was ever put together. Anyway, this is the story of somebody who arrives to a creepy house around midnight. Oh, and each page is told in the form of a rhyme, which I should mention. From there our heroine sees a staircase heading up and also hears whispering off to the side. The readers chose the whispers, which led down a hallway filled with mirrors. The option was then either to respond to the whispers or follow a set of footprints, and the readers then chose the footprints. See what I mean? Three pages in and it could have already veered off into a few different directions. This book collects the first 19 installments, and it looks like that was the last of them according to her Tumblr page. Or she’s taking a break? She clearly is juggling a few different projects, so it might be a good idea to check in on this later. Either way, this is a fascinating concept that was done really well, so check it out and think about what you would have picked!

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Bayer, Josh – Theth

Website

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Theth

I rarely outsource my reviews, but the comparison by Robert Clough Gary Panter and the Kirbyesque energy of the comic on the back cover blurb was too good not to pass along. Succinct too, but I’m going to go ahead and write a bunch of words about this comic regardless. This is set in 1980, right when John Lennon was assassinated. On a surface level it’s about a kid (who is always in a full spacesuit) who sneaks out to the corner store to read comics when he says he’s going to the library, but is mostly forced to read them in the store because he doesn’t have the money to buy them. Along the way we see him in school, trying desperately to entertain himself while he’s bored, using a unique method of knocking on the inside of his desk while his head is laid down on top of it. His mom can’t seem to stand him, most of his classmates make fun of him (his name is actually Seth but they all call him Theth, hence the title), and the store owners are growing increasingly impatient with him doing nothing but reading in their store all the time. But under the surface there’s all kinds of stuff going on, and it’s damned near impossible to encapsulate here, which is where the Kirby/Panter comparisons become helpful. Every panel is packed with detail, but it’s a dirty, immediate kind of detail, which lends everything a slightly grimy tone. You can read this as a straight up tale of some awkward family and school days, all leading up to ______ (no spoilers as always), but this is one of those comics where it’s worth your time to go back through it again and just look at the artwork. I’m doing that now and catching more than a few things in the background that I missed initially. Josh got an impressive list of people to write blurbs on the back of this book, and it’s easy to see why they love his work so much. If you’ve never heard of him until now, you should absolutely fix that and check out some of his books. $10

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Update for 5/10/16

New reviews today for The Experts #1 by Sophie Franz and Scam Comics #1 by Tim Fuller & Daryll Collins and a bunch of old timey artists.

Franz, Sophie – The Experts #1

Website

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The Experts #1

If there was an emoticon for a repulsed shudder, I think I’d leave that as the review for this comic. But that would be lazy, and my thoughts on it are a bit more complicated than that. And really, it would be be hard to look at that cover and not come away with that impression. As for the comic, this is either the first issue in a series or an act of cruelty, as it’s mostly questions with very few answers. We see things from the perspective of one of those creatures on the very first page, as it’s look at a dog on a pier. The dog seems calm enough until the creature makes a gesture, at which point it starts freaking out and scares the creature away. From there we meet the three inhabitants (outside of the dog) of what appears to be an underwater science facility of some kind. I don’t think that’s ever explicitly stated, it’s just the impression I came away with. See, mysteries everywhere. Anyway, Frankie has the head of a fish, Cheron recently had a finger bitten off by one of those creatures (and is dealing with the side effects of it), and an unnamed redhead. They’re researchers of some kind but have been without contact from any kind of leadership for a long time. They’re also starting to question what they’re doing there and dealing with odd lapses in memory. An incident towards the end of the book changes the fundamental dynamic, things change even further, and yeah I’m leaving all that vague on purpose. It’s intriguing, that’s for sure, and I very much look forward to finding some answers to all the questions that were raised in this issue. Unless this is the only issue that’s planned which, again, would be cruel. Those creatures are creepy on a visceral level, but they seem to make every effort to be friendly. At least outwardly. Agh, clearly this one is going to be in my head for a bit. Hard to think of a better recommendation than that. $5

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Fuller, Tim & Collins, Daryll (and original artists) – Scam Comics #1

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Sham Comics #1

I somehow ended up with two different comics from SPACE 2016 that featured old artwork from the 40’s or 50’s with new dialogue written over bits of it. The other one was mostly the same dialogue (and terrible, terrible artwork) with a few random “fucks” thrown in, meaning that it was more or less awful, so I didn’t bother to review it. Yes, i do sometimes follow the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” edict. Does that make me useless as a critic? Eh, probably. Anyway, this one was mostly a lot more inventive than that, meaning that it made me chuckle a few times with some really inventive substitutions. There were about a half a dozen satirized examples of those old full page ads from back in the day, including the famous one about the muscled dude telling you how to get muscled too and some real talk about how you get to be a comic book artist. Other stories featured the giant robot featured on the cover (in two stories; I’m guessing he was originally meant to be a hero but these two turned him into a sadistic murder machine without needing to change any artwork), how the comic came to be (told using old artwork, of course), a quick and fairly pointless werewolf story (which was readily acknowledged by the new authors) and the story of a horny astronaut who discovers a woman tied to a cactus and won’t take no for an answer. That last one was probably the funniest, as it did a great job of showing how she was playing sex games and not nearly as helpless as she appeared, leading the human to go on a rampage to “save” her. Oh, and there was a story with a crime-fighting duo where the kid member farted a lot, but there’s not much more to be said for that one. The face that they still managed to get a laugh or two out of me on that story says a lot. I guess whether or not this comic is right for you depends on how much you’d like to see older pulpy artwork made funny. Like I said, it can go horribly wrong, but this one got it mostly right. $5

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Update for 5/9/16

Two new reviews today, and in theory I’ll be keeping this up all week: Batman Is Lost In A Woods by David Enos and The True Adventures of JepComix #5 by the mysterious Jep.