Update for 2/8/16

New review today for Palefire by MK Reed & Farel Dalrymple. On the off-chance that you’ve been reading this website for the last ten years or so, this is a different Palefire than what MK did in the past. Sort of. Eh, read the review and see for yourself.

Reed, MK & Dalrymple, Farel – Palefire

Website

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Palefire

Hey wait a minute, I thought that title looked familiar! MK wrote and drew this story years ago, probably with a few changes, under a series of mini comics called Pale Fire. Now it’s drawn by Farel Dalrymple and called Palefire. In case you hang out at the oddest/best bar in the world, there’s a trivia question answered for you. I looked back at a few pages I posted in older reviews and the dialogue is almost identical. So if this is basically a remake of a comic that’s already out there (if out of print), is it worth checking out? Assuming you’re one of the dozens (or hundreds; I’m just going with the average mini comic audience size) of people who have the entire original story, yes it is. Because Farel Dalrymple is the artist, and he can do amazing things with facial expressions. And MK writes some of the most realistic dialogue in comics. Put those two things together and you have a hell of a powerful comic. Oh right, I haven’t even told you what it’s about yet. It’s about a high school girl named Alison who has a crush on a kid who is known around school as a firebug, as a kid who blew up the hand of his own brother with fireworks. Naturally, her mom doesn’t care for this idea, but instead of stating that fact as a stereotypical parent who finally gives an ultimatum before being ignored completely, MK is able to write all of these people as humans with recognizable motivations. That doesn’t sound like a strange thing, but as somebody who reads a whole bunch of comics/books, the teenage kid/parent/sibling dynamic is difficult to get sounding natural, and MK nails it. Anyway, Alison meets up with this firebug at a party (along with three other potential suitors who each underwhelm her in different ways), we get to see various interactions with these people, and finally we get to the image from the cover: Alison in a secluded spot with the firebug, with him going off into the woods with a can of gasoline. That’s about as close to a spoiler as I care to get, but this is one of those comics that just makes me happy. Mostly because it’s a great comic by itself and needs no other qualifications, but also because I’ve been reading minis from MK for over a decade now and this reads like a natural evolution of her talents, and the high point of her work. For now, I should add, because I only see bigger and better things in her future. Especially if she’s sticking to just writing these days, as that’s bound to cut down on production time. That’s how all that works, right? Never any issues with artists not getting the pages in on time? Yep, that’s what I thought. $12

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Update for 2/4/16

New review today for the Big Planet Comics Anthology by various artists, mostly from the area of the comic store. I should really do an anthology theme week some time soon. Look for that to possibly happen (or not) in the near future!

Various Artists – Big Planet Comics Anthology

Website

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Big Planet Comics Anthology

This is an anthology with mostly artists from the area around Big Planet Comics, meaning mostly the Washington D.C. area. I’ll start this review with a complaint about anthologies in general and this one in particular, and this is a complaint I’ll be putting in all anthology reviews until comics society as a whole fixes it. For an anthology you have three ways to let readers know who did each story. You can list the title and author at the bottom or top of each page (still my preferred method), list a table of contents with the page numbers clearly listed there and on each page (that last bit trips up more people than you would think) or you could have the writer/artist clearly take credit for each story either at the beginning or the end of it. This anthology went with the second option, mostly, choosing instead to include a table of contents with page numbers listed… and no page numbers listed on each page. It’s not the worst thing in the world for a 48 page anthology, but it’s still annoying. Anyway! This was still a solid anthology overall, and a nice sampler of the work of some of these artists. Highlights for me included the Horse Story by Jensine Eckwall, a Mark Burrier comic that I hadn’t seen (check the archives, the man has been around for ages), Saman Bemel-Benrud’s tale of internet culture mixing with real life, Robin Ha and the horror of The French Cows, Box Brown’s horrifying tale of what magic is, Angelica Hatke’s story of a hen laying a football egg and what comes after, and Jared Morgan’s harrowing tale of life inside the first level of a video game. I didn’t actively hate any of the stories here, always a plus, and it was a nice mix of talent. Just maybe make it easier to find each individual story next time? Comicland, maybe we can get together and make a law on this. $5

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Update for 2/2/16

New review today for Making Jamie by Kyle Bravo. If you’re having a baby soon, this comic almost certainly has useful information for you. If you’ve already had a baby, laugh at the hapless soon-to-be parents! If you’ve never had a baby and have no plans to do so, my review should cover that perspective. You win either way!

Bravo, Kyle – Making Jamie

Website

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Making Jamie

Man, talk about a comic that takes you on a journey. Or me, anyway; I have no idea what journey you’ll have on reading this book. I should point out that I’m single and childless, meaning that a book full of diary strips detailing a pregnancy and the early days of a baby wasn’t something that I was really looking forward to reading. Those negative thoughts were confirmed by the early strips which, frankly, looked like garbage. Lousy images, text that spilled all over the place, they were just a mess. An obvious hazard of doing a daily strip, where quantity always wins out over quality, but I almost stopped reading this about a dozen pages in. And yet, by the time it was all said and done, I’ll really glad I stuck with it. The art improved, for one thing. It was a gradual change, but it was also obvious that Kyle was taking more time on it, and that gradual improvement of the quality continued all the way through the end of the strip. I would have understood if it hadn’t, as I expected it to stop altogether once the baby was born, but instead it kept getting better all the way up to the end. Oh right, I should give you a synopsis of the book that I’m reviewing. Kyle and his wife Jenny are about halfway through her pregnancy when this book starts up. We see lots of different happenings, their uncertainties about what they’re in for, picking out a baby name (although naming the book after the baby took a bit of the drama out of those strips), planning out future work obligations, finding a doctor, etc. Then the baby is born, and we get to see roughly a month of life with a new baby. Kyle even wraps it up with a six page afterward, detailing why he did the comic, how he got into comics at all, and what he has planned now, if anything. He even mentions that he read American Elf (the daily strip by James Kochalka) AFTER he finished his series, which is kind of hilarious. I go back and forth on the value of daily strips all the time, as is evidenced by even a quick search through the archives here of my reviews of other daily strip collections. Sometimes they seem to go on for years past when they make any sense, sometimes I never see the point of them to begin with, and sometimes they’re perfect little sections of time with a fascinating story to tell. I wasn’t expecting this book to fall into the latter category, but it completely won me over by the end. And if you’re having a kid or planning to have a kid, I have to imagine there’s plenty for you to learn from this book. And if Kyle is stuck on a comics project to start next, he could always tell the story of how he became religious in his mid 30’s. That was a throwaway fact from a few strips, but it’s the kind of thing that always makes me curious. $10

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Update for 2/1/16

New review today for Amiculus: A Secret History Volume 1 by Travis Horseman & Giancarlo Caracuzzo, as I’m still chipping away at the SPACE pile from last year somehow. Oh right, it’s because of my complete lack of organizational skills. Mystery solved!

Horseman, Travis & Caracuzzo, Giancarlo – Amiculus: A Secret History Volume 1

Website

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Amiculus: A Secret History Volume 1

A word of warning before I move onto the comic: Travis’ website seems to be down at the moment, which can be a worrying sign for a young comic series. Maybe it’s fine, in which case I’ll cut this line out of the review before I post it. If it it still here, that’s probably a bad sign, especially for a series that has me hooked after only one volume. If you’re not a fan of ancient Roman history and/or speculative historical fiction, it’s possible that you won’t get much out of this series. Still tough to say for sure, as this volume is very much about getting all the ducks in a row for future volumes. But for those of us with an interest in the history, this first volume is fascinating. The gist of it is (and Travis helpfully lays this out in the introduction) that the western Roman empire ended in 476 AD, while the eastern Roman empire survived for much longer. This story details what happens with Romulus, the last emperor on the western side and somebody who ended up as a footnote in the history books. Which, as Travis is happy to point out, means that he has plenty of room to tell the story of Romulus, how he eventually lost power and the players involved. This book is broken down into three sections: the historian who leaves a large battle 60 years after the fall of the western Roman empire to learn the real history of Romulus, Romulus as a child ruler who was given strict rules to follow, and the start of that final battle. Along the way we meet a few characters of various levels of mysteriousness, all of whom I’m going to leave out of this for now until we learn more. But the point is that the mysteries are compelling and I’m very curious to see what happens next, which is all you really want out of a first volume. As for the basics, the writing is solid and compelling, the art does remarkable work depicting the chaos of battle scenes after the fact and more subtle moments of character expressions, even the colorist does great work. Like I said, the only way you’d have a problem with this is if you were against historical fiction, which I don’t think describes a lot of humans. But I could be wrong! $15, give the man some money so he can finish this saga and it doesn’t end of being one of those series where I always just have to wonder what would have happened next.

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Update for 1/27/16

New review today for Dumb #1 & 2 (but all in one comic) by Georgia Webber.

Webber, Georgia – Dumb 1 & 2

Website

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Dumb 1 & 2

What would you do if speaking caused you physical pain? Suddenly, today, you woke up and found out that it hurt to talk? I’d imagine that most of you would do what Georgia did for quite a while: tell yourself that you were going to take it easy on the speaking, only to find that it really wasn’t possible in daily life. She was still going out to (loud) bars, still working her job at the (loud) cafe, and the problem kept getting worse. Finally she was able to make an appointment to see a doctor, but she even had to wait more than a month for that, meaning that by the time she finally saw somebody she had been dealing with this problem for about six months. It turned out to not be all that serious (relatively speaking, meaning no cancer), but the therapy needed for her to get better basically meant she had to completely change her life. Generally I don’t give out spoilers, which I guess is what you could consider that description, but these are only the first two issues of her series (which is up to #10 according to her website), so you need a little backstory to get started. That was most of the #1 right there, and #2 deals with her taking the steps needed to get better while also making enough money to live, and all the while fighting with herself to change her life as little as possible. I really liked the way she conveyed her thoughts and feelings about what was happening to her with wordless chatter and little expressions of pain while doing normal daily things, and how all of it kept getting gradually worse. This collection is clearly only the first part of her recovery, but I’m curious to see how she handles all these changes over the long run. If this collection is any indication it will be a fascinating read. $8

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Update for 1/25/16

New review today for The Amazing Cynicalman Volume 2 by Matt Feazell, who has been making comics for a very long time.

Feazell, Matt – The Amazing Cynicalman Volume 2

Website

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The Amazing Cynicalman Volume 2

For everybody out there who has ever wanted to start a comic or comic strip but has figured that it was impossible because of their lack of artistic talent, I give you Cynicalman! It’s not a completely fair comparison, granted, as it’s clear that Matt could put more detail into his strips if he wanted. But he’s managed to build up a distinctive cast of characters over the years, and they’re all stick figures. This collection covers roughly 2008-2012, so it’s a fun peek pack into how much everything was effected by the presidential election of ’08 and was compelled to comment on it. Other than that Matt’s strips have stayed apolitical as far as I can tell, and even then he didn’t expressly endorse anyone or any particular viewpoint. But in those glorious days, the entire country understood that George W. Bush had messed up on a colossal scale and that it would take a miracle to put everything back together again. And if you think I’M biased, the dude had a 22% approval rating when he left office. That is tough to do! Anyway, mini rant over. What are these strips about? There’s a league of amateur superheroes that doesn’t seem to do much in the way of saving people (or maybe we only see them in their weekly meetings), Stupid Boy and his hilariously stupid happenings, random coffee shop conversations, various assorted jokes about office life, snow hijinx, Maw and Paw Headbanger (about an older couple whose hearing was destroyed by loud rock music in the 70’s), the artiste Marlene Brando and her efforts to get a film career going (and the reactions of the people to those efforts), and countless strips on the foibles of daily life. This is a nicely rounded collection, never sticking with any character long enough for you to get sick of them. These are also all six panel strips and, as is always the case with such strips, some of them are funnier than others, and your opinion on which is which will vary from person to person. If the idea of jumping right into a collection of Matt’s work alarms you, he has plenty of mini comics from his many years in the medium, so you could always start there. But screw it, go for the collection, that’s what I say. The man has been doing mini comics since the early 90’s at the very least and possibly since the 80’s, support his work and get some laughs in the process! $15

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Update for 1/22/16

New review today for the DoubleThink Spring 2015 anthology which, granted, may be a little late. But comics are timeless! Happy weekend everybody, stay off the roads if you live anywhere under that ugly looking snow blob that all the newscasts are talking about.

Various Artists – DoubleThink Spring 2015

Website

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DoubleThink Spring 2015

I have rarely been as divided in my opinion of the contents of an anthology as I am with this one. They’re mixed bags the vast majority of the time; that’s just the nature of putting a bunch of artists in the same comic together. And my problems with this one have nothing to do with the content of any of the stories, which I really enjoyed overall. But roughly half of the stories in here have no resolution, and that’s just a flatly annoying thing to read in an anthology. For example, the first story (by Matt Aucoin and Holly Foltz) is a great tale of empowerment and having a bully finally get what’s coming to him. But it ends with the introduction of a new character and is clearly going to go on in some other venue. Which would be fine if there was any indication that this was meant to be a sampling of work from different artists, or if I could figure that out because all of the stories were “to be continued.” But that’s not the case here, which makes the whole comic a maddening read, as I never know if there’s going to be any resolution until I finish the story. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know, but since I like the content of the stories a bunch I’m just going to comment on that from here on out. Other stories include David Yoder time traveling with himself (in a continuing story that tricked me because it continued later in the anthology), a great piece on Skeleton Girl by Denis St. John (or the first chapter of it), the origin story of a band with a bad name by Ryland Ianelli and Marisa Chapin (or the first chapter of it), a hilarious story on the true mission for a giant space robot that comes to the planet by Joseph Hewitt, Jarod Rosello’s fascinating story of a boy who tries to make friends with a monster and the characters that are egging him on to attack it (all while commenting on the nature of friendship and humanity), and a small piece of a Kevin Kilgore story (along with an interview with the man) that did get me intrigued about his story but couldn’t be called a complete story here. The highlight of the book was Fight Hero Fight by Matt Aucoin, which is probably a lot funnier if you’re familiar with the Zelda lore but works either way. A young adventurer gets his quest, but he has to fend for himself when it comes to gear and money and has no idea of the skill levels of the various enemies he encounters in the wild. Way too many great touches for me to point them all out, but trust me, any gamers will think it’s hilarious, as should most other people with a sense of humor. So overall it would be impossible not to recommend this anthology for that last story alone, but don’t expect everything to be self-contained. It’s not the worst thing in the world if these pieces of larger stories lead to people tracking down these artists, I just wish that had been indicated somewhere in the book. $9

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Update for 1/21/16

New review today for Dump #3 by David Robertson and a gaggle of other artists, which marks the end of the Dump saga. If you don’t know what that is, you have some catching up to do!

Robertson, David (With Various Artists)- Dump #3

Website

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Dump #3

RIP to Dump, as David says in the afterward that this is the last issue. But he is starting off another comics series and is going to put out the collected Berserkotron, so if you’re a fan you have nothing to fear. If you’re not a fan, why hello there, allow me to try to convince you that you’re missing out! This is a collection of stories, all written by David, with roughly 2/3 of them illustrated by David too and the other 1/3 illustrated by other artists. The final chapter of Dump and the experimental story “November” take up about half of this hefty comic, but I’ll get to those in a minute. Subjects of other stories include whether or not you give a fuck, the consequences of spying on people at 3am, an excellent closed loop of a nostalgic time travel story, running into the former most popular kid in high school many years after the fact, an orb, whether or not it is good to feel pain, that thing you sense in your room while you’re sleeping, being attracted to a random stranger on tv, the Bum Monster, dreaming of teeth, making a wish, playing the music festivals, the decline of sales of televisions and wishing to be enveloped by another human. That’s all suitably vague and enticing, right? Nothing to alarm anyone with possible spoilers. I thought the Dump story had a damned fine ending to the overall story, but my memory of continuing stories in comics that only come out every few years can be hazy, so who knows? It worked just fine on its own regardless. Finally there’s November, which is a collection of strips from November (duh) that I really wanted to like more than I did. Oh, I liked the content of them just fine; the one about his old cat, the Garfield parodies, being trapped in a car with a farter, how Do The Right Thing is just as relevant now as when it was released, etc. The problem is that all the strips were done in pencil (undoubtedly to make it easier to meet the requirements of a strip a day), which is just plain old uglier in collected form, especially compared against the other stories in the comic. Still, some slight aesthetic problem I have with it is no reason to scare anyone else away, as if you can get past that the actual strips in that section were thoroughly engaging. It’s a fine end to a fine series, and David really might want to consider giving this series the collected treatment too in a few years. In the meantime, enjoy the finale! $5

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Update for 1/20/16

New review today for An Entity Observes All Things by Box Brown, and I blame the crappy weather/a dicey car battery on the lack of reviews this week. So far, anyway. Any reviews I miss the next two days are most likely my own fault.

Brown, Box – An Entity Observes All Things

Website

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An Entity Observes All Things

Who’s up for a good old fashioned science fiction anthology? If that’s not then you’d better move along, although I can’t imagine why you’d rule this out because of that. For one thing it’s Box Brown, who has a hell of a track record with the quality of his comics. Also “science fiction” basically means “any sort of fiction that also has science, real or imagined, in it.” That covers a lot of ground, even though it’s a definition I just made up. Anyway, this is a collection of a bundle of different stories from Box, covering a wide range of topics. The highlight is probably the cover story, because it so nearly wraps itself up by the end, but I can’t dig much more into it without spoiling it. Other subjects include a mysterious pizza tattoo, what happens when you forget your entertainment while piloting a mating giant robot, reliving a painful moment of your life through science, the essence of god on a waffle, being disconnected while taking comfort from the familiar, taking the long view on the effects of social media interactions, a good old fashioned quest, and getting yourself remade after your ego is destroyed. Not a single one of these stories is as simple as I made it appear through that synopsis, so I’ll just retreat to my fallback position of wanting to spoil as little as possible from this comic. Every single story made me either rethink an aspect of my perception of reality of feel all or some of the feelings, sometimes both at the same time. That seems like the best possible recommendation for reading a book, so why not do so? If you’re already familiar with Box’s work then you shouldn’t take much convincing. If you’re not, that’s a situation you need to rectify, and an anthology like this is the perfect place to do it. $12

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Update for 1/14/16

New review today for The Portable Not My Small Diary, edited by Delaine Derry Green and featuring literally every mini comics person you’ve ever heard of. Go on, look through that list, see if you think I’m lying.

Derry Green, Delaine (editor) – The Portable Not My Small Diary

Website

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The Portable Not My Small Diary

Hey kids, or anybody who has started reading comics in the last few years? Are you interested in the history of mini comics, why they’re such a source of passion for so many people? Well, maybe not in numbers, but in level of interest and dedication in following certain artists? Your answer is this volume. If you have no interest in the history, away with you! This one can be for the old timers. This is a collection of the best of the “Not My Small Diary” anthology, and if you read small press comics in the 90’s and 00’s, you will recognize plenty of these names. In fact, good luck not getting lost in a Google hole or trying to figure out what so many of these people are up to these days. Notable names include (but are not limited to) Jeff Zenick, Dan Zettwoch, Patrick Dean, Raina Telgemeier, Jesse Reklaw, Carrie McNinch, Sam Spina, Roberta Gregory, Kurt Wolfgang… you know what, there are just too damned many names, and they’re all in the tags, so check that part out. If any of those names made you say “hey, I wonder what they’re up to these days” then this book is for you. These are mostly snippets of stories, but they’re all complete by themselves. Sometimes the stories follow a theme, like notable dates or moments in their lives, but really they’re all over the place. If it seems like I’m avoiding getting into specifics, that is entirely the case. If you were around for all these artists when they first started, you’re going to get lost in this instantly. If not, this is an excellent way for you to figure out what the big deal was about these people all along. I guess it’s possible that it’s the nostalgia talking and that people might not connect to these stories now, but screw that. These are tales of human weakness (and occasionally triumph), and those stories are universal and timeless. Most of the original issues of this series are out of print, so this is your best option all around. The book itself is $7.50 if you see Delaine at a convention, but if not $10 should be enough to cover the shipping, and I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s rare for any anthology not to have a weak story or two, but these are all golden.

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