New review today for The Lighthouse in the City Volume 8 by Karl Christian Krumpholz! Sure, it’s a holiday, but I’m stuck at home with covid so you get a review. Yep, way after it’s fashionable I finally got hit by the pandemic. Always late to the party!
The Lighthouse in the City Volume 8
For all that I sometimes give artists grief who only put out a book every few years, it’s even trickier as a reviewer to keep up with the people who constantly produce comics. Karl was nice enough to to send along a half dozen or so books after I reviewed his fifth volume earlier this year, which then leads to the problem of what to review next. Read them all in order and talk about them? Nope, this time around I decided to review the most recent volume, with the hope of getting back to the earlier stuff at some undetermined point in the future. That never seems to work with me, but I live in hope! This collection covers October through December of 2021, and it also wraps up his second full year of daily strips. The level of detail he packs in these strips is astounding; I get that he’s able to illustrate for a living, but this is not a man who follows a simple formula for daily strips. Generally speaking, the four panels then out format is the most common for daily strips, but Karl is fine making a three or four page story out of the events of that day if that’ll make a better story. Granted, he also has a few strips that are silent sketches, but he even puts so much detail into those that I’d hardly call them an off-day. So, what’s going on in this volume? If you’re reading this in the far future you may have forgotten, but things are rough all over these days, and this volume reflects that reality. The first strips starts off with a quote from The Thin Man (the book by Dashiell Hammett) that ties into the madness of the vaccine deniers, so he’s right off to the races. There are just under 100 other strips in this book, dealing with loss (way too many of his friends passed away during this time period), hope, trying to get back to normal (i.e. being comfortable going out with friends again with not everybody wearing masks), and the introduction of a new cat in their lives, and this cat naturally ends up being the star of the show. Sure, I’m biased towards cats, but I’m also right. This feels like maybe as vague as I’ve ever been in describing a comic, but I am completely fine with that. This is a guy who’s wrapping up his second year of daily strips and frankly seems like he’s at the top of his game right now. They’re unlike most other daily strips I’ve read (the level of detail especially, but it’s also rare for a book like this to not ever feel repetitive) and I’m pretty comfortable recommending this to anybody. As to the question of which volume you should start with, that’s quite a bit tougher. Maybe pick the most eventful chunk of three months or so from your own life over 2020-2021 and see how his life was in comparison? That way if you enjoy the book you can always go back and read what came before and after it. Or just pick a number between 1 and 8 and get one at random. Give it a shot, is what I’m saying. $12
It’s mini kus time! Just in case anybody thought they were going to call it a day after putting out the first 100 issues of their series, they’ve sent along everything up to #110. This one is #103, and it’s Grandad Reg by Patrick Wray and Clara Heathcock.
I was recently asking where all the pandemic comics were, but it seems like they’ve been coming a lot more quickly recently, and this is another solid addition to the list. This is the story of Clara’s grandad Reg, who passed away from covid in April of 2020, right around the first big wave. She goes through some of her favorite memories of her time with the man, but the main theme of the book is one of confusion. How do you mourn somebody when there’s no event to mark their passing? Everybody was quarantined at the time, so all she has is a few people to contact over Facetime. I was lucky during the pandemic (not that it’s over, at least as of June 2022) in that I never contracted it (or if I did it was an asymptomatic case) and no close friends or family members died from it. Reading about her experience, and how she had to piece together any sense of peace or closure from it, was heartbreaking, and a reminder of just how many people had to deal with this over the last two years. Patrick did a solid job with the artwork, conveying just how stuck in time Clara must have been while still showing a sort of grieving process for her and her family. Does this mean that I’m recommending yet another mini kus book? Yep. I’ll bet nobody could have seen that one coming! But this is another excellent reminder of the sheer range of the series and the artists involved. I’ll bet the next one will be a wordless tale of the life of a dollar bill, or something else completely unrelated to this one. Anyway, now I’m starting to review mini kus and not this comic, but yes, give this one a shot. Especially if you had your own losses during the pandemic, this one might help you process how it all went down. $8
New review today for Applewood Canyon #4 by Brian Canini. You’d think my stack of Brian’s comics left to review would be decreasing, but if anything I’m just holding steady. 21 years running this website, and he might be the one that pushes me to start doing bulk reviews, or at least a few issues at a time. How else am I going to finish Plastic People?
It’s the penultimate (a word I just don’t get to use often enough) issue of this short series, and when we last left our heroes (?) they were bagging up a body and starting to take it away. The issue ended with a flashlight being shone on them, so in this issue we naturally see who was holding the light. It turns out it was… a small child. With a surprisingly quick grasp of the situation, to the point where it’s hard not to instantly wonder what else is going on with this kid. The rest of the issue deals with her making an offer to the two of them, their response to said offer and what happens once they try to take the body out of town (a town which we were previously told was locked down at night). So! Lots to wrap up in the final issue, and only 8 scant pages to do it. This one has gone a long ways from the faux documentary style of that first issue, that’s for sure, but I’ll make the prediction now that we’ll be left with many more questions than answers. I could very well be wrong, but I probably won’t be (this time). Mainly because I want to know the life story of that kid, and there’s just not enough time to deal with that while wrapping up the main plot. Either way, it’s been a blast of a series, and a pretty cheap one to get all the issues, in terms of Brian Canini series, anyway. $1.99
New review today for Odd Clods #1 by Steve Steiner, which is both a mini comic and a newspaper. No, somehow the comics world at large still hasn’t figured out how to refer to these suckers…
Confession time: I’ve often been hesitant in the past when it comes to reviewing comics that come in newspaper formats. Not for any aesthetic reason, it’s just that I’m a simple country reviewer, with a regular old scanner that can’t handle the size of such things. Well, I think I’ve cracked the case. The sample image cut off a little bit of the words, but I think I nailed the combo cover image. And that concludes the segment of the reviews that nobody asks for: behind the scenes at Optical Sloth! I’ve been reviewing Steve’s book for lots of years, but it’s been a few since I’ve seen any of his stuff. He sent along a few of his newspaper comics, and this one in particular is a hoot, and a bit of a departure from some of his other stuff that I’ve seen. It’s a collection of short pieces, but thanks to the format he doesn’t have to worry about space constrictions and he uses that to his full advantage. Subjects include a hilarious piece on how teachers have learned to detect the early warning signs of a potential anti-christ in their classroom, the terror of seeing unknown warning lights in your car while driving, an awkward message sent by an even more awkward gift, the different types of parasites in the midwest, the research and conclusion of a recently discovered terrarium in the human stomach of a comatose patient, a simple test for determining what types of hair you’ve found in various apartments, and a brand new personal defense system that’s designed to stop bigger dudes (and impress horrible women who are only attracted to violence). You know, I was going to wrap this up by mentioning how his (already impressive) artwork has somehow managed to get even better, but after going through that wrap-up on the stories in here, I should really point just how damned funny this comic was. Just about every one got a laugh out of me, with the possible exception of the stomach terrarium story (which was really more of a horror piece anyway). Give it a chance, why don’t you? Don’t you like funny things too? $10
New review today for My Life in Records #7: Gemini Dream by Grant Thomas. Y’all are watching the January 6th hearings, right? Just a public service announcement if you’re not, as it’s some riveting stuff.
Just a general question for the comics making portion of the audience: do you consider how your book might look on the shelf at the comic store when you’re making it, or is so much of your business done online and/or in cons at this point that it doesn’t come up? It’s a minor thing, but I ask because Grant didn’t put “#7” anywhere on this sucker (I found it on his website), but maybe that’s not particularly important these days. Anyway! This continues the ongoing story of Grant’s early life, as told at at least partially through the music he was discovering/listening to at the time. This one delves even further into his early home life, especially in the first story. The sampled image shows just how far Grant’s brother was willing to go when his door was taken off the hinges, along with Grant’s efforts to block out the noise with his own music. Next up is a piece about an attempt by him to try transcendental meditation after reading about it in the liner notes for a Moody Blues album. I have to admit, trying this out on the drive to a camping trip ended up going a little better than I might have guessed. Finally there’s a brief piece about his years mowing lawns with a push mower, which was chosen primarily because there was no motor, so he could hear his music much better then he would otherwise. He also goes into some detail about how he chose his clothing at the time, and what it meant to him. Once again, this dude and I have some serious similarities in our formative years, so if you, gentle reader, thinks that I can’t have that in common and remain unbiased, well, maybe you’re right. But it’s been a fascinating ride so far, with significantly more depth and emotion in it than you might expect from a comic “about” music. Give it a shot, if you haven’t already, and especially if you’re anywhere near your mid to late 40’s. It’s very good even if you’re not, but if you do fall in that range the music might seem a lot more familiar… $7.50
New review today for a graphic novel I’m finally getting around to: O Human Star Volume Three by Blue Delliquanti!
You know, this is my third review in this series (out of three books), and I don’t think I’ve included this disclaimer yet: these reviews are being done by a cisgender guy with the best of intentions, so if I’ve made a mistake in using a gender pronoun, please send me an email and I’ll correct it. I feel like it’s relevant to mention this now, because the conclusion naturally left a lot of the gender identity questions up in the air. If you haven’t been reading the series (and shame on you if that’s the case), I’ll briefly sum things up. Alastair Sterling’s consciousness gets brought back to life after his physical body was deceased for several years, but the identity of who’s done this is a mystery. Alastair was in a relationship with Brendan when he died, so Brendan built a humanoid robot with the partial consciousness of Alastair in them. This robot, as they aged, decided that they weren’t a man at all, so they transitioned to female. Which, naturally, raised all sorts of questions in both Brendan and the returned full consciousness of Alastair. All caught up? That’s great and all, but you should really read the previous two graphic novels to have a hope to catch up on the hundreds of pages of nuance that I just glossed over. Anyway, this volume starts off with an extended sequence about the creation and early years of Sulla, and the natural but confusing (to her and Brendan) realization that they were really female. This also covers some of the advances in robotics, AI and human part replacement technology, which also answered a few questions I still had rattling around in my brain. From there we go back to modern day (which is the future of the people reading this, obviously), and things there are grim. The last volume ended with Sulla (who was passing as human) outing herself to her friends by flying and Alastair running away (as everything going on was just too much for him). This is right around the point in the volume where I run into a brick wall, because the answers start coming pretty quickly at this point, and I’d be a real jerk to reveal them all in a review. I’ll just say that I’m sitting here, trying to think of something that was left unanswered, and I can’t come up with anything. I’d call that a solid ending, wouldn’t you? We do get the answer of who brought Alastair back, and I have to say that it’s not somebody who was on my list of suspects. So, again, kudos on a genuinely surprising ending. Blue also includes a short story about Lucille, who really gets the chance to shine in this volume. So after all is said and done, am I recommending this series? Yes, absolutely, why do you think I’ve been praising the bejesus out of this for three volumes? The scientific and ethical questions alone are worth the price, but the gender questions layered on top of that (and placed in a world where sentient past consciousnesses can have any body they want) raise it up to a whole new level. This is damned near a masterpiece and everybody who values my opinion at all should give this a shot. $25
New review today for Perry Midlife by S.R. Arnold, as I sit here listening to Pegboy for the first time in many years thanks to the nostalgia blast I got from John Porcellino’s comic earlier in the week. Does anybody outside of the Chicago area remember them? Hm.
You know what it’s apparently impossible to find online? Information on a dude who uses initials instead of a first name. Or I’m a moron when it comes to searching, but you’d think I’ve had enough practice by now. I also find myself oddly speechless when it comes to his comic, but that’s never stopped me before, am I right? Also it’s speechless in a good way; there’s some brilliance in here that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Describing this like a linear story also won’t do you much good, and it’s best that I just fess up and admit that the sample image isn’t close to the best representation of the style of the comic, it’s just an image that I couldn’t resist. Aw, screw it, I’ll go that route and run through some of the happenings. Things start off with our hero trying to hear the television as his spectacularly goofy dogs first try to eat the mail lady through the mail slot and then rummage through everything they see on the street during a walk. Next up he has to go see the doctor to get his regular medication refilled, which turns into a whole thing that ends up with a whole lot of ball squeezing. Should I mention that the doctor bears some resemblance to a perverted muppet? Nah, I probably shouldn’t. From there he can’t get away fast enough from a dude in the parking lot with an open head wound who’s looking for a ride, so they go on an adventure (?) together while having a long talk about the world, philosophy and everything in between, to the point where our hero seems to be warming up to the guy a bit. Then there’s a beautifully illustrated bit about the real life nature horror show that is the cowbird. That’s roughly the first half of the book, relayed in the simplest of terms by me, leaving you unaware of all the nuance and all the detail that this dude (I’m guessing the artist is a dude? If not, my apologies) puts into every panel. He ties it all together pathetically and beautifully in the end, but you’ll have to figure out that part for yourself. S.R.’s art has some hints of Dan Clowes, with maybe some Ivan Brunetti mixed in (possibly a bit of Peter Bagge in the action parts?), but in the end he’s clearly his own artist. I think I’ve reviewed every book from Heel on the Press so far, and they’re all distinctly their own weird, wonderful thing. And they’re also all damned near big enough to be graphic novels, in case you’re worried about spending money on the unknown. In that case I don’t know why you’re here, because I recommend that people do that shit all the time, but this would be a good one to go into blind. $12
OK, that miserable cold is gone, so now I’m back to my normal brain. Hooray? New review today for The Collected Prairie Pothole by John Porcellino!
The Collected Prairie Pothole
Oof, alternative weekly newspapers. So spectacularly important in my formative years, and so rare to even see out in the wild any more. Sure, that was pre-internet, but their general cohesiveness (despite sometimes being all over the place in terms of politics) is just about impossible to describe. That was my first time discovering Dan Savage, Tom Tomorrow, Life in Hell (Matt Groening’s early work before Simpsons, although he kept it up for awhile during that run), Sonic Youth, Fugazi, political views that ran lefter than left… all from those newspapers. Why am I strolling down memory lane? This is a collection of John’s weekly strips that ran in The Reader, a Chicago alt paper, in 2019. He has a lovely introduction in this describing his own journey with that paper, and how much of a dream come true it was for him to get the gig. He also, sadly, went into it knowing that comics were always the first things to get the axe in those papers, so he wasn’t surprised when the strip itself only lasted four months. But it turned out that he loved using that format, so he kept it going for awhile and behold! A new comic from him, even if you do live near Chicago and read the first half of these as they came out. These are all four panel strips, but full page, not the usual cramped version. This is where I usually run into that brick wall in my head that doesn’t want me to spoil a thing from a new John Porcellino book, but I figure the least I can do is list a few of the topics covered to give you some sense of what it’s all about. There’s an absolutely horrifying prank on his sister (assuming you feel the same way about earwigs that most humans do, i.e. complete terror and revulsion), an album review of a recording of 92 different frog sounds, skunk encounters, trying to figure out the deal with Meat Loaf before the internet was around for reference, seeing Frank Sinatra live, a decidedly odd breaking news alert (just the fact that local programming would be interrupted for such a thing), and him sending his dad to buy his Black Flag records back in the day. Also a whole lot more, but I already gave away more than intended, as this is a game that I just cannot win. I guess the only drama here, since you already know that I’m going to recommend every issue of King Cat when it comes out, is whether or not this new book is a shocking stinker. And… no! No, it is not. It’s more great work from a guy who should be mandatory reading whenever anybody is arrested for hate crimes, as I don’t see how you could read his stuff and stay angry at anything. Yay, I solved racism! $6
New review today for Eyeland #1 by Nick Forker, as “should I be writing these reviews with a cloudy flu brain? Eh, what’s the worst that could happen” week continues!
Quick, how much do you relate to the sample strip? Just checking to see how much we have in common, and I’m asking as somebody who’s been known to toss my phone across the room rather than stop reading (onto a bed or pile of clothes; it’s not like I’m made of money). This is a collection of strips that are mostly about Nick (as portrayed by a giant eyeball), and it looks like he both has plans to do this monthly and, if his Instagram page is correct, is already up to #6. Which is amazing, if that’s true; for all I know they’re just prospective issue covers. Anyway! The first strip is a full page recap of the first few months of 2020. Awful as that year was, even I had forgotten some of the horrors he mentions here. The strip also just kind of… ends, which was odd, but it was still terrifying/funny. There’s a lot of covid stuff in here, rightfully so, and it appears to be broken down into daily three panel strips and weekly (maybe?) full page strips. I do wish that he’d listed the dates on all the strips, but I’m a weirdo like that and doubt that anybody else would notice. It mostly stood out because the two strips where he went to heaven were interrupted by a full page strip about a different subject entirely. Other subjects include life in New York, his art, maybe starting a business and, like I said, a whole lot of covid. There’s plenty of insightful and/or funny stuff in here, although I worry about keeping up this pace on a monthly basis. Then again, he’s maybe banked a lot of strips already, so I should step back and let the man do his thing. Give it a shot, unless you’re really freaked out by a giant eyeball with a human body. $5
Reader alert: I’m doing that thing where I review a few books for the week all at once, but I’m also doing that while recovering from one humdinger of a cold (not covid, I’ve taken three covid tests in the last five days and they were all negative). Meaning that I’m probably meandering even more than usual, which should be a terrifying prospect for regular readers. New readers, I’m usually at least slightly more coherent than this. New review today for Town and County #1 by Alex Nall!
Here’s a good rule of thumb, for any l’il potential comic reviewers out there: if, after reading a new comic from an artist you’re already very familiar with, you’re convinced that the latest book is the best thing they’ve ever done, but then have to go back mentally through all the OTHER times you’ve said that about their previous books… chances are that you’re dealing with a pretty solid artist. Have I mentioned that I’m writing this in the middle of a nasty cold, and that I’m both pumped full of drugs and have slept more in the last three days than I had in the previous week? I mention this because I just reread the first sentence of this review, and want to give everybody full warning that this is going to be one of those “it’s the thought that counts” kind of reviews. Because the thought is clear enough, right? Garbled though that sentence might be, my point was that Alex keeps surpassing himself, and going off in unexpected directions where it would be just as easy for him to fall flat on his face. But he keeps nailing it, and it leaves me in a state of being perpetually impressed. Should I maybe talk about the comic for a bit? That seems like a thing that usually happens. This is a collection of short fictional pieces about the residents of a small town in Illinois. As I was born and raised in a small Illinois town, does that make me biased? Eh, maybe. The first third (ish) of the comic are “pages” from Don’s diary, as he details his dreams, life, history, family and potential future. That’s selling it a bit short, as each of the 12 pages has something thought-provoking, heartfelt or at least a little bit sad, but you’re getting no spoilers from me at all on that part. Especially because it’s listed as a “part one,” meaning he’s maybe planning on putting together a graphic novel of that section specifically, which sounds like a great idea to me. Other stories include the things that a cleaning woman sees and how she unwinds, the most effortlessly successful and popular guy in high school and what might have happened to him afterwards (with a spectacularly misleading title), a revisiting of the cleaning woman from earlier at a party, and a glimpse into the life of the woman whose house was being cleaned (which cleared up a whole lot about her personality). I wasn’t expecting the whole thing to flow together, but it did so quite nicely. If you’ve been reading these reviews for years and still somehow haven’t picked up any of Alex’s comics, this would be an excellent place to start. It’s a #1 and everything! $8