Update for 3/22/19

New review today for Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley! Yes, I know I reviewed two of her books this week, but they were both too amazing not to talk about, so I really had no choice, if you think about it. Happy weekend everybody!

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

Update for 3/20/19

For all of you readers who have been around a decade or more, this one has been a long time coming indeed: new review today for Smile by Raina Telgemeier.

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

Update for 3/18/19

New review today for Something New by Lucy Knisley. I am trying to keep these gaps between reviews to a minimum, honest. Life just has a way of making that tricky sometimes is all…

Knisley, Lucy – Something New

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Something New

I feel the need to start this review off with a disclaimer or two: I’ve never been engaged (meaning I’ve never been all that close to getting married), I have serious concerns about the whole concept of monogamous marriage and I’ve had a cold for the last couple of days, meaning that I’m feverish and mildly delirious. The perfect conditions to write a review! This is the story of Lucy’s relationship, the bizarre path taken to a proposal, and every little thing that goes into planning a wedding. Lucy also has the same inherent mistrust of the wedding process as I do (if anything, her concerns dwarf mine), meaning that she was examining every aspect of it as it came up and decided, bit by bit, which aspects she wanted to keep, which she wanted to change and which things to make entirely her own. If you’re planning on getting married any time soon (but not too soon, or your plans will already be completely locked in), I can’t recommend this book enough. Lucy lays out several areas where she was able to shave costs off the ceremony. Granted, these might now all be possible for you if you’re not surrounded by amazing artist friends and family, but a few of these steps are universally applicable. As for the graphic novel itself, the sheer amount of information I learned here was staggering. I knew that getting a wedding dress was arduous, but I had no idea the scope of it, or that it often took 6 months (!!!) after finding the perfect dress to have it in your hands. The number of steps involved, the number of people involved, the impossibility of keeping everyone happy… this book did more than anything else I’ve read to explain why it takes about a year to actually plan a wedding. And as for the various wedding traditions? Lucy seemingly researched all of them, and the sample image below shows just a few of the creepy and/or horrific origins of them. For example, that thing about it supposedly being bad luck to see your fiance on the wedding day before the wedding itself? That goes back to arranged marriages, where it was though that the sight of this stranger could cause the fiance to flee. So… not much use in modern times, right? There was even a fairly adorable scene where Lucy and her fiance intentionally woke up together on the wedding day, because both knew they’d be too busy to see each other for most of the day. As there’s so much here I feel like I could go on forever, but I’ll wrap this up by saying it also works really well as a sustained narrative, not just for the piles of piles of practical information. She’s also effortlessly funny, and this book was a good reminder that (outside of a few anthologies), this website is mostly Lucy Knisley-free. After reading this, I’ll be fixing that mistake sooner rather than later. $20


Update for 3/7/19

New review today for Dark Pants #4 by Matt MacFarland.

MacFarland, Matt – Dark Pants #4

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Dark Pants #4

The saga of the leather pants continues! And I hate to skip right to the end (or technically right past the end), but Matt mentions that the next issue is going to be about the origin of the pants, so we all have that to look forward to. I get that the written word can sometimes come across as unintentional sarcasm, but I’m genuinely curious about the story of these pants. Anyway! This time around the pants find their way to Lisa, an older (i.e. 40’s or 50’s) lady with a couple of kids, an obnoxious and needy partner and a yoga instructor that’s the source of many of her sexual fantasies. We don’t see the pants for roughly the first half of the book, which is where we learn all about her life and how desperately trapped she feels in it. Not that she hates being a mother, she just always imagined something more in her life. Once the pants show up, as with past comics, everything changes. She’s noticed where she was previously invisible and has the newfound confidence to go along with it. Her yoga teacher notices too and asks her out, which is the subject of the rest of the book. These Dark Pants books are fascinating for the look they take into what people would do if they felt like they could get away with anything, whether or not acting on their fantasies would help them in the long run, and whether or not they even want to go through with their fantasies when the moment strikes. And hey, next time we get to see what it’s all about, maybe. There’s a lot to this series, and it’s well worth a look. I also saw on Matt’s website that he’s made a couple of comics about his problems with R. Crumb, and I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately, so I might buy some copies of those to see what he’s thinking. Not that I needed to mention that in a review of another of his books, so check out Dark Pants! $10

Update for 3/5/19

New review today for The Elements of Rough #2 by Max Clotfelter. Looks like things might be picking up at work soon, meaning that if you have review comics you’d like to send my way, soonish would be a good time…

Clotfelter, Max – The Elements of Rough #2

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The Elements of Rough #2

For anybody who missed the last issue (or the last review), this series is dedicated to answering the question of why Max’s comics are perceived as being “so rough.” Meaning that he’s telling the story of his life, or at least the interesting/relevant bits. Last time around we got a good look at his father, this time around we spend some time with his mother and sister. And a few of the assorted people who were in their orbits when Liz had her 35th birthday party, which is the star of the comic. We see the terror that Beth (his girlfriend at the time) showed at the idea of being at a party with his family, how much booze goes into planning such a thing, the efforts made to help Liz get help with her sobriety (making it odd indeed that their was so much booze at the party, but her mother was a terrible enabler), and finally Liz’s boyfriend, who was also an ex of her mother. There’s oddly little drama over that last fact, which is odd, at least to me. But the guy got her a rabid raccoon for her birthday, and that went about as well as you might expect. There’s more to the party and to the people at the party than I’m sharing here, but hey, a journey of discovery means that you have to have something left to discover, right? Check it out, if you have questions about Max or his comics this series is an invaluable peek into how it all started. $3

Update for 2/20/19

New review today for So Buttons: Man Of, Like, A Dozen Faces by Jonathan Baylis and a gaggle of assorted artists, some of which you already love.

Baylis, Jonathan & Various Artists – So Buttons: Man of, Like, a Dozen Faces

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So Buttons: Man Of, Like, A Dozen Faces

One sign that I’m reading an amazing book? When I pick about a dozen pages in my head to be my sample page, then realize when I’m done that I could really use just about any page. An embarrassment of riches, I believe it’s called. If you’ve been living under a rock (like me) and have somehow never heard of “So Buttons” even though you already know almost all of the artists involved, you’re in luck! This book collects stories (possibly all of the stories? It’s not clear) from the first 7 issues of his comic series. He uses several different artists, with a few names popping up several times. These strips are all autobiographical, and (this is important for people thinking about making an autobio comic) each of them had something to say. Even the ones about mundane aspects of his life; it’s clear that the guy has seen a lot and/or known people who have seen a lot, which is when it’s advisable to make an autobio comic. Not to name any names of people who make autobio comics for years with seemingly little to nothing to say. Ahem. Anyway, this one starts off with a comic about Jonathan’s first day working for Marvel in 1994, which happened to be the day that Jack Kirby died. He was there when John Romita Sr. did the tribute art for Jack, and he was the one who had to tell him to improve his Thor drawing. Which was a little intimidating, to put it mildly; if you’re not familiar with comics history, those were two legends and it was his first day. This story was also drawn by Fred Hembeck, which is not a name that I’d ever thought would be on my website because he’s a Marvel guy through and through, but here he is. There’s a real danger of my saying either too much or too little about the remaining stories, but I’ll give it a shot. Subjects include taking a trip to take in some art, overdoing it on the Halloween makeup before getting into an auto accident, his kinda sorta connection to R. Crumb, the dangers of meeting your heroes (in this case Robert Redford), meeting Jackie Mason, the perfect joke after seeing Schindler’s List, trying to find the secret to the perfect brisket, how he manages to love both New York baseball teams, how we went from bully to bullied in one word, his Annie tryout in grade school, his unfortunate reaction to the news that John Lennon had been killed, hanging out with his dad and learning that the guy wasn’t as predictable as he thought, bringing out a traumatic memory of the war from his uncle, and almost meeting Jim Jarmusch. There is also almost an entire half of the book that I didn’t mention at all, so obviously there’s a lot here to love. The artists do amazing work with the material they’ve been given and Jonathan is an incredibly gifted writer. Yeah, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this one. Check it out! $20

Update for 2/18/19

New review today for Chlorine Gardens by Keiler Roberts, which is another chance for me to tell you to support your local libraries. I wouldn’t have nearly the access I do to graphic novels without them.

Roberts, Keiler – Chlorine Gardens

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Chlorine Gardens

Years ago I made the decision here to only review physical comics, mostly so I could manage the review submissions. And due to my looking forward to eventually dying after being smothered by a giant stack of toppled comics. Anyway, due to this policy I rarely know how a comic came about unless the artist mentions it somewhere, which is all a long way to go to say that I don’t know how Keiler put together this book. Parts of it seem like they may have come from weekly strips , other bits are longer and more complex. All this makes it tough to judge as a whole, because I don’t know how it came about. So I’m going to ignore that question altogether and instead tackle the quality of the contents. It’s pretty great, everybody! This is a collection of loosely connected stories covering a wide range of events in Keiler’s life. Things start off with the story of the birth of her daughter Xia, how she didn’t get the best advice beforehand, the antics of her doctor and why she put up with him. From there the stories get a bit more scattered (where I’m assuming they’re weekly single page strips), with subjects dealing with when she had to put down her old dog (her line to the other lady in the waiting room has hilariously dark), her various family members and bits of her childhood, and raising Xia and some of her hijinx. From here things get serious, as Keiler gets diagnosed with M.S. This could have been a horrific moment, and it was still deadly serious, but Keiler managed to make a few jokes and her sense of humor about the whole thing (beautifully conveyed through a few conversations with her sister) was fantastic. The diagnosis and her attempts to get other opinions hangs over the rest of the book, but the stories themselves deal with the last days of her grandfather and how she handled it and how she dealt with taking a trip. Even if the format seemed a bit jumbled to me at times, the book as a whole is engrossing, hilarious while being occasionally heartbreaking (sometimes in the same panel) and just a damned entertaining read. If it hasn’t already been nominated for something, there’s a solid chance that you’ll be seeing this title when various awards come back around. $12

Update for 2/14/19

New review today for the complete Jam in the Band by Robin Enrico, which was a long time coming but well worth the wait. Um, even though it was technically released in 2017…

Enrico, Robin – Jam in the Band

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Jam in the Band

Memory is a tricky thing. Bear with me; I’m reading a book now dealing with how you can convince yourself of fake memories because of repetition and doing whatever is necessary to put you in a better light, so I’ll just say that I thought that I’d been reviewing Jam in the Band issue by issue, piece by piece for a solid chunk of the last decade (which is how long Robin has been working on it). Turns out that I reviewed the preview comic (which I wasn’t thrilled with) and the first book (which I loved, but had a few complaints that were addressed with this completed volume). So yeah, bottom line: always get corroboration when your only source for something is your own memory. But hey, Jam in the Band! This is the complete story, and any doubts I had in the previous two reviews are wiped away with this completed epic. I was worried about Bianca (the lead singer) getting all the attention in the first book, but from then on the two other band members (Tiara and Corbin) take over, along with other characters, and Bianca fades into the background. Not completely though, as she has maybe the best story arc of the bunch. This one starts off with three young women in a band deciding to get out of their small town, with Bianca very much the ringleader of this plan. They get into a van and go on tour, things go reasonably well but two of them are still getting sick of the arrangement, when they get a lucky break and things start going their way. From there we see the three of them navigating this newfound fame, each in their own way before things take a turn for the worse. I’m not going to get too much more into the overall plot because it could be summed up pretty simply and spoiler-y, and because the real joy of this book is in the details. The various gigs they play, the people they meet along the way, the connections to their lives that they pick up and drop off, and how they each change and grow is a wonder to behold. I’m guessing that Robin probably wishes that he spent less than a decade on this book, but I don’t see how it could work any other way. Robin in his intro mentions that he changed plenty during that decade as well, and that experience carried over to this characters. If you’ve liked his past work you probably already have this (it came out in 2017 but I somehow lost track of my review copy until now), but if you missed this when it came out or have heard of Robin but never tried his stuff… you’re not going to regret giving this book a shot. $19.99

Update for 2/12/19

New review today for The Fuzzy Princess by Charles Brubaker, which is different from his past issues of the same name, so don’t be fooled.

Brubaker, Charles – The Fuzzy Princess

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The Fuzzy Princess

One piece of advice I try to give out to people making comics is to make it easy for anybody jumping in late to get caught up, so I feel compelled to point out that this issue is just called “The Fuzzy Princess” with no issue numbers or other unique markers, which would absolutely be confusing to anybody coming in late. It looks like Charles did this issue as a sort of reminder about his ongoing Kickstarter campaign to put a book together (available at his website), which makes that a little better. As for the comic itself, this deals with Kat accidentally getting his tail chopped off and coming to love a new prosthetic tail that, naturally, has a lot more features than the old fleshy tail. We also learn about Kat’s mom, her life and the traveling she did through a variety of odd locales. I’d say more about it, but this is already a comic with 6 pages of story and I already sampled 1 of them. There’s still room for a few funny bits, so if you’re a fan of his previous work you’re sure to like this one too.

Update for 2/8/19

New review today for Entropy by Aaron Costain, which is something I should have reviewed months ago but it got misplaced during my move. From July. Again, if there’s anybody out there who’d like to organize over two decades worth of small press comics and doesn’t mind being paid in said comics, I’m hiring…

Costain, Aaron – Entropy

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Entropy

I barely even know where to begin with this one, which means that my best bet is probably my trademark start of a ramble with the hope that it turns into something vaguely meaningful. Oh shoot, I’ve just given away the reviewing game! Pretend you didn’t see that. This book is a decade in the making; Aaron has been putting parts of this out as chapters, but it also sounds like this is a complete reimagining of the overall story. Things start off with the overdressed figure you see on the cover talking to himself, out for a walk. He has a few philosophical thoughts, realizes that he’s lonely and decides to create life. This attempt goes poorly, a talking fox (all the animals in this world talk) comes by to rub it in, and finally a raven comes by to peck at his eyes. Finally our hero gets hit with a blinding light… and that’s it for the first chapter. Out of eleven. To put it mildly, there are lots of questions in here about what it all means, what constitutes life, how blame is apportioned out when something goes wrong, how life started in this world, whether or not to take advice seriously when given by a cat or potential angel, trying to help another golem talk (oh yeah, our hero is a golem, which is why he wears all the clothing, so that his writing doesn’t get rubbed off), and I feel like this sentence could go on forever if I don’t lock it down. This book combines mythologies and creation myths while telling us not to do such a thing, and if you’re even mildly philosophical about what it all means or why we go on, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. $19.95