Update for 1/22/18

New review today for Sphere Hear by William Cardini! Who is either invisible in real life or just yet another artist I missed seeing at CXC in 2017…

Cardini, William – Sphere Hear

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Sphere Hear

How is it possible that I missed yet another artist at CXC last year (2017)? I’ll get to the review in a second, but William mentioned that in the letter with this comic, and I clearly need a new plan for actually meeting the people who are at conventions. Do I need a checklist? Gah, I swear I must have missed an entire room full of artists. Anyway! That’s not your problem, it’s mine. Isn’t there a comic I’m supposed to be talking about? Why yes, there is! This is the story of a gigantic space being who ruins a planet with his excessive pyramids. He removes the eye from his body (which apparently carries his consciousness) and escapes the planet entirely. But he can’t resist taking a look back at what he’s done, which leads to some dire consequences for the planet. Or are they fantastic consequences? Welcome to the world of William Cardini! If you’ve never read one of this comics, you may have a bit of an adjustment period. I love the fact that William has been living in this Hypercastle world for roughly a decade now, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Or of making his work more “commercial,” although I have no idea what that would look like in this universe. I literally cannot picture a Hypercastle cartoon or action figures. But yes, the point of this review is that this is another fine entry in that world, and another peek into what makes the whole thing tick. $5

Update for 1/18/18

New review for The Big Me Book by Tom Van Deusen! Keep those review comics coming! I’m not going anywhere, and the more comics I get, the more comics I’ll review. Unless you send me like 20 of your comics, in which case I’ll get overwhelmed and not know what to do with them all.

Van Deusen, Tom – The Big Me Book

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The Big Me Book

In a world where there are so many actual assholes, where the news constantly seems to be life or death stuff, where all decent folks are rallying together, implicitly or explicitly, Tom has chosen his lane: autobiographical comics asshole. It’s nuanced, it’s hilarious, and it’s almost certainly not who he is in real life. But in an age where subtlety has passed us by, I love the fact that he’s sticking with it. There are a few stories in this comic, all roughly related to his overall theme. First up is a piece about him having a dinner with his parents, unable to stop and have a conversation with them while being obsessed with the lack of “likes” his picture of said dinner is getting. There’s a hilarious bit where he tries to defend his work at a convention when an unfortunate medical condition springs up: Tom’s thought bubbles over his head are visible to the outside world. That condition powers a couple more short strips, with a trip to a doctor about his condition and the “cure” that he comes up with. Then there’s the heart of the book, the part where I stop talking about the actual contents of the stories because it’s such a delight that I don’t want to give anything away: Tom gets three wishes from a magical talking cat. How he gets the wishes, what he does with the wishes (remember, comic Tom is a full blown asshole), and the way the strip ends, all those delights I’m leaving to you to discover, gentle reader. If you’re able to stop taking everything so seriously for a few minutes, to avoid the temptation of turning everything into an outrage, I can’t recommend this book enough. There are sadly few comic artists around these days that are capable of making me literally laugh out loud, and Tom is one of them. Never change, you (hypothetical) jerk you! $6

Update for 1/16/18

New review today for Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes. Also, a word of advice for anybody reading this who happens to live in the general Columbus area of Ohio: use the library system here to read comics! It has so many amazing books like this one, and there’s rarely any waiting to get them on your hold list. See, I can sometimes give useful advice…

Hayes, Leah – Not Funny Ha-Ha

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Not Funny Ha-Ha

Normally I avoid anything that could remotely be considered a spoiler in my reviews, but I’ll come right out and say it: this is a book about how to get an abortion. How to get one, how to figure out what type is best for you, how to best arrange transportation, what to realistically expect to deal with medically afterwards, how it’s normal to feel guilty after it’s done (or not feel guilty at all), etc. It is thorough, thoughtful, full of practical advice and completely free of judgement of any of the women making these decisions. It’s goddamned great, is what I’m saying, and this should be required reading for any women who can have kids, along with all the assholes who are trying to prevent women from being able to make these decisions, because maybe then they’d start to see these women as humans. I should make one other thing as clear as possible: this book is not intended for me! Granted, I learned a lot from it, and can now give some basic advice to women that I maybe couldn’t give before. But at the end of the day I’m a guy, and thus can’t get pregnant, so it’s never my call on whether or not somebody should get an abortion. So yes, this book is amazing and just about everybody should read it. That’s as clear as it could be, right? Good, because I have a couple of quibbles with it that I can’t resist mentioning. Let’s start with the most minor quibble: that cover. For a book that’s so open about being loud and proud about getting abortions and teaching everything that goes with it, maybe use the word on the cover? It’s clear on the back cover, and it’s easy enough to read through the lines, which is why it’s such a minor quibble on my part. My other quibble is a bit larger: nowhere in this book does it talk about the best strategies for dealing with the pro forced birth crowd. Oh, there are some bits of advice about volunteering to be one of the people who help escort women into Planned Parenthood through those throngs of assholes, which is sound and helpful advice. The trouble is that a lot of those assholes are elected officials now, and they’ve been chipping away at unfettered access to abortions for decades. So you can still technically get an abortion in every state, but bullshit health regulations have forced all but one clinic to close. Or the fact that some states force you to view an ultrasound of the fetus, no matter how tiny, and others will force you to wait for a legally mandated few days to “think about it.” This book does an excellent job of putting the reader in the place of someone who is considering an abortion and how hard the decision could be, but I wish there was a little space dedicated to how much harder it could be in those states, and some tips on how to overcome those obstacles. The likely answer is that there are no great answers for these women, which is depressing to think about. This is all me asking for the perfect abortion book all in one place, I know, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks to talk about comics (note: I get paid no bucks). Again, to be clear, I’m not trying to complain about a book that’s 95% perfect, I just wish there was more advice for the women with the misfortune to live in one of the shittier states. $16.99

Update for 1/4/18

New review today for Killbuck by Sean Knickerbocker, and there’s very little waiting in my comics review pile at the moment, in case anybody had a recent comic they’d like to send my way…

Knickerbocker, Sean – Killbuck

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Killbuck

I’ll admit it: between that title and what looks like a suspicious glance on that cover, I had different expectations of this book. I was completely wrong, which is always nice. Subvert my expectations more often please, artists of all kinds! Instead we’re basically seeing a small chunk of the lives of a few high school students and the people in their immediate orbit. Things start off with three friends (one of whom is clearly much lower in the pecking order than the others) going to check out a cabin in the woods. The cabin belongs to people who go away for the winter, so these kids are thrilled by the idea of a private hideout stocked with booze and (to them) terrible music. I also get the impression this is set roughly around 2000, although don’t quote me on that. Anyway, they decide on throwing a party in this new place, but with only a few people to avoid getting caught. We then get to see a little of the home life of Jesse (the long haired member of the trio, along with Eric (the asshole) and Kris (the terrified younger guy)), quickly followed by an introduction to the two ladies they had decided to invite to this party, working their job at a diner. We get a good look into exactly why Eric is such an asshole, and then it’s time for the party to begin! Things don’t go well, but it’s not a complete disaster either, but it does cause a split in the group. And this is the part of the review where I arbitrarily decide that I shouldn’t share any more of the story with you. The rest of the book is about how the kids end up grouping together after the party, the plans they’re making (or not) for life after school, and what is holding some of them back. It’s a brief period of their lives, but it’s universal doubts and fears to anybody who grew up in a small town. Or most likely anybody who grew up at all, but since I come from a small town too it really spoke to me. One thing’s for sure, these graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies sure seem to know their stuff… $10

Update for 1/2/18

Hey look, I remembered to use 2018. Let’s see how long that lasts! New review today for Wow! Retracted by David Robertson and a gaggle of other artists…

Robertson, David – Wow! Retracted

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Wow! Retracted

To every comics artist out there who worries endlessly about putting out comics on a regular basis, you could do a lot more than emulating David. The bulk of his stories are short, usually only a few pages long. This lets him submit comics for all kinds of anthologies, and every year or so he has more than enough material to put out a book of his own. See how easy it is? Granted, lots of artists only deal with larger stories, but at least having the ability to work on shorter stories would be a nice change of pace for whenever you get stuck on whatever epic you’re working on. So hey, enough of the life advice, how about this comic? The bulk of these 40 (!) stories are written and drawn by David, with about a dozen of them coming from other artists. There’s no central underlying theme, just a big old pile of stories about all sorts of things. OK fine, his “I Live With a Killer” stories (about how his cat brings him pieces of various animals it’s killed) have a connecting theme, but they’re the exception here. Other highlights include the final thoughts of thelast two survivors from a plane crash, our first encounter with aliens, petty space station revenge, the man who’s always falling in love, the story and fate of Dolly the cloned sheep, a story of a missile attack (written by his son I think?), the concept of putting people in concerts who just want to talk for the whole show in their own section, exactly how much of your life you waste on vacuuming, skipping an internet video only to see it on the actual news later, a comic about making a comic that sort of eats itself (drawn by Zu Dominiak), the story a mouse brings back home after nearly being eaten, the robot and the monster, and the inner lives of a couple of flies. That’s what, not even half of the stories here? It’s another pretty fantastic bunch of stories from David, and if you’ve somehow gotten this far in life without seeing his work this is a solid chunk of comics to start with. No price listed, so I’m going to guess the arbitrary number of $10. Contact David and I’m sure he can set you straight…

Update for 12/27/17

It’s the last review of the year! I was thinking of writing another review or two, but why tempt fate when I’m going out on such a great book? New review today for Spinning by Tillie Walden, happy new year everybody!

Walden, Tillie – Spinning

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Spinning

If you’re anything like me, you scan the “best of” lists at the end of the year more to check to see if you missed something rather than looking for a reason to get outraged if your favorite didn’t make the list. Unless you’re an internet troll, I guess. Anyway, I hadn’t heard of this book before seeing it on a list (Onion AV Club maybe?), and wow am I glad that I didn’t miss it. This is Tillie’s graphic memoir (and at least her third book) and, as of this writing, she’s 21. Maybe you’re thinking that 21 is too young to put out a memoir, that a person that young wouldn’t have the perspective or insight to have much to say. Yeah, I might have guessed that too, and you and me both were very, very wrong. This is the story of Tillie’s life as she navigated being in constant training for competitive ice skating, starting at a very young age. She had to get up ridiculously early, was forced to socialize with people that she otherwise didn’t like (mostly), had her skating literally judged constantly, and otherwise tried to navigate growing up with all of that hanging over her. Oh, and she knew from a very young age that she was gay, but wasn’t sure when/how to tell anybody. She also had parents with wildly differing enthusiasm levels for what she was doing, along with all the problems that come with that. I feel like the laziest reviewer in the world when I constantly say that I don’t want to ruin a book by talking about, that it should be experienced by the reader with as few preconceived notions as possible. And hey, here I go again, doing that exact same thing! But this time I’m reviewing a book that is legitimately one of the best things I’ve read all year, and it’s not just me saying it! She’s a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies and it shows; she has some serious skills, especially when you consider the fact that most of her life was devoted to an entirely different field. In here she shows no fear, letting quiet moments become awkward when necessary, speeding through some of the parts that needed it, and just generally knowing when to go for an emotional gut punch and when to back away. I’m still stunned that she’s so young! It’s clear that the next generation of cartoonists is going to have a lot more training in the field before putting their books out. I guess purists/cranks might say that books lose a bit of their charm when they’re so expertly done (getting away from the punk aesthetic), but screw that. Mini comics by people who are making it up as they go are one of my favorite things in the world, but another favorite thing is seeing somebody put it all together and producing a masterpiece. Tillie managed that here, and everybody reading this who’s wondering what to splurge on with that holiday money should look no further than this book. $22.99

Update for 12/21/17

New review today for The Elements of Rough by Max Clotfelter, wrapping up an unintentional (short) week of reviews of people who haven’t been around this website for a while. Will there be reviews next week during the holiday taint season? Who knows? Probably not, but maybe!

Clotfelter, Max – The Elements of Rough #1

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The Elements of Rough #1

Finally, it’s the secret origin story of Max! OK, sure, he’s done autobiographical comics before. But Max had a simple conceit for this one: to answer all of the people who are constantly asking him why his comics have to be “so rough.” Since I’ve literally had friends come by, see his comics and ask me variations of the same question, he’s clearly not exaggerating how often he gets asked this question. The answer is a little more simple than you might have guessed: because he’s been surrounded by a colorful cast of characters his entire life. His father was quick to make friends with weirdos and slow to kick people out who were just looking to drink for a few days, leading Max to a childhood with his parents bailing friends out of jail, regular drinking and driving by all concerned, and running into an inmate that Max knew as he was cleaning a local library in his prison uniform. The nexus for all sorts of craziness ended up being a seedy liquor store that Max’s father owned, leading to even more colorful characters. Eh, “colorful” might imply “wacky” or “harmless,” and a few of these characters seem perfectly capable of doing harm. It’s an interesting story and it explains a few things, but Max promises that things get even weirder in the next issue, so there’s that to look forward to. If you’re a fan of his work it’s pretty much mandatory to get this comic, and if you’ve never read his stuff this is as good an introduction and anything. So basically you should buy this one either way, with the only exception being if you’re a terrible person who hates comics and only reads these reviews to torture yourself about all the unregulated art going on in the world. Hey, if it can be imagined, somebody on the internet is doing it…

Update for 12/19/17

Short reviewing week because of holiday stuff, but the new review today is for The Fifty Flip Experiment #21 by Dan Hill.

Hill, Dan – The Fifty Flip Experiment #21

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The Fifty Flip Experiment

Now that is one old timey website. Granted, given my lack of skills is designing (or even maintaining) a website, I shouldn’t be making comments, but there’s some real Geocities-like flashing graphics on that link above. Click it and see! Anyway, it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a comic from Dan, and each time I review an issue I come away from it feeling like I’ve failed to convey just how unique and bizarre it was. Maybe I’m referring to the man, but I’m definitely referring to the experience of reading the comics, complete with the introduction this time around. He mentions in his intro that he put the it in the front of the comic because it was more important to him that the words be on the first page “so that the book looks like a comic book… I take it on faith that things that look like comic books will, given enough time, more or less actually become comic books.” Welcome to the world according to Dan Hill! If you’re alarmed by that #21 on the cover and feel like you’ll never catch up on the story, don’t fret, this issue stands all by itself. Dan explains the real story in his intro, but on a surface level this is the story of a time traveler in a spacesuit who wreaks havoc and death on what appears to be a peaceful alien race who play Jenga as a mating ritual. His sidekick only communicates by little lines of paper that come out of her head and, as there’s rarely time to read them in the heat of battle, he usually reads them while putting together the mission in his head, trying to figure out where the comments belong and what they refer to. Naturally there’s also a final battle with a big boss and something ends up getting thrown into the sun. Once again I feel like I failed to give an accurate summation of this comic, but maybe it’s just impossible. Reading a Dan Hill comic is a singular experience, and everybody should try it at least once. If you’re cheap he has a lot of samples up on his website, possibly even full comics. $5

Update for 12/15/17

New review today for 22 Tapes by Toby Jones, happy weekend everybody!

Jones, Toby – 22 Tapes

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22 Tapes

If you’re a Cartoon Network nerd and you’re thinking that the name “Toby Jones” sure seems familiar, congratulations, you are correct! He’s worked on Regular Show for a few years and has dabbled in several other projects. He also put out a comic recently, obviously. I can’t find anywhere online to buy it, but if you’re curious there are a lot of ways to contact the guy and he must have an answer. The concept of the comic was simple enough: he had recently converted several old tapes from his childhood years and was going to watch one each night, making a comic out of his reactions and thoughts on those tapes. He was only able to make it through seven tapes so far (spoiler alert, I guess), but it was a rich variety of material. He cringes at any of his attempts to mimic Tom Green, goes over what was happening on certain days of taping and guesses at possible moods, watches several early attempts at animation (or claymation) and is occasionally mildly impressed with the craftsmanship, but rarely impressed with the content. Impressed with the craftsmanship while also grading on a curve, obviously; good animation for an early high school kid isn’t exactly good animation for Cartoon Network. He even finds a few things that are genuinely funny, much to his own surprise. If you’re the type of person who saves all of this sort of thing from their childhood and are wondering if it’s worth the time to dig through it, this comic provides a possible answer. I’d say they’re at least worth a cursory glance, even though I say that as a guy who has several notebooks worth or writings from high school and college that I haven’t seen in decades, so maybe I’m not the best guy to ask. Still, if you can find a copy of this, it’s fascinating at times and a real peek into both the early creative process and how that process can be seen by the adult version of that person.

Update for 12/13/17

New review today for Apartment Number Three by Pascal Girard, which should help give you a whole new perspective on that one creepy neighbor. You know the one I’m talking about…

Girard, Pascal – Apartment Number Three

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Apartment Number Three

Are you looking for a comic that will take a little bit of awkwardness and keep right on going with it until you’re no longer sure of the hero/villain of the piece! Then do I have a comic for you! Eh, maybe it’s not fair to declare either of these people as a villain or a hero, that’s for you to decide. Things start off with a young woman coming home with some groceries. She notices her downstairs neighbor staring at her out the window as she gets home and calls a friend about it, and it’s obviously something that happens on a regular basis. The guy never leaves the house and creeps her out in general, so she decides to do a bit of research to find out about him. She discovers that he’s a cartoonist who hasn’t published anything for several years, but quickly runs into a wall in her research when the landlady refuses to offer any information. She then manages to get her hands on his apartment keys, leaving only the slight problem of being unable to break into his place because he never leaves. This is when the awkwardness and the tension really gets going. Things end on a real _____ note (I don’t want to give away the ending by saying what kind of note), with some real ambiguity about who is or isn’t doing the right thing. It’s certainly engrossing, with all kinds of open-ended questions about boundaries (real and imagined) between neighbors. $5