Update for 7/20/17

New review today for The Academic Hour by Keren Katz, and I’ll ask one more time that if anybody from Secret Acres is reading this, I haven’t lived at the apartment where you’re sending your books for almost a decade. Lucky for you I’m still friends with the person who does live there, but this all makes me wonder how many review copies of various books from all sorts of publishers are still going to old apartments of mine. Update your records! And yes, I have tried contacting them directly. Happy weekend everybody!

Katz, Keren – The Academic Hour

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The Academic Hour

Longtime readers of this website know that I occasionally have nothing to say about a book. Or at least nothing coherent and/or remotely insightful, but I usually bluster through it by offering a series of impressions or apologies about my deficiencies. And… here we are again! This is a remarkable book, all angles and ideas, thoughts about impossibilities and how to get over them (if they can be overcome), and a doomed love affair that never seems all that passionate. Most of the images look they were finished by an act of will; Keren could have just kept going with some of them until they filled the page, or spilled through the pages onto the rest of the book, or drawn onto and even into you if you sat still long enough. I rarely flip back through a book immediately after finishing it, but I did that here, taking time to ignore some of the captions just to see if I could get where she was going with the images alone. In most cases I could! Or at least I could get to where I thought she was trying to go, imperfect though my thoughts might be. It makes quite an impression, there’s no denying that. Subjects in here include a trapped horse and how to get him down, polishing bones with your moustache, whether or not the planned buried railroad cars exist, telling stories to get the person to fall in love with you, a young lover wondering when and if her teacher was watching her, and the watching witch. This book reminded me, above all else, of the feeling people sometimes gets that everything and nothing are both just a little bit off to the side, out of reach but not impossibly so. It’s all right there, if you tilt your head just right, angle your arms just so that they can slip through that veil and grab a bit of what’s on the other side. If you angle too far you’ll slide right through and never return, and if you don’t angle them enough you’ll never see a thing. Get yourself and your mind into exactly the right position, take a deep breath and dive right in. $19.95

Update for 7/18/17

Sorry about the unplanned week off last week, but my internet and cable were both down for most of it. Oh, what a joy Time Warner/Spectrum is to deal with. If you can’t tell whether or not that’s sarcasm, congratulations on never having paid for cable! New review today for Samurai Slate in Punch Drunk or Bowl Me Over by Keith O’Brien and a gaggle or artists who have almost all been reviewed here at one time or another.

O’Brien, Keith (and Various Artists) – Samurai Slate in Punch Drunk or Bowl Me Over

Website (for Tom Cherry, can’t find one for Keith)

Samurai Slate in Punch Drunk or Bowl Me Over

So what exactly is your tolerance level for word puns? If it’s your favorite thing in the world, boy howdy do I ever have a comic for you! If you can barely stand them, you might want to save yourself some time and move on to the next review. Keith wrote these stories, all either one or two pages, and they all feature a comedic theme based on a specific type of wordplay. The strip I sampled (where the story works in using every day of the week) is the clearest example of it, but other stories in here use puns based on books, punctuation, cows, India, chess and minerals. If your eyes naturally roll to the back of your head every time you/read hear a pun, this book might just kill you. If not, there are some genuinely funny bits here and there, and just seeing how they manage to work all these words into each story can be interesting. So… get this with your eyes wide open. I doubt there will be much middle ground for an opinion here, but you might just love it. No price listed, but I’m guessing it’s a buck or two…

Update for 7/7/17

Today is the end of the ongoing Brian Canini theme, as I review the last two issues of his Ruffians series, #12 and #13. Suddenly I have graphic novels piling up around here, so if all goes well I’ll be reviewing a few of those next week. Happy weekend everybody!

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #13

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Ruffians #13

OK, one thing first, just to make sure you get it: I’m going to talk about spoilers here, because this is the last issue of a series so of course I’m going to talk spoilers, either read the series before reading this or don’t read the series ever, in which case spoilers will never effect your life. But it’s a fun series overall, so you might want to read it. Anyway! My main conclusion after reading this last issue, ambiguous Soprano’s-style ending notwithstanding? Scar might be an immortal. Sure, he’s a three foot tall blue bear, so the rules for his existence were never clearly defined, so maybe that’s on me? But he was shot eight times in the back (and arm) in the last issue, and it is never mentioned or addressed in this issue. Thanks to Erin, he manages to escape what seems to be certain death in that nightclub, not seeming to be slowed down in the least, and then goes to a diner to get some food and talk some more to his dead friend Black Jack. So are we to assume that he was hit with a paint gun? That he had body armor that covered his back? Which wouldn’t do a thing to explain those 8 bloody bullet holes we see in the last issue. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on this aspect, hey, maybe you’re right! But if you or I were shot eight times in the back, maybe we could get a burst of adrenaline off long enough to take a few more assassins out (in real life we’d almost certainly just be dead), but once the adrenaline wore off that would be it. It seems like Brian sacrificed the natural flow of the story for a more dramatic gunfight in the last issue, and considering the care he took with the rest of the series, it strikes me as a misstep. Still, putting aside that one aspect (with great difficulty, obviously), we do get a final battle with Scar and Malt, we get to see him confront Cypris, and we finally get the real answer of what happened to Black Jack. I was wrong in my guess, which is always gratifying as a reader. And I’d still recommend this series as a whole. There’s intrigue, betrayals, an overarching mystery… a lot to love here. There were a couple of missteps here and there, but there’s more than enough good here to overshadow those things. $3.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #12

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Ruffians #12

It’s the penultimate (I love being able to use that word and have it fit) issue in the series, so you can be sure that there’s a lot of gunplay going on in this one. Brian doesn’t waste any time with it either; our hero tosses back a few more drinks, gets warned off one more time by the ghost of Black Jack, then puts a gun to the head of Cypris. Unfortunately his mustache disguise fell off during those drinks, so now all the assassins at this party recognize him. It’s one of the more baffling aspects of this story, the fact that that disguise worked so well, but it’s not much of a stretch to think of most of these assassins as not being all that bright. Oh, and Erin (Scar’s lawyer/lover) is there as well, and she’s armed, so she also gets a few murders in, although I lost track of her in all the chaos. Things take a turn towards the end of the issue, as Scar is finally tagged with some gunfire. 8 bullets in the back to be exact, which seems like enough to murder just about anybody. But who kills off the hero before the last issue? So Scar is still standing, if just barely, as he tries to summon the strength to find and kill Cypris (who ran away in all the confusion). One issue left to go, then I’ll have some thoughts about the whole series to wrap it all up. If you’re a weirdo who only buys one issue of a series and doesn’t care about the larger story but loves guns, this would be the one to get. $2.99

Update for 7/5/17

New reviews for Ruffians #10 and #11 today, and that leaves only two more issues in this Brian Canini series. Who will live? Who will die? Stay tuned to find out, even though I probably won’t tell you in the review! That’s how you do a teaser, right?

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #11

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Ruffians #11

Boy, Brian has really picked up the pace on his release schedule as the end is in sight (says the guy who is reading the last half dozen issues in a chunk). This one came out in March 2016 and #10 came out in February of the same year. In small press comics that is lightning fast! Things start off this time around with Scar having a drunken/hallucinating conversation with Black Jack, who he pictures as the bartender. During that conversation we learn that Scar really doesn’t want to have to kill the man who raised him, and that the ghost of Black Jack (as imagined by Scar) doesn’t want Scar to get himself killed trying. Our hero makes his way to the bathroom, where we learn that he is definitely drunk, and his washing his face to try to sober himself up ends up making his terrible disguise fall off. Oh, and one of the hitmen is also in the bathroom, and was apparently completely fooled by said disguise. A pretty brutal fight follows, and Scar gets out of the bathroom just in time for Cypris to get introduced. Two issues left in this story, and I’m guessing they’re going to be bloody messes, but this relatively quiet issue was a good chance to get in Scar’s head one last time before everything falls apart. Or unless everybody gets a happy ending, which is not something I’d bet any money on. $2.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #10

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Ruffians #10

Scar has one very immediate problem to take care at the start of this issue: who sold him out during his escape in the last issue? He uses some casually psychotic methods to get to the bottom of it, but he gets there: it was Cypris, biggest crime boss in the city, and the guy in charge of all the hitmen. Oh, and the guy who more or less raised Scar. So this is a problem! Scar manages to come up with one of the worst disguises I’ve ever seen (how do you hide a three foot tall blue bear?), gains access to the birthday party for Cypris, and tries his best to blend in. As of the close of this issue (back in dicey spoiler territory here, I know), the disguise is still working, but Scar comes across a familiar face tending bar. This is probably the closest this series has come to slowing things down a bit, as only one person gets killed (granted, it’s not a pleasant death), and there’s not even a cliffhanger to speak of. Catch your breath here, as I’m guessing our hero being in at a birthday party, surrounded by hitmen on all sides, is not something that’s going to work itself out peacefully. Just a hunch! $2.99

Update for 7/3/17

The Brian Canini theme continues, as today there are new reviews for Ruffians #8 and #9. If all goes according to plan I’ll be wrapping up reviews of this series by Friday. And when has anything ever gone wrong around here?

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #9

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Ruffians #9

When we closed out the last issue, our hero was getting stabbed at the end of a prison riot. As we open up the new issue, our hero is getting zipped up into a body bag. I’d say that things were looking a little grim for him, but luckily he still has a few friends out in the world. And one of them had a master plan for getting him out of prison that (spoiler alert, I guess, which is a tricky concept when I’m reviewing an entire series in two weeks) actually involved him getting stabbed by somebody on the inside who knew how to make it look good without killing him, so it’s all fine. Some smart writing from Brian and some great work keeping the tension high. After Scar regains consciousness he gets the whole story from his lady lawyer friend and her two accomplices, right before someone starts shooting up the ambulance that he’s escaping in. Hey, why make things easy on the guy? The rest of the issue involves a whole lot of gunplay, a few people getting shot and some solid suspicions of betrayal, which keeps the story moving right along.  No time to waste, I have more comics to read! $2.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #8

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Ruffians #8

It’s prison riot time! Scar sees everyone in the prison as the man (OK, gorilla) who killed his friend Black Jack, so he has no trouble taking his rage out on all of them. The vast majority of this issue is pure mayhem, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that not much happens with the plot this time around. Still, there’s a brief sequence where Scar remembers a mental image of Black Jack, lying bloody on the ground… with Scar standing over him. Delusion caused by multiple blows to the head? Guilt at failing to prevent the death of his friend? Or something more ominous? Guess we’ll find out at some point over the next half dozen issues, huh? Other notable happenings this time around include a whole lot of punching, more than a little bit of stabbing and the unfortunate occurrence of our hero ending the issue on what looks like a fatal note. I guess we won’t know whether or not that’s true until the next issue. Since that would mean that we’d have the next five issues without a protagonist I’m guessing he pulls through, but tune in for the next review to find out! Or just read the comics. Technically the series is over while I’m writing this, so this only has to stay a mystery to you if you prefer it that way… $1.99

Update for 6/30/17

Moving right along with the Brian Canini theme, the reviews today are for Ruffians #5, #6 and #7. I still think #6 was a slight misstep, but who knows, maybe it’ll all look better by the end. Next week: new reviews for the last six issues in the series. Happy weekend everybody!

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #7

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Ruffians #7 Now Available! $1.50

Here we go, back to the story we all know and love. Or at least you love it if you’re fond of figuring out what’s going to happen between the gorilla and the bear like I am. Scar’s still in prison, but his briefly “peaceful” existence is coming to an end, as tensions are about to boil over. Various factions are going to go at it, nobody knows who’s going to come out on top or what’s going to happen. Brian does a nice job here bringing things slowly to a boil and then bringing on the mayhem towards the end of the book. It’s well worth a look, as are most of the other issues in this series, and now you have the chance to catch up through this website (if I may toot my own horn for just a moment). $1.50

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #6

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Ruffians #6 Now Available! $1.50

Aw, dammit! I was having such a good time with this series, really getting into the characters and wondering where this whole thing was heading. Then Brian had to go and put himself in the comic. This has always struck me as a fairly ridiculous thing to do, especially in a case like this where it’s a fictional comic. Sure, Dan Clowes or Chester Brown showing up in a story of theirs isn’t the worst thing in the world, at least in the autobio stuff. But this… blech. This issue starts off with Scar walking up to the front door of the home of Brian Canini. You may be thinking that we get all sorts of answers to the story here, or at least his presence moves the plot along. No and no. Brian does mention the origin of why Scar looks the way he does (he looks like a teddy bear Brian had as a child), but that’s the extent of the useful information we are given here. Unless you’re curious about the life of Brian, as he does go into why he moved out of Ohio, which is fine if that had the slightest bit to do with the actual story. At least there’s a big old prison brawl in the last few pages (after Scar “wakes up” to find himself back there), but it can’t save this issue. At the end of the issue you’re exactly where you were at the end of the last issue, and that’s a hard thing to ignore in an ongoing series like this. Maybe when all is said and done this will have some significance to the storyline and I’ll be proven an idiot (not the first time), but for now I say again, blech. Oh, and don’t think this means I’ve given up on this. Not by a long shot, it’s still a lot of fun and I’m still wondering where this is all headed. This issue by itself just didn’t do a thing for me, that’s all. $1.50

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #5

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Ruffians #5 Now Available! $1.50

This issue seems to represent a bit of a lull in the series, which I suppose makes sense if you consider the fact that it’s entirely inside the prison, so what exactly can a hitman, bent on revenge, do in there anyway? In this issue Scar wins some cigarettes, gets the crap beat out of him, and meets his “lawyer”, in which we get some hope that he might get out of all this yet. All in all a decent issue, not something that does a whole lot for me on its own, but probably as a piece of a larger whole it’ll make everything run together more smoothly. That’s assuming, of course, that the series is going to keep moving right along. The steady pace of these things coming out has kept me, cynical as I can be about people giving up on their various comic series, hopeful about there being a beginning, middle and end here, as well as a will to keep it all moving. Go Brian go! $1.50

Update 6/30/17: The pessimist in me was hard at work when I first reviewed this about a decade ago, but Brian proved me wrong and finished his series. Young artists who are stuck at #2 or #3 in their series, follow his lead!

Update for 6/28/17

The Brian Canini theme continues around here, as today I’m reposting the reviews for Ruffians #3 and #4. Hey, if you want this kind of attention on this little review website, just send me your completed comic series. I live to serve…

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #4

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Ruffians #4 Now Available! $1.50

Things just keep getting worse for Scar, as this issue shows him entering prison and immediately picking a fight with one of the most powerful guys in the place. Which I’ve heard is sometimes sound advice if you find yourself stuck in prison, although maybe not the best idea for an unarmed three foot tall bear. There are also a few flashbacks in here, showing us a bit more why Scar cares so much to avenge the death of his friend, and a few new characters get introduced who are already in prison. Hey, the guy’s a hitman, it makes sense for him to already know people in the place. What can I say, I still can’t wait to see what happens in the next issue, and that’s all I can ever ask from a series. $1.50

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #3

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Ruffians #3 Now Available! $1.50

What, did you really think that fight scene was over with just because it got interrupted? This issue has the best of both worlds, as there’s plenty of mayhem to go around and we get the answers to some burning questions. Like why the hell does Scar wear those giant boxing gloves anyway? Did Malt have something against Black Jack? And who is the woman who comes to his door? OK, one of those questions has no relevance to the larger story, but it’s up to you to figure out which one. Another excellent, fast-paced issue, nothing to complain about here once again. $1.50

Update 6/26/17: How did I not mention that ending the first time around? It’s just about the last way you’d think a prolonged fight (featuring multiple gunshot wounds and stabbings) between two professional hitmen would end. Kudos to Brian for that one.