Cass, Caitlin – Projections on a Monument

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Projections on a Monument

Hey look, multimedia installation can be comics too! Caitlin originally made this for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, and it was displayed in a much larger format for the Rochester Contemporary Art Center. Which must have been something to see, but since this is a website about comics, how does this translate to that format? Pretty well, as Caitlin is basically a master of the form at this point. It’s not much of a narrative story, it’s more of a collections of insights and historical facts from the time around the unveiling. We get to see some contemporary comments on the statue at the unveiling, the reaction of his daughter and a history lesson on what her life was like, the backstory on how the statue came to be (including how it was paid for, picking a location and dealing with problems when it ran behind schedule), a horrific lynching that took place two months before the unveiling and the comments made in real time about the incident, and the reactions of his son from the time (his son Charles was the model for the statue because of his resemblance to his father). So yeah, there’s quite a bit of information in here, including plenty of stuff that I didn’t know. On the off chance that you’re not just buying Caitlin’s books as they come out as this point, you’ll learn a lot if you pick this one up. You really should be getting all of her comics at this point, but if you’re not, then this is as good a place as any to start.

Update for 2/15/18

New review today for Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh by Sam Spina. More reviews next week now that I’m over this flu (mostly), but there’s not much waiting if you had a new comic you wanted to send my way…

Spina, Sam – Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh

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Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh

On the short list of things in this life that are guaranteed to bring me joy, a new Sam Spina comic is right up there with finding a sack of money in the woods. Um, spoiler alert for how the review is going to go, I guess. Yes, it’s time for a new collection of Sam’s diary strips for the year, with several pages of sketchbook doodles thrown in. Sam has been working at Cartoon Network for a few years now, meaning he has less time for his comics. And sure, he’s financially stable now, which is better for him than the alternative, but I’m right around selfish enough to wish for more comics for me and more misery for him. Not quite selfish enough to say that, mind you, but close. It does look like Sam posted his first new diary comic recently (February 2018), so at least he hasn’t given up entirely, but enjoy this one, as it might be his only comic for a year or so. Luckily, it’s a great comic! Subjects include various conversations with this girlfriend Samantha, getting stung by a bee while riding his bike, trying to keep his cats from killing themselves by walking on high railings, drunken tales from SPX 2016, accidentally putting salt in his coffee, a recap of November, only liking Harry Potter a little bit, going on a hike, and New Year’s 2016. And a whole bunch of other stories, but since half the fun is discovering them yourselves, I’m not going to ruin that for anybody. The comic also covers Sam’s rejection of a cartoon he’d been working on for years, which is a terrible thing, since this world would automatically be a better place with a Sam Spina cartoon in it. Anybody out there reading this run a television network in need of a great new animated show? Just checking. It’s another ridiculously hilarious selection of strips and images from Sam and, like all the rest of them, it’s required reading for anybody who likes anything funny. $10

Update for 2/13/18

Sorry about the gap in reviews, I got that death flu that’s been making its way around. Turns out that it’s as awful as people say! New review today for Shortcut by Steve Feldman.

Feldman, Steve – Shortcut

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Shortcut

A piece of advice for anybody out there who might still do this: never read the back of a book before you read the book itself. I flipped this comic over when I finished it and it mentioned something that happened on the final couple of pages, something that I hadn’t seen coming. So if you get nothing else from this review: break yourself of that habit! This is the story of a young couple whose car breaks down out in the middle of nowhere, while they’re taking a shortcut. They’re reasonably outdoorsy people, so they set out to find their way back to civilization and come across an old diary. A very old diary (turns out it’s from 1839), and it tells the tale of a group of settlers and the difficulties they encountered along the way. Eventually their troubles start to mirror the troubles of our heroes, and this is about the point where I have to stop talking about the specifics to avoid spoilers. It was a tense story, but I could have used a bit more time with the modern component of the story. One half of the couple really got played up as the one who complained about every little thing, to the point where I couldn’t tell if she had survival skills of her own or if she was just being dragged along for the ride. Maybe it was intentionally left ambiguous because of what came later? Sure, let’s go with that. It’s a solid comic with a creepy ending, what more could you ask for? $7

Update for 1/26/18

New review for Detainees by Mike Skrzynski & Colin Ryono, happy weekend everybody!

Skrzynski, Mike & Ryono, Colin – Detainees

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Detainees

This is one of those comics where I’m really glad I read what looked like the legalese at the start of the book, because that’s where Mike mentioned that this is all based on a dream. Without that information I would have had a whole lot of questions. This one starts off with three soldiers burying some bodies. We never see the bodies, we don’t know what happened, and we’re not entirely sure what the story is of these soldiers. It sets the mood nicely for the rest of the comic, as there’s a sense of ambiguity and/or danger hanging over everything. We learn a few things about these soldiers, then they notice a child watching them from the bushes. One of them is so tense that he takes a shot at the kid, but from there they’re determined to find him and help him. They trace him back to a bunker where (after determining that it’s not a trap), they talk to him and see another woman who looks like she’s trapped in a cell. They try to get her out but are unsuccessful, which leads to them all spending the night in the bunker. This is the point where things start getting really weird, or possibly just awful, but I’ll leave that to the reader to discover. Mike and Colin have a nice sense of pacing, and the casual way some of the horrors are discussed really sticks with you. That conclusion is brutal, and completely earned by what comes before. Honestly, knowing it comes from a dream makes it a little easier to take, even knowing that horrible things happen in war all the time. It’s a solid story, in other words, and it’s well worth checking out.

Update for 1/24/18

New review today for Stewbrew #5 by Max Clotfelter & Kelly Froh. Looks like I ended up with two copies of this one, so I’ll give my extra copy to whoever sends me a million dollars. Or whoever buys me coffee in Columbus. Whichever comes first…

Froh, Kelly & Clotfelter, Max – Stewbrew #5

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Website for Max

Stewbrew #5

Hey everybody, let’s take a road trip with two of the most talented cartoonists around! OK, it’s a virtual road trip, in that it’s you reading a comic about the trip that they took, but you get what I mean. Kelly’s Mom has agreed to give Kelly her old car, but she lives in Wisconsin and Kelly lives in Seattle, meaning the only way to get the car back is via a very long 4 day road trip. So Kelly and Max set out together, got on a flight to Wisconsin and then drove back, drawing stories all the way. OK, they probably did most of them when they got back. I’ve really got to stop leaving myself open to such literal misinterpretations. The front and back of this book are filled with postcards, receipts and various bits of trivia that they found along the way. The bulk of the book is full of comics about their journey, with subjects like forgetting the exact date while driving (sometimes that’s more important than others, apparently), the inherent overthinking that goes into visits with the family, taking in the sights of the small towns, finding out that prairie dogs are poisonous (who knew?), a list of various foods eaten and bands listened to, an irresistible hat, and finally getting back home. I undersold the “taking in the sights of small towns” thing; that’s a solid chunk of the comics. But they ran into an awful lot of oddities, so I didn’t want to delve into too many of them before you read the book. I also found out on the back cover that they were nominated for an Ignatz for this series, so kudos to the both of them! It’s well deserved, even if that means some other asshole probably won if they’re only mentioning the “nominated” part. I kid, obviously, I’m sure whoever won was great. But give these people some awards! And if you’re reading this and can’t give them awards, at least give them some money for the comics, because they’re great. $4

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!