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Nall, Alex – Town & County #1

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Town & County #1

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

Nall, Alex – Are Comic Books Real?

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Are Comic Books Real?

It just occurred to me that some of you may be reading this without already being familiar with any of Alex’s previous comics, so I’ll just get this out of the way: no, this is not a lengthy graphic novel about that nature of existence and whether or not anything we experience is actually reality. The title comes from close to the end of the book, when a student in Alex’s class asks him that literal question. From there it turns into as philosophical a discussion you can get when dealing with… third graders maybe? I don’t recall the exact grade he teaches. It’s also questions that he’s asked himself, which leads to some serious introspection when he’s home. Oh, you were probably also curious about the book in general, right? Let me start again. Alex has been chronicling his time as a teacher for several years now, and this one is maybe the best of the bunch. Full disclosure: I have no kids and all I know about school is based on my memories, but I do think that his book would be an excellent start for any teacher out there who’s looking to get their students interested in art. This was done in the pre-covid world; I’m really curious how he and his students handled things a couple of years after this book. It’s also a peek into the highlights and lowlights of a school year, so the stories can wander a bit. I mean that in the best possible way! Subjects include finding the source of that terrible smell (and handling it as diplomatically as possible), how he’ll be remembered by his students, accidentally making fun of Luigi, the bestest climber, trying to help students with their math problems when he was a terrible math student, learning from his students, trying to keep them focused while not shorting their recess time, making a class play, and getting schooled about where polar bears hang out. There were also a couple of short pieces that referenced how he wasn’t able to call Halloween by name to his students, which is just bizarre to me. Maybe he teaches at a religious school? Even so, that’s an unstoppable juggernaut to kids and you’re not going to make them forget about dressing up and getting free candy just by leaving the name out. Not his fault, as he’s just following the rules, but wow, what a fantastically stupid rule. Anyway, this has a lot to offer students who are interested in comics, and there are enough stories told from his grown-up angle that any adult can get a lot out of it too. Also I just lifted the book, so clearly comics are real. Duh! $20

Nall, Alex – Kids With Guns #2

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Kids With Guns #2

The title starts coming into play this time around, and it’s as depressing and realistic as I figured. There’s a lot happening this time around, which I’ll get to in a minute, but there’s also the constant background noise of another school shooting being covered. As the comic goes on we learn more about what happened, who died, how even a former army veteran wasn’t able to stop the rampage… and nobody involved in the story bats an eye. Nobody acknowledges it, nobody seems to change their behavior at all, it’s just an accepted part of the background. Which is a damned accurate summation of the general American opinion on mass shootings in 2020, grim and hopeless though it may be. A lot of the rest of the comic is just regular life going on, so we get Milo going to visit his grandma and his (maybe mildly autistic?) brother, watching cartoons and eating dinner, while Melvin flashes back once again to his days in the war before trying to get out of speaking to a veteran’s group. Once again I feel like I’m not accurately conveying the complexity of what’s happening, but you’ve read some of Alex’s books by now, so you know what he’s capable of, right? He’s also gotten really good over the years at panel angles (is that a term?), of keeping a static scene looking dynamic through different areas of focus and perspective. Give it a shot, or if you’re lucky maybe if you wait a few years he’ll put this whole thing into a collected edition. Meanwhile, this one is $8.

Nall, Alex – The Rain is Slow Coming

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The Rain is Slow Coming

I’m not proud of it, but the twist in this one got me. Sure, if you think about it for a few seconds it doesn’t make sense, but it’s the sign of a great storyteller if you forget all about that kind of thing while you’re in the story. This is the tale of a farmer and his tiny daughter, maybe five years old tops. His wife has died in an accident and he’s in danger of losing his farm because he can no longer afford it and can’t avoid the bill collectors forever. Meanwhile, his daughter is oblivious to all of this and is fascinated with crocodiles, watching that segment of Peter Pan over and over again. So one day they’re out on the farm, the dad is waxing philosophical and the daughter wanders off to the pond. Once she’s there she thinks she sees a crocodile, but it’s only a frog. She loses her footing, tumbles down almost into the water… and that’s when she realizes that something else is in the water. It’s a riveting and oddly haunting story, so give it a shot why don’t you! $6

Nall, Alex – School Approved

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School Approved

Here’s a fun mini with Alex teaching some of his kids in a computer lab. For those of you who are just seeing his name for the first time, Alex has done a few books about his experiences teaching, and they’re pretty much essential reading for any teachers or anybody who is thinking about becoming a teacher. This one is short but effective. Things start off with Alex reminding the kids of the rules for the lab (don’t go to non-approved websites, don’t kick the table because you might bring the whole computer down on top of you), but those rules seem to go out the window pretty quickly. Well, the rule about non-approved websites, anyway. A few of them play a computer game, and another asks Alex about his experiences with chat rooms. This leads to a flashback of his actual experiences with chat rooms growing up (since you’re reading this on a computer of some sort and I’m guessing it’s not your first time online, I’m guessing you can imagine it), which obviously leads to Alex lying to them about it. The rest of the book is all about Alex being in awe of these kids (and maybe a little jealous) because they’re starting their lives in the online world, so who knows what they’ll be able to do with it when they’re grown up? It’s a cute and hopeful story, and those are always good to see. This isn’t listed on his Tumblr page, but I’m guessing you can contact him about pricing. I’d guess $4, but I’m notoriously terrible at guessing such things…


Nall, Alex – Lawns

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Lawns

Just a quick note before I start talking about what might be Alex’s best book (and I’ve liked several of his other books quite a bit): it looks like his website hasn’t been updated since he linked to the review I did of his last book over a year ago. But you can still buy this book through the link on the title (going to the Kilgore Books website), so don’t panic. Well, I already gave the game away on my opinion on this one, but what can I say? It’s a goddamn amazing book. On the surface, this is the story of a mayoral election in a small town that gets a little tense, but there are so many little factors at play that that description feels like cheating. There’s Roger and his dog; Roger is a simple guy who doesn’t mow his lawn and doesn’t keep his dog on a leash. Anybody who’s ever lived in a small town already knows what kind of trouble petty things like that can bring. Roger’s dog has also bit a few neighborhood kids, although we eventually see that there’s more to the story. There’s Carl, Roger’s neighbor, who is fed up with the whole thing and eventually uses it as a platform to run for mayor (that and “Fuck Chuck,” referring to the current town mayor). Carl also got dumped by his wife recently and is living with a much younger woman. There’s Mildred, a reclusive older woman who writes regular letters to a dead beau; she’s also possibly Roger’s only friend. There’s Josh, a boy who’s gotten bitten by Roger’s dog, and the mischief he’s getting into. Finally there’s Chuck, the current mayor and somebody who’s just fine with the status quo. All of those people are explored thoroughly throughout the book, several of them make some pretty big life changes, and the whole thing comes together beautifully by the end, even the little bits that I was ready to write off as going nowhere. Josh trying to get even with Roger and his dog, Carl’s escalating rage that’s all made clear by something he says in this sleep, Roger just trying to live his life, they’re all given time and space to develop. This feels like one of those books that ends up winning awards, but even if that’s somehow not the case, this is an amazing book and I’m so happy that Alex is a teacher. It helps to know that he’s passing these skills on to the next generation. $10

Nall, Alex – Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

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Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

Do kids still know about Mr. Rogers? I don’t think that was addressed in Alex’s latest installment of “Teaching Comics,” but I’m curious. He passed away in 2003, and the final episode was in 2001. Meaning that people who are turning 18, unless reruns are still airing somewhere, might have no clue who this guy was. I’m going to assume that somebody somewhere is still showing reruns, mostly because I don’t like to think of a world with no connection to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. Anyway, isn’t there a comic here that I should be talking about? This starts off with a new school year and Alex being increasingly beaten down by his students and his job. We also see the perspective of his partner Keri, and to a lesser extent a teacher friend in Italy. Keri is having an even rougher time with students and seems to be constantly on the verge of giving up entirely. Both of them have nightmares about class, and the only place that Alex gets refuge when he can’t sleep is by watching old episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. If it is completely unfamiliar to you, there really was nothing else like it: his kindness and decency shone through, and it seems universally agreed upon even today when people tell their stories of working with him. I didn’t know most of his history so it was fascinating to watch it unfold here, from his earliest days trying to get a show together to stories from other people who worked for him. He wasn’t perfect, at least not in modern terms; he had a cast member who came out to him as gay in the 70’s and Mr. Rogers asked him to keep it to himself, as he didn’t think audiences were ready for such a thing yet. That sounds bad today, and it’s possible that if he had taken a step to support it back then that things could have turned out differently. It’s easy to say that in 2017! A far more likely possibility is that he would have gotten banned from television. Nobody knows for sure, and nobody ever will. This book is worth checking out for the history lesson alone, but wait, there’s more! Alex getting through to the kids in his class is a constant struggle, and it’s frankly baffling and impressive to me that he has the strength to keep trying. It’s not all losses, as things end on a pretty great note (finally getting through to a pretty big troublemaker), but I can see why he takes refuge in the calming glow of Mr. Rogers. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and hope that Alex has the strength to continue for years to come. That being said, if the final volume of this series is titled “That’s All I Can Stand And I Can’t Stand No More!”, I’ll completely understand. No price listed yet, but contact Alex through his website, he’ll be able to get you a copy…

Nall, Alex – Teaching Comics Volume One

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Teaching Comics Volume One

Have you ever been a teacher, or wanted to be one? Or have you ever just wondered what their life was like? Or maybe do you just like entertaining comics? If any of these things apply to you, maybe you should give this one a shot. This covers roughly six months in the life of Alex as a teacher (I think; not all of the strips were dated), and it’s all over the place. I don’t mean that as a criticism, it’s just that between this and some other conversations I’ve had recently I get the impression that the life of a teacher is basically spent in a constant state of low level panic at the thought of losing their job, while still secretly hoping deep down that something happens to prevent them from ever needing to teach again. While ALSO being genuinely rewarded by the rare moments of creativity and inspiration from the students, and driven to hopelessness by the conditions in the school/classroom and the general apathy of the students most of the time. Like I said, there’s a lot going on here, and Alex does a fantastic job of conveying that on the page without ever getting preachy or morbid about the whole thing. Subjects include his being in charge of the iPods for the school, managing to inspire a few kids to draw about their favorite wrestlers or music, how the look and sounds of a school can be the same as when he was a kid but somehow vastly different, being baffled by the elimination of recess, wondering if he’s doing any good, getting his drawing class cancelled and taking over teaching disabled and special needs kids, meeting a new girl, and a number of the various interactions he’s had with his kids. He clearly had a wealth of material to work with here, and the story of the kid lining him up, bowling him over and then declaring him his soul mate was one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages. So yeah, this is very much worth a look. $20

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Nall, Alex – Morbid Dork #2

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Morbid Dork #2

Who likes awkward party comics? Oh, be honest, you all do. Who hasn’t either been to an awkward party or been an awkward person at a party? Every single one of you. Probably. Eh, play along. This is the story of the three guys who were introduced in the last issue going to a party. They decide that this is the best course of action despite the fact that Alex (the “normal” one of the bunch, not the creator of the comic (unless they’re one and the same)) practically goes into a crying fit at the thought of attending a strange party, much to the consternation of his friends. I’m using far too many big words to describe this comic, as the premise is simple: two out of the three of the guys are there to get laid, while Alex is apparently just hoping to survive it. As the party goes on Coop homes in on an older lady who seems interested, Jamie finds a woman who is attracted to his fro and beard, and even Alex gets shoved into a room with a gorgeous foreign exchange student who is going to be leaving the country the next day and only regrets that she “never got to have American sex.” Who thinks that everything turns out happily ever after for these three gentlemen? That wouldn’t end up being much of a story, now would it? So obviously hijinx ensue, which I’m not going to tell you about because why ruin it. It’s funny, which is all you can ask for out of a comic like this (and by “like this” I mean “meant to be funny”), and Alex (the person) did an excellent job with this story that covered the whole comic instead of a comic of short pieces. There was one copier problem where I couldn’t see what was being said, but other than that I have no complaints. $3

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Nall, Alex – Morbid Dork #1

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Morbid Dork #1

Note to all reviewers: it doesn’t hurt a thing if you include an illustrated letter with your comic explaining your reasoning for sending me your comic. It doesn’t technically help either, as I do try to review everything that comes to me eventually (and if I haven’t reviewed your book it’s because it’s at the bottom of a pile of comics that I think have already been reviewed, or it fell behind my desk, or it might have never gotten to me at all). This comic is mostly about three college kids who are living together, but this is almost certainly not the comic that you’re expecting from that description. We see right away that these people don’t like each other all that much, and to simplify things they’re called “Asshole,” “Pussy” and “Psycho” respectively. We see the psycho in his day job working at a grocery store (he seems to like stabbing people in the face, and he likes mentioning this fact to everybody he meets), the two “evil” roommates thriving on the misery of others, a discussion on the merits of having a kid (including a nice slow mellowing to that fact by the psycho (Coop), which is tempered by the reality of the situation a bit), and the first meeting between Coop and Jamie (the asshole). Odd that Jamie seems to have grown limbs and a body since those early days, but hey, it’s good to include it for the sake of the longer story. Alex has some odd usages of space in here, as the story about the possibility of having a child has vast open spaces in the middle of the pages and a couple of stories just generally peter out, but overall it’s a damned funny comic with nary a spelling/grammatical error to be found. Both good things in my book! Alex sent along a few other books and I’ll be getting to those in the coming weeks to get a better idea of what this dude is capable of, but so far so good. $3

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