Panel #19: Green
One thing struck me right off the bat in this 19th (!) installment of one of the better anthologies out there: they really could have raised a bigger stink about this being printed on recycled paper. Or, if that “recycling” symbol on the cover is just for show, they missed a golden opportunity to release this book on recycled paper. Either way, making fun of environmentally conscious folks for their preachiness is just too big of a target to ignore (obligatory disclaimer: I agree with the goals of environmentalists, obviously, but their lack of a sense of humor is quite a target). But hey, at least the paper itself is green. This is the usual pile of short pieces by various Columbus artists, and once again the vast majority of the stories ranged between pretty good and damned great. Things start off with a silent piece by Dara Naraghi and Matt Kish detailing the “life” of a can of soda, and it’s a fantastic example of exactly how many things one piece of trash can affect. Andrew Lee and Ben Smith are up next with a piece about the evils of drugs, as told to a pair of stoners by a cartoon anti-drug man. KT Swartz, Brent Bowman and Dara Naraghi are up next with a story about military training and the dangers of not paying attention to your surroundings. I guess this one was “green” because it referenced the military? Or was it because they were outside? I need to stop taking things so literally. Anyway, the next piece called “Luck of the Irish” by Ross Hardy deals with the death of a leprechaun and the search for his gold, because how could you make a book with that title and not have a story about a leprechaun in it? Finally there’s a space adventure by Tony Goins and Craig Bogart that didn’t do a lot for me (five pages isn’t very much room to jump into a space adventure, but they still managed a few good jokes and some effective shouts of “silence!” by the big baddie), but at least they were nice enough to mention that the space explosions were silent, which is something that most movies don’t even manage to get right. There are also a few full pages spreads, one with that delightful Yoda fellow that is also required by law to be in any anthology with this title. I’d probably rank this somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of quality in this Panel series, but considering the fact that a few issues of this series are among my favorite anthologies out there, “the middle” is still pretty damned good. And they managed to keep it at an affordable $3!
Panel #16: “Sweet” 16
There is a dark, cynical corner of my brain that is just itching to pounce on a crappy Panel anthology, one where they coast on the production value and the content for once. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. This particular issue of panel will be giving that corner of my brain no joy today. Of course, that means that it’s another solid anthology, which makes the rest of my brain very happy. As you can see from that cover this issue was done up like an old school notebook (do kids even use those in class these days? Man am I old), doodles on the back and all. There’s also the usual excellent pile of creator bios in the back, although only a few of the artists had the courage to show their high school photos. For shame! And the content? Yeah, there’s a pile of great stuff in here, and if you thought this would all be tales of woe from high school, this crew should have proven by now that they’re not content with sticking with the obvious. Stories include Tony and Jessica Goins (a married couple) signing up for eharmony.com to see if they would be matched up on that site, Dara Naraghi and Ross Hardy’s silent piece about two girls stuck at a bus stop after their dates got a little too “handsy,” Andrew Lee traveling back in time to tell his 16 year old self what to avoid, Dara Naraghi and Molly Durst’s piece about modern love (making me very happy that the women I date all speak in complete sentences and know how to spell), Tim McClurg’s genuinely sweet piece about how his wife is the only person he remembers vividly seeing for the first time, Sean McGurr and Andy Bennett’s piece on trying to track down a forgotten star of “Sixteen Candles” and KT Swartz and Brent Bowman’s fantastic take on the concept of coming of age. In other words, yes, this anthology is still going strong. Buy it and see for yourself! $3
Panel #15: The Movies
It’s difficult to tell from that cover scan, but this comic comes in a DVD case. Yep, the Panel folks keep stepping up their game, threatening to finally quit fooling around and design an anthology that is utterly perfect, negating the need for anybody to try again. Of course, if they ever do get there I’ll be the last person to point it out to them, because if I did they might stop putting out anthologies, and nobody who likes comics wants that to happen. So, right off the bat, the DVD case. That cover is pretty great (I particularly enjoyed the “Special Appearance” blurb followed by a couple of new names) but the back cover is pretty sweet too, featuring panels from the comics and a nice synopsis. It houses a regular comic, not some strange hybrid of the two, so don’t be alarmed. The “Chapter Selections” are neatly laid out on this back cover and the bios of all the artists and writers is again a high point. Fine, isn’t there a comic in here? Yep, and it’s over 60 pages at $5, which makes it very cheap considering all the bells and whistles. Well, I guess the only expensive bell and/or whistle would be the DVD case, and they probably found them in a landmine somewhere, as all DVD cases will outlast us multiple times over. Still, kudos. Highlights? There’s Brent Bowman with movie posters for theoretical movies that never got made (oh, to live in the universe where Kubrick directed “Lord of the Rings”), Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg with a simple but accurate description of the many assholes you’ll run into at a theater these days, Craig Bogart remaking an old Panel story by Andy Bennett, Dara Naraghi & Dan Barlow going through the excruciating process of making their own movie (and the hilarious premiere night), Tony Goins coming to the logical conclusion that you’d be better off just making a comic, Sean McGurr & Brent Bowman telling the story of Sean’s (or maybe Brent’s) fear about terrorists at the Spiderman 2 premiere in 2004 and Ross Hardy with a tale of various Star Wars characters locked in a drunken card game and talking about the films. The Matt Kish pieces were a bit of a highlight, as usual, but odd as they were both written by other people (Dara Naraghi and Sean McGurr respectively), even though they were both explicitly about Matt. The first was his reaction to the awful (hypothetical; we should be so lucky) Spudd 64 adaptation and the second was Matt illustrating some of the classic lines from Star Trek 2, which wouldn’t seem to require much of a writer at all, but what do I know? I think the man is on the right track and that he should immediately start drawing more of his interpretations of famous movie lines, but I’m biased enough to wish that Matt would also draw a running commentary of my life. I left out some pieces for no good reason really, as there wasn’t a terrible piece in the bunch, just a few I enjoyed slightly more than the others. Buy this, why don’t you, these people need to know that what they’re doing is seen far and wide and that people want them to keep it up. $5
Panel #14: Panel of Horror
I was a little let down with this one. Oh, there are still great stories in here, but with a cover like that and with this crew finally tackling horror stories I probably just had unrealistic expectations. I did enjoy the intro and outro by Brent Bowman, although it could have done with a cringe-worthy pun or two. Dying Chords by (mostly) Craig Bogart dealt with a washed up singer, a never-was singer and how the former was trying to steal the one good song from the latter for a comeback. A an actual surprise ending in a horror anthology is always welcome, so kudos for that. Next up is Country Roads by Brent Bowman, which is one of the strongest pieces in the book, dealing with a man and his relentless quest to hunt down a werewolf. OK, fine, I saw the ending coming a mile away, but I also watch FAR too many horror movies. Molly Durst has the longest piece in the book with Monster Racers, and I could go either way on this one. On the one hand I like her simplistic art and enjoyed the madcap nature of a gaggle of monsters (I believe “gaggle” is the correct term) who are trying to get to a castle before Dracula. On the other hand it’s a story of several monsters traveling from point A to point B and we never even had much of a clue why it was so important to get to the castle first. Tom Williams, as always, saves the day with The Basket, a story of a evil basket and its place in history. Yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds. Finally there’s Healing, the creepiest piece in the book by far,Â by Dara Naraghi and Andy Bennett. It tells the story of a man who has long distrusted doctors but ends up having to go to a dentist. He got back in some considerable pain but decided to take matters into his own hands and ends up going a little bit too far. Like I said, I don’t hate this anthology, but in all honesty I probably wasn’t going to be happy with anything that wasn’t 100 pages long and featured serious gore and/or scares. They still put out a hell of a comic, as always, and you do have to buy this one to keep your collection of Panel anthologies intact, so lucky for you there are still some exceptional stories in here. $4
Panel #13: Superstition
This group of Ohio folks keeps going strong, and naturally superstition is the perfect choice for their thirteenth anthology. Before I get started on the actual comics I wanted to talk about the peripherals fora bit. First, the production design of these things has always been top-notch, and this one is no exception. They sent some other issues along, and I was so impressed that the gushing has carried over to other reviews. Not that there’s anything wrong with this one, but they have an uncanny ability to top themselves in this department. This one was done by Brent Bowman, I wonder if he’s the one who has done all the covers?Â Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a photographic memory. Anyway, A+ on that end of things. There is also always an introduction that both lays out the point of the book and manages to be genuinely funny, which is tricky but they manage it. Well, Tony Goins manages it this time around. Then at the end of the book you have the author bios, which are also always amusing and informative. What I’m trying to say with all this build up is that by the time I get to the first comic I’m already smiling and impressed, and when I finish the last comic there’s another page of bios to put that smile right back on my face. Maybe all of the content has been lousy and it’s all a diabolical trick on their part. Let’s check over these stories again to make sure… nope, they’re good too.Â Damn. So! Stories in here areÂ two pages of baseball superstitions by Sean McGurr and Tony McClurg and a declaration of fidelity to the Cleveland Indians, Molly Durst & Brent Bowman’s tale of exactly what happens if you go around killing spiders in your home, Molly Durst tackling the broken mirror superstition, Tony Goins & Tom Williams with their take on the evil eye, Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett with what looks like a small piece of a larger story about the Twilight Order and psychic parasite, the page I sampled by Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg and the tale of how picking superstitions as the theme managed to prevent the book from ever being made by Craig Bogart. Oh sure, it actually did get made if you want to quibble about it, but it’s a funny take on what could have happened. The only minor complaint I have is that having no page numbers makes having a table of contents significantly less convenient, but there were only so many stories in this one anyway and I was able to puzzle it out.Â Other than that everybody out there should support this crew, as they’ve been consistently putting out two quality anthologies a year for ages now and deserve some love. They don’t seem to have this listed at the website, or any of the recent Panels for that matter, but I’m sure an e-mail to the proprietor will get you a copy. How much it will cost you is another question.Â $5?
Panel X: Sex
Well, it’s about damned time they got to sex. I can see where they’d want to wait until #10 though, so I suppose it’s excused. My instant complaint: there’s surprisingly little nudity here. Except for a few stories, most of it is tastefully covered up. My opinion: if you’re going to have a book about sex you’re automatically going to offend people, so go for the gusto. Plenty of stories in here though. There’s Tony Goins & Steven Black with Dual Cultivation showing two blind people trying to reach a higher state of being through sex. Then there’s Dara Naraghi and Matt Kish Weird Sex Stories with probably the most graphic piece in the book, a foul thing involving alien porn that probably scarred me for life. Dirty Cop by Craig Bogart and Dara Naraghi has one of the funniest death scenes I’ve ever seen because really, why take it with you? Readers of this comic will get that and possibly guffaw, everybody else, well, maybe you should check it out for yourself. I’m still not completely sure what’s going on in Spent, the two page spread by Tom Williams, but I should probably still be offended. The After Kind by Dmitry Sharkov deals with love through assassination, maybe not the strongest piece in the book but not bad for a first contribution. Mr. Love by Tony Goins, Ellen Armstrong, Dan Barlow and Tony Goins (whew) have probably the strongest piece in here, dealing with various cupids trying to make love happen, how some people don’t know who they are yet and how love can actually hinder them from figuring that out. Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg have a short anecdote called Third Moon From Endor, only loosely related to sex but the punchline is worth the ride. Backstage Pass by Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett deals with a succubus (sp?), but luckily she’s after an asshole, so all remains well with the world. Finally there’s The Garden by Brent Bowman, where all the crazy sex happens. It’s a brilliantly filthy retelling of the creation myth from the Bible, a story I thought was impossible to tell from a fresh perspective at this late date, and how the snake fucked it up for Adam and Eve because he wasn’t included in all the crazy sex. This is $5 and I think it was put out between SPACE conventions, meaning that there’s going to be yet another one when SPACE 2008 hits in a couple of weeks. Kudos to these people and their committment to quality work, I wish more anthologies were as consistently enjoyable as these.
Panel #8: Travel
Once again, nice work with the production value here. As the theme is travel, this is made up like a passport. The usual cast of suspects are brought together here again, which is quickly becoming a good thing in my book. First up, by Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg, is Good Humor, a shortie about a language barrier and ice cream. Next is Random Encounter by Tony Goins about a, well, you figure it out, at a rest stop in Ohio. Craig Bogart’s Fat Man Walking is a delightful story about losing hope in the people of this country, getting it back and then losing it again while trying to walk across the country. Matt Kish’s story is probably my favorite of the bunch (this is becoming a pattern), as he tells the story of a man who gets killed and all the crap he goes through before coming back in Round Trip. Uprooted is a sweet, melancholy little story by Matt Kish & Steve Black about all the places you once lived, who lives there now and what exactly is “home”. Bystander by Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett is all about pictures of various places around the world that all have the same mysterious man staring at the author. Transcendence by Steve Black & Sean McGurr deals with wanting to leave the physical world and the dangers of doing so (although I have to admit the punch line was lost on me). A Day In West Virginia by Tony Goins & Dan Barlow is about a man who hangs out at a rest stop all day, watching the people, trying to figure out the concept of “home”. And finally there’s Tom Williams, who at this point is literally mailing it in, as most of his Vegass was done on the backs of postcards. Another solid anthology, and if I have to bitch about one thing it’s that some of the pages were awfully light. But that’s just if I HAVE to bitch about something…
Panel #6: Music
Well, here it is, the last of the Panel books. For those of you who read webpages like normal people (i.e. down from the top), this obviously isn’t the last of the Panel books, just the last one that I’ve gotten to as the designated rambler about such things. So, no new Panel reviews until 2008, when there will be a new one (right guys?), loosely held together by another mystery topic. Once again, the presentation for the book is fantastic, as this one is packaged like a record (kids, ask your parents. They were kind of like a DVD, but bigger and more resistant to scratches). First up is Muted, a story by Tony Goins and Dan Barlow dealing with a young woman trying to get used to being suddenly deaf who gets a chance to try to physically see music. Next up is Effigy by Tom Williams (if my crappy memory is correct, I think he’s in all of these books), in which a young woman tries to come to terms with an old, lousy relationship with a musician. Andy Bennett has Jackie Plays Piano next, a piece about a blind woman who plays the piano to feel. Craig Bogart breaks up a book that’s starting to feel maudlin with the next story about homeland security trying to deal with a plane that’s sure to crash due to the excessive number of musicians onboard. Dara Naraghi has a piece with text and pictures next about an outdoor techno music festival, which sounds roughly like hell on earth to me, but Dara manages to make it seem fun. Finally Sean McGurr and Tim McClurg have Man In The Mirror, a cautionary tale about bringing dates back when you have to deal with a roommate. Overall I didn’t think it was the strongest Panel of the bunch, but it’s up against some pretty tough competition and there’s still plenty here to recommend it, particularly the first and last stories and the Craig Bogart piece. $3
Panel #5: Myth
I don’t think a scanner can adequately convey how great that cover is. That rip you see is an actual rip in the cover, which leads me to believe that these were either a huge pain in the ass to produce or they’ve found some way to easily tear the covers of all the copies of this issue. Either way kudos, and we’re also treated to different interpretations of the cover inside by all the artists. This issue deals with something I spent a fair amount of time with in the ancient days when I was in school: mythology. Craig Bogart sets the bar pretty high with the first story, a whodunnit it involving Jesus, Hercules and Odin all as suspects as to who murdered a very annoying bird. Next up is The Sun-Mother’s Home by Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett, detailing a journey by a group of people who have been cast out of their home and the legends they tell along the way about the origin of the earth. Tony Goins follows with a story called America, abiout our future wars, what we have to do to get out of them and how we’re doomed to repeat the same stupid mistakes we’ve been making for years. Glenn Brewer’s story about the origin of the seahorse is gorgeous, although a few of the finer points might have been lost on me (it was one of them there silent stories, all kinds of room for interpretation). Matt Kish has the visual highlight of the book next with what is essentially a series of giant trading cards with various characters from his own Spudd 64 mythology. Tom Williams is then kind enough to wrap thiings up with a story about a guessing game among the gods. Oh, and in case you can’t tell by the scan, this issue is huge, magazine-sized. All in all, once again they’ve put together a solid anthology on another interesting topic.
Panel #4: Home
One of my favorite types of comic is the anthology, the problem being that’s it’s sp rarely done well. The average anthology has a few stories that you like (if you’re lucky), a few you don’t and a bunch somewhere in the middle. Panel, from what I’ve seen so far, is all about the stuff that you like. First up in this one is a wordless story about the average afternoon of a cat by Andy Bennett, which is wonderful unless you’re one of those weird “dog people” I keep hearing about. Next up is a story by Tim McClurg about Chubby, a horribly ugly new restaurant that must pay for existing, or at least it must pay if a bunch of drunk young men can manage it. Then there’s Matt Kish with a wordless tale about the last moments of a dying astronaut, done only as Matt Kish can (those of you who read Spudd 64 know what I mean). Craig Bogart, in probably the best piece of the book, confronts his wasted potential after reluctantly returning home after his father is murdered. Sean McGurr & Dan Barlow tell the story of Sean adopting a baby from China and the fears he has about her growing up, wondering which is her “home” country. Finally there’s Tom Williams, who seems to have too much talent for his own good, breaking up some of the more somber tones of the book with his tour of his apartment, MTV Cribs style, featuring a homeless Sebastian Bach and Tom desperately trying to kill squirrels. Great stuff again, and I have two more issues of this to come to test my theory that these people really have their act together with the concept of the anthology. $3, plus $1 for postage on any of these, but you can see that for yourself by clicking on that website up there…
Panel #3: Space
That cover is a whole lot cooler if you can see the woman whose arms are wrapping around the cover, but what are you going to do? This is an anthology from creators in Columbus Ohio with a loose theme of “space”. That can be taken many different ways, and is in a wide variety of stories. Dara Naraghi & Tom Williams have a fantastic story of the juxtaposition between space exploration and war. Glenn Brewer has a good shortie about, um, well, read it for yourself. Sean McGurr & Steve Black take Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox and run with it (literally). Tony Goins & Andy Bennett have the highlight of the book with a story about a random hookup at a party and what happens when you run into that person randomly the next day. Or at least what happened that time, but it’s just a frank and honest take on the whole thing that it became my favorite in this book. Craig Bogart has a giant smashy alien, and Dansen Stahl & Tim McClure have a wraparound for many pages about unintentionally interlocking conversations on a busy city street. Really the perfect anthology, as nothing was anything less than interesting, which leads to a great reading experience overall. Check it out, they have other anthologies from past years available too, and I’m curious about them now. I think I was kind of harsh on at least some of these people in their individual comic, but now I feel compelled to pick up some other issues and give them another chance (everybody should know by now that I’m always willing to read other issues from people I previously panned, as that’s the only way I’m going to have an informed opinion about anybody, as it’s impossible to discard someone based on one book). OK, ramble over, here’s the website, it’s $3, check it out!
Panel #2: Architecture
Damn, and here I was hoping that this was the first Panel, but one look at that website shows me that this one is, in fact, #2. #1 only had a print run of 300 issues and it doesn’t look like it’s been reprinted since, so so much for that one. Everything else besides #3 looks like it’s available on that website though, for the curious. So how does this one hold up, seeing as how I’m just now getting to it for this website? Pretty well, all things considered. The first piece deals with putting the horrors of the past behind us, in a dark and atmospheric piece by Andy Bennett. Next Dara Naraghi and Adrian Barbu have a nice little piece about figuring out every last angle of a heist… or almost every angle. Then the book veers suddenly into humor (and three cheers for all anthologies that keep the reader on their toes like this), as a series of unfortunate events, chronicled by Dara Naraghi and Tim Fischer, leads to the extravagant home of an intergalactic porn star getting burned down. Next up, Tony Goins and Steve Black have a futuristic story about a crappy future world where everybody gets by on giant suspended bridges and there are constant bombings. The text piece, by Dansen Stahl (with a few illustrations by Tim Fischer), is the biggest misstep in the book. Text pieces are always tricky, but if you’re talking about what is essentially a Revolutionary (that is, American Revolution) group of heroes, isn’t it a much better story in a comic anthology if it’s, you know, a comic? Tom Pappalardo proved to me recently that text in comics can be done well, but I think these two missed a chance for a great comic here. And finally there’s a piece by Tom Williams in which he debates going back to Columbine for a reunion years after the school has been demolished. This is still a pretty solid group of stories, even if it only got better from here. Worth a look if you’ve been following this series and/or these people and want to see what their stuff looked like when they were only relative babies at this business…
Well, here it is, the missing O.P. (original Panel). It seems silly to review this in the conventional sense, as this is the definition of a labor of love, probably taking years to complete. What good does it do to poo-poo this early work, especially when practically everybody in here has gone on to do better work? Instead I’ll just talk about the contents, as plenty of people will probably never see this in its current form (although there are maybe, possibly some plans to post this issue online). All the stories in here are followed up with pretty thorough bios about the creators, or at least they were thorough at the time. There’s also a script, which is always interesting for people who want to see how the sausage is made. As for the stories, there’s an untitled story by Steve Black which is a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated words and images, a preview story of a wacky university with robots and teenagers by James Hanrahan and Tim Fischer, one oddly placed panel by Dansen Stahl, the story of a classic con by Andy Bennett, a brief story about the future by Tony Goins and Steve Black, a lovely text piece about a local wrestling show by Tony Goins, a heartbreaking story about getting old by Tony Goins, the perfect way to regain fame by Dara Naraghi and Tim McClurg, and (this is how I can tell that this must be old) a series of surprisingly unfunny strips by Tom Williams. Just in case you were like me and thought he must have always been awesome. In future issues the art is better and the writing is crisper, but there’s only one first issue of any series. Oh, and there wasn’t even a theme that year! A minor thing maybe, but it sure seems odd now.
Panel 9 From Outer Space
That’s right, a 3-D front and back cover. Nothing 3-D on the inside though, so those of you who can never seem to get the 3-D to work (like me) don’t have to worry about missing anything on the inside. Also, kudos to the joke in the title, and to those of you who don’t get it, take heart: there is a level of dorkdom you haven’t yet achieved if the title is lost on you. The theme this time around is science fiction in general, and it starts and ends with fake news pieces about 1957 and 2057 by Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg. The 1957 piece is all about hope for the future, with nuclear-powered cars, peace in Israel, competent government relief efforts and the flash in the pan that was “The Cat in the Hat”. The 2057 piece, naturally, is about how crappy things have gotten since then. The second piece here is Donkey Punch by Tom Williams, a story about a corporate exploration team who crash lands on a planet full of angry ninja women. Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett are up next with a silent tale about a little boy who finds an alien in the woods and helps free it from a collar… but was that a good thing? Octopeye, by Steve Black & Sean McGurr, tells the tale of our future giant octopus overlord and our attempt to pacify him with what appears to be one of his illegitimate children. Monster Trucks And Baby Mammas by Tony Goins & Craig Bogart is the least fantastical tale of the bunch, as it deals mostly with white trash people sleeping around and/or trying to kill each other. Or maybe it seems more fantastical to people who didn’t grow up around that kind of nonsense, who knows? Finally there’s a one page shortie by Dara Naraghi & Tim Fischer called Love Ninja 8 which is, naturally, about ninjas using their love techniques to fight. My favorite had to be the Tom Williams piece for the sheer mayhem involved, but once again this is a solid anthology all the way through. The lack of a Matt Kish piece is depressing, but it’s a testament to the strength of the rest of these people that that lack wasn’t even noticeable until after I was done reading this issue. $3