Full disclosure time: I think astrology is nonsense. Relatively harmless nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. It’s fortune telling but made for everybody who was born within the listed month, as if every human in every 12 month period shares the same characteristics, but told in such a way that it could apply to just about anybody regardless. I have occasionally given a sign other than my own to somebody who asked me (at a party or bar, usually) and have delighted in their going on and on about my various characteristics that fit me perfectly while belonging to a completely different astrological sign. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear before I started discussing this book, which is edited by a person who does get a lot of enjoyment out of astrology. 12 cartoonists also offer their takes on their signs, with only a few of them being even slightly skeptical. I could have used more of that, but it’s already pretty clear that I’m biased, so I’ll move on. Rob starts in the introduction with his own history with astrology and what it’s meant to him over the years, but he’s also clear that he doesn’t expect everybody to buy into it and encourages opposing viewpoints. He also provides a detailed description of the various signs and some of the other qualities associated with them, in case you were curious and/or needed context. So now that that’s out of the way, how about the stories? The highlights for me included Whit Taylor’s tale of the struggles of being a Gemini, Tyler Cohen eventually coming around on being a Cancer, Cara Bean (with my favorite piece) of Aslan coming down from the heavens to explain being a Leo to her, Rob Kirby going into specifics about being a Virgo and his experiences both with it and discussing astrology with other people, Rick Worley as one of the few skeptics in regards to being a Libra, Aron Nels Steinke on leaving a movie early (and also how his being an Aquarrius mixed with his wife being an Aires) and Marnie Galloway on being a Pisces (and the most righteously skeptical of the bunch). If you are interested in astrology, even a little bit, there’s a lot to love about this book. If you’re not even a little interested in it, like me, there’s still some great artwork, a few skeptics and an insightful peek into the minds of people who take all this seriously. And if you’re short on money, at least you get an awful lot of comic for $10.95.
Has the theme of falling on your face/ass/other ever been the subject of a comics anthology before? I can’t think of one, but it’s such a natural fit. This naturally made me think of various falls in my life, and I kept coming back to one what wasn’t really a fall and also wasn’t me. I was walking with a couple of friends on an icy road years ago. One of these friends is 6’6”, and my other friend and I noticed him start to slide. This is one of those moments when time slows down, but after the fact we would both swear that he had fallen far enough backwards for the back of his head to slide on the ground, but he somehow more or less kept his balance and never did completely fall. Not sure even today if that’s a good story or a “you had to be there” story, but it’s notable that I still remember it maybe 15 years later. Anyway! The point of that story is that it’s impossible to read this comic without thinking of pratfalls you know and love, and Rob has assembled quite a talented bunch here to tell their stories. There’s Carrie McNinch’s story of getting her thumb slammed in the door (and her mother driving away with said thumb stuck in the door), Becky Hawkins and her amazing collection of bruises and cuts (not the mention her ridiculously unlucky landing spot), Aron Nels Steinke almost knocking his eye out, Tessa Brunton’s spectacular rolling fall, John Porcellino’s skateboarding mess, Jason Viola’s trip to Russia and the impression he must have left with some of those people, Noah Van Sciver and his preventative precautions taken to prevent ever being hurt again, Cara Bean’s skiing “mishap”, MariNaomi’s bowling injury (yes, it is possible), the cat of Gabrielle Gamboa taking her eyebrow, Tony Breed getting away with one, Max Clotfelter getting seriously punched, and the causes of Rob Kirby’s various scars from waiting tables. With a list of talent like that I doubt that I have to do much convincing, so just do yourself a favor and pick this up. Then, if you haven’t already, work your way back through the older comics of these folks. You deserve it! $5
Comic conventions! Maybe you’re one of the people who only go to conventions to buy comics and don’t create them yourself, but have you ever wondered about life on the other side of the table? Not really? Well, you really should try putting yourself in their shoes for a few minutes. This anthology has all kinds of stories from conventions, good and bad, from some of the champions of small press comics (if the industry had formal champions, which they should maybe think about doing). Stories in here include Max Clotfelter’s first time working a table when he was a kid, Cara Bean and Sara Carson’s long road to a triumphant show, Kelly Froh’s two worst shows (I hope), Carrie McNinch’s problem with shyness, Rob Kirby’s mostly bad day (but with plenty of good things in it, like the progressive redneck parents), Mark Campos’ ingenious trick to selling original art, Aron Nels Steinke dealing with a friend getting a tv deal while having a slow day himself (along with dealing with an annoying kid), Gabrielle Gamboa’s hilariously illustrated conversations among cartoonists, Justin Hall’s description of finally getting the sale after talking a guy into it for 20 minutes, Tony Breed dealing with putting a book together and the reality of the show, Matt Moses and Jeff Worby narrowly avoiding a beating/murder, Zine Crush trying to get a copy of their zine to the object of their crush without being obvious about it, Rick Worley learning the truth about Dash Shaw, Jason Martin showing the good and the bad and John Porcellino showing us the weather paradox at cons. Oh, and a bonus piece by Kelly Froh (I’m almost positive) showing us the moment at a con when her spirit leaves her body. I’ve seen plenty of comics about convention horror stories in my years of reviewing these things, so I was a little nervous about a whole anthology on the subject, but that was silly of me. This whole thing is full of goodness, and should probably be handed out to obvious first-timers as they walk into cons as a public service. $4
Before I even talk about the comic, I have to point out that Bridge City Comics published this collection, and it looks like it’s one of their first books, so reward them for doing something great by buying it! Also reward Aron for making it, sure, but jumping into publishing is always risky and people should be rewarded when they put out collections of fantastic comics like this. I’d only seen one issue of his “Big Plans” series in the past, because there are only so many comics that I can keep up with and my brain is like a sieve about such things, and it’s clear from this collection that I was missing out. This is broken up into six parts. The art gets a bit better as it goes on, but Aron started this at a high level artistically and you’re not going to be looking at anything particularly ugly here. The first section deals with Aron’s burning all of his crappy Image comics from back in the day (I just ended up throwing mine away but prefer his method of dealing with the garbage), chatting with a willfully unhelpful comic shop guy in Vancouver, the journey from noticing a suspicious man at the airport to deciding what to do about it when he gets on the same plane, and Aron’s mother’s thoughts on his use of swear words in his books. The second part is much shorter, as it mostly deals with a good memory of Aron’s that comes at the expense of his brother’s appendicitis. The third section is where the movie stars come into the picture, as Aron gets a ticket to the 2005 Academy Awards and it descends into a drunken mess (the story, not his writing or art (as far as I know; if it does he’s a very capable drunken cartoonist)). The fourth part deals with a walk most people who live in apartments have had to make at some point: noticing that your door was unlocked even though there’s no reason for this to be the case and going through the apartment room by room, usually holding a knife, trying to find out if somebody broke in and is still in there with you. I already touched on the fifth part in a past review, as it’s all about Aron and his wife participating in a sting operation and trying to get their stolen laptop back. Finally there’s the hefty sixth part, where Aron uses silence and wide open spaces to get his point across in stories about a disappointing lecture given by two alternative artists and going on a walk to get some beer. I’m leaving out all kinds of short stories to leave you plenty of surprises (not that I’m giving much away on the other stories), but you have every reason in the world to check this out. Aron is one of the best artists/storytellers working today, there’s a brand new publishing company for you to support, and you get a huge graphic novel out of the deal for $18. What’s not to love?
Neptune Now Available! $14
Hey look, it’s another fine example of that rarest of comics: a kid’s book that’s also fun for adults. OK, I have no idea if this was technically meant as a children’s book, but as it’s the story of a fifth grade girl, her third grade brother and their newly-found dog, what else would you call it? It’s not like Aron made it all dark and gritty to appeal to cynics like me, and it’s occasionally damned near adorable. And that “damned” is as close as you’re going to get to adult themes. Things start off with the fifth grader (Erika) being introduced to her new class, as her family has recently moved. Aron does a stellar job of drawing out the awkwardness of being introduced to a class of strangers and being asked to “tell us a little bit about yourself”, lingering on a few mostly silent pages of confusion. Erika decides to tell the story of how she and her brother (Patrick) got expelled from their last school, and here’s the traditional point in a review when I start wondering how much I should give away, as I’ve always thought that most of the joy in reading comics was being taken for a ride. Um, I don’t mean that in the “cheated” sense, I mean it in the “sit back and enjoy” sense. I’ll just say that Erika’s story involved waking up to find a new dog in their kitchen (and being unsure if it came from their parents or just wandered in), reluctantly walking to school (as slowly as they can) after missing the bus, and being joined by their new dog on the road. THEN things get interesting. Aron does a great job of capturing both the conversation of children and their unwavering belief in things that are easily proven false, and then there’s that art. Just about every page has the same level of detail as the cover (minus the color, of course), and the occasional silent bits are allowed to stand out because of it. It really is that rarest of all things: fun for all ages. $14
Big Plans #4
This one goes out to all the people who have ever had their laptops stolen, although I suppose it would work just as well for any old computer or easily identifiable item. This is the story of Aron’s girlfriend (?) getting her laptop stolen out of her house in 2006 and everything that came next. I love how Aron sets up his comics (well, the two that I’ve seen), as he really takes his time on the first few pages and really sets the scene. We see the cat wandering around an empty house and the already open door before the owner (Ariel) even walks in the door. It’s a little thing, granted, but attention to detail like that really goes a long way in my book. Ariel calls Aron, they make a police report but are under no illusions about actually getting it back. While looking around online a few days later Ariel notices what sure looks like her computer being listed for sale on Craig’s List, and the police are surprisingly willing to set up a sting to catch the guy. Well, it was surprising to me. I always assumed cops didn’t bother with stuff like stolen laptops, or at least not to the extent of dedicating half a dozen people to the operation. Anyway, a plan is laid out, a couple of undercover cops go into the meet in place of Aron and Ariel, and I’m confounded by not being able to give away the ending. We do get to see Aron and Ariel waiting in the back of the cop car as they hear what the cops are really thinking of the people walking by. Not unexpected, but stereotypes coming to life are always funny. It’s a good story. More than a little maddening for a number of reasons (related to the story itself, not the quality of the comic), but it was a real peek inside to this whole process. $5