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
Jury Rigged Comics #3: Adaptations
In case you were wondering, yes, this comic features adapted stories from other sources. Sean gets into it all in the intro, although he mostly doesn’t mention what they’re adapted from. Ah well, I guess this means I have to judge the comic all by itself and not on the source material, which is how it should be anyway. The first two pieces are drawn by David Beyer Jr., with the first dealing with the unbreakable promise of a samurai and the second dealing with Thor trying to trick a giant into giving him back his hammer. Mythical Thor in the modern day is always funny to me (yes, I know that he has his own comic, but Marvel Thor is just barely mythical Thor) and, much as it pains me not to spoil it, the setting Thor winds up in is even funnier. Trust me on this one. The samurai piece is also fun, if maybe a bit predictable. Or at least it was predictable to me, as I have read all comics and stories ever and it’s all predictable to me. Next up is Ark, done entirely by Sean, and this is what brought it all crashing down, at least briefly (it’s a very short story). There’s an asteroid, see, and it breaks entirely through a planet. It lands on another planet, and everything I say from here is sheer guesswork, as I have no idea what happens next. It looks like it either smashes through many people, killing them brutally, or the asteroid turns out to have been filled with eyes, ears, and other squiggles. If I wasn’t away from home at the moment I’d go back to the issue of Spudd that had this story drawn by another artist to make a bit more sense of it, but my instinct is saying that this story was better off left alone. Marginalia (drawn by Brent Bowman) is up next, and it’s fantastic. It’s the story of a Sean reading a used book in school and not thinking all that much of the notes in the margins until he gets to the very end and, again without spoiling, it is indeed a fantastic ending. It details the story of a brute of a dentist who would pull teeth out by hand, how he married a wealthy woman and couldn’t keep his temper in check. Finally there’s essentially the famous speech from Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, but as told to a toddler, so there’s no cursing involved. It is an engrossing and hilarious piece of work (text, not comic), which makes this book four for five on the really excellent content. I’d say that makes it worth taking a look, wouldn’t you?$2
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 #11: Work
The Panel crew is at the point where they could coast. They have a solid, consistent group of contributors, a near-limitless capacity to come up with new subjects for the individual issues and (I would hope, anyway) a group of people who will check out any future issues. And still they manage to keep everything fresh, starting right away with the packaging. Yes, that is a plain old interoffice envelope, familiar to any of us who have spent any time in an office, signed apparently by all the creators. Inside of this envelope is a series of individual mini comics (and one printed on a large sheet of paper), meaning that they can all be sold by the creators individually at cons or whatnot. To top it all of is the “memo” inside, an introduction to the comics, using all the appropriate buzz words like proactive, impactful and synergistic. An instant work of art, and I haven’t even mentioned any of the comics. The big sheet of paper is Broken, a silent story by Brent Bowman of a repairman witnessing the end of a relationship. Next is All in a Night’s Work by Dara Naraghi & Matt Kish, another silent tale about a day in the life of a henpecked knight, and you know I’m going to love anything that gives Matt the chance to draw dragons and various odd creatures. Pyramid Scheme by Brent Bowman & Sean McGurr is a tale of a man trying to convince his friend of the validity of his pyramid scheme, and this comic is actually shaped like a pyramid, although this point I think they’re just flaunting their creative awesomeness. Craig Bogart is up next with A Strange Farewell to Reginald Everbest, in which the people of a town don’t show enough respect when the town mortician dies, leaving the dead to rise up and do it themselves. Molly Durst has Wink! Wink! An Interview Gone Wrong, in which the interviewee has a nervous twitch that makes him wink, but I’m not going to spoil the punchline. Finally there’s Goby by Steven Black & Tim McClurg, another silent piece, and the one that made the least sense to me. There’s a little fish, see, and it gets thrown back after getting caught by a fisherman. Then said fish is swallowed by an octopus, which gets captured and cut up, which reveals the fish, which then transforms into a mermaid, and then time moves forward about 50 years, bringing a snail onto the scene… Sorry, that one lost me. It looks gorgeous though, and that has to count for something. The fact that this is still going strong at #11 is impressive as hell to me, as is the fact that you can pick up just about any issue of this series at any given con and expect a quality anthology. $4 and worth every penny…
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.