One of these days I really need to tally up these reviews to see who I’ve reviewed the most over the 21 (!) years I’ve been at this. If Brian isn’t the winner, he’s got to be in the top 10. Of course, him putting out comics at a ridiculous pace like this doesn’t hurt his chances. It’s the middle issue of this series (assuming there aren’t more to come, but there haven’t been new issues since I started these series reviews), so this was bound to be when things got serious. I’m assuming you’re either caught up or aren’t going to get caught up on this series (which you should; some damned odd vibes in this one), but this one picks up right where the last issue left off, with the murder of the narrator after he stumbled across a grisly scene. How does a narrated comic continue after the murder of the narrator, you may wonder? The sample image will clear that one up for you. It also tells you exactly where this comic is headed, as Mr. Johnston and a reluctant Floyd try to come up with a good plan to get rid of the body. I’ve previously mentioned that these comics are shorties (8 pages each), so I can’t say much more without the dreaded spoilers showing up. I will say that it ends on another cliffhanger, so maybe I’ll give in to temptation and just review the final two issues next week. Or maybe I won’t. I’m mercurial! Anyway, I’m enjoying this series quite a bit, and unlike the saga that Plastic People is turning out to be, this one is a quick five issues. Much easier on the wallet, you cheapskates you (says the guy who usually gets free review copies). So yeah, check it out! $2
The creepy tension from the first issue continues here, overlaid with that wholesome narrator telling an unseen audience about the charms of this town. If you didn’t read the review (or the comic) of the first issue that might be a little confusing, but who would just jump in at the second issue? In the previous issue we saw a bit of the town, and this time around we focus on one house in particular. Our narrator checks the door and, as it’s such a trusting town, finds it unlocked. We get a brief tour, have the residents of the house explained based on a large family portrait, and are suddenly distracted by a loud noise coming from downstairs. Any more than that and I’m well into spoiler territory, which is a constant concern anyway while reviewing 8 page mini comics. Maybe I can get away with saying this: it’s going to be extremely tricky to continue the unseen narrator action going into the third issue. But that’s fine! Two issues in and I’m completely hooked on the mystery, and Brian is doing an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension. Some of the asides are also brilliant; after getting detailed bios of two of the people in that family portrait, we land on the third one and the only piece of information the narrator is willing to dole out is “deceased.” Raises a whole lot of questions, huh? I’d recommend this series pretty highly so far, and since Brian is the man of a thousand comics series, I’ll even go ahead and say that you should start with this one. I suppose it could still fall apart, but it’s certainly off to one hell of a start. $2
Here’s another intriguing start to a series from Brian, the Cal Ripken of comics! Uh-oh, an extremely dated reference. See kids, Cal Ripken is famous mostly for his streak of consecutive baseball games played in a row, which I think was way over 2,000. Google has just told me 2,632, which is insane. Anyway, my point is that Brian has been making comics for a whole lot of years, and in that time he has produced a whole lot of comics. OK fine, so it’s a flawed analogy! I was shooting for a compliment. This follows Brian’s usual (?) format of an eight page mini, and as a first issue the whole point is to get the reader hooked on what might happen next. He succeeded on that front, as I’m very curious. This issue is done like an olde timey tourist commercial for why somebody should visit a town, but it’s peppered with imagery that adeptly disrupts any sense of comfort you might have with this seemingly quaint little burb. As it’s a shortie, it’s tough to say much about it without ruining something for the reader, but putting a panel of a 30 foot high wall (with “expertly equipped guard towers”) in between a panel showing quaint stone walkways and a serene dog park was an excellent way to bat away any expectations I already had going for how the series might develop. This “commercial” ran for the whole comic, so we got to meet a few characters and even learned about a rival town, so I think everything is set up quite nicely for future issues. Brian being Brian, he already sent me the first 5 issues of the series, so I’ll be able to check for myself very soon. And I still have to go back to Plastic People and see how that’s going, but that’s more a note for myself than part of the review, so please ignore this last sentence if you’re not me. Check it out, get in on the ground floor! $2
For anybody who’s brand new to the website (welcome!) and are just wondering if this particular comic is worth reading, yes, it absolutely is, especially if you’re a fan of autobio comics. Brian has been doing this for roughly a couple of decades now, has damn near mastered the areas of the artform he’s working in, and is prolific to a degree that honestly has me wondering if there are secretly two of him out there. But I wanted to get into a general problem with autobio comics, and this one is an excellent opportunity to bring it up. This is a collection of his journal comics from January of 2021, so if you’re reading this in the distant future, let’s just say that things were extremely screwed up in America at the time. This comic mostly covers the attempted coup (and the fallout) in Washington, the impending arrival of Brian’s third child, and the troubles that Brian and his wife (Amy) are having with his parents. It’s this third subject that I want to talk about, because after reading this comic… I have no idea what the problem is with Brian’s parents. Oh, I know that they’re distant to him (after five months they didn’t ask even once how Amy or the baby was doing), I know that the problem seems to stem from his sister moving back to Columbus two years earlier, and that every attempt to mend fences seem to be coming from Brian’s side. But… what happened? Did they split over politics, as is happening to all kinds of families? Did his sister burn down his house? If your response to these questions is “that’s way too personal a thing to be asking,” well, fair enough! One way I never would have asked about this is if it was never in the comic. That’s the thing about autobio comics: you can’t go halfway. Joe Matt back in the day (I’m really dating myself with this one, as he hasn’t made a comic in at least a decade) blew up chunks of his life with his autobio. He put out some brilliant comics for awhile, but you’d have to ask him if it was worth it. Maybe Brian addressed the origins of the problem in a previous comic and I’m either forgetting it or never read it, but a brief synopsis would have done wonders. Maybe his parents have a legitimate grievance? Maybe Brian and his family are really going above and beyond by even trying to mend fences? The point is that in a truly open journal comic, I wouldn’t have to ask the question. I’m just left with the impression that his parents are assholes, which may or may not be fair to anybody involved. Still, all in all there’s a few great strips in here, and the attempts to patch things up are fascinating. I just think there’s a glaring hole that the reader is missing and that it would probably bug more people than just me. $6
It’s an eventful issue of Plastic People! As always, if you haven’t been reading this then number eight is an odd place to get started, but maybe your thing is to read reviews out of order of books you haven’t read. Who am I to judge? This time around we get an interview with the ex of the murdered woman and a better sense of what exactly was going on in her life when she was killed. The back half of the comic deals with a big old movie star going about his daily business, ending on one heck of a cliffhanger. Is Brian building up to something or is he making it up as he goes along? My money is on the first option, based on his past series like Ruffians. And based on the fact that he’s up to #15 of this series on his website, so he might actually be done with it for all I know. Check out one of those beefier 3 issue compilations, that’ll give you a chance to read a chunk of the story at once. Or get the single issues like this one for $2. You do you!
Four stories? In an eight page comic? Who would have thought that such a thing was possible? Granted, two of the stories are only a single page, but it’s still impressive. This is a really solid mini, and it even ends with a nice little update to the first story, which features a grimly realistic tale of a fish slowly developing the ability to walk on land and what happens to him when he gets there. All on one page! Next up is the meat of the comic, a tale about the hidden costs of dining out at a seriously upscale restaurant, which is a little too close to real life, and something that’s probably coming (if it’s not already here; I haven’t dined at a super fancy restaurant since before the pandemic, so I’m a bit behind the times). Next up we get the juxtaposition of a letter home from an aspiring star in Hollywood to the actuality of what she’s going through. And finally there’s a good old fashioned gag strip about how quickly time can pass you by and make you seem completely out of touch. As somebody who still has trouble grasping why it’s so terrible to use a period to end a sentence in a text message, boy howdy can I ever relate. It just means the sentence is done, not that I’m yelling at you! Ugh, kids today. Well, since those last two sentences aged me twenty years, I’d better wrap things up. This one has variety, a couple of surprisingly dense stories (especially considering the format), and a few laughs. All for a measly $2!
(I’m going to assume that everybody reading has at least a passing familiarity with the events of the previous issues)
This time around we finally get to spend some time with the family of the murdered woman, and can I just say that this format is finally growing on me as a way to tell this story? Sure, you’re only getting a fragment of the big picture each time, but it’s a self-contained fragment, and it’s clearly building towards something. This one starts off with an ad for a new action movie (called Terror Stopper, and I’m astounded that nobody has used that title until now. It tells the whole story!), and then we briefly meet the family who’s waiting to identify the body. They meet the detectives, but even when they see the body they’re not sure. One of the drawbacks of living in a society full of people who all get the same plastic surgery, I guess. Once again it’s tough to review one of these shorties without giving too much away, so I’ll just say that what does identify the body (and how the mother instantly recognized it) was not what I would have guessed, and her brother has a one track mind with what’s really important. With this issue I’m halfway caught up to what’s out there already (I just saw #14 listed on his website) and thoroughly hooked. I’ll also point out that the compendiums put together three issues at a time if this pace is just too slow for you, so maybe consider going that route? $2
Would it be cheating if I started reviewing these issues two at a time. It feels like cheating. But what would I be cheating, exactly? Ah, the deep questions that go on in the mind of a reviewer who’s several issues behind of a series that comes out faster than I can review. In this issue we see a few folks waiting outside to get into a club, and while they’re waiting we get a few more bits of insight into what’s going on in this beauty-obsessed world. It’s all so that they can have a fun night out dancing, while a few interpersonal dramas play out along the way. We get a definite sense of the importance of plastic surgeons in this world and, as you can see by the sample image, nudists. That seems like that something that’ll pop up again in the future, but we just get a few hints this time around. It’s another solid issue, and there are relatively cheap ways for you to get caught up on Brian’s website if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, I might check in with the comics elders to see about that double reviewing thing… $2
Some good news for those of you who like their comics in bigger installments: Brian has been selling compendiums of three issues each on his website. So instead of an 8 page installment, you get a 24 page installment and even save a buck! Wow, did that ever sound like a commercial. But hey, I’m enjoying this, and we live in an age of instant gratification, so I get it if reading this story in 8 page bites isn’t enough. Wasn’t there a comic here to review? This time around we see the reaction of the big corporation to the news of the murder of their model. It’s about as awful and soulless as you might expect: they need to be reminded of who this person was, desperately cast around for some reason why it might not be murder (because they thought they had that issue solved decades ago), and of course the best possible way to spin it. It’s gross, but it’s also a thoroughly realistic imagining of how this world would handle a problem like this. Somehow Brian is managing to stay roughly 10 issues ahead of me, as he’s up to #14 as of this review, but there’s only one of me over here! Maybe if that benevolent billionaire ever comes around and hands me a sack of cash I could hire somebody just to review his books… $2
Sometimes the title says it all, so if you guessed that this comic has two stories in it… well, that wasn’t much of a guess, really, since it’s pretty obvious. Anyway! The first story here is about a man who wakes up one day with some gunk on his hand. He tries to wash it off but can’t manage it, and soon notices some smoke coming from his hand. He then notices that a society is growing on it, which of course leads to questions about what he’s going to do about it and how it’s going to impact his life, but it’s a short story and I shouldn’t give any of that stuff away. The second story is one of the most honest and open inner monologues I’ve seen about why somebody continues to make comics, which I’m sure at least one person reading this is wondering about right now. It’s not explicitly said that it’s Brian asking these questions, and it’s entirely possible that this is meant to be “some guy” asking these questions and that I’m reading too much into it by assuming it’s Brian. Anyway, it’s raw and fascinating, and he even manages a decent punchline at the end. It’s a different aspect of it for sure, but as I go barreling (limping? wheezing?) towards a 20 year anniversary of rambling about comics here, the question has occurred to me too. How long do I keep this up? I started off as an idealistic dude in his 20s; clearly that’s no longer the case. The best answer I’ve come up with? People do read this site for suggestions about what small press comics are around that are worth checking out. Not many, probably (I’ve lost the password to the stats page so I have no clue of traffic these days), but being a drop of the bucket is fine when it’s a small bucket. Not that anybody asked! You’re here to read about comics. Well, this is a good one, from one of the most prolific and varied people going today. Check it out, why don’t you? $2
Across the Diner
How many hours of the day does Brian spend drawing? I’m honestly curious. This is a stand-alone mini, as opposed to one of the series he’s also producing on a regular basis, and it depicts a conversation almost every one of us has had in our heads at one point: should we go over and say hello to that attractive person? In this case we start off with Emily, who’s just been stood up on a date but seems to be taking it in stride, as she plans to get some food anyway and head out. Before this happens a woman walks into the diner who absolutely captivates our hero: she instantly imagines a future with this lady, how they’d probably be compatible but different enough to be able to learn a lot from each other, etc. There’s only one problem: should she go over and introduce herself? It’s the eternal struggle in situations like these, and Brian does a great of portraying all the pros and cons that go through your mind at a moment like that. This one is well worth a look, and I defy anybody to read this mini without relating to at least one thought that goes through her head before it’s all said and done. $1.99
Do you mean to tell me that Brian has yet another series out there? Yep, he sure does. Feel shame, comics artists who are only putting out one series at a time! This is a series of four panel strips meaning, as always, that some are going to be funnier than others to me, and that humor is subjective anyway, so what do I know. Each starts with something like a mantra from the main character, as he repeats whatever is bothering him in that strip. The one sampled shows the dangers of getting lost on the internet, despite your best intentions. Other subjects include fitting in, patience, blinking, trying to not be a jerk on a date, pretending to be rich, convincing the bully that you’re tough too, and avoiding panic. Plus a couple of others I’m not mentioning, because who doesn’t like a surprise or two? Anyway, this is a mostly funny book, which is all you can ask for out of four panel strips like these. It’s also very cheap at $2, so why not give it a try? Or just send him $20 and ask for a grab bag; the guy has a vast back catalog at this point. Send him money and ask him to surprise you!
The concept behind this one is so simple that it’s going to be tough to talk about for long: two friends play a game of roulette with each other. Is it right to call it a “game” when they’re using a loaded gun and one of them is going to end up dead? Eh, probably not I guess. Brian does a good job of giving us small reveals here and there as the story progresses. We see a bit of why the narrator agreed to this, we see why they picked the location that they did, and we see a few of their tense pulls of the trigger. A lot of the specifics are left out, I’m guessing intentionally. If we knew why these two friends were this determined to kill themselves, the reader would have a chance to second guess, to say that (insert problem here) was not serious to want to kill themselves. We never learn their exact reasons, only that it’s bad enough that both of them seem determined to go through with it. It’s a good, tense story, and it’s tough to have higher stakes than these. I also feel compelled to mention Cutting Cards, an episode of Tales From the Crypt (with Lance Henriksen), because it also features a game of Russian roulette, with the stakes somehow taken up to an absurd degree. But yes, you should give this comic a shot the next time you send Brian a stack of money for a stack of comics. $2
I’ve been reviewing Brian’s comics since the very early days of this website. 2004ish, maybe sooner (I started in 2001)? Something like that. So I thought I’d check Brian’s website as I was copying the link there and check out the store, see the rough percentage of his books that I’ve reviewed. Keeping in mind that he definitely has older comics that are out of print (doesn’t everybody?), somehow I’ve still only reviewed maybe half of his books. Probably not even that much. Search under his name here if you’re curious how many that equals out to; it’s still a hell of a lot! Anyway, personal digression aside, how’s the comic? I’m always interested in seeing an origin story for a guy I’ve been enjoying for years, and this comic did an excellent job of explaining how Brian got into comics and why he sticks with them now. There’s his genuine appreciation for having a knowledgeable and supportive guy in charge of the local comic shop (The Laughing Ogre; if you’re anywhere near Columbus Ohio it’s worth a trip), how prolific he was even back in the day, how he’d take art supplies everywhere he went in case inspiration struck, how much Jeff Smith has done for the comics scene in Columbus and what he means to Brian, and his own philosophy on what makes a comic and how we still have so much to explore in regards to their potential. He also lists some of his influences, and I have no proof of this but it sure feels like an “oh yeah!” moment in making comics. Meaning that he made a list, got back to work on the comic, remembered several other names and put them into the comic, got back to work on the comics, remembered still MORE names and included them on the back inside cover. I get it! It’s a damned solid list; if you’re just now looking to get into comics you could do a whole lot worse than to just get books from everybody on his lists to start. Another solid issue, give it a look if you’re curious as to how he came to start making comics! $3
Murder! Remember, that’s how the last issue ended, so naturally that’s where this one is going to start. Honestly, it’s like you’re not reading the issues in order. Anyway, we learned in previous issues that murder was rare, but we learn exactly how rare in this issue: it’s been decades since they’ve had one to investigate. And since everybody looks more or less the same (and perfect, according to their societal norms), any woman this doctor sees reminds him of the victim he has to autopsy. We also get couple of tantalizing hints as to what might be happening, but they’re only hints for now. As I’ve been saying, the man has at least 10 issues done already and this is only #4, so clearly there’s more of the mystery to be discovered. $2
We dig a bit more into the overall world with the third issue, even if the main characters seem to be missing this time around. That’s OK, especially since Brian already has at least 10 issues of this series done. Two big (probably? I don’t know Brian’s master plan) pieces are introduced this time around: getting tattoos and how they’re illegal body modifications, and a popular online dating website that guarantees you’ll be matched with an equally perfect person. It also ends in a murder, which is about when things tend to pick up in a story, right? I also wonder if the particular tattoo style has any larger meaning in the story but, again, that’ll probably be revealed in the other comics that already exist. The series seems like a winner so far, so maybe you should buy a few issues and see for yourself. $2
Is it cheating if I review these comics two at a time? Because I’m enjoying the setup of the story so far, but at 8 pages each there just isn’t a whole lot of space for story progression. Oh, the problems of running a small press comics review website. Since I’m sticking with the single issues for now, what happens this time around? We get to learn a bit more about our hero, and while he may not be an asshole, he’s at least asshole-adjacent. We also learn that his job is to go to the perfect people around the city (which, if you didn’t read the first issue, seems to be everybody) and deal with their problems. The problem, this time around anyway, is that a lady fell down the stairs and broke her nose. The punchline is that she fell because she was distracted from another personal problem, and each of them would fall into very minor categories for humanity today. Like I said, I’m intrigued to see where this is going, which is a pretty good place to be for the second issue of a (so far) ten issue series. $2
Is Brian the most prolific comic artist going today? Is there a contest for that sort of thing? There’s not (that I know of), but he’d have to be high up the list. Brian sent me a few new comics recently, as I’ve somehow missed him at the last couple of local comic conventions. He sent a few issues of this comic along, and when I went to link to his website I saw that he already has ten issues done. 10! Granted, these are 8 page minis, but that’s still a better pace than a lot of artists, and he’s also always working on other comics. Does it seem like I’m stalling a bit on the actual review? Yeah, that’s probably because I am. This one starts off with a perfume ad that morphs into two people having sex. They get interrupted when our hero (I’m assuming) has to leave because his ride for work has arrived. They get into a brief argument, as the woman thinks that his female ride was hitting on him, and that’s that. If that makes it seem like everything is simple and straightforward, it’s really not. Everybody in this town has gotten plastic surgery, meaning all the women look the same and so do all the men. I’m curious to dig into this and see where it goes from here, as I already have a lot of questions. Which means that a first issue did its job, and this is one of those rare first issues where you already know there’s plenty out that’s already completed. I’m assuming this one will have significantly less punching than his Ruffians series, but who knows? Check it out, maybe buy a few issues while you’re at it to see where this is headed. $2
OK, one thing first, just to make sure you get it: I’m going to talk about spoilers here, because this is the last issue of a series so of course I’m going to talk spoilers, either read the series before reading this or don’t read the series ever, in which case spoilers will never effect your life. But it’s a fun series overall, so you might want to read it. Anyway! My main conclusion after reading this last issue, ambiguous Soprano’s-style ending notwithstanding? Scar might be an immortal. Sure, he’s a three foot tall blue bear, so the rules for his existence were never clearly defined, so maybe that’s on me? But he was shot eight times in the back (and arm) in the last issue, and it is never mentioned or addressed in this issue. Thanks to Erin, he manages to escape what seems to be certain death in that nightclub, not seeming to be slowed down in the least, and then goes to a diner to get some food and talk some more to his dead friend Black Jack. So are we to assume that he was hit with a paint gun? That he had body armor that covered his back? Which wouldn’t do a thing to explain those 8 bloody bullet holes we see in the last issue. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on this aspect, hey, maybe you’re right! But if you or I were shot eight times in the back, maybe we could get a burst of adrenaline off long enough to take a few more assassins out (in real life we’d almost certainly just be dead), but once the adrenaline wore off that would be it. It seems like Brian sacrificed the natural flow of the story for a more dramatic gunfight in the last issue, and considering the care he took with the rest of the series, it strikes me as a misstep. Still, putting aside that one aspect (with great difficulty, obviously), we do get a final battle with Scar and Malt, we get to see him confront Cypris, and we finally get the real answer of what happened to Black Jack. I was wrong in my guess, which is always gratifying as a reader. And I’d still recommend this series as a whole. There’s intrigue, betrayals, an overarching mystery… a lot to love here. There were a couple of missteps here and there, but there’s more than enough good here to overshadow those things. $3.99
It’s the penultimate (I love being able to use that word and have it fit) issue in the series, so you can be sure that there’s a lot of gunplay going on in this one. Brian doesn’t waste any time with it either; our hero tosses back a few more drinks, gets warned off one more time by the ghost of Black Jack, then puts a gun to the head of Cypris. Unfortunately his mustache disguise fell off during those drinks, so now all the assassins at this party recognize him. It’s one of the more baffling aspects of this story, the fact that that disguise worked so well, but it’s not much of a stretch to think of most of these assassins as not being all that bright. Oh, and Erin (Scar’s lawyer/lover) is there as well, and she’s armed, so she also gets a few murders in, although I lost track of her in all the chaos. Things take a turn towards the end of the issue, as Scar is finally tagged with some gunfire. 8 bullets in the back to be exact, which seems like enough to murder just about anybody. But who kills off the hero before the last issue? So Scar is still standing, if just barely, as he tries to summon the strength to find and kill Cypris (who ran away in all the confusion). One issue left to go, then I’ll have some thoughts about the whole series to wrap it all up. If you’re a weirdo who only buys one issue of a series and doesn’t care about the larger story but loves guns, this would be the one to get. $2.99