You can file this review under “you kids today,” if you like to know that type of thing right away. What I mean by that is that there are two people out there that everybody else attempting autobiographical stories should be compared to: Harvey Pekar and Dennis Eichhorn. Sure, Harvey had a movie made about him, meaning that even casual comics folk may know the name, but Dennis, for reasons that baffle me, has never gotten that kind of attention. They also wrote completely different types of stories, as Harvey was all about daily life, the mundane bits mixed in with insights about the human condition. But Dennis, man, Dennis has lived a hell of a life, and he’s chock full of fascinating and/or hilarious stories to tell. Dating back to his Real Stuff series in the 90’s he’s had nothing but the top comics artists in the field helping him out. Back then it was both of the Hernandez Bros, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, I think even Robert Crumb… basically anybody you can think of from that era. So, since this is a collection of (mostly but not entirely) new stories, he brought in some of the best artists working today. The stories in here are all over the place and from various portions of his life; if I had any complaint it’s that I sometimes wished for context as to what age he was or when exactly the story happened (although he did usually give a ballpark estimate). Stories include his very first writing gig interviewing a terrible local band (with Ivan Brunetti), his first night as a taxi driver and how he learned to trust prostitutes (with Max Clotfelter), a fantastic prank on Mormons/a shitty neighbor (with Dame Darcy), a very surreal medical experience with Fox News blaring in the background that also involved him finding out that Harvey Pekar had died (with RL Crabb), finding out that the Coast Guard is not legally bound in any way in regards to searching boats (with Colin Upton), and sifting for gold with a (literally) crazy friend. There are other solid stories in this collection too, but it’s best to leave some things a surprise, right? I checked a bit online and somehow there doesn’t seem to be a definitive collection of his earlier series, so maybe Fantagraphics or Top Shelf should get on that, legal mumbo-jumbo permitting? That’s a pile of really great stories with some of the best artists in the world that are somehow still out of print. Regardless, this is plenty worth checking out all on its own, and if you stumble across any old issues or Real Stuff (or, if you’re old enough, Real Smut), pick that sucker up too. $10
On Your Marks #1
Oh, what a crank I am. I get a pretty damned great anthology filled with small press people living in Seattle who could use a little more exposure and I can’t help thinking that I would have liked it better with a clear indication of which artists did which pages. They’re even all listed on the inside front cover, but they’re inside of a drawing, which makes some of them tough to make out. Does this take away from the quality of the content? Not one bit, no, as it’s not like it’s impossible to figure out who did certain pages with a little bit of work. Eh, I blame it on the general tone of the holiday season. All this Christmas music everywhere just bugs me. And if you ever needed more proof that I am in fact a total curmudgeon, there you have it. Anyway! This is a collection of mostly one page strips, done by all kinds of people that you either already know about or should be ashamed of yourself because you’ve never heard of them. Stories include Ben Horak having the comic he made when he was 6 read by adults (with a perfect final panel), Tom Van Deusen’s creepy piece about a head growing out of a roof and what happens when it’s removed, Bobby Madness and the sacrifice he made for the environment, Kelly Froh’s traumatic moment on an aimless afternoon, Pat Keck and his dungeon Gremlins, Aarow Mew and the result of his “spider” bite, Julia Gfrorer’s tale of a creepy ouija board experience, Rick Altergott and Pat Moriarty’s story of what cats think is going on with their litter boxes, Marc Palm’s Flannelwolf and Frankcan, Robyn Jordan’s worries about what she’ll be like in 10 years after she has kids, David Lasky’s questions about what you would do if you were a superhero, and Max Clotfelter’s mistaken assumption involving getting his older brother involved in protecting him. Like I said, it’s a damned solid anthology, full of ridiculously talented people. Maybe next time they’ll put page numbers on the pages to lessen my crankiness, or maybe it’s something I need to work on on my own and I’m sharing too much here… $4
I’ll give you a list of some of the names and you tell me if this is worth your while: Jim Woodring, Pat Moriarity, Robert Crumb, Rick Veitch, David Lasky, Eric Theriault, Jeremy Eaton, and Aleksander Zograf. Granted, there were a few names that I didn’t recognize at all, but there were all kinds of interesting dreams in here. Come on, tell me that you’re not wondering if Jim Woodring’s sleeping mind is as fascinating as his waking one. It’s an odd mix from all over the world and, as with any anthology, some things work and some things don’t, but what this has over the other anthologies is that everything is… unprotected, in a way. Sleeping is out most vulnerable state and everything listed in here is honest, even if some it’s kind of dull. Well worth a look, if only to see what these people dream about…
And to think that I was regretting saving this one for last. After that Bogus Dead book in the middle of the week I was pretty sure nothing else was going to touch it, then along comes this book. In my opinion. there are two ways to make a great anthology. You can either have a lot of pieces, fast and furious, and you’ll come away with a good impression of the book as long as the majority of them are solid, or you can have a book with only a select few, long pieces. Orchid is comprised of seven long tales adaptations of gothic stories. The only one that didn’t do anything for me was Poe’s “The Raven”, and that’s mostly just because I’ve seen so many adaptations of it at this point in my life that I just don’t want to see it again. A personal problem of mine, granted, but that doesn’t change the fact that everything else in here is creepy and good. Kevin Huizenga (the back says that he “used to do a comic book named Supermonster”. Please don’t tell me that he’s done, that’s one of the best series out there and I only just found out about it!) has the longest piece, a disturbing tale about the power of visions. Here’s a list of the other names, and let me know if you need and more convincing: Lark Pien & Jesse Reklaw, Ben Catmull, T. Edward Bak, David Lasky, and Dylan Williams. It’s only $8 and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Get this and Bogus dead and your anthology needs for the year should be pretty much met. If the website still isn’t working, you can send money to: Spark Plug Comics P. O. Box 10952 Portland, OR 97296-0952.
Jesus Delivers (with David Lasky)
It makes me sad to think that Jim Woodring is hardly doing anything with comics these days. I understand the reasoning, as there’s no money in it, but his comics were like nothing else in this world and it sucks to not see a new one every six months or so. This is an old mini (1996) about a missionary trying to convert a young boy, which is then followed by the parents trying to explain how things really are to the kid. Great stuff, as a rant about the evils of Christianity is always a welcome thing. And who knew that Jesus was in charge of the post office? A measly dollar is all this is, and if you’re like me and already have everything Jim Woodring has done, this is a welcome sight.
Tea Now Available! $4
You can see the names on the cover, right? I always feel like these reviews are a waste of time, because anybody who reads the site on a regular basis and/or knows mini comics knows that it would be tough for a collection like that to be terrible. So what’s good? The story from Clutch, about a woman going on a first date with a guy she likes and having to break down and tell him that she really doesn’t like tea, Dave Kiersh getting grabby, Dan Zettwoch revealing a secret recipe, and Scott Mills talking about his mom. Nothing particularly bad about this at all, although I think I liked Garlic better. Probably just the subject matter. Oh, and these are both now available, so check them out, or just go to the website if you need more convincing.
I was going to just write the names of the contributors here to try and convince you to get this, but that scan came out nicely, don’t you think? You’ll notice that I really like most of the people on there, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think this is amazing. I can’t even say that I didn’t like whole stories, just certain panels. People talking to cats in comics is either cute to me or way too cute, and Dave Lasky’s entry fell into the latter category. The rest of his story was good though. The bit by Austin English didn’t do much for me one way or another. Everything else is more than just worth reading, it’s required reading. That’s right, I’m forcing you to buy this. The only thing I’m not sure of is the price… $5 maybe? It’s a pretty big book. Eh, go to the website (down as of 7/22/07) for this (it’s the first in a series of anthologies about food) and e-mail the guy to see how much it costs. You can’t go wrong with this assemblage of talent.
Another day, another random mish-mash of an anthology. I really had high hopes for this one too. It’s edited by Peter Conrad and here are just some of the names in it (don’t you hate it when people do that? You know that they’re always leaving off the lesser-known people for no good reason): Sam Henderson, Neil Fitzpatrick, Jesse Reklaw, Keith Knight, Carrie McNinch, James Kochalka, John Hankiewicz, David Lasky and Ted Rall. It’s an OK book, but very few things stand out when you get done reading it. The Sam Henderson and James Kochalka stories weren’t even funny, and those are usually a sure thing. Keith Knight, John Hankiewicz, Neil Fitzpatrick and Ted Rall were the highlights for me. Everything else was somewhere between pretty good and unremarkable. It’s cheap at $7.95 and you can’t beat that lineup, but… eh.
If you like things that are even remotely outside the box, as they say, then you already know all about Jim Woodring. In my humble opinion, there isn’t a greater living comic artist. Nobody can combine the pretty pictures with the crazy words like he can. This isn’t the kind of thing that you read looking for a good story: beginning, middle and end. It is the kind of story you read if you’re mood is kind of off, if you’re tired of reading the regular pattern of story. Jim is part diary-like rambling, part comics, and part other random stuff. This is one of the books that should be kept in print for all time.
This is the comic that taught me how silly it was to distrust the wordless comic. Nobody has done it better before or since than Jim Woodring. Frank is a… cat… dog… creature of unknown origin who gets into all kinds of crazy adventures. There’s no better way to describe it than that, but don’t think of “crazy” in the cliche way it has been used for years, but rather go back to the root of the word, when it actually meant “insane”. Think back to the last truly insane thing you’ve seen. Not weird, not zany or wacky, but insane. Welcome to the world of Frank!
When I say “more of the same” for this volume, I hope you know that that is a very good thing indeed.