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Baylis, Jonathan & Various Artists – So Buttons: Man of, Like, a Dozen Faces

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So Buttons: Man Of, Like, A Dozen Faces

One sign that I’m reading an amazing book? When I pick about a dozen pages in my head to be my sample page, then realize when I’m done that I could really use just about any page. An embarrassment of riches, I believe it’s called. If you’ve been living under a rock (like me) and have somehow never heard of “So Buttons” even though you already know almost all of the artists involved, you’re in luck! This book collects stories (possibly all of the stories? It’s not clear) from the first 7 issues of his comic series. He uses several different artists, with a few names popping up several times. These strips are all autobiographical, and (this is important for people thinking about making an autobio comic) each of them had something to say. Even the ones about mundane aspects of his life; it’s clear that the guy has seen a lot and/or known people who have seen a lot, which is when it’s advisable to make an autobio comic. Not to name any names of people who make autobio comics for years with seemingly little to nothing to say. Ahem. Anyway, this one starts off with a comic about Jonathan’s first day working for Marvel in 1994, which happened to be the day that Jack Kirby died. He was there when John Romita Sr. did the tribute art for Jack, and he was the one who had to tell him to improve his Thor drawing. Which was a little intimidating, to put it mildly; if you’re not familiar with comics history, those were two legends and it was his first day. This story was also drawn by Fred Hembeck, which is not a name that I’d ever thought would be on my website because he’s a Marvel guy through and through, but here he is. There’s a real danger of my saying either too much or too little about the remaining stories, but I’ll give it a shot. Subjects include taking a trip to take in some art, overdoing it on the Halloween makeup before getting into an auto accident, his kinda sorta connection to R. Crumb, the dangers of meeting your heroes (in this case Robert Redford), meeting Jackie Mason, the perfect joke after seeing Schindler’s List, trying to find the secret to the perfect brisket, how he manages to love both New York baseball teams, how we went from bully to bullied in one word, his Annie tryout in grade school, his unfortunate reaction to the news that John Lennon had been killed, hanging out with his dad and learning that the guy wasn’t as predictable as he thought, bringing out a traumatic memory of the war from his uncle, and almost meeting Jim Jarmusch. There is also almost an entire half of the book that I didn’t mention at all, so obviously there’s a lot here to love. The artists do amazing work with the material they’ve been given and Jonathan is an incredibly gifted writer. Yeah, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this one. Check it out! $20

Haspiel, Dean – Beef With Tomato

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Beef With Tomato

How have I managed to get this far into the website in general and life specifically with this being my first Dean Haspiel book? Granted, I reviewed Aim to Dazzle years ago and have seen his work in various anthologies, but it’s just silly that this is my first book of his. Baffling. Anyway, I’ve always liked his work, but clearly haven’t actively sought it out. With all of the artists I review that makes some sense, but it’s an oversight I look forward to correcting after this, because this book was incredible in every way. These are mostly short pieces from his time living in New York/Brooklyn, and stories include Awful George (and his awful habits with regards to cats and his mother), NBC sticks and his new neighbors, running into a car door immediately after 9/11 and the unbelievable reaction of the driver of said car, his honest but unfortunate reaction to a basketball rolling his way at the park, trying to play nice with cops who are determined to be assholes, drunkenly wandering through a snowy night, exhibitionism and the end of a bench, a murder in his building, his ex who loved to get naked and parade in front of the windows and the effect this had on the neighbors, him getting hit by a car while he played a purse snatcher for a film, and how his community came together for the big NYC blackout. There’s also a large section towards the end of the book with some written stories and some other strips that were originally from other books (or at least some of them were: I recognized his story about the day of 9/11/01 from an anthology). The kind of life he’s led shines through in every story, as he’s constantly depicting himself with various bandages and scars from incidents that rarely even make it onto the page. The man is a seriously talented writer and he’s one of the best artists working today, so if you’re like me and have somehow made it this far without buying one of his books, this is the perfect chance to fix that mistake. $14.99

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Mason, Jeff (editor) – 9-11 Emergency Relief

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9-11 Emergency Relief

I’ve been sitting here, trying to come at this from an objective angle, and I just can’t. Sorry. Too many of the events of that day day are still too close to me, even though I didn’t directly know anybody involved in this and I’ve never been to New York. My fear about this book, honestly, was that it would be too much. It would stir up too many memories, the stories of what happened to various comic artists that day would all have a kind of awful sameness: panic, searching for loved ones, wondering if it was the end of the world. I guess a lot of them do have that theme, because that’s what they were going through, but these artists are way too talented to leave it at that. There are individual touches everywhere, from Dean Haspiel having burning office papers blow in his window to Jenny Gonzalez seeing the day through a haze of psych medication, to Donna Barr being too hung over to really know what was going on, to everybody else. On a purely comic level, this book shows you the insides of a lot of comic people who hide behind being sarcastic, or weird, or just plain mean at times. This benefits the Red Cross and everybody you can think of from comics is here. There’s no reason in the world not to get this, unless those events are still too close to you, because this will bring it all back. It’s worth it for the internal dialogue Tom Hart has with Hutch Owens alone. Sadly, a lot of the things Hutch was cynically talking about have come true since then, as everybody in any kind of political office is using this tragedy to shove their own agenda through, and every big business is laying off all kinds of people after taking money from the government not to lay people off, and people don’t seem to care. Before I get to rambling too much about this and the state of the world, let me just say one last thing: God bless Peter Kuper for keeping some things in perspective.

Haspiel, Dean – Aim to Dazzle

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Aim to Dazzle

There’s plenty to be said about Dean’s dynamic, incredible art. I mean, one look at that cover and you know that you’re about to read something great (and he’s apparently working on a Thing mini-series for Marvel, which I really can’t wait to see). But the main area that really shines in his books is his utterly fascinating and unique use of language. Read my sample page if you don’t believe me, but there is nobody you there who even comes close to Dean on dialogue of characters. No, it’s not necessarily stuff that the average person would say (unless you’re as cool as Billy Dogma and Jane Legit), but it makes my brain tingle to read it. This is what the language could be, if everybody was as traveled and as smart as him. All that gushing being said, I preferred the longer stories over this book, as it’s basically a collection of short works, but there’s not a chance that you can go wrong with any of his books that I’ve seen. If you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon yet, hurry up already.