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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

Various Alternative Comics anthologies – Hi-Horse Omnibus

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Hi-Horse Omnibus

I might have a different criteria for a good anthology than most people. When I get an anthology, I get it to check out work from a lot of different people at once. Therefore, as long as the vast majority of them aren’t actively bad, I usually feel like it was a good anthology. Well, there wasn’t a single bad story in this, so mission accomplished. Lots of familiar names in this (Cole Johnson, Zack Soto, Dan Zettwoch, Jesse Reklaw, Thien Pham, HOB, Damien Jay, Gabrielle Bell) and some unfamiliar names (Howard John Arey, Ellen Lindner, Andrice Arp), which is always a good thing. More than a few of those people are getting e-mails from me to see if they want to be in the distro, in case you were wondering. There’s no theme here, which is also a good thing, and stories include a young girl reluctantly spending time with her father, a man trying to find a working bathroom, a cute pug, getting sucked into the television, dating literal monsters, a stranded pirate rhymer, giant babies taking over the world, and how horrible it is to quit smoking. Great stuff in here all around and it’s only $11.95, well worth a look. Here’s the Alternative Comics website, or just click on the title if you’re feeling spendy…

Bell, Gabrielle – Lucky 2.5

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Lucky 2.5

In case you’re wondering, this is #2.5 because she lost her sketchbook (which had #2 in it) at an airport and was never able to find it. So if you’re ever in San Francisco airport, stop by the lost and found, see if you can find a sketchbook. This one is about a few random things, like how she lost the sketchbook and tried to get it back, how she sold some comics on the street and how she tried a yoga class. It was mostly just the retelling of a couple of days in her life (I think), with those being the “big” moments. I’ve said it before, I like her work a lot. This mini looks a bit sloppier than her other stuff, or I’m being too picky, but it’s just shaky line panels here and there, nothing serious. And I saw at the Alternative Comics table (and it’s a good thing I got there late in the day, because I probably would have spent all my cash there if I had the chance) that she has a ton of minis, so anybody who’s interested could do a lot worse than to send her a bunch of cash for some books. E-mail her for a listing, I think this one was a couple of bucks…

Bell, Gabrielle – When I’m Old and Other Stories

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When I’m Old And Other Stories

Hooray for a big collection of her work! I think I gave away the fact in my last review that I love her comics, but I hadn’t seen very many of them. Problem solved! A few of the stories were in her other book that I read, but overall this was a bunch of new stuff. It’s a bargain at $12.95 too, but you probably want some sort of description before you buy it… OK. There’s a short story about the best babysitter in the world, a lot of one page stories about a girl with different trophy boyfriends, a suicidal kid, Gabrielle growing to giant size, a story about figuring out the human heart, and plenty of other stuff. The fascinating thing about her stories for me is that you’re never quite sure if it’s autobiographical or not, so you kind of have to take everything as a combination of both, or perhaps just her interpretation of real events. Fantastic, vivid writing along with some of the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen, I really can’t recommend her stuff enough. Buy it!

Bell, Gabrielle – Book of Black

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Book of Black

Just so you know, I loved this book. It gets my highest recommendation, for whatever that’s worth to you out there. It’s loosely based on the film “Repulsion” by Roman Polanski, and there’s a part one out there somewhere because this was the second half. It’s about a young girl who is finally released from a prison for girls and is living with a popular girl, and she liked her existence. Nothing much happened, and that was fine with her. Things gradually began to change with her roommate leaving town for the weekend and the unwanted attentions of a guy on the street. It’s fascinating to watch the transformation of the character, to watch her try just a little to make a human connection but not to know how to do it. I haven’t seen Repulsion for a while, but I know she made this story a little more modern, seeing as how Trent Reznor is in it. I hope that didn’t turn anybody off who hates the guy, because he has very little impact on the story. Anyway, great stuff. It takes a hell of a story for me to ignore my nitpicky nature and barely even notice little things like misspellings and “your” instead of “you’re” here and there. Hey, I didn’t say it was right, I’m just saying that that kind of crap has the potential to push a so-so book into bad territory for me. Maybe you should get part one (it’s called Book of Insomnia) first though. E-mail her to see what she has available or just send her money (I’m guessing these are $3 but I have nothing at all to base that on) at: 3288 21st Street #217 San Francisco, CA 99110.