Dr. Carl Willendorf: Psychoanalyst of Creatures, Monsters and Other Beasts
It’s election season around the website, meaning that I have a tendency to go for the shorter mini comics, knowing that I have limited time to talk about comics. I know, I hate it too! Anyway, Grant sent along a couple of his latest comics recently, and this one was tiny. This usually means that there’s not much time to form an opinion one way or the other; it’s generally a quickly amusing tale or something that comes and goes without leaving an impression. It’s just the nature of the beast when you’re talking about a comic with 8 panels; no disrespect intended to people who make such books. Anyway, I wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: I absolutely love this concept and hope that Grant makes dozens more books like this. Or bigger, so we can really dig into it. What’s it about? The title should make it obvious, but it’s a psychoanalyst talking to monsters. Or, for the purposes of this comic, one monster: the minotaur. It’s great! Insightful, funny, even a little alarming, all in 8 panels. There are a whole lot of monsters out there, so I hope Grant takes this concept and runs with it. Check it out, it’s a measly dollar and you’ll love it!
This is a wee thing of a mini comic, which means it’ll most likely be a short review. It’s been decades since I was raised religious (Roman Catholic), so I can remember the gist of the story in this comic, but I’ll get enough wrong so that this might be funny/enraging to anybody who takes it seriously. Palm Sunday is a Christian holiday. I think it’s before Easter? Followers wave palm fronds to signify… something something Jesus. How did I do? Eh, that’s why Google exists; if you’re curious, go nuts with the searching. Anyway, this comic is the silent tale of Grant (or a stand-in) getting a palm tree, caring for it, having some issues with it and finally having it grow into a full tree. There’s a brief shot of Jesus with people waving palm fronds at him, so I guess it’s triumphant? Again, I’m long out of the religious world. Anyway, this would probably mean a lot to a religious person in your life, maybe as a stocking stuff, but for Easter. You know, this is actually small enough to fit into a plastic egg, with a little creative folding. Perfect!
If anybody out there is a student of mythology, I have no idea if this version of Medusa is “correct.” As it’s a myth, it’s open to interpretation anyway, right? Grant has the first part of his series about Medusa in this issue, and we start off with her on a throne, with snakes coiling around her feet. From there we flash back three years to see her in a quieter time. Water is scarce and there are only three sources, each with their own conditions for access. Medusa eventually falls in love with a man who’s in charge with one third of the water, which leads to other women helping out, which leads to guys being assholes about women being in charge. Yep, that has been an awful, stupid constant throughout history. Anyway, I’ve already given away large chunks of the story, but this is the first part of an unknown number of parts, so there’s a lot more of this story to come. Grant’s books are consistently engaging and this one is no exception. I’m curious to see where this one is going, so give it a look if you have any interest in mythology or just happen to like Grant’s other comics. $3
Well, best to get this bit out of the way early: this comic leans way, WAY into religious overtones, which do absolutely nothing for me. There’s a montage early on that shows the secular world and how “it is filled with people who do not know god and has the scent of the fires of hell about it,” and said montage has Darwin and pro-choice protestors as some of the symbols of evil. Since this is one (ok, two) chapters in the ongoing sage of how music has impacted Grant’s life, I don’t know if he eventually came out of all this to see the actual joys of the secular world or if those images were ironic, so I’ve decided to ignore them altogether. Meaning that I disagree with his spiritual points and personally ended up in a very different place, but I’m here to talk about the merits of his comic, not the merits of his spiritual opinions. And on that front, this comic is another winner. Grant more than knows what he’s doing when it comes to panel and page composition and maintaining a brisk pace for his stories. There are two stories in this one. The first one deals with Grant’s early experiences with Christian rock and a concert he attended where the band was miserable when they gave out autographs afterwards. The concert also had a speaker who talked about how people would make fun of you if you tried to convert others, but that a little mockery was nothing compared to eternal damnation. I’ll give young Grant some serious credit here: when a girl from his high school who he had a crush on made fun of his crucifix, the easy choice was to make fun of it too in the hopes of getting her to like him somehow. But he tried to explain the crucifix honestly and lost any chance he might of had with her. The next story is all about the Christian bands who were supposed to sound just like the popular rock artists of the time (I kind of wish I could have seen more of the list, honestly) and Grant’s experience in a church band. It was an eye-opening experience for him, and not in a particularly religious way. Things turn around for Grant again by the end of the book, sort of, so there’s clearly more to the story yet to come. It’s says a lot for Grant’s skills that I still thoroughly enjoy his comics, even when the religious angle is something I don’t agree with at all. I’m really curious to see how this story reads as one big epic too. Before the next issue comes out I’m going to try to gather all of the issues together to see how it flows. If you knew anything about my comics “organizational” system, you would find that prospect just as hilarious as I do… $7.50
My Life in Records: Hell’s Bells
Have you ever wondered just how many people started listening to rock/rap/metal music purely because they were told by their church that they shouldn’t listen to it? The thought has crossed my mind more than a few times, and Grant documents his experience with it in this issue. His brother had saved up and bought a radio alarm clock (they were kids, remember, and such a thing was rare in those days), and after experimenting with waking up to classical music (and realizing that it was only putting him back to sleep), he switched over to the Jesus station. Grant would sometimes listen outside of his room, and then later he’d listen with his brother, which was where he first heard about the evils of rap music. Which, hilariously, he learned about because the station played a 2 Live Crew song (kids, ask your parents) and they couldn’t even make out the words through all the bleeps. Of course this would make a kid curious about that kind of music! Stupid Jesus station. Anyway, he also started hearing about the evil types of music in Sunday school, and it eventually sunk into him that he LIKED this type of music. The rest of the comic has him dealing with that (a bit, anyway). There’s also a short story at the beginning dealing with his early days in the school band and the monotony of having to practice while still not making much headway in advancing in the band. It’s another solid issue showing Grant’s musical development and his gradually powering through despite growing up in a pretty religious household. $7.50
My Life in Records #3
I’ll say this right off the bat to save some suspense: this comic probably has the most realistic depiction of playing with toys that I’ve ever seen. Not just the simple act of playing with them, which is easy enough to show, but the ways that the experience changes when he plays with his brother, how the music from the “Star Wars” soundtrack enhanced the experience, and even how his brother making sound effect noises added on top of it all combined to form a completely immersive experience. If you grew up playing with toys it’s hard not to get more than a little bit nostalgic for the simplicity of it all, and the magic that was required to make it all work. Do kids today play with toys or is it mostly computers and handheld games? If that’s what they mostly use, they’re missing out. Anyway, the rest of the comic deals with Grant’s grandparents and the way that his grandfather had an amazing video/audio system at home, taping movies off TV so that the kids could watch. Well, when I say movies I mean “The Empire Strikes Back” specifically and, again, it’s hard to appreciate what an amazing experience that was back in the day when you could think of almost any movie right now and be watching it within five minutes. Crikey, this is getting far more nostalgic than I intended. Grant also deals with the time that his gerbil got lost after they left it playing in their Ewok village, and how they were so excited to watch “Return of the Jedi” that they took a wrong turn and ended up getting slightly lost going to their grandparents. I should also add that there was a great finale to that story (with the reaction of the grandfather being priceless), but I won’t ruin it for you here. It’s another solid issue in the series, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. This is a little pricier than past issues at $7.50, but it’s full color and worth it.
Dodo Comics #4
I don’t know how people with kids have any time to make comics (I have no kids and barely have the time to review comics), but Grant seems to be making it work. Granted, he says he makes comics “before daybreak, on weekends and while his children nap,” but he’s managed to maintain a pretty high level with his work. He also included another comic that I’ll be getting to soon, which makes him more prolific than lots of comics creators who don’t have kids. Now that I have shamed those people for the lazy folks (who don’t know how good they have it) that they are, how about the contents of the book? Three stories in this one. The first is the story of how the raven and the loon got their colors, and kudos to him for picking two birds with black and white tones for a black and white comic book. Next is his attempt to find the meaningful thing between things, and his conclusion strikes me as more than a bit autobiographical, but maybe I’m reading too much into it. Finally there’s the story of a man who kept a stone in his mouth for three years to teach himself silence, and a quick history of some of the interactions he had during that time. The art for each story is unique and distinctive for the story being told (and I didn’t even notice the family of birds growing for that third story until just now), and it’s just a thoroughly engaging comic from top to bottom. His letter lists it as $4 while the cover lists it as $3, so just stick with the higher price and know that if you’re wrong, at least you gave an extra dollar to a small press artist.
My Life in Records #2: Into My Heart
Who says that you need free time to make comics? Grant is an art teacher with two small kids and this is still his second full color comic produced within the last year (unemployed slackers with one comic out in the last three years, take note). He also apparently put his master’s thesis into comics form, although I don’t know if the world at large will ever see it. But enough about that, how’s the comic? The music is much less prevalent this time around, but it does effectively take over a scene when it is used. Things start off with Grant (age three) being annoyed that he’s been confined to the kiddie pool and taking matters into his own hands by jumping into the big pool. Where he proceeds to sink like a stone and is rescued by another swimmer (the details are still hazy for the guy). There’s an abrupt transition from this section to Grant remembering older Christian records that he listened to as a kid and the idea of a giant box of crayons, then comes the Jesus. The rest of the book deals with Grant trying to work up the nerve to get baptized after his near-drowning and gradually coming around to accepting Jesus. Which will always and forever be a little creepy to me when that “decision” is coming from a kid and not an adult, but that’s my own personal bugaboo and not something that should concern you or take away from this comic. This is another gorgeous book, and it will probably hit you spiritual types a bit harder than it hit me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an interesting story even for us cranky atheist types, but a journey to Jesus is probably most appreciated by other people who have journeyed to Jesus. Here’s hoping his schedule eases up a little bit (not likely with two small kids, but you never know), as I curious to keep reading the “origin story” of this man and how music factored into it. $6.50
Dodo Comics #2
Does everybody out there know of Sergio Leone? I know that this is going to sound like a stupid question to everybody over 35 or so (I hope), but I don’t know how much the youth of today know their film history, and christ do I feel stupid saying “youth of today.” Anyway, Sergio Leone directed a few of the more famous spaghetti westerns (and who know what a spaghetti western is… aw, forget it) of all time, and the first story of this book is a silent tribute to his film technique. Before certain dramatic moments, like a gunfight, you’d see a series of quick cuts between the eyes of the gunfighters, the fingers twitching near the triggers, a bead of sweat slowly rolling down one of their faces, all that stuff needed to build tension without having to beat you over the head with it. Grant does a really nice job of conveying that feeling although, if I’m being honest, that last panel was a bit of a mess. Still, everything leading up to it was nicely done. The comic takes a turn from there to deal with the remaining three stories, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. There’s a piece about Grant’s early years with his first nude models (and how one of the ladies loved talking to the college artists with her robe wide open), a comic pantoum story (with tricky reading of the panels required) dealing with going to see an ex singing, and a nice little story with the devil trying to trick a hermit. A nice mix of stories, and there’s even a funny panel on the back showing Grant trying to draw comics while surrounded by his two baby daughters. It’s a solid comic and I’m enjoying his willingness to mix things up with his stories. Hey, that’s why these things have more than one story each, right? $3
My Life in Records
It’s always a little tricky to pull off music in comics, but I think Grant nailed it here. This one is split into three stories, and the first one isÂ entirely about music. There’s his first record, how certain songs trigger a nostalgic reaction or bring up distinct mental images, the air guitarist gradually moving up to the actual guitarist, all ending in a cacophony of sounds and images. Next up is a story of Grant growing up (Grant must be his middle name, as he’s called Tom in this one). It starts off with explaining the items that meant the most to each of the three brothers, then moves on to drawing in the early Saturday hours and how his only knowledge of Sesame Street was through a record with Bert and Ernie. There are also bits about growing up in a small room with two brothers (then the shock of moving to a house where they all got their own room) and trying to get a few glimpses of television when they visited their grandparents. This is the bulk of the book and it looks like the start of something bigger, and he’s gotten off to a fantastic start. Finally there’s a story about seeing Pinocchio in the theater when he was a kid, how he tried to make a Halloween costume of Pinocchio as he was changing into a donkey, and how he learned the difference between the “good” and “bad” record players. All of this is full, gorgeous color, so for $5 I’d call this a damned good deal.
Dodo Comics #1
I go back and forth on the idea of comic creators explaining their work either before or after the comics part of the comic, but it’s probably a good thing Grant did that in this issue. It showed me exactly what he was going for, and I probably would have missed large swaths of if if he didn’t. For example, there’s a single page strip called “The Duel” which is just a bunch of frantic lines. Still, this looked vaguely familiar and, sure enough, Grant explained that it was a page from “Lone Wolf and Cub” with the character removed. With that piece of information you can almost put the characters back onto the page and your head and it transforms it into a significantly more worthwhile piece of art than just a bunch of lines. Other stories include a long (and funny) piece on where ideas come from, visions of fire, the tower of Babel and another piece with just unrelated images (this time for a page from “Akira”). I’m not going to explain what he was going for in every story (I do think his explanations worked better after reading the story instead of before it), but hey, check out the samples on his site to see for yourself. He’s clearly interested in the crafting end of comics and is looking for new ways to go about it. Kudos and more power to him, and he’s certainly off to a diverse and worthy start. $3