The Index #6: The Crowd
It’s back, The Index is back! Sorry, that probably seemed unprofessional. I apologize to those of you who still somehow see me as a professional. Before I get to the contents of this comic, I have to point out that there was another #6 of this series, but Caitlin says at the start of this issue that we’re meant to disregard it entirely. Checking through my past reviews I see that I never reviewed it; checking through her store I can see that the older issue is still for sale and that it’s described as having to do with our two heroes asking Virginia Woolf for advice on their situation. This sounds fascinating to me, but apparently Caitlin disagreed. Why? What scandalous materials are discussed in this issue? I have no idea, but if you’re curious you’d better order a copy before she notices that they’re still for sale. Oh, and she also has a collected edition of the first five issues available there, if you’re interested, which you should be. Does that mean that I can finally talk about this comic? It does! In this issue John eats a sandwich while Susan calls several of the greatest minds in history to help them with the problem of the burning library. Maybe that’s why Caitlin ditched the last issue: she preferred the conversation of several of them (Virginia Woolf included) rather than just Woolf on her own. Anyway, they decide to watch how they handle the crisis without interfering, which inevitably leads to them interfering to try to get things kicked off. Does this help the greatest minds in history solve the problem? Or have they made a terrible mistake? Tune in next time to… no, you probably will have to tune in next time, as there are still problems to be solved. But since Caitlin has solved whatever narrative bugaboo was holding her back with this second sixth issue, and since she’s already one of the most prolific artists I know, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing an issue seven before too long. If you haven’t listened to me yet to buy her comics, well, shame on you, but now that there’s a collected edition of the first five issues you really have no excuse at all. Buy it, catch up, live better!
Sometimes during a move comics will end up getting shuffled off somewhere that leads to me not reviewing them in a timely manner. Or at all; I’m sure I’ve lost a comic or two during a move before. The good news is that when the comics reappear (like, in this case, by checking under a mound of other nonsense in my car), it’s like there’s a brand new Caitlin Cass book waiting for me. This comic tells an ambitious story in a tiny package: the entirety of history before civilizations. Caitlin takes us through the very first forms of life, the length of time it took for them to get up and running, the various setbacks to life that almost ended all life on this planet several times, followed finally by the extinction of the dinosaurs. Um, spoilers I guess, in case you thought the dinosaurs were still out there somewhere. She also designed it in the same manner as those old “find out whether the boy likes you” hand puzzles from grade school, meaning it was impossible to get a second sample up here to show you. But you know her work by now and that it’s always amazing, so I doubt you’ll need much more convincing this time around. It’s Caitlin telling the history of the world before people were in it, what more do you need to know? $6
Rest Stop Brochures for the Not-So-Distant Future
Hey look everybody, it’s basically four new comics from Caitlin on one convenient package! Yes, I’m only showing the cover for two of them here, but that’s because I’m sneaky. This is a set of four faux rest stop brochures bundled together, each covering a different topic. There’s Digital Red Tape, where people sign up to be forced to fill out forms and complete busy work to use their phones, which leads to less usage of their phones and a way to gradually reclaim their lives. Next up is Rainbow Boat Tours, where the nicest possible spin is put on a boat tour that takes you through waters that are clogged with floating plastic garbage. Drone Eyes shows you the wonders of experiencing different parts of the world through a drone; these stations are set up at rest stops to help you forget about how much time is still left on your actual journey. Finally there’s The Forum, a place where you can say whatever terrible or objectionable thing that you’d like, and the hand picked audience will still cheer and give you validation. Sure, it’s bleak at times, but these are still some darkly hilarious comics. And if you can’t laugh at times like these… well, that’s probably healthy. Still, you should at least try to laugh.
For any artists out there who have been daunted by Caitlin’s productivity, especially considering the amount of research she has to do for most of her comics, but were perhaps selfishly holding out hope that maybe she wasn’t funny: sorry, this comic should kill off that hope for you. And really, you should be worried more about your own work than comparing yourself to others. That’s just common sense! This is a collection of 50 strips about humans in some sort of peril; more often than not the peril is existential, but there’s some physical danger thrown in here and there as well. These are all single panel strips, mostly reminiscent of New Yorker strips, but funnier than the average example of that type than I’ve usually seen. And bleak as hell, mostly, so adjust your expectations accordingly if you’re expecting a wacky laugh riot full of outlandish hijinx. Subjects include… ugh, is there anything worse than describing the basic outline of single panel jokes? I might as well be telling you where the punchline is heading for verbal jokes. Subjects include ennui, dissatisfaction at the state of the universe and your place in it, an unwillingness to disconnect from the virtual world to join the actual world, the futility of engaging with reality with forced cheer, and kittens falling asleep. One of those things is not discussed in this book of strips, but I’ll leave it to you to suss out which one was the lie. $6
So here’s a question: is this a fantastic allegory for this specific moment in time, or a fantastic allegory for the modern era in general? Opinions differ, I imagine. The cover does a great job of explaining the concept, so I’d recommend clicking on it to see, but basically a group of people decide to lie in an apathetic pile of the ground, doing nothing at all. They have different reasons for doing so, but various levels of apathy and giving up on the world are the main culprits. This is odd but not of great concern to the county at large, this being America and all. The heap gets almost subconsciously organized, but still not towards any goal or reason for being. Finally an outside group decides to step in and help, and this is when things really start taking a turn. That’s all you get out of me, but Caitlin’s stuff is always worth a look; this comic doesn’t do a thing to disprove that notion. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been inspired to start an immobile mass of humanity to see what comes of it… $4
Want to get depressed about humanity? One easy way to do it is to learn in detail about how an animal was hunted completely to extinction. Granted, these days there are some basic protections and people actively fighting back against that sort of thing from happening, but back in the 1800’s, boy howdy were people stupid about it. The Great Auk would have been fiercely protected today too, that much is obvious. It’s goofy, harmless and adorable, which would get the letter writing/political campaigns really going. They were roughly three feet tall, couldn’t fly and could barely walk (Caitlin doesn’t state this explicitly but I got the impression that it was named for the noise it made as it was stumbling around). These Auks didn’t have any defenses against humanity and never really had a chance against them. I won’t ruin the depressing tale of how the last few Great Auks in the world died, but I will marvel once again that humanity has managed to survive this long, seemingly in spite of our best efforts. This is a grim story, but hey, where else are you going to be able to see Great Auks doing their thing? And who knows, maybe if enough people read stories like this we really will collectively learn from our mistakes and stop doing stupid shit all the time. A guy can dream… $3
Quick, who out there knows that the Rockefeller name used to be dogshit, in terms or general public opinion? That probably comes as a shock to most of you, as these days “Rockefeller” is mostly synonymous with “ridiculously rich.” Well, that’s mostly because one man was hired to improve his image back in the early 1900’s, and that man was very good at his job. The world would be a better place if he had never existed, or if people with his “skill set” had never come into contact with modern society, but here we are, stuck living in this world. Caitlin takes us through a (brief but dense) history of his work, how he used the son to help convince striking miners that the Rockefellers had their best interests at heart. Well, “striking” is maybe too tame a word, as the workers were in a full blown guerilla war after most of their wives and children died in a fire. Anyway, the younger Rockefeller got them to stand down, which led to a lot of them getting killed through poor safety regulations. Yep, American history is rough. Ivy’s history after this incident is complex, as he managed to introduce the Red Cross to the public, but he was also accused of making propaganda for the Nazi’s. Caitlin has a knack for making minor historical characters fascinating, and she continues that trend here. $3
For those of you who are too young to remember it (myself included), the title of this comic refers to a real thing. There were a few rivers, particularly in the 50’s and 60’s, that were so polluted that they would sometimes burst into flames. Yes, really! This comic briefly details the history of the Cuyahoga River, Chicago River, the River Rouge in Detroit, and the Buffalo River. These rivers were spectacularly disgusting, the the Buffalo River being so bad that some fishermen would intentionally take their boats through the water because it was so acidic that it would burn the barnacles right off the hull. See, and people say that pollution is harmful. Caitlin really packs a lot of information into this comic, as is her way, and once again I learned a lot that I didn’t know/had no idea existed. Each city had their own ways of dealing with the problem, with the Chicago River still being over a decade away from being really fixed. The reactions of the locals was also fascinating, as the man in the street seemed more worried about the perception of them being seen as dummies for letting their rivers get this bad more than anything else. Hey, whatever works, and shame is a potent weapon against dummies. Not always immediately (the words “President Trump” spring to mind), but it eventually catches up to ever the most thick-headed of people. This is well worth checking out, so go buy it from her! Buy as many of her other comics as you can while you’re there too. Eventually she’ll have enough of these books that there could be a whole college class dedicated to expanding on her findings in these books. $4
Look, there’s no reason to sugarcoat it: things are shitty these days (5/17/17, future readers). We’ll be lucky to get through this current mess as a country, and if it does all fall apart we’ll probably take the rest of the world with us. What we need at this moment in history is a little perspective. A reminder that the history of the world is long, and human civilization is a blip on that history. With that in mind, Caitlin was kind enough to provide us a peek into the mind of a rock. Wait, don’t run away! If you haven’t seen her other comics I understand why you’d be a little skeptical. You’ve also been missing out on a remarkable artist, but this comic in a vacuum is a dubious proposition. But you’re wrong, as this comic is delightful. The rock in question does take the long view of history, and worries about how things will change once people are gone. There are things that he’ll… ok, I can’t assign a gender to a rock. “It” sounds mean after reading the thoughts of this rock, but it’ll have to do. Anyway, there are things that it will miss about humans, and about dogs. But this rock is also well aware that it’s immortal, and that none of us can match the perspective of this rock. And it is correct, assuming that rocks were sentient. Yikes, what a life that would be. I’m digressing big time here, so I’ll just wrap it up by saying that this is a funny and insightful comic, with the absolutely perfect ending for a story like this. $5
Caitlin (who has to be one of the hardest working artists in comics) has veered off in a different direction for this issue, as it “captures the wordless day dream of a cotton mill worker.” Yeah, I cheated and looked that up on her website, but that was the overall impression I had anyway. Things start off with us seeing a few different women working in the mill. The faces that we can see through the windows are bleak pictures of despair, and the daydream starts with the image sampled below: with the women being completely buried under cotton while the owner made money on their suffering. In this dream the women go on strike, confront the villainous owner and, well, it’s a pretty picture of what reality should have been and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Caitlin often goes into more detail with the historical facts of her comics, but she manages to convey a lot of information here without saying a word. These women were exploited for their labor, they did work under extremely dangerous conditions, and undoubtedly many of them dreamed about seeing their bosses finally get what was coming to them. If you’ve somehow not read a single one of her comics yet I’d recommend starting with something meatier, but if you’re already a fan then this book is gorgeous and another great addition to her ongoing library of comics. $4