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
This book was doomed from the start. Right after I heard that Ivan was putting out a big book full of one panel strips and jokes, I decided that it was going to be the best thing ever. Nothing less than that would have satisfied me, and that’s a pretty hard thing to live up to. This isn’t a bad book by any means. There’s plenty of the requisite Brunetti humor and disgusting stuff that you can’t help but laugh at. BUT (and you knew that was coming), it’s not the best thing ever. In fact, any single issue of Schizo is probably better than this. It’s probably around 80 pages of gag strips, mostly one panel per page. There’s just not enough bang for your buck (and it is pretty cheap at $8.95) here. I was expecting more of everything, a dense tome of goodness that would take me a night to read. Instead it took about 10 minutes. Still, if you like Ivan you’ll like this book. You just won’t like it as much as you thought you would.
Pinstriped Bloodbath (edited by Jeff)
What a great idea for an anthology.Â Take various artists, let them use gangsters from Chicago in the 20’s-30’s (or some modern day take on it) and put the whole thing together.Â That suit on the cover folds out as you open the comic, and that little flower in the lapel is apparently different for the different stores stocking it.Â So fine, the packaging is gorgeous, what about the comic?Â There’s a fine collection of talent assembled, and they all have their unique takes on the stories.Â Bernie McGovern has a heartbreaking and gory take on the last moments of Baby Face Nelson, Neil Brideau has a quiet conversation between gangsters as one of them tries to crack a safe, Nate Beaty has a silent take on the constant violence and the practice of soaking of blood from the murder scenes as a macabre souvenir, Rickey Gonzalez shows the last moments of Dillinger (or is it?), Neil Fitzpatrick proves that he can’t draw regular human eyeballs and tells the tale of the gangster killed by a horse (and the gangster’s revenge on said horse), Sam Sharpe retells a conversation he had with his at least mildly demented mother about keeping his “gangster” name, Jeff Zwirek has what appears to be a soundly researched piece about the Thompson submachine gun, and Jeremy Tinder closes with instructions on how to make bathtub gin.Â Throw in a couple of illustrations by Ivan Brunetti and Joshua Cotter and voila!Â You have one ridiculously entertaining anthology.Â You could practically make a series out of all the gangster stories from that time period, but Jeff probably already rounded up most of the high points.Â If you’re at all a fan of this sort of thing it’s essential that you pick this up.Â If you’re at all squeamish, however, things do get a little bloody, because how else could you tell these stories?Â No price, let’s spin the mystery price wheel… $6!
God bless Lowjinx. I don’t know if anybody has ever come up with the concept for this book before, but it’s about time. In case you can’t read the cover, it’s an anthology of childhood drawing from some of the best small press cartoonists around. Included here are James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Nick Bertozzi, Greg Cook, Tony Consiglio, Jordan Crane, Pete Sickman-Garner, Jesse Fuchs, Megan Kelso, Alex Robinson, Kevin Scalzo, Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Steve Weissman, and, of course, Kurt Wolfgang. Once again, with this book, it’s probably not going to appeal to many people who don’t already know the work of those cartoonists. But for those people, this is absolutely priceless. It’s $6, if you like the work of these people go to the Top Shelf website and beg them to sell you a copy. OK, I should tell you a little bit about it first, even though if that list of names didn’t sell you, I don’t know what I could possibly say to convince you. Eric Reynolds (is he even on my page yet?) had a mostly text story about the Fantastic Four that’s hilarious, Sam Henderson hasn’t changed much over the years except now he swears more, Nick Bertozzi has a great story about a dog who’s learning to roller disco, and Tony Consiglio… aw, just buy it. I don’t want to ruin anything else for you, and everything in here is fascinating when compared to their later work. Don’t believe me? Fine, look at this:
Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
Yes, I’m finally getting around to reviewing a Big Book. It only took me about 3 years after I put the page up, but it turns out that there are a lot of mini comics coming out on a regular basis, and that’s what the page is all about, after all. This is just in case there’s anybody out there who still doesn’t know about this marvelous series. What they do is take a subject (scroll around for more of the titles) and examine it from every angle, using a variety of some of the best comics illustrators out there. Here’s a partial list, leaving aside the fact that the whole thing is put together by Gahan Wilson, and shame on you if you don’t know who he is: Bob Fingerman, Hunt Emerson, Renee French, Ivan Brunetti, Rick Geary, and Glenn Barr, along with about 40 others that you’ll probably recognize at least a little bit but be unaware where you recognize them from, if you’re anything like me. Anyway, obviously, this one is all about freaks throughout the ages. Yes, they deal with the politically correct way you’re supposed to say “freaks”. In here you have ancient legends about giants and other oddities, freaks of nature like Chang and Eng (the first Siamese twins, and the reason that they’ve all been called “Siamese” since) and the Elephant Man, P.T. Barnum and his business dealings, flea circuses, snake charmers and “geeks”, bearded women and tattooed men, faked freaks, and personal lives of freaks such as Zip, Baby Ruth, Lobster Boy, and the gentle giant of Alton, Illinois. Whew! There are pieces, here and there, where you wish for a bit more personal detail, but there’s not going to be a lot of personal detail with a lot of these stories because it’s ancient history in a lot of cases and their real stories were usually closely guarded, so as to avoid people finding out the truth. That’s the only minor complaint I have with this book, however. If you’re curious about anything above what’s in here, there’s an extensive bibliography in the back. I love the fact that it’s a different artist for every story, as it gives a lot of incredibly talented people a chance to give their interpretations of many, many odd people. I remember this as being one of my favorites of the bunch, and I’ll probably put up a few more reviews before three more years pass, but I have to point out again how wonderful these books are. Anybody, comics fan or not, can pick one of these up, read it for a few hours, and come away knowing somewhere between a lot and a little more than they started with. There were a few things I picked up this time that I hadn’t before, and I’ve read this thing probably three times. A fantastic, indispensable book, and cheap enough at $14.95 that it’s hard to resist. If you haven’t seen any of these before, and you don’t have a weak stomach, I’d say start with this one.
Gag-Hag Now Available! $4
This reviewing thing is, at times, the easiest thing in the world. Dan Zettwoch, Ivan Brunetti, John Hankiewicz, Jeremi Onsmith, Chris Cilla, Ted May, David King, Bryce Somerville and Johnny Ryan contributed to this collection of one-panel gag strips. So what you have here is some of the funniest people around and probably the best title for a collection of this type imaginable. What, you’re still reading this? OK, I’ll also mention that I had a really hard time just picking one sample, but I’m trying not to give too much away for free here. It’s $4, as you can see, and it’s available here, as you can see. What’s stopping you? Don’t you like to laugh?