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Various Artists – Cringe

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Cringe

Quick, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you. Now imagine yourself writing and drawing a comic story about it. That right there should make you cringe, which means you’re in luck, as that’s what this anthology is all about! This book has right around 30 small press artists, some new and some who have been around for awhile, who are willing to share some shameful incident from their past. I don’t think anything in here will get anybody put in jail, but it’s hard not to cringe while reading some of these. I’m not going to review every story because there are so damned many of them (and for a measly $8!), but the highlights include Shaenon K. Garrity wetting herself while out with a group of other cartoonists (including a big name guy, but I won’t spoil the surprise; I particularly loved the way she ended her strip), Sam Spina’s unfortunate method for drinking a rum shot when he met the Bacardi girls, Adam Pasion’s particularly gruesome retelling of an incident involving a finger in the eye, Geoff Vasile dodging a bullet (not literally), Chad Essley and his series of embarrassing moments (hard to top the one where he volunteered to breakdance at school on stage), Fred Noland’s theories on some crayons he used to own, Chad Woody and his racist former roommate, Box Brown and his former habit of eating light bulbs (it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds), Stephen Notley and his experience of being “that guy” at a comic convention (you know the one, the guy who gets up to ask a rambling and pointless question and has no idea how to get out of it once he gets started), and Sam Henderson’s experiences with having seizures while surrounded by strangers. It’s a damned fine mix of stories, and at a ridiculously cheap price. Save yourself the embarrassment of not owing this anthology of embarrassment! Ugh, I feel dirty for saying that. I’ll let myself out… $8

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Yost, J.T. – Thanger Danger

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Thanger Dangers

Just so you know, the title makes a little more sense when you actually read the comic. Not much, but a little. This is a collection of short pieces that J.T. has done for various anthologies for the last few years, so if you track down every single one of his stories, you may have already seen them. Well, except for the first story, as that is unpublished (at least as of the publication date of this comic). For everybody else, this is a nice mix of stories. First up is the story of his odd habit of curling up his tongue when confronted with something too cute, to help prevent himself from hugging or grabbing said cute creature too tightly. I’ve never heard of this, but am equally confused by the reaction of people confronted with overwhelming cuteness who proclaim their desire to murder said cute creature in various horrible ways. Next up is the mysterious case of the lead masks, which I read in another anthology, making this the only story in here that I’d seen before. For everybody else, it gets into two men who died mysteriously with no signs of foul play, mysterious journal entries leading up to it and all kinds of weird theories as to what may have happened. From there we get a short history of the mohawk, followed by the angst of a female preying mantis as she tells her partner what is going to happen to him when they have sex. Next is the “you should take some drugs while reading this” story of the batch, as Little Orphan Annie morphs into the Popeye comic strip, but not in the way you might expect and not completely. Eh, this one you’ll just have to see for yourself. Finally there’s Jon having an honest conversation with Garfield, and Garfield gives him the advice we’ve all been wanting to give him for many years now. There are also a few shorter joke pieces, but I’ll leave those a surprise. I laughed for some of them and didn’t laugh for others, which is how these things usually go, but humor is subjective, so your opinion may vary in either direction. It’s a solid collection of stories, and it’s pretty cheap at $3. You should probably buy it and see what you think of it. $3

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Gennis, Emi (editor) – Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends

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Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends

You should have a pretty easy time knowing whether or not you’d be inclined to like this book from the title alone, and I’m happy to tell you that the contents more than live up to it. Emi has been doing mini comics on this theme for a few years now, and she took her chance to edit this anthology and ran with it, doing a really fantastic job of picking out/accepting these stories. I should say up front that I have no patience for those stupid “ghost hunting” shows with the shaky cams and the loud noises and won’t believe that aliens have visited us until I see solid proof (which is not the same thing as declaring that no other life exists in the universe), but overall this isn’t that type of book. These are all, as Emi says in the introduction, unsolved mysteries, so the reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting the story neatly tied up in a bow by the end. Instead you’re left wondering what the hell happened for these 32 stories. If you’re a naturally curious person and/or at all interested in the weird and bizarre then you’ve probably already stopped reading this and ordered a copy. For those of who are too polite to quit reading in the middle of the review (and it’s OK if you do, I’ll never know), subjects include a mysterious gelatinous goo that rained down on a town, the monster with 21 faces, an unexplained shower of meat from the sky, an arcade game that quickly came and went in 1981 under mysterious circumstances, a tumor that was bigger than the carrier, Gef (of which I will say no more but this may have been the most intriguing tale in the book), that weird hum in the air that some people can hear all the time, the Nain Rouge and his continuing destruction of Detroit, the money pit of Oak Island (which some bored billionaire should look into), creepy kids with black eyes trying to enter homes, the Leatherman and theories of who he might have been, unsolved murders at a campsite, the former Prime Minister of Australia vanishing while swimming, the missing body of Addie Mae Collins, why 9 campers in Siberia ran from the safety of their tent (sometimes barefoot) and why they never went back to it, two bodies and their lead masks, Rasputin (an oldie but a goodie), Frederick Valentich and the UFO that seemed to by toying with him, D.B. Cooper and his disappearance (it’s an ever funnier story to anybody who watched Justified this season), a bridge where 600 dogs have committed suicide, the Axeman, and a serious skeleton in the closet of Orson Welles (possibly). DC comics used to do a series of “Big Books” on various subjects, and after seeing this I’d suggest that they start it up again and put Emi in charge. Not every story was perfect, granted, but good luck not having several of these stories haunt your dreams. Also good luck on not taking to the internet to learn more about them, as I already know how I’m spending the rest of my afternoon. And look at that pile of talent in the tags section! Why would you possibly need any more convincing to check this out? $12

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Yost, J.T. – Losers Weepers #2

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Now Available! $5

Losers Weepers #2

For those of you who didn’t read the review for #1, this series is based on J.T.’s interpretation of letters and scraps of paper that were found by himself and/or friends that lack all context. This time around there’s a heartbroken letter from somebody mourning a break-up, a note that looks like it came from a playground, another note from a child (one can hope, anyway) requesting more pizza in the cafeteria, and an angry note found on a car. This time around J.T. connected them all into one story which, as a work of fiction, worked out just fine. It’s a little difficult to see all these things going together in real life, but he more or less made it work. I do love how he prints that actual letters, just to show that he is working from real stuff and not just making it all up. Either that or he’s skilled at changing handwriting styles or using friends to write them, but even I’m not that cynical. Anyway, as this all comes together the stories include the woman (dumper) talking crap about the guy (dumpee) after his death, her kid getting into trouble at school (although the note for this section didn’t have a lot to do with the actual comic), another kid writing that letter about the pizza, and finally her seeing that note on her car. The ending certainly made plenty of sense after all the events of her day, and as a complete comic it was pretty damned good and oddly coherent, which this review probably isn’t due to lack of sleep, so apologies for that. Hey, if you wanted coherency in reviews you probably wouldn’t stick around this site very long anyway, am I right? $5

Various Artists – Supertalk #1

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Now Available! $5

Supertalk #1

I love that cover. Absolutely perfect for the title, and if you ask me to explain that belief I will run away from you at top speed. This is an anthology put together by Eric Watkins, or at least published by Eric Watkins, and it features all sorts of folks that I’ll get into more in a minute. You could maybe say that talking was the unifying theme, but you would most likely be wrong, as these stories are all over the place. J.T. Yost is up first with a funny short piece on the daily lives of pigeons. Next is Sung Yoon Choi with a piece about how she never knew her parents and was raised by her Aunt (or at least the character in her story was, I have no idea if this is autobiographical). That one seemed to end very suddenly, so maybe there’s more out there, or maybe it was just meant to end suddenly and I didn’t get it. This will take forever to review at this rate, and it’ll be a mess anyway because of a lack of a table of contents (although at least the artists were listed in order of their appearance), so how about I mention my highlights? There’s Paul Hoppe with a reverse ventriloquism strip, Adam Kidder with Fundar the Funbarian (it’s just as fantastic as it sounds), James Turek with a piece about crashing into a car that’s already on the way to the hospital, Andres Vera Martinex with his introduction to Chicago life and Chris Butzer with a story on the fog of doom. There are plenty of other interesting bits and pieces in here, and one thing that immediately stood out was the sheer diversity of the artists. If you buy anthologies looking for a pile of new and potentially interesting artists, this is an excellent showcase. Naturally, I didn’t love everything about it (those anthologies are few and far between), but there’s more than enough good stuff in here to make it worth checking out. $5

Yost, J.T. – It’s Dream Time, Snoop Doggy Dogg

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It’s Dream Time, Snoop Doggy Dogg

You know, if J.T. is going to keep going with the dream comics (which he should) then he might want to think about drifting away from the Snoop angle. After all, Snoop can’t be in that many of his dreams, but he clearly has other interesting dreams to talk about. This one features all kinds of famous names in his dreams like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Roseanne Barr, Dick Cheney and Henry Rollins. Sadly no, they were not all part of the same dream, although if those four sat down at a table for a pay-per-view I’d watch it. Dreams include Snoop suddenly changing his facial hair and trying to sell t-shirts (although his facial hair had gone back to normal by that point), J.T. driving Cheney to his creepy house (Cheney’s, not J.T.’s) and then debating the wisdom of accepting a pill from Cheney, Roseanne (as his mother, apparently) worrying about evil spirits, Arnold giving him relationship advice and Henry Rollins selling deep fried hot dogs. He also throws in another dream with zero celebrities in it where he also talks about the dream that he has just had about Snoop for good measure, but there’s other worldly concerns mixed into it. I love the lack of any sort of fixed location in these dreams, as that can be something that dream comics get wrong. He has the feel of dreams pretty well captured, then combines it with a series of engaging stories. Yeah, I’d say that he should start thinking about a new title and maybe making this a regular thing. Either that or become best friends with Snoop Dogg so he’s more likely to have dreams about the guy… $4

Yost, J.T. – Losers Weepers #1

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Now Available!  $5

Losers Weepers #1

Are you the type of person who picks up random scraps of paper if you see that they have handwriting on them? How about journals or notebooks that you see lying around? I’d answer “yes” to each question, provided that they’re not laying in a puddle of gunk or something equally nasty. J.T. uses a couple of found items as launching pads for a few stories, fitting nicely into the “tragi-comic” theme he mentions in his intro. First up is a journal that he found and decided to keep because only a few pages had been used. But those few pages… hoo boy. He’s also nice enough to reprint the entries in legible writing, and kudos to him for that, or this would have been a whole lot tougher to follow. The gist of it is that a young woman is dating a guy and doesn’t know how to get out of it because the guy is not all there mentally and she’s sure that her leaving will devastate him. Then there’s another entry much later (when she’s much less concerned about what’s going to happen to the guy) and one final entry dealing with her moving to a new town and having a hard time making friends. The story for this one bleeds into both of the other stories, and they involve a set of wildly offensive lyrics and one garbled note about watching a wallet and “borrowing” some coke. All of these elements end up jumbled together and we get a story about a new relationship, running into an ex on the street, an open mic night involving those lyrics, and the potential meaning behind that last note. It’s a combination of stories that could have fallen apart pretty easily, but J.T. makes good use of the material and crafts and pretty compelling piece about it all. There’s at least one more issue in this series, and I’m very interested to see if he can pull this off twice, but this issue was solid. Entertaining, darkly funny at times, and yeah, a little tragic. $5

Yost, J.T. – Tales of Good Ol’ Snoop Doggy Dogg

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Tale of Good Ol’ Snoop Doggy Dogg

I’ll be honest with you: after seeing that cover and that title, this would have had to be a pretty lousy book to get me to hate it, and this is not a lousy book.  Perhaps you could be more objective about this than me, in which case there are always openings in the (not at all) lucrative field of rambling about comics.  Make your own website, it’s easy!  Anyway, this comic mostly has dreams involving Snoop with a few real bits thrown in. The dream stories include Snoop and J.T. on a trampoline, Snoop walking into J.T.’s store and asking about the music that’s playing and J.T. signing up for a painting class taught by Snoop. The actual story involves J.T. making friends with a tough guy in his high school (?) days after finding out that they both could draw and getting introduced to Snoop’s music at a party.  There’s a bit more to it than that, but hey, why give it away?  You can tell from that cover if you’re interested, although if you’re not I regret your lack of appreciation in things that are fantastic.  $3

Yost, J.T. – Old Man Winter & Other Sordid Tales

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Now Available! $7

Old Man Winter & Other Sordid Tales

It doesn’t hurt a comic one bit when I open up to the first page and think “Joe Sacco”.  Kids, ask your parents.  He did (does?) comics about distant parts of the world, often with a political tinge, and is one of that rare breed of “respected” comic artists.  Well, respected to people who don’t automatically disqualify comic artists, that is.  Anyway, the comparison quickly fades as it becomes clear that J. T. has his own unique style.  The first story in this comic, Old Man Winter, takes its time setting things up, and shows us an expansive world of full page panels.  With a lesser artist this would be called “filler”, but as every page is packed with background and the environment surrounding this man, you seamlessly get pulled into his world.  The old man’s wife has died recently, he’s more or less living out the remaining years by wandering around local shops and talking with his daughter.  J.T. does an excellent job of just showing the silence that follows the man wherever he goes with his huge panels, but still takes the time to focus in on the people he leaves behind and their reactions to his ways.  Frankly, not enough people do stories about the elderly and, as most of us are going to get there eventually (if we’re lucky?), it’s illuminating to see the world through their eyes.  Next up is All Is Forgiven, a silent piece about a scientist doing horrific tests to lab animals and his depression after his breakup.  Good luck coming away from that one without feeling bad that you’re part of the human race.  He follows this with a lighter piece about the dead time he spent as a child living in a small town and how he passed the time: by “logging”, with another friend, yet another childhood friend and his family.  Logging meant essentially that they would put a log somewhere on the car or near the house during the night to terrorize his friend’s family.  Trust me, I grew up in a small town and this makes perfect sense.  The pranks escalate until the cops are called in, and that’s usually the point where the pranks stop.  If you weren’t depressed enough from the previous story about animal testing wait until you read Road Trip.  It details two trips, side by side: a young child going to an amusement park and a young cow getting systematically taken apart at a slaughter house.  Oh, and the journey to the slaughter house, which is horrific enough in its own right.  J.T. doesn’t spare us the details and, as is always the case after reading stories like this, it makes me question my carnivorous ways.  Finally there’s a shorter piece detailing a young man joining the circus and their treatment of elephants, but the tininess of the panels blunts the impact a bit after seeing those other two pieces in exacting detail.  A couple of these pieces were in Young American Comics anthologies, so if you’ve followed all their stuff you’ve already read some of this, but this a powerful pile of stories lumped together.  You’ve got mortality, cruelty to animals (in a few different ways), and even the story of a harmless prank gone wrong.  It’s a bit bleak, but it’s impossible to deny the power of these stories and his art is phenomenal.  This is the part where I should get into linework and if I was a professional artist I’d be happy to, but from my amateur perspective all I can say is that everything was crystal clear (sometimes too clear) and volumes could be taken from a glance or smile.  This won the Xeric award this year if you can’t see it on the title, and it’s certainly one of the best things I’ve seen lately.  Check it out, you may learn something.  $6.95

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Young American Comics Anthologies – Wild Penny #4

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Wild Penny #4

I think Tod Parkhill might do more comics in the course of a year than anybody else in the industry. This is another collection of stories; it looks like this Wild Penny series has three stories per issue. First up you have a couple of guys in Vietnam going AWOL and betting on cockfights (Parkhill & Menez), then you have a story about romance and incredibly shrinking text (Yost), and finally a story about a giant baby (Parkhill). The Vietnam story was pretty funny, the romance story was OK (and it’s hard to fault anybody who can throw in a Tom Waits reference), and the last story about the baby was pretty much pointless, but how much is there to say about a giant baby that gets bigger than the whole world? I think there are better issues than this out there, but it’s alright. $2, contact info up there!