King, Alan & Vayda, Jamie – Left Empty #1
I’m a big fan of letting a comic/book/movie/show speak for itself, generally speaking. The creators of that thing are the ones telling the story and I’m just along for the ride. But the internet is just right there all the time, and I was curious about whether or not this was based on a true story, so I peeked. And, sadly, it is. This is the story of the time after Alan’s wife died, apparently quickly and with very little warning. We don’t see that event in this comic, and we only see brief snippets of the events leading up to it in this issue. Mostly what we see is a broken man who is drinking all day every day, with brief glimpses of his dog, doing that thing that dogs do of either lapping up the sadness or the joy that’s going on around them. If you don’t own a dog, trust me, that comment makes sense. Anyway, most of the first 2/3 of the comic are silent, and we see in detail just what a hole Alan has fallen into with this loss. It’s an utterly heartbreaking story, as it’s clear that Alan loved this woman completely and that her loss has shattered him. We get a few more details towards the end of the book, including one specific thing she said to him towards the end that has haunted him ever since. He now seems to have the perspective to realize it was probably just a sentence said that he would have forgotten about years ago if she hadn’t died, but because of that it’s stuck with him ever since. This is also a bit of a change of pace from the true life stories that Jamie usually draws, but the man can handle utter despair with the best of them. It’s a really solid and powerful comic, and I recommend it highly if you can handle a little gloom in your life. OK, a lot of gloom. But it’s good to be reminded on a regular basis of just how temporary everything in life actually is.
Various Artists – 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
Vayda, Jamie (and Various writers) – Loud Comix #4
Oh Loud Comix, if only all anthologies could be as entertaining as you. As always with anthologies, some stories are better than others, but even the weaker bits at least have a few good lines and/or a great closer. Five stories this time around, all of them drawn by Jamie Vayda, which I wasn’t sure of but looked it up to make sure. Thanks internet! First up is a piece by Sonny Joe Harlan about a hardworking and hard rocking man who would work and then rock (on the weekends) to the point of exhaustion, and it was such a deep sleep that not much could get him out of it. He’d occasionally go to the bathroom and eat while still sleeping. Well, this is a story about a night when that went wrong, as otherwise why would there be a story at all? Next up is a story of a punk rock detective by Jack Grisham and a case of his involving finding a missing punk girl. Lest you think this gets all grim and serious, don’t worry, it does not, and it’s probably the most thoroughly entertaining piece of the bunch. Alan King is up next with Ugly Dennis, which isn’t really about Ugly Dennis, but that does make for a great title. Mostly it deals with a bootlegging ring the author had worked as a much younger man, the ridiculous amount of money he made at it and the adventures along the way. Jeff Clayton has the shortest piece next, dealing with something getting thrown on stage during a show and the effect that said item had on the set. Finally there’s a story about Danielle (written by Alan King with art by Jamie Vayda), about young love involving the author and a crazy lady. Which, as he points out, is the best kind of affair to have when you’re that age, when you have no idea what to expect next but don’t particularly care in the pills and booze haze. The author had been living in a situation where his family could have dropped by at any time (even though they hadn’t for months), and this story is all about that happening at the worst possible time. Still, that ending was amazing, and we should all be lucky enough to live through something like that. It’s a solid mix of stories, and it sounds like they already almost have enough stories for #5, so this will keep going strong for the immediate future. If you have any interest in tales of drunken/stoned punk rockers/rockers in general, you’re going to love this. $6
Vayda, Jamie (and various writers) – Loud Comix #3
This comic is reminding me more and more of Real Stuff, a Fantagraphics series written by Dennis Eichorn in the early 90’s and featuring art from damned near anybody who was anybody in the independent comics scene. Kids, ask your parents, but if you can find that series, do it. The big difference is that Dennis wrote everything while getting Julie Doucet, Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge and everybody else to illustrate it, while Loud Comix is all drawn by Jamie Vayda but written by various writers, but with a loose theme: they were all in bands of some kind, and they all have a damned interesting/messed up story to tell. This one starts off with “The Time I Shit My Pants at a Motorhead Show” by Alan King. Granted, that title tells you a lot of what you need to know, but the story itself digs into how it happened, what happened after, and how it played into Alan’s plan to finally ask a lady Motorhead fan (who went to all the shows like him) on a date. “Cocaine Fueled” by Eric Perfect is a delightful reminder of the dangers of paranoia combined with a loaded weapon, especially an unfamiliar weapon where you’re not completely clear on the pressure needed to pull the trigger. “Satan’s Fantastic Knockers” by Joel Rivers is all about a desperate search for proof of Satanism when the Joel made the whole thing up to get a chance to see said knockers, but I’m not ruining that one for you and it all makes sense if you read it. Other stories include a couple of short pieces called “Roxy & Molly” (dealing with hookers chatting about their pimp and black history month) and a short snippet of a story that’s going to be continued in the next issue. In this one there was only time to see what looks like quite a provocation of biker gang, so it’ll by fun to see how all that shakes out. These comics have been pretty damned entertaining so far and Jamie seems to be keeping to a fairly regular schedule. Those regular schedules are generally easier to keep if people buy his comics, so you should do that and enjoy them. Unless profanity scares you, in which case I don’t know why you’re on this website or reading small press comics, but I’m not the boss of you. $6
King, Alan & Vayda, Jamie – The Rats Were Bad That Year
Are you terrified of rats? Would you like to be terrified of rats? Then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Granted, the circumstances of this rat infestation are not likely to match your current living situation, but if they do, good luck ever sleeping again. Anyway, this is the story of a brief period of Alan’s life when he was a kid. His father was working on buying a house, but some problem with the finances was tying things up, so his only choice was to rent a house next to his grandmother. Reports are varied on who lived there before him, but their time living there was a lovely learning experience for Alan about rats. It’s hard to say if the reality of the rats (their tearing through cereal boxes and anything in the cabinets, leaving turds all over the place) was more terrifying than the idea of them (eating children that slept in cribs), but let’s just agree that they’re both pretty awful. Things eventually build to a killing spree, as you probably figured, and no details are spared of the carnage. I should point out that there are no word balloons, as the text is a story from Alan and the art is illustrations from Jamie, which only serves to create the tiniest bit of distance between the two needed to make the whole thing genuinely terrifying. Oh, and the capper (pun very much intended) is also guaranteed to make you think. And, quite possibly, feel a little bit bad for the rats. And all this for a measly $2!
Vayda, Jamie (artist) – Loud Comix #2
It’s odd to start a review with the back cover of a comic, but the back issue of this one has a hilarious image of a frazzled Jamie Vayda promising that a new issue of this anthology will come out every two months. That’s ambitious as hell and I wish him all the best, but it seems like an impossible deadline to meet. Six issues of this series in 2014? I hope that I’m wrong, but that seems impossible. As for the stories, they’re another solid bunch, all illustrated by Jamie, and I have to say that I’d like their odds better of getting six issues out next year if another artist or two illustrated a story here and there. Stories in here include one of the more unique scenarios I’ve ever seen for a zombie outbreak from Darin Martinez, Lester the Porn Fairy by Erika Lane (which is either exactly what you’re expecting or nothing like what you’re expecting, depending on what’s in your head), an attempt to one-up that guy who jumped from space back down to earth last year by Christian Maes, a song about Electric Frankenstein by Sal Conzonieri, a night at the Apollo that doesn’t go all that well by Eric Todd (but it is funny as hell), and the finale of that story from last issue by Alan King. If you don’t remember that one the big question was how the guy ended up with a fake leg, and I could not have been happier with the answer. I think people should be lining up to support this effort, as a regular anthology series with a rotating cast of writers sounds like a great thing to me, so give this and/or the first issue a shot. $6 seems a little steep to me for a mini comic, but in a time where the popular Marvel stuff is going for $4 I don’t see how anybody could be expected to ask much less than $6 for a self-produced comic. Those old timey mini comic prices that are still in my head are a thing of the past, so don’t mind my nostalgia for an age of cheap things. $6
Vayda, Jamie – Loud Comix #1
Loud Comix #1
You know that thing with anthologies (or any small press comic really) where you’re not sure whether or not the next issue is ever coming out? Or is that only for cynics like me? Anyway, this one ended on a pretty big cliffhanger, so here’s hoping they have things well in hand and that the next issue comes out on time. Which should be out by now, and the website says that it is, so never mind all this. This is just my long-winded way of saying that the last story of the bunch did a really great job with its cliffhanger ending. Anyway, four stories in this one, but it’s a little different because they were all drawn by Jamie Vayda. Which makes me nervous about it keeping up a bimonthly schedule, but I’ve already mentioned that I can be quite the cynic about such things. Anyway, stories include “Mr. Breeze” by Sonny Joe Harlan (about the dangers of being hit on in a biker bar), “The Rise of Billy Bloodlust” by Frankie Nowhere (which I really hope is a true story about your perceptions while high on mushrooms and the aftermath of what you think happened during the trip), “Johnny Funhouse” by Erika Lane (the origin story of a kid who was pulled out with forceps by his mother, how he perceives the world and his first love) and “Wooden Leg” by Alan King. That last one offers tantalizing hints into the life of this guy with the wooden leg, including how he struck terror into the heart of the author as a kid, but it looks like they’re saving most of the good stuff (like how he got that wooden leg and what exactly made him such a lunatic) for the next part of the story. It’s a pretty great pile of stories, although I should probably warn off the squeamish who can’t handle a woman delivering her own baby in graphic detail, but it’s not as bad as you’re thinking after reading that sentence. I’ve been reading these things long enough to think that $6 is a little pricey for a book that’s all black and white, but some punk legends wrote some of these stories and I should get over thinking that that’s too much for a comic. Times change! $6