I’ve read plenty of anthologies over the years that I’ve been writing reviews here, but very few of them could qualify as a love letter. This comic here? That’s exactly what it is. This is 20 of some of the best artists going right now, and they all have one thing in common: an obvious love of the tv show Friday Night Lights. If you’ve never heard of this show, or if you dismissed it out of hand because “it’s about high school football,” all I can say is that you missed out. There’s still time to fix your mistake, as it’s still on Netflix as of May 2016; just watch the first few episodes and try not to get hooked. Or maybe the fact that so many great artists came together for this project will clue you in to how great of a show it was, I don’t know. Does it seem like I’m not reviewing the stories? Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’m just trying to convert the last few decent people in the world who haven’t already seen this show. Frankly, I remember most of the stories as giant hearts on the page, so it’s tough to write anything mildly intelligent about that. OK, I’ll flip through this again. Highlights include the Tim Riggins cut-out doll as the centerfold (comes with different outfits!), Tim Riggins in the year 2050, a story about young Billy Riggins, the conversion of a skeptic into a fan of the show, how the team playbook got leaked to a rival, a growing rage of somebody trying to convert friends as they get increasingly sleepy while watching the show, and Coach Taylor sitting on the Iron Throne. Seriously, if nothing else, just look at that list of artists and give it a shot for that reason alone. Or do it the right way: watch the series, then go back and enjoy this fanzine. I’m not going to close with the team motto right here, but know that I am thinking it.
Gag Rag #3
I’d like to start with a personal note to Jeff, just in case he reads this at some point: all those “do not bends” that you wrote on the envelope? Yeah, they don’t work. I wish they did, and I get why you’d put a bunch of them on the envelope, but my postal worker clearly sees those as more of a challenge than anything else. This could also be a note to other people who send me oversized comics, so there you go. Minis can fit in my mailbox easily, so no worries there. Now that I’ve dispensed with the utterly irrelevant portion of the review, how about the rest of this comic? There’s a lot to love, that’s for sure. Subjects include a running story dealing with God, his cat, Father Time and Baby New Year (in case you’re wondering, the name of God’s cat is “Cat”; the story deals with creation and time and all kinds of things), a dancing dog that leads into the title reveal, the farm (and some of the chickens on the farm), buying the lighthouse, dogs and their activities, and the golden egg. There’s also the highlight of the comic, but I say that because I’m biased: a story about the characters from “Friday Night Lights.” You may not know about the show, or you may not even have tried it because it’s about high school football, but you are wrong, and it really was one of the better shows of the last decade, and Jeff’s story of a night at the house of Coach Taylor was funny in all kinds of way. It also turns out that there is apparently an anthology in the world filled with stories like these, and it makes me sad that I don’t own it. Anyway, the thing I liked the most about this comic was the way that any one of the strips could pop up again later in some brief form. They were all mostly self-contained bits, but these characters are clearly trapped in a comic hell, and it’s delightful to read about it. You should read it too!
Do you like your comics funny? Do you like some or most of the creators I listed in the tags section (right below this post, in big letters, you can’t miss them)? Then this one should be an easy call for you. There, now that I’ve made that case, I’ll go about my afternoon… wait, you want something of substance? Egh, fine. Laurent Barnett does the “Me Likes You” comics (which you should already be reading on a regular basis), and she was one of the editors, so there, that’s substantive. Strips in here include Noah Van Sciver’s fever dreams (both with and without music), funny jokes that aren’t really jokes by Bort, Martha Keavney’s tales of a pet human, Nikki Burch showing us that saying “that’s what she said” too many times will end up with you getting what you deserve, Anne Emond’s cat style, Sam Spina’s ridiculously awesome sex comic, a couple of pages of single panel jokes by Sam Henderson (which should be worth the price of admission right there), Grant Snider’s fears and feats (he had four pages of strips and I don’t want to ruin any of them), KC Green’s depressed fish, Jane Mai’s dream of male lingerie, Nathan Bulmer’s tale of ninja tricks, Julia Wertz’ attempt to get serious and Ian Anderson’s tale of a bear that’s just trying to fit in. But wait, there’s more! And you can discover it for yourself if you buy this. Unless you just have an unnatural hatred for all anthologies, which I guess I could almost understand, but it makes no sense to hate the good ones too, and this is one of the good ones. Hell, just pick three of the names of people who contributed to this, go to their websites and see what there is to see. If you don’t laugh once then I release you from your duty to buy this, but seriously, good luck with that. $10
It’s possible that you could see that cover from a distance and think that this was a comic all about cute little old babies, which would quite possibly make you back away slowly, which would be a healthy reaction. Relax! Once you get a closer look at that cover and see the five o’clock shadow on one of the babies and their general shapes you should start to get a better sense of what you’re in for here. If you make it to the first page you’ll know for sure that this is not a preciously adorable comic, as there’s an all-out brawl going on between the babies and it’s pretty nasty. Hair pulling, using a chair as a weapon, spitting, they’re letting it all hang out. Things stop suddenly when a nurse wheels in a gigantic baby. They stop fighting when the nurse comes in, obviously, as otherwise she would know that something fishy was going on with all these tiny talking creatures. A plan is quickly devised to kill this new baby, and we get to see the industrious little critters at work. I’m in danger of saying too much about the plot already, but we learn more about these kids along the way, and things start to get really interesting when that sample page comes along. The rest of the book is a complicated plan to save that kid, even though they were trying to kill him earlier, and that discrepancy is never mentioned because hey, babies. Jeff can do very little wrong in my book and this is another fun comic from the man. Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the exact right word, but that dialogue is fantastic and that story could have only come out of a very special head. It’s worth a look, that’s what I’m telling you, unless babies in all forms just terrify you, in which case you probably have bigger problems to worry about than which comics you’re currently reading. The spinning random price wheel lands on… $4!
The Gag Rag
Even if you’re one of those humorless types that doesn’t care for laughter, I think everybody would have to agree that Jeff puts together some impressive covers. My scanner really doesn’t do this one justice, as those colors fly right off the page and smack you in the mouth. In the best possible way, of course. A cover can only take you so far, so how about the comic? Well, I just finished reading it and I’m not completely sure that I didn’t dream some of it, despite the fact that I never fell asleep while reading it. That sounds like a recommendation to me, but to each their own. Things start off with a table of contents that only a dork like me could love: each page is listed with its spelled out representation. Yes, I really do appreciate such things. When we get to the actual comics there are a few pages of “ads” for a strange product called Neocream, a couple of short and mostly amusing one panel gag strips, and finally we get to meet a couple that has just been stranded at sea. Get used to these two, as you’ll be seeing a lot of them as the comic goes on. First it’s for the humorous maximum person requirements for the inflatable island, then it’s their reaction when they open a box of sharks, and finally how they deal with having a baby and having one of the inhabitants end up being allergic to coconuts (the only food available). We see them later in an extended gag sequence involving a series of possible rescues, but I’ve said too much. Other stories include God mixing together the universe (with outtakes!), God meeting dogs and cats, God going for a joyride (and answering questions from the audience), and God ending up at a Wal-Mart. Finally there’s a piece about Walt Disney and his crew, which you will especially enjoy if you know some of the mistreated artists from that time period. There’s also the opening and ending strips, but I’ll leave those as a total surprise so that you didn’t have some idea of everything that was coming. It’s a pile of funny, and people who enjoy such things should seek it out and give Jeff some cash. No price listed, as that would make things too easy, but I’m guessing at least $5 for this hefty thing.
Brown Day Bag
That may be the best cat image I’ve ever seen in a comic, and there have been a whole bunch of cats in comics over the years. Something about it perfectly captures the inherent sphinx-like quality of a lot of cats. The comic inside is great too, even if it has nothing to do with cats. It opens with a quiet story of Jeff going to school a few hours early and killing time at a library and grocery store. He stops to really take in all the sights, wondering who lives in the house with all the odd aquarium lighting and noticing how the sight of the college itself can dominate the town from many different spots. He follows that up with a futuristic tale of being stuck in the forest for 18 days with a woman, told in a series of single panel pages. Next up are a few unrelated pages (and hey, why not leave those a mystery for anybody who actually picks up the book), then the story of his brief time with what sounds suspiciously like a modern hippie commune. Or maybe I’m biased and thinking that anybody who voluntarily craps in a bucket must be in some sort of commune, who knows? All told it’s a pretty solid mini for the league average price of $3.
Big Little Comics
My constant quest to get everybody out there doing mini comics onto one website continues, but I wouldn’t be able to have gathered nearly as much as I have (if I had to guess, maybe 5% of the people who make minis. MAYBE) if it weren’t for people like Jeff who just send their books in. Maybe once I find that first million dollars I can travel the world, looking for the local culture spots where people make minis, but for now this is still the best way to do it. The bulk of this comic is an awkward conversation between two young women who see each other again randomly after years apart. Roe meets Jen Jones on a remote island minutes before a giant tsunami hits, and conversation is awkward because Roe hated the woman. The conversation finishes, Roe spends a minute or two alone… and then it’s all over, and Roe is stuck there, dead and all. There’s also a brief story about balloons and two guys fighting that flew right over my head, but that’s bound to happen. The bulk of the book was still fascinating and I have another mini from the guy to review in the next couple of weeks, which always helps with forming a more complete opinion. No price tag, but it’s one of those big minis, so… $3?
Pockmarked Apocalypse #1
You can always count on me to enjoy a good tale about the end of the world. The key is that it has to be a GOOD tale, not just one of many cliched, derivative stories out there about the subject. One issue of anything is too soon to make a definitive judgment, but I like the look of this one already. This takes place 40 years after the end of the world, after (as the back of the book says) “peak oil, global warming and war”. OK, granted, that sounds like it could go into hackneyed territory, but then you see the bombs that blew up large parts of the world, and it’s immediately obvious that Jeff is making his own mark on this genre. This first issue deals mostly with an older man, living by himself, cutting his heart pills down (to make them last?) and reminiscing about a time when cars and big trucks actually drove by on the highway. He’s also obsessed with a long lost love, or perhaps just the one that got away. In other words, there’s a lot still to be revealed in this series (projected at 8 issues), but this is damned promising start. One minor complaint: the end of the book, a six panel page, has three panels of story and then three panels of acknowledgments and contact information. It was jarring and looked damned ugly. Just my personal opinion and all, and it’s not like it detracted from the story or anything, just an odd aesthetic choice. No price again, but it’s a big thing, so… $4?
Sam ‘n Dan
If I could just grab my soapbox for a second before I get started on this wonderful comic… listed below this review is Pockmarked Apocalypse #1, the first in a projected 8 issue series, and I reviewed that last issue almost a year ago.Â Assuming that my review was at all timely, that makes a year between issues of an ongoing series, with only the first issue out, and that’s just ridiculous.Â Not to pick on Jeff or anything, as it’s a very common problem (hence my soapbox), but please: if you’re going to put out an ongoing series, PUT OUT AN ONGOING SERIES.Â Ahem.Â You can tell I’m serious because of all the capital letters.Â Still, that isn’t meant to take a thing away from this self-contained issue about Sam and Dan.Â Sam (the skinny bear) and Dan (the fat cat) decide to leave the county and, needing money to do so, decide to rob a bank (after the bank won’t give them any money for free).Â While on the run Sam makes a motion like he’s going to kill Dan but instead shoots the sun, driving it out of the sky and bringing on the darkness.Â This also brings out a creepy doomsayer who tells them (in ryhme) that Sam and Dan have to kill each other before the day is out to bring back the sun.Â Meanwhile the grandfather of the creepy doomsayer reveals that he’s the brains behind the whole thing and instructs his grandson to give the cat a gun.Â The rest of the comic is spent with Sam and Dan trying to figure out what’s going on, and without giving anything away, yes action fans, there is a big ole gunfight.Â What I particularly love about this comic is how horribleness of every creature involved.Â Sam and Dan in particular should be adorable, what with their giant gloves and boots, but Sam’s dead eyes ruin that effect and the sheer cravenness and cowardice of Dan makes him hard to sympathize with as well.Â Hell, even the bank teller in the opening scene is more than a little terrifying.Â I also love the ambivalence of the whole thing.Â Are those immensely creepy manipulators actually the good guys trying to get the sun back in place?Â Or are Sam and Dan meant to be the heroes of the piece?Â Either way it’s another solid comic from Jeff, and just to make my previous rant clear, I want to see another issue of Pockmarked Apocalypse because I enjoyed it and want to see what happens next.Â That’s a good thing, right?Â No price, but let’s say $5, and even though it’s not available (that I can see) at either website at the moment, I’m sure it will be soon.