Website (to buy the book)
Look, I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and usually have no trouble starting to ramble about any comic. With this, I hardly know where to begin. This collection reprints the first 13 issues of her comic in their entirety, meaning that even the comic recommendations are included, so it was a heavily nostalgic trip to read through. Some of the names listed there are still making comics, but most of them have vanished. Are they still drawing occasionally? Have they moved on completely? Do they even think about their old comics, and if so are they proud of that time or ashamed? But all that has nothing to do with Jenny’s remarkable book, so I shouldn’t dwell on it. Jenny was one of the pioneers of the self published mini comics movement of the 90’s; for whatever reason her comics were rarely in the comics shops I went to back in the day, so I only ended up with a few scattered issues of this series. After reading this collection it’s clear that I was missing out, and that I should have spent more effort back in the day tracking these down. Like I said, this collects the first 13 issues, has a new introduction by John Porcellino, a new interview with Jenny and Rob Clough, and several of her scattered strips from anthologies. In other words, it is as complete a volume of the works of Jenny Zervakis as we’re likely to get, and I can only hope that this leads to more collections like this in the future (complete Silly Daddy, here we come!). When it comes to reviewing this as a comic, well… this is where I get stumped. It’s wholly original, it evolves as it goes on (I was going to mention some of the rougher poetry of the earlier issues, but Jenny talks about that herself eventually), but most of the earlier strips are still pretty great. Sometimes she’ll tell stories about her family (I do wonder what eventually happened with her brother), sometimes about her life in the city, or going out to clubs and increasingly feeling like the oldest person there, or observations of what she sees around her or stories she’s heard. And the dream stories! Very few people do dream stories better than Jenny. It’s easy for them to feel self-indulgent or pointless, but a few of these are going to haunt my own dreams. That image of her rolling up the side of the wall and how her sister had a similar dream… brrr. There are also a few longer text pieces in the style of Jeff Zenick (another person who could use a complete collection of their work), quiet moments seen and imagined, a few stressful times, and various animal adventures. There’s no ongoing narrative thread, but this still felt like the story of her life, even if she was more private than a lot of the artists of the time. It works remarkably well as a complete book even though it’s made up of disconnected pieces, is what I’m trying to say. If you’ve never heard of Jenny and have any interest in small press comics, you are in for a real treat. If you already know her work, I seriously doubt that you managed to find every issue of this series when it was coming out, and even if you did, there’s no way you also caught all her stories in anthologies. And if you DID manage to do all that, there’s still a brand new interview with her. I get the impression (based on pure speculation) that John and Spit and a Half are looking at this as a test case, to see if there’s interest in publishing other books like this. Meaning that there’s every reason for you to give this a shot and none to pass it up. It really is a remarkable achievement and I hope that everybody reading this tries it for themselves. $20
Is there a good list of small press comics people out there who never got the acclaim/attention they deserved that anybody knows of? Granted, you could say “all of them” and be correct (as I went a lot of years wearing my King Cat shirt before anybody outside of a comics convention knew what it was), but I’m talking about inside of this little insular community. If there is a list and if Jenny Zervakis isn’t on it, then it’s a terrible list. I started reading these types of comics in 1993, and Jenny was making them back then. I think she got caught up in that “real life” stuff that seems to happen to damned near everybody, had a couple of kids and maybe found other priorities (as it’s certainly not like making comics is a way to make a living for far too many people), and I didn’t hear much about her for years. But she’s making comics again, and you whippersnappers who may have never heard of her should think about catching up. This is a collection of short pieces, as are most of her comics that I’ve seen. Stories in here include Jenny and her daughter going through the presidents while her daughter tries to find a female one, what happened to the moon people when the moon was dislodged from the earth, playing in the snow and the differences in how everybody reacts to it, a dream where Jenny saves a few castaways from drowning, images from a visit to the aquarium, a family at the end of its rope, some excellent questions about cats and dogs and how they perceive us, and a heartbreaker about their family losing their dog after she got spooked by a storm. It’s bad enough to lose any pet when they run off, but their dog was on seizure medication and there was very much a race against the clock to get to her before anything really bad happened to her. It’s a solid collection of stories and you should really think about picking it up. Where are we at on retrospectives of this stuff anyway? If I’ve been reading these things for 20 years now then there have to be some anniversaries coming up. Top Shelf or Fantagraphics, get on that…
Strange Growths #14 1/2
I’m always amazed when I read a comic from somebody like Jenny (who I’ve been reading for years) and see that they don’t have a page on my website. It’s completely because I haven’t seen anything new from her for years, and I don’t even know if this is new, but you can still get it at USSCatastrophe, so I guess that makes it still viable. She’s one of those people that I just ate up back in the day, completely taken by the sheer beauty of the prose. In other words, if you find yourself in a place where you can get a bunch of her old minis, for the love of all that’s holy do it. This one is a shortie with dreams she had while pregnant. Fascinating stuff, and it’s too short for me to ruin it by telling you what it’s about. Which is sort of a cop-out, I guess, but if you already know who this is and didn’t know this issue was out you won’t need much convincing. $1.50
Super Growths: Strange Growths Sampler #1-6
Every once in a while I hit one of these nostalgic old mini comic reviews at the right time: John Porcellino (yes, THAT John Porcellino) is distributing Jenny’s first new issue of Strange Growths in 6 years (#15).Â That’s great, as this is another mini from 1993 and it had me wondering if it was a complete waste of time to list it.Â The good news is that I also found a place to buy another issue from her online (links to both are above) so, while it’s not necessarily convenient and it wouldn’t hurt to have more comics available, at least you can buy a few of her books easily.Â This is a sampler of her older comics, so the art is a little rough on occasion, but the genuine heart in these stories more than makes up for it.Â Pieces in here include getting a growth removed from the face of her brother (twice, and it just occurred to me that that may be where the name for the mini came from), inflamed balls on the bus, changing seasons, dealing with self-help, learning (and dealing out) cruelty at an early age, getting hit on by morons, the story of their old dog, somebody selling double yolk eggs door to door, trying to remember the name of a very odd food item, the artificial water flower, the upkeep of gardens, a restaurant conversation, a comet and how it ruined the world for a young boy, a true monster, and one longer piece that is too beautiful for me to even say anything about it.Â Take that as a cop-out if you’d like.Â Like I said, this sure seems out of print to me.Â Maybe you could have a little more luck in your digging, but all I could find were the two issues…
Tea Now Available! $4
You can see the names on the cover, right? I always feel like these reviews are a waste of time, because anybody who reads the site on a regular basis and/or knows mini comics knows that it would be tough for a collection like that to be terrible. So what’s good? The story from Clutch, about a woman going on a first date with a guy she likes and having to break down and tell him that she really doesn’t like tea, Dave Kiersh getting grabby, Dan Zettwoch revealing a secret recipe, and Scott Mills talking about his mom. Nothing particularly bad about this at all, although I think I liked Garlic better. Probably just the subject matter. Oh, and these are both now available, so check them out, or just go to the website if you need more convincing.
I was going to just write the names of the contributors here to try and convince you to get this, but that scan came out nicely, don’t you think? You’ll notice that I really like most of the people on there, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think this is amazing. I can’t even say that I didn’t like whole stories, just certain panels. People talking to cats in comics is either cute to me or way too cute, and Dave Lasky’s entry fell into the latter category. The rest of his story was good though. The bit by Austin English didn’t do much for me one way or another. Everything else is more than just worth reading, it’s required reading. That’s right, I’m forcing you to buy this. The only thing I’m not sure of is the price… $5 maybe? It’s a pretty big book. Eh, go to the website (down as of 7/22/07) for this (it’s the first in a series of anthologies about food) and e-mail the guy to see how much it costs. You can’t go wrong with this assemblage of talent.