Three cheers for Alternative Comics for putting out books like this for the last, what, 20 years? I’ve been doing this for 15 years and they had already been around awhile when I started. If it wasn’t for them collections like this probably wouldn’t exist, and the world would be a poorer place for it. I already reviewed the first couple of issues in this series (this volume collects #1-5), and I loved them just as much this time around. It’s a little easier to see the quiet desperation of the characters when the story is put in one place like this, although I don’t think any of the characters (and possibly even Jon) would agree with that description. The overall ennui is such a part of their lives that they mostly don’t even notice it anymore, and they do every stupid thing they can to distract themselves from it. Go back and read the reviews of the first two issues for those reviews; the third issue has one of the roommates (Trevor) being incredibly sick from a cold or something and just wanting an icy treat, but having two other roommates who are too self-absorbed to notice. Their nights end up intersecting in a fairly gross and hilarious way. The fourth issue deals with another one of the roommates (Patrick) deciding to just drive in one direction and hope of the best, and his “adventures” along the way. It’s the most overtly introspective of the bunch, but it still has funny bits like the conversation with the maimed deer that I used for the sample image. Finally there’s Leonard’s sister coming over for a visit, but she ends up inviting her boyfriend. Who ends up inviting a bunch of his friends, meaning there ends up being a party that nobody who lives there really wanted. This issue also ties up a lot of the dangling threads from past issues in such a casual way that anybody who didn’t already realize that Jon was a damned good writer would figure it out by the end of the book. These comics are also filled with little asides that I have no interest in spoiling, and the pacing is masterful throughout. Oh, and he’s clearly using a real map of Ohio in that fourth issue, if anybody cares to follow his route who lives here. This is a pretty great book all around, and if you missed the regular issues I’d recommend this collection to anybody. I do miss not seeing the covers to the remaining three issues, as the covers to the first two were fantastic, but maybe he can put them all in some future fancy hardcover collection. Oh, and the series is still ongoing, meaning there really should be more to come. $20
Now I’m starting to possibly see why Jon didn’t bother with numbering either of these issues: it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. OK, sure, you’re introduced to the characters in the first issue, but it’s not like you learn the stories of their lives or anything. And this issue would have been just as entertaining (and make no mistake, it was damned near perfectly entertaining) if I had no idea of the identity of any of these characters. But hey, I’ll list the issue numbers anyway, just because. The face on that cover, in case you were wondering, is the face of the devil. This issue starts off with two of the friends using a baseball bat to hit rocks into the windows of an abandoned building. They’re having a great time with it when one of them misses the rock and instead clobbers Leonard (who I believe is the only character named), killing him instantly. It could have gotten grim from there, but I laughed more than a few times reading through the rest of the book. Leonard goes to hell and gets a tour of the place before finally meeting the devil, who is overjoyed to finally meet somebody who he thinks is cool (he also loves smashing windows for no reason), but their differences start to become apparent pretty quickly. Meanwhile, Leonard’s killer calls his other friend and they hatch a plan to avoid getting in trouble for killing Leonard, while one of them is a lot more broken up about the whole thing than the other guy. Jon’s depiction of hell is brilliant (are the demons really blacked-out versions of the shopkeeper and his wife from the last issue?), and somehow he even managed to give the devil’s room a bit of a homey feel. It’s damned brilliant is what it is, and you should read it. If you only have enough money for one issue of this series, get this one. I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue too, but this one is the champion. $6
Petty criticism alert: when you send me more than one issue of your comic, and when it’s the same title, maybe put an issue number somewhere in at least one of those comics? I get why you maybe don’t number the first issue, like if you’re not sure you’re going to keep going with the series, but there’s no reason not to put a “#2” somewhere in/on the second one. And that right there is my only complaint with this as a comic, because as far as the story was concerned I absolutely loved it. This is all about a dog-like creature who is writing the Great American Novel. It keeps getting longer and longer but doesn’t seem to be heading towards any kind of conclusion, which leads to a bit of a freakout pretty early on. Then two friends come visit our hero (pretty sure nobody was given a name of any kind; they were easy enough to keep track of in the comic but this might get a little confusing in the review) and they head out to the local 7/11. And that’s where we meet the character depicted on the cover, as he’s working at the 7/11 and very clearly on all of the drugs/crazy or both. From here an unfortunate accident takes the vehicle of the friend of our hero out of the picture, which leads to our friend having to get a job, and what a job it is. This may be my personal favorite representation of the ultimate pointless data entry job, but I’ll leave it to you to discover exactly what I mean by that. All kinds of little touches in here that add up to a thoroughly entertaining first issue. There’s the crew noticing a creature wearing only socks at the 7/11 (odd because these are all anthropomorphic creatures not wearing clothes and I had no idea where he was going with it), the co-worker who I was pretty convinced was somehow a sock puppet for the first few panels, and the picture of his wife that got the rare “laugh out loud” (see, I have time to type out all three words) out of me. It’s an engaging and intriguing first issue and yes, the cover for the second issue is somehow as great as the cover for this one. $8
Nine Short Works
Would you believe that this comic has nine short stories in it from Jon? Shocking, I know. A good chunk of them are available for free at his website, just in case you wanted to look them over before continuing here. It’s a solid bunch of stories that range all over the place, but one continuing theme throughout is quiet. There’s not a wasted word to be found, and everything that is said is relevant. Stories include a piece about a fight that got of hand between a couple of kids (and the loser of the fight in his later years), a chat between a woman and her mother about the things that get revealed if you watch the person you’re dating for their reactions to a movie, a day alone at a fancy home, the random kindness of a jump and the weird stuff in the guy’s back seat, a stupid death and the entrance requirements to heaven, and a boy with a dead bird. Other pieces that were a little more interpretive (not that those pieces above are exactly cut and dried) include images of a Chinese restaurant, the stars disappearing and a series of escalating images and messages. I’d go into more detail with that one but it lost me, so you’re on your own there. Anyway, it answered any doubts I may have had about the guy, so that’s a good thing, even if all of the stories perfect. A solid majority of them work for me. As for the price, your guess is as good as mine. It baffles me that a book that’s this well put together would make you guess such a thing, and his website isn’t any help. $7? Sure, let’s go with that.
Inside the Slow Spiral
OK fine, there are probably too many stories out there already dealing with alienation and isolation upon entering college, but isn’t a good one always a welcome thing? This one deals with Jon’s entry into film school and his propensity for spending his entire day in the film lab watching strange independent films while smoking pot (and hastily clearing the air). The woman who works down there starts up a friendship with him and he doesn’t seem like a total social misfit when he does go out, it’s just that he prefers digging up and going through old student films. He eventually watches a film called “Inside the Slow Spiral III,” which sends him digging to find other films from the man and trying to figure out who the guy was. Jon readily admits that the films are boring, but thinks that that was why he loved them. The title also tracks up nicely with Jon’s own progress, and I loved how his activities during his drunken blackout were referred to (I got the impression that they weren’t his finest moments) but that it was mostly left up to the imagination of the reader. The fictional peek into the mind of the filmmaker of the “Inside the Slow Spiral” series at the end was brilliant too, but I’m not allowed to divulge too much about that. I’m not sure if this is the same Jon Allen I’ve seen in various anthologies (the website isn’t particularly helpful on that front), but if he is I’d say he’s gone a long way to mastering his craft. If it’s an entirely new Jon Allen then he’s way too good at this stuff to be brand new. Either way you, gentle reader, should probably give this a shot if you’re here for unique and interesting comics, and why else would you be here? No price, but my gut says $4.