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Baylis, Jonathan & Various Artists – So Buttons: Man of, Like, a Dozen Faces

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So Buttons: Man Of, Like, A Dozen Faces

One sign that I’m reading an amazing book? When I pick about a dozen pages in my head to be my sample page, then realize when I’m done that I could really use just about any page. An embarrassment of riches, I believe it’s called. If you’ve been living under a rock (like me) and have somehow never heard of “So Buttons” even though you already know almost all of the artists involved, you’re in luck! This book collects stories (possibly all of the stories? It’s not clear) from the first 7 issues of his comic series. He uses several different artists, with a few names popping up several times. These strips are all autobiographical, and (this is important for people thinking about making an autobio comic) each of them had something to say. Even the ones about mundane aspects of his life; it’s clear that the guy has seen a lot and/or known people who have seen a lot, which is when it’s advisable to make an autobio comic. Not to name any names of people who make autobio comics for years with seemingly little to nothing to say. Ahem. Anyway, this one starts off with a comic about Jonathan’s first day working for Marvel in 1994, which happened to be the day that Jack Kirby died. He was there when John Romita Sr. did the tribute art for Jack, and he was the one who had to tell him to improve his Thor drawing. Which was a little intimidating, to put it mildly; if you’re not familiar with comics history, those were two legends and it was his first day. This story was also drawn by Fred Hembeck, which is not a name that I’d ever thought would be on my website because he’s a Marvel guy through and through, but here he is. There’s a real danger of my saying either too much or too little about the remaining stories, but I’ll give it a shot. Subjects include taking a trip to take in some art, overdoing it on the Halloween makeup before getting into an auto accident, his kinda sorta connection to R. Crumb, the dangers of meeting your heroes (in this case Robert Redford), meeting Jackie Mason, the perfect joke after seeing Schindler’s List, trying to find the secret to the perfect brisket, how he manages to love both New York baseball teams, how we went from bully to bullied in one word, his Annie tryout in grade school, his unfortunate reaction to the news that John Lennon had been killed, hanging out with his dad and learning that the guy wasn’t as predictable as he thought, bringing out a traumatic memory of the war from his uncle, and almost meeting Jim Jarmusch. There is also almost an entire half of the book that I didn’t mention at all, so obviously there’s a lot here to love. The artists do amazing work with the material they’ve been given and Jonathan is an incredibly gifted writer. Yeah, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this one. Check it out! $20

Remnant, Joseph – Blindspot #2

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Blindspot #2

Let’s all take a moment to mourn the death of the individual comic. Oh, not in the small press world, as mini comics are still all over the place. I mean more any of the established publishers, like Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, those types of folks. Joseph includes a rejection letter from Fantagraphics in this one that is probably the worst kind of rejection letter: they loved his work (with a few suggestions for improvements), but since there is just no market for single issues there’s not a thing they can do to help him. It will be a different story when he gets enough material for a collection, possibly, but for now his only option is to either self publish or let his work pile up until he can put it in a graphic novel. Overall I don’t mind this trend, as I’m happy to wait a couple of years between large books, but it really sucks for books like this which fit perfectly as single issues and might be a bit of a mess as a collected book. Anyway, this comic has a few stories, all new for this issue (the lack of a new Ace Goddard story is explained on the back cover). He starts off with a letters page, and I must confess that I do miss a good letters page. The first story is a delightful romp (I don’t think I’ve ever used that in a review, and if I did it was misapplied like it is here) through the mind a genius in his own head, a young man who gets annoyed with his audiences while playing his guitar at open mic nights and ends up putting six months and a ton of money into his dream project. The ending is a thing of beauty and says a lot about the power of any positive reinforcement. Next up is a date gone horribly wrong, with a social sin that there is just no coming back from. The bulk of the comic is next, and it’s the story of an older man who feels like control of his life is slipping away, as he’s ignored at work and notices that the options of jobs for older men are getting worse all the time. He tries a few desperate ploys, they mostly don’t go well, and I’ll leave the rest of it to the reader. Finally there are two short pieces, about a cheery security guard and Joseph’s sadly brief time working with Harvey Pekar. Joseph ended up drawing the last (?) thing Harvey wrote, a book on Cleveland, and I’m really curious to see it. Anyway yes, this is another solid issue, and you should buy it if you really do support such things. If you don’t or are indifferent, there’s always the inevitable collected edition, or at least there will be if Joseph doesn’t give up hope due to lack of support of his individual issues. Do you really want to risk that? $5

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Remnant, Joseph – Cartoon Clouds #1

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Cartoon Clouds #1

Hello art school graduates! Here’s a story that was written especially for you. Well, actually I’d guess that the story was written for Joseph, or not for any particular person at all, but it is a story about graduating from art school, so I’m guessing a lot of people can relate to it. Anyway! This one starts off with the main character (Seth) getting his final critique from an art professor. The professor references his own show, suggests that Seth use his student I.D. card while he can still get a discount to see his show, and generally takes every opportunity to make the grading all about himself. Once that’s over Seth has a stoned conversation with a friend, has a nightmare about Indian food, goes to a party that he’d just as soon skip and has several conversations with people that he was trying desperately to avoid. In the background of the party is Allison, a purely platonic friend of Seth’s, and the clear undercurrent that Seth is running out of time to tell her how he really feels before their “real life” starts. Seth is presented various paths that he can take after graduation by these people, some more realistic than others, but is understandably pessimistic about any of his friends earning a living with their art. Art school tropes are punctured, hopes are dashed, a good time is resolutely not had by Seth at any point for very long, but hey, there’s more to come. The art is fantastic and I’m curious to see what happens next, which is the entire point of the first issue in a series. There were a few spelling errors that will continue to baffle me every time I see them (as a spell check takes significantly less time than drawing a single panel on one page), but don’t mind me being a curmudgeon on that. If you can relate to anything I described here then give this a shot, if not but if you still like a good story then I’d also say it’s worth your time. $5

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Remnant, Joseph – Blindspot #1

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Blindspot #1

It’s a question at the back of my mind whenever I read a small press comic: just how cynical is this creator in understanding how likely he/she is in making any kind of a living at this?  Most of them seem to know that they’re making comics for themselves and a small group of loyal and inquisitive people and will probably never make a living off of it, but then again most of them seem to be (admirably) hoping for the best, that they can eventually make a living off of their art.  This question comes up in Joseph’s introduction to this comic, a brilliant little scene that has him standing in front of a fancypants backdrop, explaining to his audience that he is going to be taking them on a journey.  Then his roommate pops in with reality, that the backdrop is a sham and that nobody buys individual comics any more and by the time he gets his serialized graphic novel put together, that craze will probably be over too.  Ok, maybe that or a variation of that has been done before, but I thought it was a great way to get things started.  From there we have his eventual serialized graphic novel called Ace Goddard Livin’ Legend, which is all about a glam rock icon from back in the day who’s been trying to put out a new album for years.  As he is now a joke, nobody was interested in such a thing, and the panels the record executive and his assistant spend explaining to Ace that his only chance now is to do a “greatest hits” album and accept the fact that he’s seen as a joke to the world at large.  This has all kinds of potential, and I can only hope that he was exaggerating about how long it would take him to put that story together.  I checked his website and he’s going to spend the next 6 months or so completing a graphic novel he was working on with Harvey Pekar, so it may be awhile.  There’s also only 7 pages of this story in this issue, so it might be a REALLY long time.  Other stories in here include a tale about a woman who has been on a string of awful blind dates, a conversation in a record store about whether there is an objective truth in musical taste or if it’s all in the ear of the beholder, a man happily walking into work on a Monday morning getting gradually smashed to bits, a rich asshole at an art show who tries to impress a pretty woman, and Joseph’s tale of trying to break through the wall of comics in the online world and make an impression.  There’s also a funny strip on the back cover, but I’m leaving some mystery for you people who want to buy the book.  As for the look of the book, there’s not a hint of amateurishness about it.  Joseph has clearly been doing this for a long time, or maybe he’s just supernaturally gifted, but there’s some damned fine artwork going on here.  Some of the early pages have some unerased pencil lines for the lettering, a pet peeve of mine, but it’s faint enough that I probably wouldn’t even notice it if I wasn’t such a dick about it.  It’s worth a look, that’s what I’m trying to say here.  $4.50