Damn, now that’s how you put together a fantastic anthology. The stories in here are of various lengths, but it gets going with a 20 page story by Eric Orner dealing with his coming to terms with his sexuality, dating a woman in college, having a right wing nut of a father and generally not having much of a source to educate himself about being gay. The social progress this country has gone through in the last five years on this front has been staggering (it’s like the majority of the country realized all at once that they were being homophobic assholes and all decided to stop and pretend like it never happened), but it’s stories like Eric’s that remind the youngsters that there were very few options when you were growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s. The closet was a lifesaver back in those days. Anyway, I’m rambling, and I haven’t even gotten to the other 32 (!) creators in here. Highlights include (and I don’t think there’s a single actively bad story in here, for the record) Annie Murphy’s story about her elderly closeted relatives and wondering what their lives were like, Marinaomi’s first time being an awkward threesome, Ed Nuce and the rules of survival at death metal shows, Dylan Edwards and his childhood friend who referred to his Transformers toys with headlights in robot form as women to try to even out the gender imbalance, Justin Hall’s story about dating a man with (unbeknownst to him) serious mental issues while Justin just thought the guy was trying to work out his life, Jennifer Camper’s hardboiled detective story, Terrance Griep’s most painful wrestling injury, Edie Fake’s hilarious two pages of jokes told by somebody trying to pay to get into a sex show, Steve MacIsaac’s coming face to face with his childhood bully and the unlikely way the conversation ended up going, Andy Hartzell’s story of Pvt. Manning (in his own words) talking about his potential gender reassignment surgery on top of trying to come to terms with his conscience about all of the awful things he knew that the U.S. was doing around the world, Carrie McNinch’s first summer love, and Sasha Steinberg’s triumphant tale of a drag queen buying panty hose. That’s right, I somehow didn’t mention Howard Cruse (who’s been at this for decades and who at least partially started gay comics in general), Craig Bostick, L. Nichols or Rob Kirby, all favorites of mine. So that should tell you the level of quality you’re going to be getting here, right? Oh, and since I’ve been cranky about it in past anthologies, I should mention that Rob does everything right in editing this thing. Creator names at the top of every page? Brilliant! Check it out and enjoy, but set aside an afternoon for it, as this here is a hefty pile of stories. $29.99
Comic conventions! Maybe you’re one of the people who only go to conventions to buy comics and don’t create them yourself, but have you ever wondered about life on the other side of the table? Not really? Well, you really should try putting yourself in their shoes for a few minutes. This anthology has all kinds of stories from conventions, good and bad, from some of the champions of small press comics (if the industry had formal champions, which they should maybe think about doing). Stories in here include Max Clotfelter’s first time working a table when he was a kid, Cara Bean and Sara Carson’s long road to a triumphant show, Kelly Froh’s two worst shows (I hope), Carrie McNinch’s problem with shyness, Rob Kirby’s mostly bad day (but with plenty of good things in it, like the progressive redneck parents), Mark Campos’ ingenious trick to selling original art, Aron Nels Steinke dealing with a friend getting a tv deal while having a slow day himself (along with dealing with an annoying kid), Gabrielle Gamboa’s hilariously illustrated conversations among cartoonists, Justin Hall’s description of finally getting the sale after talking a guy into it for 20 minutes, Tony Breed dealing with putting a book together and the reality of the show, Matt Moses and Jeff Worby narrowly avoiding a beating/murder, Zine Crush trying to get a copy of their zine to the object of their crush without being obvious about it, Rick Worley learning the truth about Dash Shaw, Jason Martin showing the good and the bad and John Porcellino showing us the weather paradox at cons. Oh, and a bonus piece by Kelly Froh (I’m almost positive) showing us the moment at a con when her spirit leaves her body. I’ve seen plenty of comics about convention horror stories in my years of reviewing these things, so I was a little nervous about a whole anthology on the subject, but that was silly of me. This whole thing is full of goodness, and should probably be handed out to obvious first-timers as they walk into cons as a public service. $4
Another one of my blind buys. Hey, until there’s a good comic store around here where I can actually look at stuff on the shelves and see what I think I might like, there’s not much choice, is there? It’s a pretty hit or miss process, so I’m always happy when I find something that I can unreservedly recommend to people. I don’t want to give a single thing away of this plot, because a lot of the joy in the book is watching it all unfold. How about this: it’s the tale of a detective, a femme fatale (there’s really no other term for her) and a hotel worker with big dreams. Throw in a freak show and some gunplay and you have a winner. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s a mystery/noir in the tradition of the best in the genre, like the Jim Thompson or Raymond Chandler stuff. Here’s hoping that this is the first of many things that these two have planned together. They could certainly help to reinvigorate monthly comics, as their style would fit perfectly into a monthly or bimonthly book. Deceptively simple artwork, kind of reminds me of Jason Lutes but a little looser. Sometimes I wish I knew actual artistic terms for all you artists out there. I know as well as you do that most of you reading this make your own comics or are friends of mine… Have I mentioned that I can’t recommend this book enough? The only thing that disappointed me was the inclusion of the freak show, and that’s only because it seems like every noir story these days has to have a freak show in it somewhere. Obviously a personal problem of mine and no slight at all to what these guys have done. Don’t forget their website! Go buy it, stop reading this.
A Sacred Text Now Available! $3.95
Sometimes the back of a book can sum up the whole thing better than I could. Still, they pay me the big bucks to ramble, so off I go. This is the story of a former slave who escapes under mysterious circumstances. He’s on the run and comes across a temple with a religious service going on, and the rest of the book is the story of his living with these people and trying to move on with his new (and suddenly free) life. It’s a fascinating story about destiny and love, among many other things, and it well worth a look. It also won the Xeric award in 2001 and I have seen very few bad things come with that caveat. I have a bit of a problem with the sloppiness of the lettering at times. Never anything too serious and it’s just me seriously picking at nits, but I had to find something negative, right? Anyway, every one of his books is available here now and I really like his art. Contact info is up there!
True Travel Tales #3 Now Available! $3.95
There’s only one true travel tale this time around, and it ends up possibly being the best of the bunch. A young woman named Sarah goes off on a two week tour in Mexico right around the holidays, as she wants to avoid the whole family affair and is at the lowest point in her life. She meets another woman on the bus, Helena, who has recently had her children taken from her (we’re never given the exact reason for this). They make an immediate and profound friendship, but things get complicated when Sarah discovers that Helena isn’t sleeping, and hasn’t slept for at least three days. Things get progressively crazier from there, as Helena slowly breaks down completey, falling into three distinct personalities, going so far as to act like a whore and speak Spanish fluently at times, something she had never been able to do. The struggle to keep Helena from hurting herself and/or out of a Mexican mental institution (a place, they are told, where crazy people sometimes never make it out of) is what makes this book such a beautiful thing, as these strangers give up large chunks of their vacation and sleep just to try and keep this woman going. Justin’s art has never looked better, and he explains in the afterward some of the artistic liberties he took (like telling the story from Sarah’s perspective). It’s odd to say that you should start at #3 and work your way back if you’re interested in this sort of thing, but this really is the best of the bunch. $3.95
True Travel Tales #2 Now Available! $2.95
These issues of True Travel Tales (#2 and 3) seem to have been forgotten about in the “online store” box for years, due mostly to the confusion of all the other comics coming in, and it’s a damned shame. One of my biggest complaints about autobio books, when I have anything to complain about, is that some people can manage to make a comic about nothing at all, having never been anywhere interesting or done much of anything worth noting. That is not an issue in this series, as these tales take place over various parts of the globe. The first story here involves some silent snorting of coke, followed quickly by a near-brawl as said coke ends up missing (they were silent because the walls were thin, it’s not a silent story). Next up is a shortie told in the rain dealing with reactions to the start of the Iraq War (this came out in 2003), and the shame which the author was already feeling back then. A familiar piece is next, or at least it’s familiar if you read the 2003 SPX anthology, dealing with masturbation and a Bible reading. Next up is A Final Goodbye, dealing with seeing a friend on what ends up being their death bed but, assuming they’d get better, never saying a proper goodbye. Finally there’s a text piece about the Fiesta de la Cruz in Bolivia, and how it can be dangerous to be a foreigner in a private, sacred event. These were all drawn by Justin but told by other people, usually with pseudonyms, unless perhaps we’re supposed to know Agustin “Tin Tin” or Sam “Le Pelona”. I can see why they remain basically anonymous (especially the woman masturbating in the dark church), and it all looks gorgeous, so what does it matter? I realize that this issue is basically an antique in comic years at this point, but fascinating stories like these never really get old. $2.95
True Travel Tales #1 Now Available! $2.95
My love of good autobio stuff is probably common knowledge to anybody who reads the site on a regular basis. So when I tell you that this is a collection of stories from various authors, all drawn by Justin Hall, well, it’s probably a safe bet to say that I liked it. About the only thing that could hurt a book like this is if these were all “you had to be there” type of stories. You know, the ones that are good to the people who lived them, a few close friends and not many other people. Happy to say that almost all of these are fascinating and riveting. You have someone almost falling off a cliff, a sexy grandma story, a sexy random encounter story, a lead singer on fire, a creepy masturbator, a possible alien and a visit from the Lizard God. All good stuff, which makes this well worth picking up. Great art too, it really made these stories come alive. Check out the website, I’m sure there’s contact info and samples up there…