The Lighthouse in the City Volume 8
For all that I sometimes give artists grief who only put out a book every few years, it’s even trickier as a reviewer to keep up with the people who constantly produce comics. Karl was nice enough to to send along a half dozen or so books after I reviewed his fifth volume earlier this year, which then leads to the problem of what to review next. Read them all in order and talk about them? Nope, this time around I decided to review the most recent volume, with the hope of getting back to the earlier stuff at some undetermined point in the future. That never seems to work with me, but I live in hope! This collection covers October through December of 2021, and it also wraps up his second full year of daily strips. The level of detail he packs in these strips is astounding; I get that he’s able to illustrate for a living, but this is not a man who follows a simple formula for daily strips. Generally speaking, the four panels then out format is the most common for daily strips, but Karl is fine making a three or four page story out of the events of that day if that’ll make a better story. Granted, he also has a few strips that are silent sketches, but he even puts so much detail into those that I’d hardly call them an off-day. So, what’s going on in this volume? If you’re reading this in the far future you may have forgotten, but things are rough all over these days, and this volume reflects that reality. The first strips starts off with a quote from The Thin Man (the book by Dashiell Hammett) that ties into the madness of the vaccine deniers, so he’s right off to the races. There are just under 100 other strips in this book, dealing with loss (way too many of his friends passed away during this time period), hope, trying to get back to normal (i.e. being comfortable going out with friends again with not everybody wearing masks), and the introduction of a new cat in their lives, and this cat naturally ends up being the star of the show. Sure, I’m biased towards cats, but I’m also right. This feels like maybe as vague as I’ve ever been in describing a comic, but I am completely fine with that. This is a guy who’s wrapping up his second year of daily strips and frankly seems like he’s at the top of his game right now. They’re unlike most other daily strips I’ve read (the level of detail especially, but it’s also rare for a book like this to not ever feel repetitive) and I’m pretty comfortable recommending this to anybody. As to the question of which volume you should start with, that’s quite a bit tougher. Maybe pick the most eventful chunk of three months or so from your own life over 2020-2021 and see how his life was in comparison? That way if you enjoy the book you can always go back and read what came before and after it. Or just pick a number between 1 and 8 and get one at random. Give it a shot, is what I’m saying. $12
I’m going to get a bit nitpicky here at the start, so if you don’t want to read it, just skip ahead a few lines. Or if you don’t even want to be bothered doing that, I thoroughly enjoyed this, so take that information and go about your day. See that “Volume 5” up there? Yeah, I did that. It’s not listed on the cover, on the spine, not even on the inside with the title. But this IS the fifth volume, and since this is a collection of daily strips, that seems relevant if you were looking for the whole journey. Even worse, I don’t know if you can even get all the volumes. The first volume is listed through Birdcage Bottom Books, the fifth through Kilgore, but as for everything in the middle, a quick Google search has failed me. Maybe the thinking is that only obsessives read small press comics, so those types of folks would research before buying. It might even be correct! It just strikes me as odd, as a needless way to confuse people. See all that complaining? Didn’t mention the quality of the book even one time, did I? That’s because it’s delightful, right around the best of the daily strips I’ve seen. That’s for a simple reason: Karl doesn’t force it. This might seem basic, but some people who do daily strips seem like they’re performing at times, or pushing for something funny and/or insightful when the truth is that they don’t have much to say on that particular day. And that’s fine! Karl’s solution is given away a bit on that cover, as he has no problem silently narrating a small happening from the day, or the absolute lack of anything happening. He’s also not boxed in by the same format (generally four panels, single page with these sorts of things), as some strips are a few pages, some are a single panel, some are all over the place. Flipping through this book before I started reading it I assumed it was a regular graphic novel (this is also where the lack of numbering failed me) just from the wildly different looks of the pages. Anyway, finally, this book covers the period from January through March 2021, which is less than a year ago as I’m writing this. Some shit went down during this period, to put it mildly, but since everybody reading this went through it too, I won’t go through it again. It’s an engaging collection, with funny and sad strips (and everything in between), and it makes me want to scour the internet to find those missing volumes. Give it a shot, and yes, that’s especially for people who are sick of the daily diary strip format. This proves that it still can be done well with a little ingenuity. $12
30 Miles of Crazy: Another Round
If there’s one rule about autobio comics, whether they’re daily strips or regular old comics, that everybody should stick to, it’s this: have something to talk about. That’s it! The “something” could be deeply personal, or absurd, or just observances of the people around you. I’m happy to report that Karl nailed that last one, as this is a collection of stories told (usually) at bars, or at least dealing with drunken people. And, if you’ve ever been to more than a few bars, you know that that is where the best stories often come from. These were originally single page strips that were published on a weekly basis on his website (and he’s still keeping up with them as of late February 2016), so there’s no greater narrative arc here, but who needs it? Some of these stories are funny, some baffling, and some are downright sad. Subjects include the various ways that people get kicked out of bars (as a recurring theme in these strips it’s hilarious), what counts as an ID, eating a sandwich that was left at a bus stop, getting lectured by a bum about forgetting the lesson of Super Size Me, drunken acrobatics, drunkenly hitting on ladies on a bus, picking the appropriate area to vomit in, finding his people at a comic convention, and the troubles with a language barrier while trying to find a little person prostitute. That covers about half the book anyway; the other half is up to you to discover. Unless you just read them all for free at his website, you cheapskate you. Overall this is a fantastic collection of stories and overheard conversations and I defy anybody not to enjoy reading this. As for me, I don’t go to bars much lately, but this comic actually has me missing them, which is no small feat. $15
Revolt to What?
OK Americans with no interest in history, bear with me on this one. Also please note that I am not assuming that no Americans have an interest in history, and particularly the people who read websites about small presses tend to have more eclectic interests than most. But the dumb American is a valid stereotype. I also know that lots of people from other countries read this website… ah, enough already. Remember when the Czech Republic formed in the early 90’s? I was a young student back then, so I knew the Soviet Union fell apart, but the details were hazy to me. Anyway, even if you did know the history and what came from it, this is still an entirely new perspective. Why? Because it’s based on a conversation set in a bar among a group of dissatisfied former revolutionaries who are more than a little sick about what came next. There’s a fair amount of philosophical chatter, and the question of how things could have turned out perfectly in any case lingers over the whole conversation, but it’s a fascinating chat involving stereotypes, the behavior of the victors, how quickly it all fell apart and the strong, constant state of drunkenness of much of the population, with no hope of any further positive steps. Still, the bar scene covers the gamut; I had no idea that the frat bros type was something that anybody else in the world actually aspired to, although it’s nice to see that it’s mocked universally. It’s a fascinating chat and it makes me wonder what else these two creators can do, so it’s a good thing for me that they were nice enough to send along another book for me to ramble about later. $5