Once again I’m going to cheat a bit and quote directly from the disclaimer on the back of the book: “This book is not recommended for children or the self-satisfied.” That might seem to be a confusing description about a comic dealing with a sickness, but boy does it ever make sense after you read it. This starts off as the story of Gabby (aka Ken Dahl) as he deals with a sudden illness. He starts off with the same plan as everybody with no health insurance: wait it out, drink lots of fluids and hope for the best. But his illness keeps getting worse and worse, so he finally breaks down and heads to the local emergency room (despite that same emergency room being recently sued for letting somebody die in their waiting room after leaving them there for 24 hours). 22 hours into his stay he gets in to see a doctor… who doesn’t help him out even a little bit. From there he goes back to his original plan of waiting it out, even though it had clearly gotten pretty terrible for him to head to the hospital in the first place. But as the days went on and he didn’t get any better, he started pondering the reasons for living, and what was or wasn’t worth fighting for. From there he thought of all of human history and the delusions that we all must tell ourselves to enjoy our lives in a place of such rampant corruption, disease and hopelessness. He came away with a damned near irrefutable case against humanity in all its forms, unless you were willing to stick to that plan of willful ignorance, but you can read this yourself to see the case that he made. Granted, his mind was in a sick and dark place when he thought all this through, but I defy anybody to read this without agreeing with a good chunk of what he said. If you’re content in the bubble that you’ve made of your life and have no interest in seeing if anything could break through, stay away from this book at all costs. If you can accurately see your surroundings already and want to live as closely examined of a life as possible, there are few books better than this to help in that task. $21.95
You know what the worst thing about mini comics is, hands down?Â Not the occasional amateurishness, or basic errors of composition or copying, or how people consciously or unconsciously can lift things from their idols.Â It’s the fact that the good stuff is so hard to come by, and if you miss it when it first comes out you’re generally screwed.Â Take Ken Dahl, for example.Â He snuck under my radar for years until I got a copy of Monsters, and I was completely blown away.Â Still, there didn’t seem to be a wide array of old minis that I could pick through to see what else I had done, so I let it go, as this sort of this happens all the time.Â Luckily for us all Microcosm publishing exists, and they were nice enough to put out a collection of work from Ken’s old minis and various anthologies.Â Somehow there isn’t a bad comic in this collection, and considering the range of time covered in here (at least a decade), that’s astounding.Â Things start off with a few strips about an elderly punk trying to get by in the world, and then turns instantly political.Â This is odd enough, as very few comics seem to care much about politics or the actual world these days, and this strip deals with a plane trip Ken took on 9/11/02.Â It’s a while ago, but us adults in the room can remember the constant fear and paranoia being pumped into the culture.Â Ken dealt with heavily armed guards, a creepy speech by the pilot, even the whole cabin getting up and singing the Pledge of Allegiance (seriously).Â Next up is a strip that circles back and eats its own tail, as Ken tries to come up with something meaningful for a zine fest, considers making a comic about farts, and finally lands on making a comic about his inability to make a comic.Â Eniz (the zine antidote) should be required reading for anybody who makes a mini, as it makes all sorts of important points about making comics, how they’ve been co-opted and all the talented people have fled to the internet (although I like to think a number of them have come back since this strip came out), but why the hell not make them anyway?Â Other stories include a guy joining the army (with the recruiting officer being the Sarge from Beetle Bailey, another piece filled with rare political observations), Ken’s mildly-but-not-really homosexual experience as a small child, some time travel hijinx, Ken’s obsession with gorgeous women while knowing that he would never want to speak to them for more then five minutes, a creepy stalker, and the quiet joy of watching Asteroids.Â Then there’s all the Gordon Smalls strips (a thinly disguised Ken Dahl?), dealing with such subjects as frozen bananas, peeing in the shower, swinging at night, how falling in love is a waste of time, and his decision to pick up skateboarding again 20 years after his prime.Â The cream of the crop of the Gordon Smalls stories is the how to steal food/how to get arrested epic, as Gordon gets put through the prison institution and sees right through it.Â I feel like I’m cheating by just describing the stories, as each piece is packed with critical observations of the world at large and the basic “point” of these stories is largely just there to let him rant about the world at large.Â There was a pile of quotes about his work at the Microcosm website, and I have to echo one of them: I don’t understand why some people get famous and others as obviously talented as Ken aren’t universally known.Â I’m guessing that with this and Monsters both widely available now that is going to change quickly, if it hasn’t already.Â And it’s a measly $6 for 122 pages?Â I’ve seen minis that are more expensive.Â Buy it already!
Herpes!Â Did I scare any of you away?Â If so, it’s OK, you can’t get herpes from reading this review.Â Well, I guess it would technically be possible if you’re reading this at a public library, and a guy with herpes put his infected dick on the keyboard before you walked in and, after typing for a bit, you put your fingers on that cut you got on your lip the other night.Â Then you might get herpes.Â Herpes remains a shockingly awful disease in the eyes of a good number of people, as it’s incurable and can pop up at any time once you contract it.Â This graphic novel is Ken’s tale of going from a guy who made fun of people with herpes to a guy with herpes, and the transition is about as smooth as you’d expect.Â It starts off with cold sores and moves down to the vagina of his girlfriend, as you’d probably have to expect.Â Their life is turned upside down, as how do you react to something like that?Â Every sex act became a question and a hassle.Â The relationship quickly crumbled, or “quickly”, as it did take both of them a while to get over the fear that nobody else would ever love either of them again so they’d probably better stay together.Â They were quickly given proof that they were contagious (his ex gave it to her new partner), and Ken’s real life of shame began.Â He thought that he was utterly unworthy of love, a monster that existed solely to infect other people, and everything became a question.Â Should he even share a bottle with somebody without telling them?Â What about kissing?Â What if somebody snuck a kiss in before he had a chance to tell them?Â The guy tortured himself about it for years before finally digging into the scientific literature, and at that point it gets a whole lot less terrifying.Â A few numbers for you, oh readers, just in case you don’t buy this book for some ungodly reason.Â 75% of American adults have HSV (herpes), and 70% of new cases are acquired during asymptomatic shedding, meaning that the person has no visible signs of the virus.Â The main STD test available doesn’t even test for herpes because it’s so common.Â But hey, you may be thinking, I’ve never shown a symptom of any kind, and neither have the bulk of my friends, so that 75% is ludicrous.Â Actually, most of the people who get the virus don’t show any outward signs, often for their entire lives.Â You could get married and grow old without showing a single sign, then have an affair at 60 and pass it on to your new (though old, technically) lover.Â When it comes to herpes we’re all doomed.Â So fine, but isn’t there a comic in here to talk about?Â Yes, there is.Â Ken gets more than a little maudlin at times (hey, wouldn’t you if you thought your sex life was forever over?), but this book is packed with facts and sources for those facts.Â And did I mention that it’s funny?Â He’s self-effacing where needed, and it’s rare that you see such an honest journey of self-discovery without it being a TV movie.Â It’s never overbearing or preachy, and I just flat out learned a lot from this book while being thoroughly entertained.Â That’s a hard line to walk.Â As Jeffrey Brown says on the back cover, this book is required reading for anybody who has had sex, is going to have sex or wants to have sex.Â It’s just a fantastic book in every way I know how to judge ’em.Â $18