Time and Money
I sometimes wish that more people listed the circumstances that led to the creation of their comics. This one, for example, was made over the course of two days, live on her blog, based on an idea from Jeff Lilly. Not that that has affected the quality, but I do get curious about such things. Then again, “created over the course of two years in fits and starts, then put into a closet for six months, then taken out and reworked, then published” would get pretty old as a description. Oh hello cynicism, and a good morning to you! Anyway, this one is a fairly simple tale of Ms. Ginsberg getting prodded into a quest by a walking piggy bank. They need payment to get into a tower, she refuses to use her obvious resource., but they reach another solution and see the result of their quest. Yeah, this all has to be pretty vague, as it’s a damned short comic and I don’t want to give it all away. It plays a little with perceptions and what your brain absorbs of your surroundings, with a nice little touch of mystery about reality thrown in at the end. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s really about where that hat came from. $1
Quick, I’m looking for a solution to an unsolvable problem. Bear with me, it does relate to this comic. Pam puts out these minis at a fairly rapid pace. They’re usually 8 pages, maybe a bit less if the cover doesn’t bleed over into the actual comic, or if the back cover doesn’t conclude the story. Pam also has a fairly vast collection of characters. Now, my memory could charitably be described as “hot garbage” on recognizing characters (and, more importantly, their relationships to other characters) under those conditions, and because I tend to read her books every 3-6 months. So how can this problem be solved? Obviously Pam can’t put a full list of characters (and how they relate to the other characters) in every comic, as she just doesn’t have enough room. But I know I remember that one character from that one mini, and it’s driving me nuts that I can’t place him. Somebody solve this please! As for the comic itself, it’s delightful. Things start off with a train conductor getting some tea at a coffee shop. I love the fact that the server has four arms; that he can both aimlessly scrub the counter and cross his arms with barely-concealed contempt for all customers, just like a real coffee shop worker! The conductor then sees a giant trophy and goes to congratulate the young man who has won it, but things aren’t as they seem, and once again there isn’t enough comic for me to walk you through the whole thing while still leaving enough for you to enjoy. But it involves science!
The Steaming Pool
Have you ever read any Edward Gorey books? No? OK, feel shame for a moment, then go read a few of his books to become a more complete human. For the rest of us, this comic is Pam’s tribute to Gorey, and it’s a beauty. It’s also damned near impossible to review without giving the whole thing away, so it’s a good thing I’m not paid by the word. Or at all, really. Hey, I’ve been doing this for free for 12 years! So hey, this comic. The page I sampled should tell you all you need to know about this style, but this thing is ridiculously perfect as a tribute. The dialogue, the fur coat, the one piece old-timey bathing suit, everything was as it should be. Send her a buck to check it out, then slip it into one of your Gorey books. I’m curious to see how much it confuses the next person to read that book, or if they think it might just be an add-on from Gorey himself. $1
Tales From the Interstate #1: 20th Anniversary Edition
It’s a shame that so many artists hate their old material, as this is an idea I’d like to see explored more by other artists. I still have never seen King Cat #1, for example, and would love to see it in this format. Pam put her first comic, a redrawn and expanded version of that comic and a “commentary” booklet all together in this package. Her style in the redrawn comic is much improved, obviously, but her commentary makes it clear that the seeds for the characters she’s used all along were here right at the beginning. I’ve been trying to put my mind back in that time period, as I started reading small press comics only a few years after Pam started drawing them, and I’m honestly not sure if this one would have stood out for me at the time. The redrawn edition would have definitely gotten my attention, but the original? Hey, why don’t I tell you about it so you have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. A young couple picks up what appears to be a Buddhist monk hitchhiking. The monk was quiet, either because he was full of wisdom or didn’t speak much English, and he paid for gas a few times, then the comic ends. The Haitian proverb on the back cover might have gotten my attention, but there really isn’t a whole lot to the story. As for the redrawn version, it stays pretty true to the original, then adds eight new pages onto the original six. These new pages show the couple meeting up with the monk again, as he’s now running a used bookstore. These pages tie it into her current Kekionga series more closely, but I’ll leave the contents a mystery for long time fans who want to see what she’s changed. The booklet is also quite informative, as Pam tells the story of how she got started (Matt Feazell has done all kinds of good for comics creators throughout the years) and takes us step by step through the pages and the characters. This may or may not be all that interesting if this is the first thing of Pam’s you’ve seen, but this is indispensable if you’ve been reading her stuff for years. She doesn’t put a lot of personal details in her stories (or if she does she hides it under fiction) but you’ll learn a lot about both Pam and her work if you read this whole set. No price listed, but this has to at least be a few dollars…
So I finally got a chance to have a long conversation with Pam at SPACE (2013), and it’s official: there’s no need for me to keep putting “Kekionga #___” in the title. Our long national nightmare is over! Oh right, nobody ever thinks about such things besides me. Well, it is at least a little bit useful to point out that this is #38, mostly because most other creators never make it even close to that number in their comics series, but it’s not relevant in a continuity sense. Anyway, this time around we have the werewolf lady, Mr. Swann and Ms. Ginsberg (she also said she’d think about putting a character guide in her comics, as it is quite a cast of characters to keep track of) opening a strange door with a skeleton key. Why? For an adventure, of course! They use the tracking skills of the wolf lady to get to the center of the hedge maze that was behind the door, and it’s there that they find the skeleton of a moab. As luck would have it they stumbled across a saddle earlier that looked like it just might fit that skeleton, and that’s when the crazy stuff starts happening. There’s a cowboy, and way too much sunlight, and no sunglasses for the moab, and too much for me to get into here without spoiling the whole thing. It’s another fun little comic, and the level of detail that she puts into these things is still impressive for the amount of them that she’s able to produce. $1
The Dream of Iowa
I wonder if Pam has any plans to put all of these minis together into a graphic novel? There’s a consistent cast of characters, even though the mini comics seems to be designed to be enjoyed just fine individually (even if you maybe don’t know some of the characters). For instance, this issue is almost entirely the dream of one of those characters. She wins a raffle for a ride on an airship, gets dressed up in some steampunk clothing, and starts taking in the bizarre sights, from the mammoths anchoring the airship to the familiar faces of some friends in the cockpit to her boyfriend (?) dressed up as a hero and flying up to meet them. Then she wakes up and has a conversation with her roommate, who appears to be a cavewoman giantess of some kind (see, here’s where a character guide would come in handy), and the whole thing manages to stay more of less self-contained. These are always fun little books, even if I can’t escape the idea that the reader could get more out of them if they had a bigger sense of the context. Still, how would she even accomplish that? These minis aren’t big enough for a detailed recap, and her universe is getting bigger all the time. Ah, don’t mind me, just pick a few of these up and enjoy them on their own. $1
Oh, Comics! #20
Hello comics anthology! What sort of mixed bag do you have for me today? Before I get into it I should point out (in case I haven’t already) that I love that title, as it could be taken in so many ways. I prefer to take it as an exclamation of alarm, but am also happy accepting it in the context of some lovable scamp accidentally knocking over a flower vase. The subject of this one is “Air” (which should maybe have been mentioned on the cover somewhere, but in hindsight it’s hard not to think of air when you’re looking at that cover by Max Ink), and stories include a silent tale of an overly inquisitive space ghost (not THE Space Ghost) by Bianca Alu-Marr and Steve Peters, a hilarious parody of the 50’s style alarmist propaganda videos by Derek Baxter and Brian Canini (probably the highlight of the anthology), Pam Bliss proving that she can draw the difference between a husky and a wolf, a gloomy but accurate (and gorgeous) tale of an astronaut trying to fix a satellite and the consequences of it by D. Skite, Canada Keck’s tale of getting on a plane and getting a one-way ticket to anywhere, two short poems/pieces by Matt Levin about the subject matter, Michael M. Carroll’s tale of some issues between the elements of his Accidentals, Bob Corby’s piece on space cops and their search for an illegal passenger, and a Robert Gavila tale from 2004 about giant lizards. I saw the ending of that one coming, but I am also a gigantic dork with way too much knowledge of such things. There are also a couple of Cornelia pieces by Kel Crum and one story by Steven Myers that I didn’t mention because it is not for me. The two lady hero characters are called She-Eagle (seriously) and First Lady, and the whole thing is meant in earnest, and it is just not something that I enjoyed. But hey, to each their own. It’s a nicely varied pile of stories, and there are quite a few of them for that tiny $5 price tag.
Kekionga Mini Works #30: Fleek
There are times when a comic just mystifies me. Maybe if I had read some of Pam’s past issues in any kind of linear order I would have a better chance at understanding this, but as it is I’m almost completely at sea. This one starts off with a listing of the cast of characters, which is a damned useful piece of information (brain in a jar, a stuffed coelacanth, flying junkyard rats, two humans and a “Josef). Things start off with one of the humans poking around in a mysterious box with everybody else hovering around, trying to figure out what it is. They start guessing (by throwing out words that sound like nonsense), other characters make fun of them for their guesses, culminating in a page later in the book that looked like a sound effect convention gone wrong. I would have used it for the sample, but it was very late in this short book and I didn’t want to give the whole thing away. So if you’re a fan of wordplay and perhaps have a dictionary on hand that is getting a bit dusty, give this comic a shot. You’ll look up a half dozen words easy. I don’t have a dictionary around so I was mostly just befuddled. Which, again, is quite possibly my fault. $.50
Kekionga MiniWorks #34: Mailbox
All these years later, and I’m still torn: do I prefer using just the titles of each of Pam’s mini comics, or is it better to go with the “Kekionga MiniWorks” full title? The latter is definitely more impressive, as any mini comic that gets up to #34 is in a very select company, but I do enjoy the simplicity of her titles. This one features a hard-boiled version of Anubis (called Anpu here, and maybe there’s some history to explain that in a previous issue that I missed) investigating the disappearance of a mailbox. It quickly turns into an examination of society in general, as mailboxes are being removed to force people to use the mailbox outside of post offices, office hours at banks are being reduced to force people to bank online or by using ATMs, etc. If you are thrilled with every modern “convenience” and don’t understand the fuss about such things, it’s probably safe for you to skip this one. If you’re increasingly cranky about this state of affairs, you’ll get some joy out of watching them complain about all this for a bit, culminating in the delivery of an actual letter. As for the basics, Pam’s art is always gorgeous and this is a sweet little story. And who can resist a hard-boiled version of Anubis investigating a missing mailbox? $1
Kekionga Mini Works #24
Sorry, but I’m way too lazy to type out that whole title.Â I’m sticking with her hidden (on the back cover, anyway) numerical system for these things.Â This is, as the title would suggest, a collection of pretty crappy werewolf jokes.Â Hey, she comes right out and admits it on the cover, and after reading this I can’t put up much of an argument.Â Check out that sample, they’re all pretty much like that, with the slight exception that I didn’t even recognize some of them as jokes.Â Those are probably the ones that’ll come to me in a few minutes or hours (or days, or years…) and make me groan.Â I’m not going to go over these one by one, as if you’re the type who likes pun I wouldn’t want to ruin anything.Â I don’t mean this to sound like I’m trashing Pam, as the art is gorgeous as always and I have nothing but respect and admiration for all she’s done for small press comics.Â Â It’s just that this is one awful, awful pile of jokes.Â To see her at her best pick up, oh, ANY other mini comic she has lying around, or do yourself a favor and get that collection listed at the top, as that is a wonderful thing.Â This one is only for fans of the pun and/or masochists.Â No price, so… $2?
Kekionga Bug Book
I’m honestly surprised that there is only one review up on this page. I know I have more of her older minis, it’s possible that I read them before I even started this page, otherwise there’s no reason I haven’t reviewed more than one of her pile o’ comics available. Either way I haven’t been keeping up with her stuff lately, so it was a surprise to me that she had decided to make her own world and have it more or less continue through a series of minis (this one is labeled as #19). Hey, it’s better than a string of completely random minis… unless they’re intended only for comedy (like Sean Bieri with Jape). Bugs are the theme for this one, as you may have guessed, and it’s split up into two parts. First up is “Soup” Swann getting a new work truck. The design is based loosely on a grasshopper, you see. Next up is a mysterious man in black who (through an interpreter) demands a caddis worm, and needs the local werewolf librarian to get it. As a stand-alone issue this didn’t do much for me, frankly, but it’s hardly fair to say that about something that’s at #19 when this is the first one I’ve seen. There’s all kinds of room here for interesting back stories for these characters, and I’ll bet plenty of that information has already been established in back issues. Like what exactly is that thing on the cover? A werewolf librarian? And who was that man in black? Possibly all things that have already been dealt with, but they remain mysteries to me. Unless there’s a collection available the casual reader might be a little lost here, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt from her last graphic novel that anybody who digs into this world will be rewarded. $2
Coelacanth and Friends (Kekionga Mini Works #16)
In case you can’t read that blurb on the cover, this is a 25 hour mini comic.Â I’m not sure how that’s much different than a 24 hour mini comic (other than the obvious), but in this case I can say that the extra hour helped immensely with the artwork.Â 24 hour books often look at least a little bit rushed, this one is gorgeous.Â The time constraints didn’t slow her down a bit.Â Pam started this off from a “story seed”, using a disembodied brain, an ugly fish trophy and a plane about to crash.Â Things start off with the plane, well, crashing, but as we pull back we see that it’s a toy plane with an apparently sentient doll at the helm.Â A group of entirely too adorable children were playing with the plane, and they take it to a salvage yard in an attempt to fix it up.Â In this shop we meet the ugly fish trophy (the coelacanth, obviously) and the disembodied brain, two beings who would much rather be in the main part of the store instead of shoved in a storeroom, as they imagine the view would be better.Â There’s a hefty cast of characters for a fairly simple story: 6 children, the shop owner, his dog and a stockboy.Â I previously thought (after reading #19 of this series) that these minis all used the same cast of characters, after reading this I have to confess that I have no idea if that’s true.Â Here’s hoping I was smart enough to get more than one mini from Pam at this SPACE.Â Anyway, this was a pretty good mini.Â Decent story, odd cast of characters, and artwork that was way too impressive for the time allowed.Â Worth a look, and maybe one of these years I’ll just buy a whole pile of these.Â $1
I was perfectly ready not to like this book, really I was. I put off reading it because it looked cute as hell, and that kind of thing rarely sits well with me. Finally I had a couple of free hours and I figured I had to read this sooner or later, and it completely won me over. Let me make one thing clear: this book is really cute. Really. And it’s still one of the better things that I’ve seen this year. It’s a huge book, almost 170 pages of all kinds of random stories. Time travel, Sasquatch, autobiography, Radiation Man, song adaptations… There was even an alphabet done by a dog named Sparky and I still liked it. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood to read a certain type of comic, and sometimes the comic is good enough to put you in just that right type of mood. I was grinning from ear to ear after reading this and now I want more. Probably my favorite thing in the book was the adaptation of “Froggie Went A’ Courtin”, which you probably know as “Crambone” from some old Tom and Jerry cartoon. Who knew that there were that many words in it? Fantastic stuff, all the way through, and I really can’t say enough good things about this. All ages fun. That’s rare enough, but when it’s a genuine treat for the adults and not just tolerable, well, you have yourself a keeper. Visit her website, all kinds of stuff there.