Wild Women of the Kitty-Kat Galaxy!
Full disclosure time: if I had my druthers Rafer would be chained to his drawing desk and unable to leave it (except for short periods of time to maintain his sanity) until Plastic Farm was finished. That being said, if he’s going to put that on hiatus to branch out into other projects for a bit, I couldn’t be happier that he chose to do a sequel (of sorts) to Dope Fiends of the Zombie Cafe. Dr. Gravely and Billy are back, and Dr. Gravely still can’t remember Billy’s name. Things start off when our heroes (who, hilariously, really can’t stand each other) accidentally create a “nick” in space while they’re working on another experiment. They naturally decide to go through this nick to see what loot they can take from the other side, only to discover a lair of cat women! As you may have guessed from that title/cover. The cat women put them in a dungeon after an ill-advised punch by the doctor, and that giant spider plays a pretty big role before it’s all over. I’m not saying much about the plot, because if you can resist a cover like that then there’s not much I can say to convince you. The sheer joy in the writing of this story by Sean shines through, the art is on par with the best work that Rafer has ever done (and he’s been improving consistently over the years), and that coloring job by Wendi is ridiculously good, perfectly capturing the “B” movie vibe that permeates this book. My only minor complaint (and I’m still not sure that it really is a complaint) is that they did chapter breaks in the overwrought style of pulp comics, with dramatic images of what happens in the chapter to come. The problem is that this book isn’t big enough to support that many chapters, so the chapters ended up being pretty short and those splash pages could be a bit jarring. On the other hand, they were universally awesome, so it’s impossible to come down too hard on them. Clearly, the only solution is to make the next set of these into a mini series where those chapter bumps are more appropriate, FAR IN THE FUTURE WHEN PLASTIC FARM IS DONE. Or, you know, more one-shots like this would also be fine. Or I could acknowledge that I’m not the boss of him and that I’ll just be happy when more issues of Plastic Farm come out. But hey, buy this one in the meantime, as you’d have a hard time not loving it.
Plastic Farm Volume 3: Seasons of Growth in the Fields of Despair
A message to the people out there who still miss Cerebus (like me, up until the last couple of years of its run where I stopped caring): maybe you should give Plastic Farm a shot. Granted, it’s not a monthly comic, which is where the loss of Cerebus is most acutely felt, but good luck finding another ongoing small press series that’s this compelling. I was all set to bitch about the fact that there’s no recap at the start of this one, but it turns out that this is the perfect volume for there to be no recap. A new reader who picked up the third volume (but for some reason skipped the first two, which is a little crazy) would have no trouble at all picking up the basics of the story, as a lot of this is one long, continuing origin story. For people who are just starting this now, go back and read some of my reviews for past issues, as I’m sure as hell not going to recap everything here. The short version of the early days of this series is that it was a number of stories involving a wide cast of characters, often not initially seeming to have anything to do with each other, and their connections were revealed gradually along the way. Oh, and Chester, as he’s the main character here, and either the savior of the universe or its destroyer. Or a crazy person, or something in between. Most of this volume takes place in an airport bar as people wait until the bad weather clears up and the flights start up again. Chester takes this time to tell his story to this room full of people, with each of them chiming in at different moments to tell their own stories (most of them engrossing, a few not so much, but the other characters are also aware of that fact). This volume starts off with both of his origin stories: being baptized by a mysterious group and then starting college. We see his introduction to alcohol and drugs (and ladies, really), with little hints along the way of the underlying insanity of his life. Rafer seems to have come to terms with the fact that his story is going to be much longer than he initially planned and he’s really enjoying the freedom that comes with having all kinds of space. Chester’s race to get to his first day of class, for example, would have been a panel or two if Rafer was still trying to cram all of this into a dozen or so issues, but he was able to take 25 pages to really show every aspect of it. I was also impressed with how seamlessly this graphic novel came together, as I know it came from single issues but it was really hard to tell where one issue stopped and another started (that’s the highest compliment I can give, in case that wasn’t clear). We also get our first clear glimpses of what exactly that mouse-like creature is all about as well as a holding room of sorts for some of the more imaginative creatures I’ve seen outside of an issue of Idiotland (and those creatures were almost universally gross, while these are mostly just… odd). I’m hoping, unrealistically probably, that Rafer already has the fourth volume ready for SPACE in a couple of weeks, as I’ve gone from cautiously optimistic that he’d be able to pull all these disparate threads together to having full confidence in his ability to do so after reading this one. Provided that there’s still a Kickstarter around or something that he can use to finance them, that is. Of course, that would probably also be less of an issue if all kinds of people started buying his books. Try that out, see what happens! $16.99
Dope Fiends of the Zombie Cafe! (written by Sean Frost)
First off, is there a better comic cover than that in the world? There are plenty of good ones out there in the world and more than a few great ones, but is there a single thing about that cover that isn’t fantastic? The story in here is a parody/tribute to the George Romero monster movies and Reefer Madness, with a bit of giant people thrown in for fun. Kids on a field trip are given radioactive carrots and told not to at them which they, of course, do. Then almost all of the beatniks at the open mic night start craving brains. An effort to cure/kill the zombies begins, with a cure coming from the mad scientist, but they seem to just chop people up as soon as they get the cure. Why? Who cares? This is about pure mayhem and hilarity, and it’s done to perfection. It’s $3, contact info is up there and if you can resist that cover you’re a stronger person than I…
Plastic Farm: Seasons of Growth in the Field of Despair
OK listen Rafer, I try to run a tight ship around here. I try to keep things in some semblance of order, keep creator’s book all on their proper pages and whatnot. So when things get to the point where all I have to deal with is the occasional preview issue, keeping order gets difficult. Luckily the actual story content is excellent enough that it manages to shove most of my neuroses to the floor, so kudos for that. For all the people who have been waiting for the Chester origin story, the real thing, it doesn’t get much earlier in a character’s history to show them getting slapped around as a baby. This tells the tale of where Chester came from (although there’s still more room to dig in that subject), a bit about the people who took him in, what their plans were and how exactly he ended up at Greybridge. Rafer is planning on a big old graphic novel some time in 2009, and I’m really hoping that enough people have picked up on this series by now that he’ll be able to tell his story in that format and be successful. Judging from the bits and pieces I’ve seen so far it’ll be worth the wait…
Plastic Farm: Fertilizer
I’m going to start this review by going out on a limb and assume that everybody reading this has at least a passing familiarity with the story of Plastic Farm.Â The best thing I can compare the story to is a giant jigsaw puzzle where you only have a few of the edges complete, with maybe a chunk in the middle here and there, and no sense of the whole picture.Â As such, even somebody like me only has the barest idea of the whole story here anyway.Â This is an interlude in the main story, a chance for Rafer to tie up some loose ends and explain more thoroughly some confusing bits from before.Â This starts off with the preview issue, Plastic Farm 13.1, so if anybody caught that at a convention (or read the review right above this) you’ll know what’s going on.Â There are three stories in here: a significant expansion of that preview issue (with Chester’s parents getting married, the end of their cult and the beginning of the awakening of Jonathan), the story of an assassin named Eliza accepting her last assignment, and the two cops who were killed in issue 4 (or so my crappy memory says) coming back to consciousness and figuring out who and what they are… after some unfortunate experimentation.Â It sure looks to me like Rafer is inching towards bringing all these dangling threads together, but as long as he keeps the ride this much fun he’s welcome to take his time.Â We also get a much better sense of exactly what is keeping track of Chester although, like every time I read one of these comics, I feel the need to go back and read them all again to see how they all fit.Â Oh, and there is an excellent recap at the start here of everything that has happened, I just like catching all the details that those sorts of things leave out.Â If you know the Plastic Farm story this is an essential (if not directly connected to the “main” story) graphic novel, if you’re new to this universe, well, you might want to start at the beginning and work your way down.Â $14.95
Plastic Farm #13.1
Yep, you’re reading that right, this is one of those infamous “preview” issues. Rafer is putting out a graphic novel, sort of an in between thing, that covers the period between the end of #12 and the start of #13. The introduction to this book says that this graphic novel is coming out in 2007, but it’s getting towards the end of August as I write this and I don’t see much of an indication when this is actually hitting the shelves. Gasp! A comic that might come out later than the creator intended! Whatever shall the comics world do. Seriously, I’d love for it to come out this year, purely because I’ve really gotten attached to this series and there’s been a serious lack of new material lately. But if it has to wait until 2008 to have the quality the people involved want it to have, well, take your time, folks. This preview deals with Jonathan Picanos before he started killing people and when he was just starting to learn how to control his body and regulate external injuries. Yes, I should probably remember exactly who that guy is, but it’s been a long time between issues. One thing I did like about this preview is that, rather than being a disjointed chunk of a graphic novel, this functions as a pretty straightforward issue in its own right. Plenty of philosophical ramblings to mull over, and a nice “gap” issue to tide over the ever-increasing (I’m hoping anyway), rabid fan base.
Plastic Farm #12
Well, as promised (if about nine months later than I had intended), I did in fact go back and read all of these issues again, more or less in a row, to try and get a handle on just what Rafer is working towards here. Conclusion: yes, he does have his shit together. I noticed all kinds of little asides while reading them together, like other characters in backgrounds of other scenes and how the incredibly deliberate pace maybe, just maybe, is being done for an excellent reason: to have us know all about these side characters by the time they show up in the main story. I have to say that Rafer showed some serious guts by having his plan and sticking to it, all the while trying to get distributed and at least break even on Plastic Farm, while having a story that seems to be all over the map until you read it in chunks. So! This issue is a natural break, sort of, and it ended up being an actual break as Rafer took some time off to pay off all his debt from putting this book out for a few years. More people are arriving at the airport bar and Chester finally continues his story, this time going into detail about meeting his mother and relating some fascinating behind-the-scenes conversation that tells us more about who is chasing him and a tiny bit about why. OK fine, I still don’t know where plenty of this is going (like the cannibals, or the point of the issue with the lovers leaving each other as one went off to college, or the deep cover agent who was setting up the Senator) but the important thing is that it’s very clear that Rafer knows exactly where this is all headed. A quick glance at his website doesn’t show much in the way of new issues, which is a shame, but he is offering all 12 issues for $25, if you’re curious, and that’s certainly the way I’d recommend reading this. Even the artist changes that I thought were jarring the first time around all seemed to fit in. It could all fall apart, as the pessimist in me insists on pointing out, but right now this has the chance to be one of the truly remarkable comic series to be produced in the last ten years. Here’s hoping he finds a box of money so he can keep it up…
Plastic Farm #10
Remember when I said I would sit down and read this whole thing when #10 came out to see how it all fit together? Well, Rafer said himself at the back of this one that he hopes people do that at the end of the 12th issue, so that’s my new plan. As for this issue, this is where the “oh, so THAT’S here he was going with that” moments start to creep in. It’s all about Jake Goner, a cop who’s investigating the deaths of the two cops from #3 (remember them?) until he’s suddenly called off from the higher-ups. Naturally, he doesn’t take this lying down, and mayhem ensues. Well, not mayhem so much as police work, but mayhem is a lot more fun to type. He also promises 5 chapters in the next issue heading off in all sorts of directions, so I think this is finally at the point where it all starts coming together. Frankly, he’s going to have to do a lot to pull that off with some of these dangling plot lines, but I look forward to seeing if he can do it.
Plastic Farm #9 Now Available! $2.95
My pledge to you guys: when #10 comes out I’m going to sit down, read all these in a row, and tell you honestly what I got out of it. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on here and I feel like I’m losing the thread a bit just reading them when they come out every few months. Maybe I’m assuming that Rafer has his universe together more than he really has and maybe I’m not giving him enough credit already. Hey, I guess that’s kind of like a “tease”, huh? This one is about Ralph Baker, who has been going by the name of Raoul since he was experimented on for money and left a trail of debts (and damage) in his wake. What does this have to do with everything else? Well, as always, we’ll have to wait and see. The backup story is The Continuing Adventures of Fat Man and Little Boy (by Scott Christian Carr & Jeff Westover) is a post-apocalyptic tale, too short to really get much out of, but the art was too smudgy to see what was going on whenever the characters weren’t standing perfectly still anyway. To be fair, like I said, this was only a few pages long and it might be the kind of thing that grows on you after a dozen pages or so. Contact info is up there, I still think this is well worth the effort to try and figure out what’s going on here and where exactly this story is headed…
Plastic Farm #8 Now Available! $2.95
Who out there has been reading this series, waiting patiently for at least some answers to what exactly has been going on here? Well, you get some answers here which, as is usually the case with the great series, also opens up some more questions. The vast majority of this one is the Kamikaze Kid talking about the state of things, how they might have gotten there and what might be done about it. Look, the man (Rafer, that is) is obviously building a universe here, and these things take time. This issue wouldn’t mean much of anything if you hadn’t read the other issues (other than to convince you that he was talking about the last few years worth of GW, or maybe I see that in everything these days), but it’s huge if you have. Contact info is up there, this is still $2.95 and I haven’t been this excited about a continuing, story-based series in quite some time, if that means anything to you…
Plastic Farm #7 Now Available! $2.95
What the hell? Sorry, I know that these are only connected in the loosest of terms at this point, and obviously it’s all going to make sense when it’s done, but what the hell does this issue have to do with anything else? I know, I know, it’s probably just setting up characters who’ll play a major (or minor) role later on and it’s best to have patience. That’s not much of a problem because the next issue has one of the more interesting characters, The Kamikaze Kid, featured pretty heavily. Still, one of these days Rafer is going to have to start tying some of these threads together, at least loosely, or I’m afraid he’s going to start losing people. It’s an admirable thing he’s doing here, setting everything up deliberately and carefully, I just hope he’s not overestimating the patience of his audience. Not me, though, I’m pretty well hooked, barring some serious drop in quality. Oh yeah, the actual comic. I’m supposed to be talkig about that. Well, there are two stories in here. The first one is about a man who can turn his belly button from an innie to an outie at will and his subsequent rise to fame and the inevitable crash. The second story is about a paid assassin who gets a little too close to her target and her problems with the whole thing. I’d tell you more about how they relate to the rest of the larger story, but I honestly have no idea. Both entertaining stories in their own right though, with Jake Warrenfeltz pitching in on the first story and Rafer writing and drawing the second. This issue will probably make sense later, but it’s tough to recommend this story on an issue by issue basis. If you want to dig in (and you should, it’s a fascinating story in a lot of ways so far) you’re better off buying issues in chunks than one at a time. OK, contact info is up there, i can’t wait to get to #8!
Plastic Farm #5 (with Jake Warrenfeltz) Now Available! $2.95
For some reason I haven’t been keeping track of the artist for these issues, as Rafer only drew #1 and 2 (according to his website). Oops. I’ll dig up the rest of them soon. I mention this because, really for the first time in the series, some of the art was noticably bad. I don’t know if it was rushed or if it’s just really tough to draw a rapidly changing party scene with people dancing and causing a ruckus, but those first 6 pages or so were tough to look at. After that it was fine, but that party scene was something else. Anyway, this issue still has nothing to do with anything else, at least not yet. It was titled “Sean”, so I’m guessing she’s the character to keep an eye on. Sean and a couple of friends crash a party, literally, and cause some havoc. The rest of the issue is calmer, dealing with Sean and her boyfriend, who is leaving as Sean sticks around for a year or so to get her degree. The backup story was an illustrated poem by Matt Dembicki called Witch’s Tongue, which had the benefits of looking great and being more than a little bit creepy. All in all this was the weakest issue of the bunch, mostly due to that crappy stretch of art and a disjointed story, but the disjointed story is one of the good things about this comic. What can I say, I’m taking them as they come. Maybe this’ll turn out to be a crucial issue later, but I’d say pick up pretty much any one of the other issues for a better example of what this series is capable of. $2.95
Plastic Farm #4 Now Available! $2.95
Another great, if completely unconnected, issue of Plastic Farm. This one is all about two people, Jack and Emily, who meet in school and fall in love. They’re both pilots and one of them goes missing after flying during a hurricane, and I’m already telling you more about this than you need to know, and I’m also making it seem like an absolute bore. Well, it’s not, it’s just a straightforward story without many bells and whistles, and there isn’t much I can say about it without giving too much away. If you like his other issues, and you already know that the man has a gift for realistic dialogue and social situations, then you know it’s worth a shot. As for the main underlying story that’s supposedly going on here, he mentions what’s coming in the next few issues, and it involves actual recurring characters, so I think we’re getting somewhere. The backup story is from Dennis Culver and is called Astrozombies, which is about, of all things, zombies in outer space. A good few pages of mayhem, which is never really a bad thing. This one’s a bit heftier than the other ones so it’s $4, contact info is up there…
Plastic Farm #3 Now Available! $2.95
Well, this series has offically stopped making sense. Rafer mentions in his intro that this issue has little to do with the previous issues, at least right now, but for us to trust him because he knows what he’s doing. OK, I’ll trust him. After all, I still have three issues sitting here, so I can verify that he knows what he’s doing by what happens next. If it’s still a mess by the end of #6, watch out! Because, um, consequences will be dire! Anyway, this one has two unrelated chapters to keep us busy. In the first one we have two skinny people who are reluctantly eating their dog. They seem to have a working truck, so why they’re eating their dog is a complete mystery. They’re called on by a local commune to help with an injured member, and that’s the chapter. Then you have a drug deal of some kind going down involving a couple of detectives and a big crime figure. That’s it for the main story. I have no idea at all where he’s going with this, but he showed me with the first two issues that he can spin a compelling (and confusing) yarn, so I’ll stick around for a bit. The back-up story is by Sean Frost and Wendi Strang-Frost, and it might make even less sense than the rest of the book. All in all, easily the most confusing book of the series yet. Buy it today! $2.95, contact info is up there…
Plastic Farm #2 Now Available! $2.95
This issue is a lot more focused than the last one, as it’s all about Chester sitting in a bar and telling his life story to the bartender. Well, part of his life story, anyway. It goes from his being left on a church doorstep as a baby to life in a home for disturbed boys right up to the point that he gets some advice about attempting an escape. In other words, great stuff for a second issue, because now I can’t wait to see what happens next. Rafer also mentioned something at the start of this of only having 48 issues left to go, so here’s hoping that he has a plan, and the ability to finish, a 50 issue run. The back-up story, called Progressions (by Jeff Coleman & Stephen Greenwood-Hyde), is a rollicking kung-fu romp involving cheesy dialogue, many killings and close-ups of feet. If you think that’s a terrible idea, shame on you. Maybe for a huge series or something, but for 8 pages it’s wonderful. Anyway, as I may have mentioned, I have no idea where the main story is going here… and I couldn’t care less. As long as it’s good to read issue by issue I’m willing to wait for some serious cohesion. Contact info up there, it’s $2.95 and, as there are already at least 6 issues out, it might not be a bad idea to check a few of them out and see what you think…
Plastic Farm #1 Now Available! $2.95
When something reminds me of Eddie Campbell in any way, it’s a good thing. I’m not sure if it’s the lettering or the way that the Kamikaze Kid reminds me of the Eyeball Kid. Only slightly so far, as this is the first issue, but it’s there. What’s this series about? Well, a man named “Cheez” wakes up in a pile of his own vomit with no idea what happened to him the night before or how he got there. Most the rest of the issue is about the Kamikaze Kid, with a tiny, tiny segue to get there. Then there’s the ending, which doesn’t make any sense at all right now, but it’s setting up for future issues so that’s OK. Overall, well, I loved this. The story had me constantly wondering what was going to happen next, the dialogue was smart and believable (which, considering some of the settings, was pretty impressive), and any artist that can draw a harpoon gun that well is wonderful in my book. Then there’s a short story by Sean Duffey & Jake Warrenfeltz about explorers in the future trying to find a new planet for resources. It was pretty good and I love the idea of having backup stories from different artists in each issue. Remember when Dave Sim used to do that? Ah, good Cerebus memories. Here’s a website, they sent me the next five issues too, so there should be plenty of time in the coming weeks to see where all this is going, and whether or not it’s worth going there. So far I’m intrigued…
Hey, wait a minute, Rafer threw an obscenity in his title!Â I saw it as “mis-hit” before typing it out, now it’s clear what he’s doing with that title.Â Kids, ask your parents about it.Â This is, as the title suggests a collection of Rafer’s non-Plastic Farm comics for 11 years and, as such, is a bit spotty in the quality department.Â He starts with a series of his weekly strips for a college newspaper, not the best of the bunch (as he freely points out) but rather the ones that have survived over the years.Â Mostly forgettable stuff, but you can see the germs for bits of Plastic Farm here.Â Next up is a short piece about his grandfather and his time in WWII, or at least the bits that he as willing to tell his grandkids.Â Following this is a piece about the father of Behaviorism and his torture (basically) of a young kid while trying to prove his theories.Â The heart of the book comes next, and my favorite story, about a young man and his life of absolute piety.Â The trouble comes when he meets God after death and is told in no uncertain terms that he’s wasted his life… but gets a chance to get things right.Â A few more shorties round out the book, dealing with a world traveler finally settling down (after finding a successor), a melting dog, and a redrawing of a comic Rafer did when he was 9.Â I love the fact that he kept the dialogue exactly the same as written when he was a little kid, and the addition of some pages of original art from the story was a nice touch.Â It also helped show why he bothered to redraw it now, frankly, but modern day Rafer playing around with a variety of monsters is much more interesting than 9 year old Rafer doing the same thing.Â In the end, this is a collection that you’re going to be a lot more interested in if you’ve already read the bulk of Plastic Farm and just want to see more of his stuff.Â Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough in here to keep the casual comics fan entertained, but this is mostly aimed at people who are already fans of his work.Â Not sure about the price, and I don’t see it on his woefully unupdated website, but it looks like it would be about $10.
Plastic Farm #11
OK, at this point I’m just holding out to read them all together. That timeline in the front does wonders, don’t get me wrong, but I want to go back past the bullet points of who these people are and what’s going on. Many chapters in this, as promised, including that one diner everybody’s at, those cannibals, more clean-up from the trail leading to Chester Carter, that one guy who was waiting for his wife, a rich man who has to do some nasty stuff to get an inheritance, and then back to the diner. If that sentence doesn’t make any sense to you, it’s because you haven’t been reading this series, which must be because you hate comics, because this is everything an episodic comic series should be. Big old review for the next issue, as it’s the end of this storyline so I’ll be giving my opinion of the whole damned thing. I know, you can hardly wait, but I figure a good ramble will be in order after re-reading the first 300 pages or so of this saga. Oh, and Dave Sim sends a letter of advice in too, for those of you who were wondering if Dave was going to stick around in the comics field at least. $2.95
Plastic Farm #6 Now Available! $2.95
Well, here’s the end of my pile of Plastic Farms. Does it make any more sense at #6 than it did at #1? Well, in my traditional wishy-washy way, I have to say “sort of”. Not that #6 is a magic number in any way, and he never said that things would be making sense at this point, this was just the number of comics that he sent me. This one is all about Chester, sitting in a bar and telling the story of his life. It’s actually fairly average stuff, at least for most of the issue: Chester getting adopted, growing up with a normal family, learning about baseball from his foster Dad, and trying to get a girlfriend. Of course, things start getting all kinds of bizarre by the end of the issue, which only serves to get me hooked even more. I think this is a really remarkable series and I think there’s a good chance this guy (Rafer, that is) is going places in comics, especially if he can keep up this pace. This is $2.95, contact info is up there and, while I might advise you to wait for the graphic novel if you want this to make any sense at all, this is really something that everybody should take a look at.