It’s been at least a decade since I reviewed one of Raina’s comics. That’s been one of the weirdest parts of running a comics review website for so long: I tend to lose track of artists, even the ones I really like, because I get buried in review comics and/or don’t have the resources to buy all the graphic novels in the world. It’s true, this isn’t a lucrative gig! Still, I reviewed the first Smile mini comic in 2008 (ish? The actual date is lost to time; too many site rebuilds), thought it showed a lot of promise and that it might end up being her best work yet, and then… nothing. As I don’t have kids, I had no idea for years that Raina became a rock star in the young adult book world, with several different graphic novels and a devoted fan base. And she’s a legit #1 New York Times best seller! Don’t mind me, I’m just always happy to see ridiculously talented artists make a living off their work, let alone become famous with it. Anyway, I’ve always wondered what the finished Smile would look like, and since I now live a block away from a library (in one of the best library systems in the country), I can find out. No big surprises here, but it’s pretty great. The mini comic I reviewed ages ago basically just covered her injury and initial reaction; obviously this is able to get into much more detail. The basic story is that Raina knocked out her two front teeth when she was in 6th grade. Well, she knocked out one tooth and knocked the other one up into her gums. Yeah, take a minute with that one if you need to. Anyway, this is the story of the next four and a half years of her life, of all the various procedures, operations and headgear she’d have to deal with to fix her teeth. Obviously this would all be rough enough at any time, but she made the transition from middle school to high school while all this was happening, and all the gory details are included. I can also see why she’s become such a star with the kids, as this book dragged me right back into my own middle school experience. She has to deal with crushes on boys, boys having crushes on her, her friends both having her back and not having her back, and an occasionally obnoxious little sister. This is one of those times when you REALLY don’t need me to tell you to check an artist out, as most people reading this have undoubtedly already read her work. But just in case you’re one of the few people who haven’t, maybe start here? As for me, I’m going to go back and see what else I missed from her over the years. $24.99
Hey kids, or anybody who has started reading comics in the last few years? Are you interested in the history of mini comics, why they’re such a source of passion for so many people? Well, maybe not in numbers, but in level of interest and dedication in following certain artists? Your answer is this volume. If you have no interest in the history, away with you! This one can be for the old timers. This is a collection of the best of the “Not My Small Diary” anthology, and if you read small press comics in the 90’s and 00’s, you will recognize plenty of these names. In fact, good luck not getting lost in a Google hole or trying to figure out what so many of these people are up to these days. Notable names include (but are not limited to) Jeff Zenick, Dan Zettwoch, Patrick Dean, Raina Telgemeier, Jesse Reklaw, Carrie McNinch, Sam Spina, Roberta Gregory, Kurt Wolfgang… you know what, there are just too damned many names, and they’re all in the tags, so check that part out. If any of those names made you say “hey, I wonder what they’re up to these days” then this book is for you. These are mostly snippets of stories, but they’re all complete by themselves. Sometimes the stories follow a theme, like notable dates or moments in their lives, but really they’re all over the place. If it seems like I’m avoiding getting into specifics, that is entirely the case. If you were around for all these artists when they first started, you’re going to get lost in this instantly. If not, this is an excellent way for you to figure out what the big deal was about these people all along. I guess it’s possible that it’s the nostalgia talking and that people might not connect to these stories now, but screw that. These are tales of human weakness (and occasionally triumph), and those stories are universal and timeless. Most of the original issues of this series are out of print, so this is your best option all around. The book itself is $7.50 if you see Delaine at a convention, but if not $10 should be enough to cover the shipping, and I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s rare for any anthology not to have a weak story or two, but these are all golden.
In case you missed the pun, this is a collection of work from mostly female cartoonists and, like most anthologies, has good things and bad things. It’s a great concept though, as it has bios for everybody in here along with links to their sites and even interviews with a few people. At least two of them work for Marvel in some capacity, but who am I to judge? Granted, a few of the stories are more than a bit cute (as admitted by the creators, so it’s not like I’m being sexist or anything), but the strength of this collection is the sheer variety of stuff involved. You have a nine year old girl reading and dealing with a comic about the atomic bomb in Japan on one page and a mostly wordless story about lazy cats working in a glue factory on the next. All kinds of great female cartoonists in here too. Check out the website if you don’t believe me. $9.95 is pretty cheap for something this packed too, so check into it, see what you think.Â Contributors: Sara Varon, Becky Cloonan, Raina Telgemeier, Ariel Bordeaux, Ellen Forney, Diana Sprinkle, Miss Lasko-Gross, Missy Kulik, Jen Benka, Kris Dresen, Hellen Jo, Kristen Petersen, Jen Sorenson, Michele Roman, Abby Denson, Jenny Gonzalez, Rachel Hartman, Mary Minch, Megan Kelso, Doreen A. Mulryan, Lark Pien, Sarah Anderson Lock, Elena Steier, Jennifer Moore, Lela Lee, Vanessa Satone, Shaenon K. Garrity, Catherine Tutrone, Ellen Lindner, Elayne Riggs, Robin Riggs, Janet Hetherington, Donna Barr.
Smile Now Available! $1
Finally available in comic form! There have been weekly updates for a while now, but it looks like she’s starting to publish it. This is the story of some extensive dental work she got when she was a little kid, and apparently it goes into graphic detail in some later chapters. What you have here is the tale of how she messes up her teeth in the first place and her immediate reaction. This doesn’t say “#1” on it, which makes me wonder if maybe she’s just planning on putting the whole story into a graphic novel and skipping the mini comics route altogether, but the brief glimpses I’ve seen of this show me that it might be her best work yet. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the whole thing, but I can’t wait to read the whole story. If you want to check out her weekly strip go here, this one is $1.
Take-Out #7 Now Available! $1
One thing I’ve been wondering more about as I get older: do people who love mini comics, when they finally have babies, pass that on to their kids? Because if not, frankly, I don’t see how the medium is going to survive, or at least not the good stuff. If you DO pass it along to your kids, but are frustrated at the lack of all-ages choices, might I point this one out as being the perfect choice for young girls? Or at least I think it would be but, as I’ve never been a young girl, I could be off on that one. This one (the first Take-Out in FAR too long, but she’s working on Smile these days) is about getting a new doll when she was a kid, the wonders of going camping and a random road in the middle of nowhere. Short quiet stories, but good stuff. And if you need more of her new stuff than this can provide, she has regular updates at her website with her Smile story…
Take-Out #6 Now Available! $1
Here’s another one of those people who’s really growing on me. It’s just so rare to see honest, fun little stories about being a kid. It’s not even the individual stories that stick in my brain so much as the random little moments. Raina (these are all her as a child, or at least a child named Raina, which would be quite a coincidence) thinking about what it would be like if the subway was under water, or her reaction on seeing her father without his beard for the first time, or static electricity, or even her feelings about a classmate she doesn’t like getting sick. It’s cute as hell, but just calling it cute and leaving it as that doesn’t give these stories enough credit. Pretty much everything in here feels real and, more importantly, has an innocence about it that makes it work. Contact info is above, send her a couple of bucks and check out an issue or two. It’s something that I’m liking more and more with each issue…
Take-Out #5 Now Available! $1
I think this issue was a bit different from her other Take-Outs, as this was basically a travel diary from 12/23/02 to 01/02/03 while the the other issue I read (#4) was a hodge-podge of unrelated stories. The diary format is done pretty well here, even though some of it seems a bit sentimental. It’s about Christmas and being with her family though, so I guess that’s what the holidays are about. Take-Out seems like an all-ages title from what I’ve seen. She has a great cartoony style that would be perfect for a daily strip, even though I’ve said time and time again that I hate that format almost all of the time. These are only a buck on her website, quick reads but worth getting. She’s supposed to have something new at all of the big conventions this year, so it looks like there will be a lot of new stuff soon…
Take-Out #3 Now Available! $1
You know, looking back on it, boys pretty much had it easy in middle school.Â Sure, there was enough general awkwardness to go around, but compared to what girls had to go through, specifically the story Raina describes in this comic…Â This is the tale of a slumber party and what comes from it.Â A group of girls are invited to a slumber party (also the 12th birthday party of the girl) and spend the night playing ouija, chatting, and eventually giving “advice” to a girl with a crush.Â This advice is designed to do nothing more than completely humiliate the girl in question, telling her that the only way this boy will notice her is through a complete and ridiculous makeover.Â Naturally, she believes this group of “friends” and follows their advice, with disastrous results.Â Raina might have made up the story, but it sure has a ring of truth to it to me.Â Good stuff, and who doesn’t like a tale of complete social humiliation for a buck?
Yep, I liked her older stuff too. It’s hard to be sure without seeing it, obviously. This one is a bit more personal than most, with a story that’s sort of about her ex, but mostly about her reaction to the whole thing. Other than that there’s her first cup of tea, spilling india ink, getting a rare Ben Folds Five import, and reading Barefoot Gen as a kid. Barefoot Gen, in case you don’t know, is a comic about the Hiroshima bombing in Japan, told through the eyes of the people who lived there. Tough stuff to read when you’re little. I think I saw that story in an anthology somewhere, or maybe my brain is falling out of my head, who knows? Whatever the case, these are the perfect dollar comics. Short and colorful (you should see this spread on my floor with copies of #2-6, it looks like an uneven rainbow), these books are just fun. Contact info is around here somewhere, and you can get the comics from me if you want!
Take-Out #4 Now Available! $1
Back to the time capsule again, as I’m reviewing this mini from 2002 all the way in 2009.Â She’s gone on to bigger and better things, illustrating adaptations of Baby-Sitters Club (it seems like those were a big deal but I’m not sure), illustrating a book for Slave Labor with Dave Roman and continuing to work on her Smile story.Â OK fine, she’s moved on (mostly), but it didn’t hurt a thing that her minis were so good back in the day.Â There are a few shorties in here, my favorite is the one sampled, and I just smile every time I see that strip.Â Other stories include getting distracted and eating an entire box of Cap’n Crunch, just missing the subway (once by being late, once due to cockroaches), and how humidity makes her hair impossible to deal with.Â It may sound trite, but trust me, she makes it funny.Â A really great pile of stories, and I’m honestly a little surprised that there has never been a collection of these minis.Â Get your copies of the originals while they last, I’m sure that she’ll manage to get all these collected one of these days… $1