If my website somehow exploded in a giant orange action movie ball of flame tomorrow, at least I would have comics from people like John Robbins that I never would have heard of otherwise to comfort me. Assuming that I survived the explosion of my website, as I have no idea of the blast radius of such a hypothetical thing. This is a collection of seven short stories, although they were all released first in different anthologies. Believe you me, John is living in Dublin and there’s no way in the world that you’ve already read all seven stories. I’d read the ones from Gin Palace #2 and the Side B anthology, but that was it, and I keep up with this sort of thing for a “living.” Dog-Eared is the story from Gin Palace #2, and it deals with an aging writer coming across a copy of one of his old books in a used bookstore. Upon closer inspection he sees that this was the copy that he gave a past girlfriend, which brings a flood of memories and regrets. Caro Mio Ben was from Side B and it details the desperate attempts to remember someone through the music that they enjoyed. Other than that (in order of personal preference) there’s The Receiver(computer support gone horribly wrong), Dad’s Head (in which John explains the various ways in which something is not quite right with his dad’s head, right up until the delightful mindfuck of an ending), Dental (the random sentences of a very small child), Troubled (idealism meets reality) and Zero (the heftiest one page story you’ll ever see dealing with a man who can’t forget childhood torments). If you think that that means that I hate the last story just because I listed it last, please be aware of the fact that every one of these stories is fantastic in its own way and you should all be so lucky as to be forced to read a “bad” John Robbins story. No price listed, but I’d guess that $5 or maybe even a little less could get you a copy.
Negotiating the Beast (“with” Sean Mac Roibin)
This comic was a welcome reminder to me that “a series of one page strips” can mean a number of things. In some comics, it’s a collection of gags, some funny bits thrown together and read in a few minutes. At other times it can have a bit more depth but, after all, how much can you pack into a story that only lasts one page? And then, on very rare occasions, it’s more like reading a book of short stories than anything else. This collection of pieces, written by Sean Mac Roibin (which involves a complicated bit of mythology that I maybe shouldn’t get into) is the first thing I’ve seen in years that reminds my strongly of the old Alec strips by Eddie Campbell, and it manages to pull that off without significant recurring characters. It starts off with a text piece dealing with the sad fate of Sean Mac Roibin and lets us know that all of these pieces were drawn based on stories left behind by the man. After that, I don’t know how I can do this book justice without writing a novel in lieu of a review, but I’ll try to hit some of the many high points. There’s a piece about letting go of your mother on the first day of school (while still letting the children believe that their mothers were just around the corner), wondering what would have happened if a young boy had gotten into that stranger’s car when he was younger, learning the fine art of fingering from your grade school friends, slowly starving yourself to death, worrying so much that life is a constant, horrific struggle, yielding to a macabre temptation while waiting for the bus, reliving emotions best left behind after learning that a sister is going to look up her sister’s old boyfriend, living life intentionally in a sick bed, and being stuck with only a guilty, horrible memory of a dead sister. This briefly covers about a third of the stories in here, each one being of such length and complexity that I feel like I’m cheating them by describing them so shortly. The art also varies perfectly for each story, sometimes being full of shadows and solid blacks and sometimes seeming more like a light, wacky sketch. It’s a tremendous piece of work, something I really can’t recommend highly enough. I don’t know from euros and pounds (sorry), but clicking on that link above will take you to site where you can buy this and a number of other international books (John is in Ireland). At a guess I’d say roughly $2…
Inside Outsiders #42
Another comic from John, another example of sheer brilliance.Â It’s a full length story this time around, more space to play around with characters and his art without having to cram in all those word boxes.Â The story here deals with a group of action figures (or, if you prefer to take away my masculinity, dolls) waxing philosophical and trying to stay out of the way of that hideous giant on the cover.Â There’s also a search for the missing Jean-Luc Picard doll, who is suffering through his own existential crisis trying to deal with dating the doll equivalent of the town slut.Â The action figures involved here are Skeletor and He-Man (referred to only as their “human” names), some apes from Planet of the Apes, the Six Million Dollar Man, the various monsters featured on the cover, and the slut, which I believe is a Bratz doll.Â It’s hard to pick just one highlight in this book, but there’s a neck and neck contest between the glorious ending and the earlier discussion between Skeletor and the Six Million Dollar Man on the nature of sexual need.Â Unlike John’s earlier books this one can be read in a few minutes (up to you if that’s a good or a bad thing, I generally like my comics meaty), but it’s probably my favorite book of the year so far, and possibly the only one of the ones I’ve recently reviewed that was actually made in 2009.Â It’s only a measly $2, if you had any affinity for any of these dolls… er, action figures, it’s not to be missed.
The Monkey-Head Complaint
You know, there’s a downside to my usual method for reviewing these comics.Â To the curious, here it is: I read the comic, go the computer and write a review.Â Some days I take more time than others, but mostly it’s a pretty simple formula.Â There is occasionally a comic like this one, however, where as I sit down to write it feels like the story is still blooming in my head and, in this case, increasingly making me uneasy.Â Not in a bad way; for the story involved that means Sean/John succeeded admirably.Â It’s just a solid hint that my usual instant reaction to these things is probably going to be lacking.Â This is the story of (and I’m cribbing this from the back of the comic) a jaded couple, a contrary mother and her oddly troubled son.Â The husband of the couple Frank, sees the son (Jack) out shoplifting a couple of times and, vaguely knowing the mother, decides to stop by and try to talk some sense into the lad.Â Most of the story here is told by the couple sitting at a table and chatting, and the idea to have them tell the story in a smarmy and literary manner (while the husband briefly bitches about it) was brilliant.Â Soon after this talk the mother ended up dead from a self-inflicted wound, or so everybody thought.Â Frank decided that perhaps his visit set something off in the boy and he needed to find out if that was the case; meanwhile the wife is worried sick after not hearing back from her husband.Â If this all seems vaguely creepy, Sean/John did a great job of making the story seem almost casual as I was reading it, even with a vague undercurrent of dread that was always around the corner.Â Still, the tone of the conversation alone kept things light, which is how they managed to make everything that happens next even more shocking, while still managing toÂ make perfect sense in hindsight.Â Â This doesn’t even mention the monkey-head, which is the sampled page anyway, so read it for yourself.Â Hell, read the whole thing for yourself.Â If we want comics as a whole to get smarter things like this are going to have to lead the way.Â Subtle horror is damned hard to come by in comics, or anywhere else for that matter.Â No price but John usually keeps these things cheap, so I’d guess $2-3.Â Send extra money and just get a bunch of his comics to be on the safe side.