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Katz, Keren – The Academic Hour

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The Academic Hour

Longtime readers of this website know that I occasionally have nothing to say about a book. Or at least nothing coherent and/or remotely insightful, but I usually bluster through it by offering a series of impressions or apologies about my deficiencies. And… here we are again! This is a remarkable book, all angles and ideas, thoughts about impossibilities and how to get over them (if they can be overcome), and a doomed love affair that never seems all that passionate. Most of the images look they were finished by an act of will; Keren could have just kept going with some of them until they filled the page, or spilled through the pages onto the rest of the book, or drawn onto and even into you if you sat still long enough. I rarely flip back through a book immediately after finishing it, but I did that here, taking time to ignore some of the captions just to see if I could get where she was going with the images alone. In most cases I could! Or at least I could get to where I thought she was trying to go, imperfect though my thoughts might be. It makes quite an impression, there’s no denying that. Subjects in here include a trapped horse and how to get him down, polishing bones with your moustache, whether or not the planned buried railroad cars exist, telling stories to get the person to fall in love with you, a young lover wondering when and if her teacher was watching her, and the watching witch. This book reminded me, above all else, of the feeling people sometimes gets that everything and nothing are both just a little bit off to the side, out of reach but not impossibly so. It’s all right there, if you tilt your head just right, angle your arms just so that they can slip through that veil and grab a bit of what’s on the other side. If you angle too far you’ll slide right through and never return, and if you don’t angle them enough you’ll never see a thing. Get yourself and your mind into exactly the right position, take a deep breath and dive right in. $19.95

Sergel, Robert – Space: An Eschew Collection

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Space: An Eschew Collection

Every time I think I have a handle on the small press comics world, I get a book from somebody who has been doing amazing work for years that I’ve never heard of. Nope, I am never going to be current on everybody I should be watching, but that’s no reason to stop trying, right? This is a collection of stories from Robert, some longer and some shorter. My favorite was probably the 13 pages of bad experience involving water (I’d be amazed if you didn’t relate to at least one of them; with all 13 I wonder if he ever swims at this point), but there was so much good stuff in here that it’s hard to pick just one story. Subjects include ignoring an ongoing problem while working on a crossword puzzle, his first kiss and the aftermath, getting a dead squirrel dumped on his car hood while driving, the saga of his favorite sweatshirt and how hard it was to find a replacement, Nintendo and its connection to an old childhood injury (and another injury that came from his complaining about said injury), the results of watching a yoga video on his computer, physical reminders of an ex-girlfriend, trying immersion therapy to help him get over his fear of crowds/dancing, whether or not Thoreau was a phony, and learning about and meeting an uncle who was always the black sheep of the family (mostly because he was an illustrator). There are at least a dozen other short pieces too, but why tell you about everything? All of these stories share a vague sense of unease about the world, or maybe a reluctant acceptance of his place in it. Anybody reading it will know what I mean, but it’s hard to dig into it without sounding like a phony, and anybody who has read this site for any length of time knows I don’t do that “deep critical analysis” thing. Leave that to the professionals, says I. Anyway, this is a thoroughly thought-provoking and engaging book, while still managing to make me laugh on more than a few occasions. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you’re like me and had somehow managed to miss Robert for this long. That only leaves more new stuff for you to discover, as this book is huge. $15

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Allen, Jon – Ohio Is For Sale #2

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Ohio Is For Sale #2

Now I’m starting to possibly see why Jon didn’t bother with numbering either of these issues: it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. OK, sure, you’re introduced to the characters in the first issue, but it’s not like you learn the stories of their lives or anything. And this issue would have been just as entertaining (and make no mistake, it was damned near perfectly entertaining) if I had no idea of the identity of any of these characters. But hey, I’ll list the issue numbers anyway, just because. The face on that cover, in case you were wondering, is the face of the devil. This issue starts off with two of the friends using a baseball bat to hit rocks into the windows of an abandoned building. They’re having a great time with it when one of them misses the rock and instead clobbers Leonard (who I believe is the only character named), killing him instantly. It could have gotten grim from there, but I laughed more than a few times reading through the rest of the book. Leonard goes to hell and gets a tour of the place before finally meeting the devil, who is overjoyed to finally meet somebody who he thinks is cool (he also loves smashing windows for no reason), but their differences start to become apparent pretty quickly. Meanwhile, Leonard’s killer calls his other friend and they hatch a plan to avoid getting in trouble for killing Leonard, while one of them is a lot more broken up about the whole thing than the other guy. Jon’s depiction of hell is brilliant (are the demons really blacked-out versions of the shopkeeper and his wife from the last issue?), and somehow he even managed to give the devil’s room a bit of a homey feel. It’s damned brilliant is what it is, and you should read it. If you only have enough money for one issue of this series, get this one. I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue too, but this one is the champion. $6

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Allen, Jon – Ohio Is For Sale #1

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Ohio Is For Sale #1

Petty criticism alert: when you send me more than one issue of your comic, and when it’s the same title, maybe put an issue number somewhere in at least one of those comics? I get why you maybe don’t number the first issue, like if you’re not sure you’re going to keep going with the series, but there’s no reason not to put a “#2” somewhere in/on the second one. And that right there is my only complaint with this as a comic, because as far as the story was concerned I absolutely loved it. This is all about a dog-like creature who is writing the Great American Novel. It keeps getting longer and longer but doesn’t seem to be heading towards any kind of conclusion, which leads to a bit of a freakout pretty early on. Then two friends come visit our hero (pretty sure nobody was given a name of any kind; they were easy enough to keep track of in the comic but this might get a little confusing in the review) and they head out to the local 7/11. And that’s where we meet the character depicted on the cover, as he’s working at the 7/11 and very clearly on all of the drugs/crazy or both. From here an unfortunate accident takes the vehicle of the friend of our hero out of the picture, which leads to our friend having to get a job, and what a job it is. This may be my personal favorite representation of the ultimate pointless data entry job, but I’ll leave it to you to discover exactly what I mean by that. All kinds of little touches in here that add up to a thoroughly entertaining first issue. There’s the crew noticing a creature wearing only socks at the 7/11 (odd because these are all anthropomorphic creatures not wearing clothes and I had no idea where he was going with it), the co-worker who I was pretty convinced was somehow a sock puppet for the first few panels, and the picture of his wife that got the rare “laugh out loud” (see, I have time to type out all three words) out of me. It’s an engaging and intriguing first issue and yes, the cover for the second issue is somehow as great as the cover for this one. $8

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Lambert, Joseph – I Will Bite You

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I Will Bite You

There was only one question in my mind when I started reading this book: would it live up to its title? Because that title is one of the best things that I’ve ever seen. As this is a book of short stories, it’s not really fair to judge the whole book by that unbeatable title, but I will say that that particular story more than matched up to it. The gist of it is that there are two suns in the sky, but the cartoon kinds of suns with facial features. They’re coyly in love, sneaking kisses with each other and being very pleased with each other when this happens. Meanwhile, there’s an angry kid on the ground, and he’s going around biting creatures. I’d say “people,” but most of the things he bites are odd beings of some kind or another. Anyway, the kid finally gets punished and he notices one of the two suns laughing at him, so naturally he jumps up to it and takes a bite out of it. What follows is equally hilarious and horrifying, and I’ve already said far too much about this so I’ll leave it up to you to discover. But wait, there’s a whole lot more! Next is “After School Snacks,” in which a posse of creatures terrify a couple of kids after they discover the deliciousness of pudding snacks. It’s a testament to Joseph’s skills that these creatures oozed across the page, and there was also some wildly inventive uses of word balloons as weapons. Other stories in here include “Mom Said” (in which a young boy tries to join in on the activities of his brother and friend, eventually resorting to drastic measures to get their attention), “Turtle Keep It Steady” (a slow build of a story involving a turtle playing drums, trying to compete with a much hipper drummer in another section of the room), “PSR” (a man just tries to eat his damned ice cream without getting it stolen out from under him every year, with one hell of an ending), “Too Far” (we watch a boy swallow his own father in anger and things spiral from there), an untitled piece (about cavemen, the natural order of things, using pterodactyl wings to fly and kissing the sun) and “Every Day” (kind of extended version of the theory behind the ending of “I Will Bite You,” as a boy picks a fight with the sun every day with hilariously predictable results… mostly). Now that these are all arrayed in order, there really isn’t a weak story in the bunch. Some are better than others, as is always the case for books of short stories, but you’d be hard pressed to find a stinker in here. Unless you have a pathological hatred for all stories involving suns with faces, in which case there’s a lot that you could find wrong with this book. This is a hell of a debut book, and yet another piece of evidence that The Center for Cartoon Studies knows exactly what’s it’s doing. And anyway, who wouldn’t want a book with this title sitting on their shelf? $14

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