Skin Horse Volume One
Occasionally here at the chaotic offices of Optical Sloth (i.e. my apartment) some comics and/or graphic novels will fall through the cracks for no good reason. Maybe they get buried by other comics, maybe they’re the victim of a cleaning spree and don’t see the light of day again for weeks, months or even longer. The first volume of Skin Horse is one of those unfortunate comics. Sometimes the staff here in the office (i.e. me) just plain screws up, and we feel better talking about it if we can use general terms of blame instead of just being accurate and saying “it’s all my fault.” Anyway, the good news is that there’s already a second volume of this out, so you can find out immediately what happens next. Believe me, if you read this book you will very much want to see what happens next. I didn’t have the highest of expectations, granted, but that was mostly due to my general ambivalence towards daily comic strips. There’s that seemingly legally required first panel recapping the last panel of the strip from the day before, which is a waste of usually 1/4 of your daily strip right there. This series doesn’t engage in that kind of nonsense, so that’s worth about a billion point in my random and meaningless scoring system. Then, and this took me several pages to wrap my head around, this strip is funny. I mean that I chuckled out loud more than a few times, and any daily strip that can do that is always welcome around here. But wait, there’s more! This strip is often much smarter than you might think. Again, my expectations for a daily strip are staggeringly low, but this surpassed those expectations instantly and just kept getting better as it went on. I should probably mention something about the plot here, right? Things start off strong by dumping the reader right into the thick of things with a team of vague government agents who have the job of collecting talking animals. This may come a bit from Shaenon’s previous series but, as I haven’t read that, this may have also started right here with this first strip. Anyway, the talking lion that they’re after ends up getting taken back to their base (spoiler alert, I guess, but this all happens on the first few pages) and then we get to the really good stuff: figuring out what these characters are all about. There’s the head agent, Tip, a cross-dresser who’s also a hit with the ladies. This one could have been played for stupid laughs in any of a number of ways but it ends up being a fairly nuanced and adult portrayal of a transvestite, so kudos for that. Then there’s the talking dog, the zombie girl who’s also on the verge of a deadly rampage, the security guard who gets his mind wiped on a regular basis and is constantly alarmed at the stream of oddities heading into the office, the robotic receptionist from the 1800’s and the boss of the whole place who is essentially a sentient swarm of bees. Once we get all that out of the way Tip has to head down to the basement and arrange a truce between the sentient silverfish, centipedes, zombie heads, cobras that only want to hug, a giant rat and a vastly intelligent crystalline species. That isn’t even the first half of the book, but it’s intricately woven together and too damned smart to be that funny. Later story arcs include the zombie girl trying to get the talking dog to go on a rampage, the team heading out to determine who has jurisdiction over a helicopter with a human brain and a lengthy fight with panda bear. There’s also a fantastic introduction and opening story to go along with a “Customer Service” video for new members of the team and some drawings by other artists. Plenty of free strips are up at their website if you still need convincing, but I thought this book was fantastic and they had to completely win me over to get me to that point. They managed to completely blow away my natural animosity to the daily strip with very little effort. Oh, and I have I mentioned how great the art is? Again, considering the whole daily strip problem, this series and its vast and eclectic cast of characters always looks good. So yeah, I think you should check this out immediately. $14.00
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.