I’m going to end up trying to make a bigger point about the nature of art and minimalism, so be warned, and maybe abandon ship on this review while you’re still able if that sounds insufferable. Here, I’ll even give you a short review to make it easier: I liked this comic, and you probably will too, assuming you have normal human feelings and a memory of how confusing things were back before you knew all the rules of social interactions. Because that’s what this comic is about: a six month span in 1995 (found that bit out from Simon’s website) when he was trying out different friends and what was and wasn’t OK to say to them. We get glimpses of a day spent watching a VHS tape on UFO’s, a walk through the woods, a day at the beach, a quiet day inside reading comics and watching TV, a brawl between a friend and his brother, and losing himself while listening to a cassette with a friend. Some or all of those vignettes will probably trigger a memory in you, probably from a time that you can barely remember… which has become something of a specialty for Simon. His minimalistic style, the choice that he makes to portray the past this way, mirrors faded memories remarkably well. Go on, try it out for yourself. Picture a memorable day from when you were a kid. Now picture the faces of the people around you and your environment. Really picture both; try for details. You’ll probably end up with something that looks a lot like what he’s drawn here, in one way or another. So yeah, this is another really solid comic from Simon. But it’s also one of the better representations of the fog of older memories that I’ve seen recently. $6
Smoo has either been on a break or I just haven’t been getting the comics, but this is the first new issue I’ve seen in a while. And it is just about as stripped down as a comic could be and still be considered a comic. This is (if I have the gist of it correct) about Simon’s time both with and without a girlfriend, or possibly just a very good friend. Everything is told in a few lines, and you can tell from that cover that the title figure barely qualifies as a stick figure. It still somehow works, as the bare bones of what he went through during that time are more than enough to carry the story. The relationship talk in particular is an explosion of a conversation that quite literally shatters his view of the world, and there are a lot of quiet moments following this before the eventual reconciliation. All of this is told with as few words as possible, but most of us have been in positions like this before and can see what’s going on even in the most simplified terms possible. It’s another solid issue, and it proves that you can identify with characters that barely even look human if the content is universal enough.
You should have a pretty easy time knowing whether or not you’d be inclined to like this book from the title alone, and I’m happy to tell you that the contents more than live up to it. Emi has been doing mini comics on this theme for a few years now, and she took her chance to edit this anthology and ran with it, doing a really fantastic job of picking out/accepting these stories. I should say up front that I have no patience for those stupid “ghost hunting” shows with the shaky cams and the loud noises and won’t believe that aliens have visited us until I see solid proof (which is not the same thing as declaring that no other life exists in the universe), but overall this isn’t that type of book. These are all, as Emi says in the introduction, unsolved mysteries, so the reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting the story neatly tied up in a bow by the end. Instead you’re left wondering what the hell happened for these 32 stories. If you’re a naturally curious person and/or at all interested in the weird and bizarre then you’ve probably already stopped reading this and ordered a copy. For those of who are too polite to quit reading in the middle of the review (and it’s OK if you do, I’ll never know), subjects include a mysterious gelatinous goo that rained down on a town, the monster with 21 faces, an unexplained shower of meat from the sky, an arcade game that quickly came and went in 1981 under mysterious circumstances, a tumor that was bigger than the carrier, Gef (of which I will say no more but this may have been the most intriguing tale in the book), that weird hum in the air that some people can hear all the time, the Nain Rouge and his continuing destruction of Detroit, the money pit of Oak Island (which some bored billionaire should look into), creepy kids with black eyes trying to enter homes, the Leatherman and theories of who he might have been, unsolved murders at a campsite, the former Prime Minister of Australia vanishing while swimming, the missing body of Addie Mae Collins, why 9 campers in Siberia ran from the safety of their tent (sometimes barefoot) and why they never went back to it, two bodies and their lead masks, Rasputin (an oldie but a goodie), Frederick Valentich and the UFO that seemed to by toying with him, D.B. Cooper and his disappearance (it’s an ever funnier story to anybody who watched Justified this season), a bridge where 600 dogs have committed suicide, the Axeman, and a serious skeleton in the closet of Orson Welles (possibly). DC comics used to do a series of “Big Books” on various subjects, and after seeing this I’d suggest that they start it up again and put Emi in charge. Not every story was perfect, granted, but good luck not having several of these stories haunt your dreams. Also good luck on not taking to the internet to learn more about them, as I already know how I’m spending the rest of my afternoon. And look at that pile of talent in the tags section! Why would you possibly need any more convincing to check this out? $12
Baltic Comics Magazine #11
Huzzah for international anthologies! Getting a comic from Latvia is a sure way to keep me fired up to write more reviews for another six months or so (international artists take note). One note right off the bat: it would probably be a good idea for them to put the title of their book on the cover. In this case “Artventurous” refers to art both being made and not made and the various adventures surrounding different types of art. Don’t get me wrong, that cover is going to grab your attention sitting on a shelf anyway, but that one descriptive word might have helped them pick up another reader or two who was too lazy to open the cover. Anyway, for me a 2/3 success rate is more than enough to recommend an anthology, and this one is closer to 4/5 fantastic/provocative/fascinating, which covers that spread quite nicely. Please note that I’m not going to talk about every single story in here (because then what would be left for you to discover?), but a full list of artists is down there in the tags below the review. My favorites from this boo include the closed loop story by Martins Zutis dealing with The Odyssey, the silent piece by KJ Martinet called “Ideal Form” (I don’t want to give away a bit more than that), the fantastically creepy “Leda” by Betty Liang, the mind-boggling amount of detail in “Necropolis” by Jean de Wet, Jen Rickert’s “The Loon” and its shifts between what is happening in the moment and the flashbacks from its murderous protagonist, Konig Lu Q’s simple (but not simplistic) extra commandments, Roman Muradov’s story that disintegrates into little pieces in the middle, the sheer adventurousness (and never discount the value of a giant robot yeti) of the Mikus Duncis story, the social horror of Olive Booger’s piece, the gleeful mayhem of Elina Braslina’s story, and the plausible paranoia of Dilraj Mann’s story. And this is all without me even mentioning Simon Moreton’s story (who, if you read this website at all, you know is a favorite of mine), which should tell you something about the overall quality of this anthology. Honestly, I should maybe even bump up that 4/5 quality estimate, as even the (many) stories I didn’t mention here usually had something going from them, between the vibrant splashes of color and the various social anxieties based on growing up around art or just trying to produce something of value when so much incredible stuff has already been produced. Pick it up if you get the chance, that’s what I’m saying, as it’s impressive that they’ve made it to #11 and they should shoot for many more. $13
Hot damn, I think he’s done it. I think Simon has created the perfect comic about growing up in the suburbs, the little rebellions that you take along the way to try and keep things slightly interesting, and the shock of feeling exactly the same but finding yourself several years older, with irrefutable physical evidence of that fact. Now, “perfect” is a word that’s hard to quantify in much of anything, let alone a comic, and this is obviously my personal opinion (note: that fact is usually given away by the fact that I’m the one writing the review). But every single note of this felt like it was spot on, with no cutting of corners and no fake happy moments thrown in. I don’t want to ruin anything about this (even though I probably already did just by describing it), so I’ll go with some generalities. There’s the actual picture of Simon’s friends when they were younger to go along with the hazier drawn image of those friends several years later. There’s the fact that this house that 11 year old Simon moved into was mostly just a collection of angles and “other people’s carpets.” There’s remembering how every single thing that happened in the time when he was growing up was crucially important. Not “seemed” important, which is a meaningful distinction, but actually WAS important, which has to ring true for anybody reading this who has grown up. And every step along the way there are Simon’s drawings, sparse images against a field of white, that show how insubstantial the whole thing seems now. I’ve liked Simon’s previous comics, don’t get me wrong, but it feels to me like they were all leading up to this. I also have #5 here, and how it tops this issue I have no idea, but if you’re curious about Simon’s work, start here and work your way back. $5 (?)
The Escapologist #2
For a title that refers back to being a professional escaper of things (I know that’s a made-up word, and this is my own interpretation), Simon seems to delight in focusing on the tiny things in life that we all seem to instinctively know without questioning. This comic is all about those little things, how we don’t even notice them unless we all take a step back and how remarkable they can seem with just a little bit of distance. It’s another fantastically imaginative comic from the man, keeping a streak of such things going. His regular series (Smoo, in case you’re not paying attention to him, and you should be) is where you should go for a heftier dose of his thoughts and ideas, but this other series seems to be where he’s sticking more with this theme of everything and how we perceive it. And comics folks who don’t draw backgrounds out of sheer laziness, take note: there are a few wide open spaces in here, but they’re all in service to the story he’s telling, and he demonstrates plenty of times that it’s not for a lack of talent. Keep reading him if you already are, in other words, and start reading him if you’re not. $3 (?)
The Escapologist #1
For those of you who were dying to solve the mystery of “Simon M.,” , I give you Simon Moreton! For everybody else who has no idea what I’m talking about, Simon is the guy who did all of those delightful Smoo comics that I’m sure you all dutifully purchased after I told you how much I enjoyed them. Simon is starting a new series with this comic, and a quick check of his website shows that #2 is already done (he’s just working on the publishing end of things at the moment) and that he’s also working on #3. Well, so much for my theory that this comic was one of those one-shot comics that small press writers invariably put a “#1” on. It’s easy to think that, as this is a comic about everything. I mean that: everything. It’s a lot to convey in eight pages, so it ends up being confined more to Simon’s general area, but it’s there. Things start off with Simon on the street, staring at birds, before he leaves his body and takes a journey of the city. then pulls it all back together with mentioning the fact that we also all hold together the very ink on the pages. It’s all very self-contained, which makes me a little surprised that #2 is already done, and more than a little curious to see what it’s about. This is mostly a wordless tale with one fantastic quote at the end. To me this comic was both a chance to escape for a minute or two (as the title implies) while also contemplating the manner in which the entire world fits together. That’s damned tricky to accomplish, and it may or may not have been what he was shooting for, but that’s what I saw. No price, but I think it’s around $4.