Panel #16: “Sweet” 16
There is a dark, cynical corner of my brain that is just itching to pounce on a crappy Panel anthology, one where they coast on the production value and the content for once. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. This particular issue of panel will be giving that corner of my brain no joy today. Of course, that means that it’s another solid anthology, which makes the rest of my brain very happy. As you can see from that cover this issue was done up like an old school notebook (do kids even use those in class these days? Man am I old), doodles on the back and all. There’s also the usual excellent pile of creator bios in the back, although only a few of the artists had the courage to show their high school photos. For shame! And the content? Yeah, there’s a pile of great stuff in here, and if you thought this would all be tales of woe from high school, this crew should have proven by now that they’re not content with sticking with the obvious. Stories include Tony and Jessica Goins (a married couple) signing up for eharmony.com to see if they would be matched up on that site, Dara Naraghi and Ross Hardy’s silent piece about two girls stuck at a bus stop after their dates got a little too “handsy,” Andrew Lee traveling back in time to tell his 16 year old self what to avoid, Dara Naraghi and Molly Durst’s piece about modern love (making me very happy that the women I date all speak in complete sentences and know how to spell), Tim McClurg’s genuinely sweet piece about how his wife is the only person he remembers vividly seeing for the first time, Sean McGurr and Andy Bennett’s piece on trying to track down a forgotten star of “Sixteen Candles” and KT Swartz and Brent Bowman’s fantastic take on the concept of coming of age. In other words, yes, this anthology is still going strong. Buy it and see for yourself! $3
Panel #11: Work
The Panel crew is at the point where they could coast. They have a solid, consistent group of contributors, a near-limitless capacity to come up with new subjects for the individual issues and (I would hope, anyway) a group of people who will check out any future issues. And still they manage to keep everything fresh, starting right away with the packaging. Yes, that is a plain old interoffice envelope, familiar to any of us who have spent any time in an office, signed apparently by all the creators. Inside of this envelope is a series of individual mini comics (and one printed on a large sheet of paper), meaning that they can all be sold by the creators individually at cons or whatnot. To top it all of is the “memo” inside, an introduction to the comics, using all the appropriate buzz words like proactive, impactful and synergistic. An instant work of art, and I haven’t even mentioned any of the comics. The big sheet of paper is Broken, a silent story by Brent Bowman of a repairman witnessing the end of a relationship. Next is All in a Night’s Work by Dara Naraghi & Matt Kish, another silent tale about a day in the life of a henpecked knight, and you know I’m going to love anything that gives Matt the chance to draw dragons and various odd creatures. Pyramid Scheme by Brent Bowman & Sean McGurr is a tale of a man trying to convince his friend of the validity of his pyramid scheme, and this comic is actually shaped like a pyramid, although this point I think they’re just flaunting their creative awesomeness. Craig Bogart is up next with A Strange Farewell to Reginald Everbest, in which the people of a town don’t show enough respect when the town mortician dies, leaving the dead to rise up and do it themselves. Molly Durst has Wink! Wink! An Interview Gone Wrong, in which the interviewee has a nervous twitch that makes him wink, but I’m not going to spoil the punchline. Finally there’s Goby by Steven Black & Tim McClurg, another silent piece, and the one that made the least sense to me. There’s a little fish, see, and it gets thrown back after getting caught by a fisherman. Then said fish is swallowed by an octopus, which gets captured and cut up, which reveals the fish, which then transforms into a mermaid, and then time moves forward about 50 years, bringing a snail onto the scene… Sorry, that one lost me. It looks gorgeous though, and that has to count for something. The fact that this is still going strong at #11 is impressive as hell to me, as is the fact that you can pick up just about any issue of this series at any given con and expect a quality anthology. $4 and worth every penny…
Panel X: Sex
Well, it’s about damned time they got to sex. I can see where they’d want to wait until #10 though, so I suppose it’s excused. My instant complaint: there’s surprisingly little nudity here. Except for a few stories, most of it is tastefully covered up. My opinion: if you’re going to have a book about sex you’re automatically going to offend people, so go for the gusto. Plenty of stories in here though. There’s Tony Goins & Steven Black with Dual Cultivation showing two blind people trying to reach a higher state of being through sex. Then there’s Dara Naraghi and Matt Kish Weird Sex Stories with probably the most graphic piece in the book, a foul thing involving alien porn that probably scarred me for life. Dirty Cop by Craig Bogart and Dara Naraghi has one of the funniest death scenes I’ve ever seen because really, why take it with you? Readers of this comic will get that and possibly guffaw, everybody else, well, maybe you should check it out for yourself. I’m still not completely sure what’s going on in Spent, the two page spread by Tom Williams, but I should probably still be offended. The After Kind by Dmitry Sharkov deals with love through assassination, maybe not the strongest piece in the book but not bad for a first contribution. Mr. Love by Tony Goins, Ellen Armstrong, Dan Barlow and Tony Goins (whew) have probably the strongest piece in here, dealing with various cupids trying to make love happen, how some people don’t know who they are yet and how love can actually hinder them from figuring that out. Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg have a short anecdote called Third Moon From Endor, only loosely related to sex but the punchline is worth the ride. Backstage Pass by Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett deals with a succubus (sp?), but luckily she’s after an asshole, so all remains well with the world. Finally there’s The Garden by Brent Bowman, where all the crazy sex happens. It’s a brilliantly filthy retelling of the creation myth from the Bible, a story I thought was impossible to tell from a fresh perspective at this late date, and how the snake fucked it up for Adam and Eve because he wasn’t included in all the crazy sex. This is $5 and I think it was put out between SPACE conventions, meaning that there’s going to be yet another one when SPACE 2008 hits in a couple of weeks. Kudos to these people and their committment to quality work, I wish more anthologies were as consistently enjoyable as these.
Panel #8: Travel
Once again, nice work with the production value here. As the theme is travel, this is made up like a passport. The usual cast of suspects are brought together here again, which is quickly becoming a good thing in my book. First up, by Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg, is Good Humor, a shortie about a language barrier and ice cream. Next is Random Encounter by Tony Goins about a, well, you figure it out, at a rest stop in Ohio. Craig Bogart’s Fat Man Walking is a delightful story about losing hope in the people of this country, getting it back and then losing it again while trying to walk across the country. Matt Kish’s story is probably my favorite of the bunch (this is becoming a pattern), as he tells the story of a man who gets killed and all the crap he goes through before coming back in Round Trip. Uprooted is a sweet, melancholy little story by Matt Kish & Steve Black about all the places you once lived, who lives there now and what exactly is “home”. Bystander by Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett is all about pictures of various places around the world that all have the same mysterious man staring at the author. Transcendence by Steve Black & Sean McGurr deals with wanting to leave the physical world and the dangers of doing so (although I have to admit the punch line was lost on me). A Day In West Virginia by Tony Goins & Dan Barlow is about a man who hangs out at a rest stop all day, watching the people, trying to figure out the concept of “home”. And finally there’s Tom Williams, who at this point is literally mailing it in, as most of his Vegass was done on the backs of postcards. Another solid anthology, and if I have to bitch about one thing it’s that some of the pages were awfully light. But that’s just if I HAVE to bitch about something…
Panel #3: Space
That cover is a whole lot cooler if you can see the woman whose arms are wrapping around the cover, but what are you going to do? This is an anthology from creators in Columbus Ohio with a loose theme of “space”. That can be taken many different ways, and is in a wide variety of stories. Dara Naraghi & Tom Williams have a fantastic story of the juxtaposition between space exploration and war. Glenn Brewer has a good shortie about, um, well, read it for yourself. Sean McGurr & Steve Black take Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox and run with it (literally). Tony Goins & Andy Bennett have the highlight of the book with a story about a random hookup at a party and what happens when you run into that person randomly the next day. Or at least what happened that time, but it’s just a frank and honest take on the whole thing that it became my favorite in this book. Craig Bogart has a giant smashy alien, and Dansen Stahl & Tim McClure have a wraparound for many pages about unintentionally interlocking conversations on a busy city street. Really the perfect anthology, as nothing was anything less than interesting, which leads to a great reading experience overall. Check it out, they have other anthologies from past years available too, and I’m curious about them now. I think I was kind of harsh on at least some of these people in their individual comic, but now I feel compelled to pick up some other issues and give them another chance (everybody should know by now that I’m always willing to read other issues from people I previously panned, as that’s the only way I’m going to have an informed opinion about anybody, as it’s impossible to discard someone based on one book). OK, ramble over, here’s the website, it’s $3, check it out!
Panel #2: Architecture
Damn, and here I was hoping that this was the first Panel, but one look at that website shows me that this one is, in fact, #2. #1 only had a print run of 300 issues and it doesn’t look like it’s been reprinted since, so so much for that one. Everything else besides #3 looks like it’s available on that website though, for the curious. So how does this one hold up, seeing as how I’m just now getting to it for this website? Pretty well, all things considered. The first piece deals with putting the horrors of the past behind us, in a dark and atmospheric piece by Andy Bennett. Next Dara Naraghi and Adrian Barbu have a nice little piece about figuring out every last angle of a heist… or almost every angle. Then the book veers suddenly into humor (and three cheers for all anthologies that keep the reader on their toes like this), as a series of unfortunate events, chronicled by Dara Naraghi and Tim Fischer, leads to the extravagant home of an intergalactic porn star getting burned down. Next up, Tony Goins and Steve Black have a futuristic story about a crappy future world where everybody gets by on giant suspended bridges and there are constant bombings. The text piece, by Dansen Stahl (with a few illustrations by Tim Fischer), is the biggest misstep in the book. Text pieces are always tricky, but if you’re talking about what is essentially a Revolutionary (that is, American Revolution) group of heroes, isn’t it a much better story in a comic anthology if it’s, you know, a comic? Tom Pappalardo proved to me recently that text in comics can be done well, but I think these two missed a chance for a great comic here. And finally there’s a piece by Tom Williams in which he debates going back to Columbine for a reunion years after the school has been demolished. This is still a pretty solid group of stories, even if it only got better from here. Worth a look if you’ve been following this series and/or these people and want to see what their stuff looked like when they were only relative babies at this business…
Well, here it is, the missing O.P. (original Panel). It seems silly to review this in the conventional sense, as this is the definition of a labor of love, probably taking years to complete. What good does it do to poo-poo this early work, especially when practically everybody in here has gone on to do better work? Instead I’ll just talk about the contents, as plenty of people will probably never see this in its current form (although there are maybe, possibly some plans to post this issue online). All the stories in here are followed up with pretty thorough bios about the creators, or at least they were thorough at the time. There’s also a script, which is always interesting for people who want to see how the sausage is made. As for the stories, there’s an untitled story by Steve Black which is a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated words and images, a preview story of a wacky university with robots and teenagers by James Hanrahan and Tim Fischer, one oddly placed panel by Dansen Stahl, the story of a classic con by Andy Bennett, a brief story about the future by Tony Goins and Steve Black, a lovely text piece about a local wrestling show by Tony Goins, a heartbreaking story about getting old by Tony Goins, the perfect way to regain fame by Dara Naraghi and Tim McClurg, and (this is how I can tell that this must be old) a series of surprisingly unfunny strips by Tom Williams. Just in case you were like me and thought he must have always been awesome. In future issues the art is better and the writing is crisper, but there’s only one first issue of any series. Oh, and there wasn’t even a theme that year! A minor thing maybe, but it sure seems odd now.
Mini Ring King (with Tim McClurg & Steve Black)
Yeah, this should probably be on one of the Various pages, but those things are too huge already and Sean was kind enough to send it to me, so he gets the honors. Just in case you were ever interested in that sort of “inside Optical Sloth” logic, and shame on you if you were. There are a few stories in here, as well as some lovely pinups of some old wrestlers by Tim McClurg. First up is a story about a soon-to-be-dead boxer, appropriately called Specter. Next is a silly story called Vowel Boxer about, well, boxers who shout vowels as they punch, which didn’t do a thing for me until the punchline, then I loved it. Finally there The Wrestler of Wyagoth, about the quest of man in general to overcome a Lovecraftian cast of monsters. Good stuff overall, worth it just for the pinups if you were a fan of wrestling back in the day, and the stories aren’t too shabby either, although the whole thing goes by in a blur. Hey, how much plot can you have with wrestling being the theme, right? $2
I knew it would happen sooner or later where I would read something from somebody who I already had on the website and not know it yet. I should say that I don’t know for sure that this is the same Steve Black as mentioned in the other comic on this page, but what are the odds of there being two Steve Blacks out of Columbus OH doing small press comics. He’s joined in this one by Dara Naraghi, the writer/letterer. As for the book, honestly, it didn’t do much for me. You’ll know what my problem was with the art as soon as you see the sample, and the story was OK, just nothing special. It’s hard to say that yet, as this is only part one out of three, but these “super sleuths” seem pretty clueless about most things. Again, that may be the gimmick, but I don’t know that getting this book cold and there’s nothing in here that grabs me enough to warrant a return visit. Still, go to the website if you’re curious. Plenty of samples are around, from this and other projects that might be more to your liking.
Four Play #1
OK, Steve says right on the front cover that this is an experiment in progress, basically, so I don’t feel too bad about giving him some advice. Not that that’s ever stopped me before… First off, learn spelling, grammar and punctuation. That shouldn’t be something that I have to point out to a lot of people, but it seems like most people don’t know the basic rules. There are plenty of people who will put down your mini in the middle of it if they think that you only have a tenuous grasp of the language. Second… well, OK, I guess that was my main problem. There are four stories in here. The one with the bathtub toys was kind of cute, the racing story was interesting even if it made very little sense, the song with Mr. Lipschitz seemed like an excuse to say “Lipschitz”, and the story with the birds lost me completely. Hey, it’s an experiment, he’s learning what not to do. I can respect that. This book is a couple of years old though, so here’s hoping that he didn’t give up after his first book. Send him a dollar if you’re curious at: 518 E. Town St. Apt. 311 Columbus, OH 43215.
Sketchbook alert! One of these days I’m going to figure out what respectable reviewers do when confronted with the dilemma of a sketchbook. There’s some gorgeous stuff in here, as Steve catches all sorts of people in some genuinely wonderful poses, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sketchbook look better, at least in terms of production values. That tissue paper wrapping around the inside covers is nothing but class, baby. When it comes to sketchbooks, as always, it’s going to come down to the individual buyer. If this is somebody you already like and appreciate (and good luck getting through the Panel anthologies without liking Steve Black at least a little bit), then pick it up, you’ll love it. If you’ve never heard of the guy, well, pick up some of his actual comics first and then decide.
Panel 9 From Outer Space
That’s right, a 3-D front and back cover. Nothing 3-D on the inside though, so those of you who can never seem to get the 3-D to work (like me) don’t have to worry about missing anything on the inside. Also, kudos to the joke in the title, and to those of you who don’t get it, take heart: there is a level of dorkdom you haven’t yet achieved if the title is lost on you. The theme this time around is science fiction in general, and it starts and ends with fake news pieces about 1957 and 2057 by Sean McGurr & Tim McClurg. The 1957 piece is all about hope for the future, with nuclear-powered cars, peace in Israel, competent government relief efforts and the flash in the pan that was “The Cat in the Hat”. The 2057 piece, naturally, is about how crappy things have gotten since then. The second piece here is Donkey Punch by Tom Williams, a story about a corporate exploration team who crash lands on a planet full of angry ninja women. Dara Naraghi & Andy Bennett are up next with a silent tale about a little boy who finds an alien in the woods and helps free it from a collar… but was that a good thing? Octopeye, by Steve Black & Sean McGurr, tells the tale of our future giant octopus overlord and our attempt to pacify him with what appears to be one of his illegitimate children. Monster Trucks And Baby Mammas by Tony Goins & Craig Bogart is the least fantastical tale of the bunch, as it deals mostly with white trash people sleeping around and/or trying to kill each other. Or maybe it seems more fantastical to people who didn’t grow up around that kind of nonsense, who knows? Finally there’s a one page shortie by Dara Naraghi & Tim Fischer called Love Ninja 8 which is, naturally, about ninjas using their love techniques to fight. My favorite had to be the Tom Williams piece for the sheer mayhem involved, but once again this is a solid anthology all the way through. The lack of a Matt Kish piece is depressing, but it’s a testament to the strength of the rest of these people that that lack wasn’t even noticeable until after I was done reading this issue. $3