Do you ever feel like you’ve wished something into existence? Well, that’s this graphic novel. I’ve been hoping for a collection of all of Tom’s early mini comics basically since a few of them went out of print in the 90’s, and here they are. All the titles are in the tags and sure, I have copies of about 2/3 of them, but that’s still 1/3 that I previously had no access to. And since I have some of the original comics, that means that I have 20 year old belly lint by Tom Hart, because he taped that to two of his minis. Um, yay? Does that mean I can clone him once the technology is perfected? I have to think through the ethical implications of that responsibility. Oh, am I not talking about the comics yet? How about this: these comics were a solid chunk of the reason why I fell in love with small press comics, and the fact that these had mostly disappeared down the memory hole in the early 00’s was a solid chunk of the reason why I started a small press comics review site where books like these could all be lumped together. So yeah, you could say that the guy influenced my life just a bit. Oh, here’s one valid question I could answer with this review: do these comics hold up as more than nostalgia? Yes. Yes, they do. Want specifics? Wodaabe Comics is the earliest (and rawest) and it still made me laugh several times. Love Looks Left, if there is any justice in this world, is being taught in all these various cartoonists schools as the perfect mini comic. Maria mixes some casual background horror with a quiet day with the ducks with an obsessed stalker seemlessly. New Hat and Ramadan are both basically prequel comics for Hutch Owens, even though I’m pretty sure Hutch Owens was done at roughly the same time. Vital supplementary comics, the both of them. This comic does make me miss the days when I could occasionally come across a new Tom Hart mini comic in Quimby’s or Chicago Comics, and it looks like those days are gone for good. But it does fill me with hope to know that a guy with this brain is helping to teach the next generation of cartoonists. Just in case you are the only person on earth who has every single comic here, this volume does contain a new introduction, afterward, and a list of his favorite things/influences/people, then and now. $14.95
Triple Dare #2
The thing about experimental comics is that, well, they're usually not all that good. Sure, they're interesting to students of the genre, and it was neat to read about the strict rules that the people involved in the first Triple Dare had to follow. Here's my problem: this is a book with two of my favorite comic people ever, James Kochalka and Tom Hart, and two other people that I'm trying to learn more about, Matt Madden and Nick Bertozzi. There's not really a bad story in here, but there's nothing all that great about it either. It would be nice to have a book with all these people in it that I could just hand to people and say "Look, here are some of the best comic people working today!" and have it be their best stories too. Maybe I ask too much. It's an interesting book. All the stories have to be on an island, and then are other stipulations, but hey, it's a surprise. Let's just say that they're inventive and possibly a little obnoxious when you know about them. If I have one piece of advice for the next issue it's that they should keep these stipulations secret and let the people figure them out for themselves. My favorite in the book was probably the Bertozzi story. Like I said, there's nothing bad in here, it's just that maybe all this daring is dragging the stories down a bit. I know, that's the whole point, it's not like my opinions have to make any sense or anything... If you're looking for a copy of this, go to the Alternative Comics website and ask nicely.
I’ve been sitting here, trying to come at this from an objective angle, and I just can’t. Sorry. Too many of the events of that day day are still too close to me, even though I didn’t directly know anybody involved in this and I’ve never been to New York. My fear about this book, honestly, was that it would be too much. It would stir up too many memories, the stories of what happened to various comic artists that day would all have a kind of awful sameness: panic, searching for loved ones, wondering if it was the end of the world. I guess a lot of them do have that theme, because that’s what they were going through, but these artists are way too talented to leave it at that. There are individual touches everywhere, from Dean Haspiel having burning office papers blow in his window to Jenny Gonzalez seeing the day through a haze of psych medication, to Donna Barr being too hung over to really know what was going on, to everybody else. On a purely comic level, this book shows you the insides of a lot of comic people who hide behind being sarcastic, or weird, or just plain mean at times. This benefits the Red Cross and everybody you can think of from comics is here. There’s no reason in the world not to get this, unless those events are still too close to you, because this will bring it all back. It’s worth it for the internal dialogue Tom Hart has with Hutch Owens alone. Sadly, a lot of the things Hutch was cynically talking about have come true since then, as everybody in any kind of political office is using this tragedy to shove their own agenda through, and every big business is laying off all kinds of people after taking money from the government not to lay people off, and people don’t seem to care. Before I get to rambling too much about this and the state of the world, let me just say one last thing: God bless Peter Kuper for keeping some things in perspective.
Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
Don’t worry, I’m keeping track of all these titles that get online without the benefit of a decent scan and plan on fixing that when I do get a new scanner. Until then, sorry about the fuzzy lifts from other sites. Other than that, what you have here is a new Hutch Owen book, which is great for people like me who mostly didn’t read the online strip, at least not in any organized fashion. And this blurb from the cover (from The Comic’s Journal) says everything I think about the character in a much less rambling, much more coherent way than I ever could:”Owen is the consummate outsider…His call to individual liberty and self-fulfillment is the foundation of the comic’s philosophy…” So, why keep going with my review? No reason,really. This book has two hefty stories (Aristotle and Public Relations) as well as short pieces (some sketchbook strips (or at least that’s what they look like), the story from the 9/11 benefit book, Consumer Confidence Level, The Executive Hour and one strip without Hutch Owen, except for a cameo. Why do I keep having this horrible mental image of Hutch on all sorts of t-shirts and mugs in ten years as some kind of “rebel” advertising blitz? I think Tom Hart’s just about the last person in the world who would let something like that happen, but I can’t get the thought out of my mind. You know, I just read some of Tom’s daily strips in a hopeless effort to try and give this review some cohesion and I think I like those more than this collection. Go figure. I do like this collection quite a bit though, there are lessons in here to be learned (or at least reminded of) for almost everybody in this country. Contact info is up there, you can find this for $10 if you look but the cover price is $14.95…
Review from Chris Clark
Hutch Owen’s Working Hard is a perfect stand alone comic. Tom Hart has taken the standard narrative structure of western story telling and turned it on its ear. The story’s protagonist (and title character) doesn’t appear until several pages into the book after a lengthy introduction of the antagonist, Denis Worner. Hutch ultimately succeeds only by losing to his enemy. No pat happy ending here. Yet the reader comes away feeling somehow empowered and joyous. The writing and artwork is poetically vulgar; expressive and pretty without being polished. One of my very favorite comics. That is why I was so disappointed in this collection, Hutch’s introduction is so terrific that it cannot likely be topped and certainly wasn’t in the later stories. By the end of the book Hutch’s cynicism has defeated his joy of life. I cannot imagine the Hutch in “Stocks are Surging” offering advice on hideout construction or quoting Hamlet to children. The artwork gradually gets worse by getting better, if that means anything. It looks nicer and cleaner but somehow less beautiful. Anyway. Buy this book, read the first story and let it soak in, read it a few more times, wait a few months and then read the rest of the book. It’s all ok. I just wish Tom Hart had left the poor guy alone.
Collects a couple of the best mini comics ever done along with some other stories that were done for various anthologies. There’ll be a review of this up pretty soon but it won’t be by me, which is odd because this is one of my favorites. What can I say, I wanted an unbiased review. Or maybe it will be by me, because my other reviewer fell through, but here’s what “straight from the horse’s mouth” means, as told by A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions:
When we hear someone say that he had such and such a piece of information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” we know that he means he received it from the highest authority, from the one person whose testimony is beyond question. The expression comes from horse-racing and has to do with the age of the racers. Scientists tell us that the most certain evidence of the age of a horse is by the examination of its teeth, especially those of the lower jaw. The first of the permanent teeth, those in the center of the jaw, do not begin to appear until the animal is two and a half years old. A year later the second pair, those alongside the first, begin to come through, and when the animal is between its fourth and fifth year, the third pair appears. Thus, no matter what the owner may say of the horse’s age, by an examination of its lower jaw an experienced person can get his information at first hand, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Is there anybody out there who doesn’t know who Tom Hart is? If so, stop reading this and buy as much of his stuff as you can. He’s in my personal top 5 and he’s been there since the first time I saw his work. I only wish more of his minis were in print. Love Looks Left, Wodabe Comics, Manana, Henke (though more of a diary or a zine than a mini comic)… he put out tons of the things back in the day. Seriously, if anybody knows where to get them now, let me know. I’d pay a high price for the few that I missed. Anyway, he’s continued on in works like this one. It’s the story of an old man and his miserable existence. Bleak and depressing at times with very brief spurts of pathetic joy, this, like all of his work, is a unique experience. Go to his homepage and bug him about either putting the minis back in print or putting them all into one big book. All that good stuff shouldn’t go to waste. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, he has one of the best comic websites out there. He’s constantly putting up new stuff and he’s more than willing to share his very educated world views. Give it a click, won’t you?
Love Looks Left
If anybody wants to see my idea of the perfect mini comic, this is it.Â I’m continuing with my “why, back in my day” series of looking at older books, and yes, it turns out that in some ways things were better back in the day.Â Case in point: Tom Hart was still making mini comics.Â This is a collection of short pieces over a three year span, and they all have something to offer.Â There’s Tom in the future chatting with his child about how ridiculous it was that we all had to work for 40 years before retiring (which is how things are all the time in the future), his B.U.M. fantasy (a line of clothing from back then; kids ask your parents), how he called up a strange woman to his new apartment and ended up with a bald head and some serious inner peace, Tom and Snufkin playing music that turns into flowers (the only piece that didn’t do much for me and it was a short one), Tom shopping with his “kid” and trying to make it the perfect day, Tom as an old homeless man who plays with his dick all day and talks philosophy when he can be bothered to do so, and his fantasy beating of the man who was sleeping with his ex at the time.Â All this is wrapped up by his “kid” pleading for his dad to come home to him, that all is forgiven.Â Funny and insightful, I might not ever get tired of it if every mini comic I saw was just like this.Â Sadly it’s one of those comics that’s out of print, but you can probably find a copy with some digging.Â If not, it’s just one more thing to whet your whistle for when you’ll eventually be able to rent things like this from me to read for yourselves…
The Most Powerful Gate
I wonder how many 24 hour comics Tom did back in the day?Â This is another one (from 6/24/95), and all of the comics I’ve seen from him with this format seem to be of the 24 hour variety.Â As usual, that means a slight dip in the quality of the art, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the quality of the story, and Tom does know a trick or two to speed up the process (like drawing some of the action in the dark).Â This one is the story of a man and his monkey and another man on an island.Â The man on the island spends most of the issue saying (seemingly) random things, and the monkey ends up sick from too many bananas.Â There’s eventually a convergence of sorts, but the ending is highly open to interpretation and, even though this is 15 (!) years old, my hesitance to use any sort of spoilers still remains.Â Hey, who knows, maybe Tom or some publishing company will wise up and put a bunch of these old minis back in print one of these days.Â I will say that compared to some of his other minis this one didn’t do as much for me, which is sort of like saying that it would suck for somebody to hand you $100 after that same person had spent the past few months handing you $1000 every day.Â Still worth a look, and seeing as how Fantagraphics just put out a collection of some of the best small press comics from the 80’s, would it really be a terrible thing to do the same thing for the best minis from the 90’s?Â It’s pretty much impossible to find minis from either era, after all…
So did this come before or after Hutch Owens?Â Ah, comics memory, you have failed me.Â This came out in 1997 (which is recent compared to some of the other old minis I’ve been rambling about lately), so to those of you with Google and two seconds, that question is easily answered.Â I wonder because the main character is very Hutch-like, in his quiet quest for meaning and disdain for commercialism.Â Of course, that might easily just be Tom’s point of view on the whole thing, so why wouldn’t all his characters have the same viewpoint?Â This issue details the month of Ramadan in the life of the main character.Â Ramadan, for those of you who don’t know (or who have heard the word but never got the definition) is the Muslim month of fasting, where they can’t do pretty much anything during daylight hours and break their fast at night with a bowl of soup.Â Every day for 30 days.Â Our hero wanders the town, haggles with shopkeepers, stays in touch with a friend (who is an alien with his own problems), and discusses the merits of cursing someone out in a foreign language.Â As always with his books this all scratches the surface or his point, but it’s better found out for yourself and this one is recent enough that there’s actually a chance of you finding it if you looked hard enough.Â That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it, as I have no interest in dissecting this comic until all the joy and meaning is taken out of it.
Bogus Dead Now Available! $10
I knew as soon as I saw this book that it was going to be great. Here I am, in the middle of my personal “anthology week”, and I’ve already read the best of the bunch. Prove me wrong, people! Anyway, this is a collection of the best small press people (although why John Porcellino isn’t in here is beyond me) doing zombie stories. As that combines two of my favorite things in the world, they’d have to do a lot wrong for me to hate this and, well, they didn’t. Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, everything in here was tremendously innovative. I mean, there are only so many things you can do with zombies. That’s what I thought before I read this, and I’m more than happy to stand corrected. I’m not going to list everybody in here, as there are 43 folks and you can just go here and order the thing for $10 and read everything you need to know about it. Highlights? OK, but you have to understand first that everything was a highlight, these are just some moments that stood out: Tom Hart with the married zombies, Graham Annable with the almost somber “Revenge”, and Ariel Bordeaux’s ghost being embarrassed by her zombie body. Simply put, it’s the best anthology I’ve read in quite a while.
Elm City Jams #2 (with various artists) Now Available! $1.50
First, let me clarify that list of “various artists”: Linnea Duvall, Tom Hart, Bill Kartalopoulos, Jon Lewis, Tom O’Donnell, and Jeff Seymour. As always with these jam books, it’s all about trying new things and still making funny, interesting stories. These could easily devolve into academic exercises and it would be hard to fault anybody involved, but I laughed out loud more than a few times while reading this, and that generally doesn’t happen for “academic” books. The rules for this one are simple and wonderful. An artist can take a title (that they didn’t make up) and get to work, passing onto somebody else after a panel or two. The rejected titles are hilarious (my favorite being Meat: The Parents), so obviously the ones they did use are even better. The other method is a bit more complex, involving joining individual panels and filling in the blanks to make a coherent story. So how did they do? I don’t want to spoil a damned thing here, which I suppose is part of my “job” as a “reviewer”. So, while keeping it as mysterious as possible, some of the concepts here include making a deal with the devil, Bert and Ernie running Halliburton, the devil’s avocado, space as a mindfuck, robots in trees, a rapping chicken and knight, drowing in a submarine, and a cursed comic. So, to wrap up, what you have here is some of the best names in comics doing various experimental works that all somehow end up funny. What’s not to love? $2.50
The Ditch The River The Sea The Snake
The cavalcade of reviews for ancient (at least you could call it ancient in a culture with no attention span) mini comics continues, as I was appalled to notice that there were no minis at all from Tom on this site, just graphic novels.Â And it looks like the man never did put all of these into one collection, because he very clearly hates the people who enjoy his work.Â That’s my theory, anyway.Â Another one is that as most mini comics folks seem to hate their older work, maybe he just doesn’t want any of this older stuff seeing the light of day.Â Well, too bad!Â This particular issue is a 24 hour comic (if memory serves, and the fact that there’s only a single date on the back cover (5/5/96)seems to back me up) and, well, it doesn’t look all that great.Â Hey, that’s what 24 hour comics are!Â The story is fairly simple: there’s an old man who digs a ditch for his town, as they need water.Â He goes off to complete a ritual that will allow him to fill this ditch with water, but when he leaves his brother takes over the town and starts making demands.Â When the old man comes back with an immensely bloated snake (as he’s full of the sea), his brother and the hungry townspeople see a giant pile of food instead and attack.Â Tom manages to put a pretty decent moral at the end of the story, as one of his main skills was being able to make the reader think about any number of things.Â I doubt if you can find this anywhere (my copy is from Spit and a Half, John Porcellino’s old distro), but all of his old books are worth picking up if you do see them.Â $1.50