In a world where there are so many actual assholes, where the news constantly seems to be life or death stuff, where all decent folks are rallying together, implicitly or explicitly, Tom has chosen his lane: autobiographical comics asshole. It’s nuanced, it’s hilarious, and it’s almost certainly not who he is in real life. But in an age where subtlety has passed us by, I love the fact that he’s sticking with it. There are a few stories in this comic, all roughly related to his overall theme. First up is a piece about him having a dinner with his parents, unable to stop and have a conversation with them while being obsessed with the lack of “likes” his picture of said dinner is getting. There’s a hilarious bit where he tries to defend his work at a convention when an unfortunate medical condition springs up: Tom’s thought bubbles over his head are visible to the outside world. That condition powers a couple more short strips, with a trip to a doctor about his condition and the “cure” that he comes up with. Then there’s the heart of the book, the part where I stop talking about the actual contents of the stories because it’s such a delight that I don’t want to give anything away: Tom gets three wishes from a magical talking cat. How he gets the wishes, what he does with the wishes (remember, comic Tom is a full blown asshole), and the way the strip ends, all those delights I’m leaving to you to discover, gentle reader. If you’re able to stop taking everything so seriously for a few minutes, to avoid the temptation of turning everything into an outrage, I can’t recommend this book enough. There are sadly few comic artists around these days that are capable of making me literally laugh out loud, and Tom is one of them. Never change, you (hypothetical) jerk you! $6
Magic Whistle #3.2
Oh, Magic Whistle. The world can’t be all bad as long as you’re still around. This is another issue of the latest iteration in the series, in which Sam keeps doing his thing but he brings in other cartoonists to also do their thing, which lets him put comics out on a more regular basis to keep the rest of us happy. I’m just assuming everybody in America is reading this by now; since it’s been around since the mid 90’s there’s no excuse not to be reading it. This time around we have Tom Van Deusen with a tale of how great life is for Jeff Bezos, and Seth Cooper with another story of Zissy and Rita, which is a series he’s been working on since the early 90’s. I’d tell you more about the other strips by people not named Sam Henderson, but there’s no table of contents and nobody else signed their work, so other stories (that may be by Brigid Deacon, Devin Flynn or Amy Lockhart) include an adorable puppy and the incredible shrinking man who takes an unhealthy liking to it, how everybody wants to have sex all the time in the hopes of briefly distracting themselves from the inevitability of death, and three single page strips, each with a different theme. I’m pretty sure I’ve guessed who did which strip, but I’m not positive and I’d rather not get it wrong. And then there’s Sam’s strips, dealing with single panel gags, the continuing story of Cappy Jenkins, a dropped piece of pizza, and a billionaire trying to find somebody worthy to leave all his money to. So yeah, it’s Magic Whistle. Of course it’s funny and you’ll love it. If that ever changes, I’ll let you know! $6
Old timey readers of this website may recognize that title and author, and that’s because I reviewed an earlier collection of this story, um… earlier. But don’t worry, as the story continues into this graphic novel! For those of you who don’t feel like digging into the archives, the previous comic told the story of Tom (or an alternate version of Tom) as he goes on a few OKCupid dates and is generally one of the worst people in the world while doing so. It also tells the tale of his mediocre to awful job and how little he does at work while trying to get through the days. He ends up falling for a lady who doesn’t seem to appeal to him in any way (outside of getting really drunk one time and sleeping with him), but that does launch him into a lengthy obsession with her and the man she eventually started dating instead of him. Along the way he also decides to try polyamory (after looking up the definition online) and is a big old creep at a party that his college roommate ends up throwing (Tom is described as being 8 years older than said roommate). The Scorched Earth story ends up as gloriously as anybody could have hoped, but wait, there’s more! Tom also tacks on two later chapters of the story at the end of the book, depicting a time four years later after that version of Tom has lost a lot of weight and is desperate to show the woman who spurned him just what she missed. He hires somebody through Craigslist as muscle for when he confronts them (not that he wants to hurt anybody), and things naturally go hilariously wrong. Whichever way you’re guessing it goes wrong, trust me, you won’t see this coming. Tom also included a few other strips in here, dealing with his trying to get in on the vape craze (kids, if you’re reading this after the craze has faded, vaping was people smoking either tobacco or some smokeless junk in a douchey mechanized box of some kind, and all of it was completely untested with nobody having a clue what would happen to them if they used it. Hilarious!), Tom bringing a katana to work and Tom getting a taste of power after he’s told to interview a prospective employee while the actual boss was away. It’s a damned funny book all around, and if you’re single it also serves as a handy guide on what not to do around women and how not to behave. Ladies, nobody asked for it, but if you’re looking for dating advice, “don’t date Trump supporters” is the best I can do for you for the next four years. Oops, I got political at the end. Sorry. Buy this book, laugh, and forget about the bleak reality of our lives! $16
You can file this review under “you kids today,” if you like to know that type of thing right away. What I mean by that is that there are two people out there that everybody else attempting autobiographical stories should be compared to: Harvey Pekar and Dennis Eichhorn. Sure, Harvey had a movie made about him, meaning that even casual comics folk may know the name, but Dennis, for reasons that baffle me, has never gotten that kind of attention. They also wrote completely different types of stories, as Harvey was all about daily life, the mundane bits mixed in with insights about the human condition. But Dennis, man, Dennis has lived a hell of a life, and he’s chock full of fascinating and/or hilarious stories to tell. Dating back to his Real Stuff series in the 90’s he’s had nothing but the top comics artists in the field helping him out. Back then it was both of the Hernandez Bros, Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, I think even Robert Crumb… basically anybody you can think of from that era. So, since this is a collection of (mostly but not entirely) new stories, he brought in some of the best artists working today. The stories in here are all over the place and from various portions of his life; if I had any complaint it’s that I sometimes wished for context as to what age he was or when exactly the story happened (although he did usually give a ballpark estimate). Stories include his very first writing gig interviewing a terrible local band (with Ivan Brunetti), his first night as a taxi driver and how he learned to trust prostitutes (with Max Clotfelter), a fantastic prank on Mormons/a shitty neighbor (with Dame Darcy), a very surreal medical experience with Fox News blaring in the background that also involved him finding out that Harvey Pekar had died (with RL Crabb), finding out that the Coast Guard is not legally bound in any way in regards to searching boats (with Colin Upton), and sifting for gold with a (literally) crazy friend. There are other solid stories in this collection too, but it’s best to leave some things a surprise, right? I checked a bit online and somehow there doesn’t seem to be a definitive collection of his earlier series, so maybe Fantagraphics or Top Shelf should get on that, legal mumbo-jumbo permitting? That’s a pile of really great stories with some of the best artists in the world that are somehow still out of print. Regardless, this is plenty worth checking out all on its own, and if you stumble across any old issues or Real Stuff (or, if you’re old enough, Real Smut), pick that sucker up too. $10
On Your Marks #1
Oh, what a crank I am. I get a pretty damned great anthology filled with small press people living in Seattle who could use a little more exposure and I can’t help thinking that I would have liked it better with a clear indication of which artists did which pages. They’re even all listed on the inside front cover, but they’re inside of a drawing, which makes some of them tough to make out. Does this take away from the quality of the content? Not one bit, no, as it’s not like it’s impossible to figure out who did certain pages with a little bit of work. Eh, I blame it on the general tone of the holiday season. All this Christmas music everywhere just bugs me. And if you ever needed more proof that I am in fact a total curmudgeon, there you have it. Anyway! This is a collection of mostly one page strips, done by all kinds of people that you either already know about or should be ashamed of yourself because you’ve never heard of them. Stories include Ben Horak having the comic he made when he was 6 read by adults (with a perfect final panel), Tom Van Deusen’s creepy piece about a head growing out of a roof and what happens when it’s removed, Bobby Madness and the sacrifice he made for the environment, Kelly Froh’s traumatic moment on an aimless afternoon, Pat Keck and his dungeon Gremlins, Aarow Mew and the result of his “spider” bite, Julia Gfrorer’s tale of a creepy ouija board experience, Rick Altergott and Pat Moriarty’s story of what cats think is going on with their litter boxes, Marc Palm’s Flannelwolf and Frankcan, Robyn Jordan’s worries about what she’ll be like in 10 years after she has kids, David Lasky’s questions about what you would do if you were a superhero, and Max Clotfelter’s mistaken assumption involving getting his older brother involved in protecting him. Like I said, it’s a damned solid anthology, full of ridiculously talented people. Maybe next time they’ll put page numbers on the pages to lessen my crankiness, or maybe it’s something I need to work on on my own and I’m sharing too much here… $4
Scorched Earth #1
Are there any guys out there who need to feel better about their awful dating life? This might be the comic for you! Or it might not be, as at least this guy is going on dates, and maybe that is not true in your situation. Anyway! This is the story of Tom, who is either partially or not at all based on the Tom who made this comic (I’m guessing “not at all”) and a series of his dates based on women who responded to him on OKCupid. Which is the dating site for people who don’t want to pay to be on a dating site, in case you haven’t heard of it. The trouble is that Tom (the character) is an unrepentant asshole in just about every way, which makes dating difficult. His first date is with a vegan hippie lady, so his choice to start it off with a joke about “fags” doesn’t go over too well. Still, booze is a hell of a thing, and drinking enough of it would make just about anybody attractive. Tom has a shallow (but hilarious) moment, things do not end up going well and he ends up drunk at home by himself. The next morning is awful, but Tom is a trooper and already has a date lined up for dinner that night. Unfortunately the lady from his previous awful date is there as well, and the date that he did line up looks nothing like her profile picture, and there’s still all that wonderful booze around to confuse things, which is about where I have to stop getting into this to avoid spoilers. There are also three short strips at the end in the style of the old Peepshow strips (lots of tiny panels on one page, just in case any of you philistines haven’t read the early work of Joe Matt). One deals with one of the worst job interviews I’ve ever seen, one is about a party and Tom’s attempt to win everybody over, and the last one is one more date to round things out. This is funny as hell and you’re going to have a hard time reading this without ending up feeling better about yourself. After all, chances are that you aren’t nearly as big of a dick as this guy, and that’s something, right?
Dog Walk Dog
Huzzah for dog anthologies! Well, pet anthologies in general, as there aren’t nearly enough cat anthologies in the world for my tastes. This one has a collection of fantastical tales involving dogs of some kind (no mushy autobio stuff here) along with a few photos of dogs. Things start off with a story by Patrick Keck about a humanoid dog walking another dog, having a perfectly lovely afternoon or evening. The humanoid dog reminisces about his dog when he was a kid and how he was sorry about how he was only rarely able to let it into the house, which was odd as the humanoid dog was apparently a human boy as a child, but I shouldn’t get wrapped up in such things. Next up is “Woof” by Tom Van Deusen, which probably unnerved me more than was the intention of the story. It’s about a dog and his animal friends playing in a band and having a BBQ, which all sounds perfectly nice, but the way that all of these creatures’ mouths were all the way open when they talked (along with the casual way that the alligator at the deli counter scarfed down a squirrel customer) was more than a little disturbing. And that’s not even getting into his representation of God at the end of the story, or the way his/her/its mouth was a black void of stars, or the horrible dead eyes. Yes, this is more likely to be my own odd hang-ups than the actual meaning of the story, but that’s all I have to work with here. August Lipp has a short piece next about dogs on their humping schedule (of legs, that is), then Karissa Sakumoto tells the story of a half dog, half man creature and how it is unloved in either world. Another one that’s a little creepy, but it was thoroughly engaging. There’s also a centerfold with a new interpretation of the famous dogs playing poker painting, just in case such a thing would push you over the edge into checking this out, you weirdo you. You have to be a fan of the particular animal for most pet anthologies, but for this one you’d be just fine if you hated dogs, what with all the general insanity going on. No price listed, but maybe $3 at a complete guess?
Alex Jones True Adventures #1
Ah, Alex Jones. I’m going to happily assume that this comic is supposed to be about the Alex Jones of radio/various conspiracy theories fame and not just a random Alex Jones, mostly because this comic would serve as an excellent origin story for the guy. Scratch that, Alex has a microphone and a tape recorder on the first page, so obviously it’s him. Anyway! This comic reads like a bizarro lament to my opinion that too few comics deal with modern political events or figures. This one has a bundle of political figures show up, and if any of them ever somehow heard of this comic I’d have to imagine that they wouldn’t be too happy about it. Buy hey, fuck ’em. This starts off with Alex on his personal tour of Bohemian Grove, the “play area for the elites,” and his confrontation with a “dandy sex toy” who seems to have stolen Jughead’s crown. From there he witnesses all kinds of horrors involving Geraldo Rivera, Herman Cain, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Madoff that I probably shouldn’t get into because of the dreaded spoilers. I will say that the ending with _____ (I’ll leave it as a surprise) in his “liberty copter” was brilliant, even if the person in question is a goldbug loon in real life. It’s a nice little piece of cathartic madness all wrapped up in eight pages. Normally I’d also complain about the lack of any contact info in this comic, but considering the subject matter I can see why Tom might want to make this a little tougher to find than most of his comics. That being the case there’s no price, but a buck or two should probably cover it.