Full disclosure time: I think astrology is nonsense. Relatively harmless nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. It’s fortune telling but made for everybody who was born within the listed month, as if every human in every 12 month period shares the same characteristics, but told in such a way that it could apply to just about anybody regardless. I have occasionally given a sign other than my own to somebody who asked me (at a party or bar, usually) and have delighted in their going on and on about my various characteristics that fit me perfectly while belonging to a completely different astrological sign. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear before I started discussing this book, which is edited by a person who does get a lot of enjoyment out of astrology. 12 cartoonists also offer their takes on their signs, with only a few of them being even slightly skeptical. I could have used more of that, but it’s already pretty clear that I’m biased, so I’ll move on. Rob starts in the introduction with his own history with astrology and what it’s meant to him over the years, but he’s also clear that he doesn’t expect everybody to buy into it and encourages opposing viewpoints. He also provides a detailed description of the various signs and some of the other qualities associated with them, in case you were curious and/or needed context. So now that that’s out of the way, how about the stories? The highlights for me included Whit Taylor’s tale of the struggles of being a Gemini, Tyler Cohen eventually coming around on being a Cancer, Cara Bean (with my favorite piece) of Aslan coming down from the heavens to explain being a Leo to her, Rob Kirby going into specifics about being a Virgo and his experiences both with it and discussing astrology with other people, Rick Worley as one of the few skeptics in regards to being a Libra, Aron Nels Steinke on leaving a movie early (and also how his being an Aquarrius mixed with his wife being an Aires) and Marnie Galloway on being a Pisces (and the most righteously skeptical of the bunch). If you are interested in astrology, even a little bit, there’s a lot to love about this book. If you’re not even a little interested in it, like me, there’s still some great artwork, a few skeptics and an insightful peek into the minds of people who take all this seriously. And if you’re short on money, at least you get an awful lot of comic for $10.95.
Madtown High #3
This series is getting better all the time. The first two issues may have suffered a bit from “you had to be there-itis” (not a real illness), but this one seemed more universal in its problems. And hey, it’s not a bad thing that she focused so much on things that happened to her in those first two issues, as she is writing these stories about her high school years, but this issue just felt really well-rounded. Does that make sense? Eh, probably not without you reading this, and quite possibly not even then. Anyway, subjects include Whit watching her biology teacher go through a midlife crisis (depression, starting to crawl out of it, getting called out by the principal for the manner in which he was crawling out of it, then vanishing completely), dances and the cliches that happened at each of them (with a great final panel), how they fought back against a Christmas tree that they were forced to put up with near their lunch table (disgusting and hilarious), the mystery of a “poo” on a window and the various people who probably should have cleaned it up at some point, and the fake crush of all the ladies in her group on a particularly creepy teacher and how they used his picture on a birthday cake. This issue is full of funny bits, and once again you’re bound to relate to/cringe at a few of these stories and how they bring you back to your own time in that prison/wonderful early life journey. Oh, and they’re mostly up on her website if you’re too cheap to get the actual comic, but hey, why not throw a few bucks her way?
Madtown High #2
More high school hijinx! Actually it’s more stories from Whit’s time in high school, but if you went to high school anywhere near when she did you’ll probably find a lot to relate to. I have roughly ten years on her and we still seemed to be listening to the same music in high school, which struck me as a little odd, but that music is pretty perfect for that environment. Subjects in this one include her and some friends making a “B” horror movie in a day and the fate of that movie, going to see her first concert and trying to get onto the set of that awful MTV show where everybody stood outside the windows holding up signs (but hey, she was the perfect age to be doing that, so it’s hard to retroactively fault her), falling for boys in bands (or trying to), the panic that came after the Columbine shootings and the awkward ways that her school tried to deal with it, the local ice cream shop and the tactics of a friend who always gave the guy behind the counter shit, and Whit’s habit of picking masculine Halloween costumes until one year when she accidentally did not. I defy anybody reading this not to feel at least a bit of nostalgia for their high school years, most likely followed by the sheer relief that they’re no longer happening, although that might just be me.
Madtown High #1
If you’ve read a ton of small press comics you most likely already know if you’re interested in reading another series detailing the adventures of the author in high school, but don’t rush off without at least giving this one a shot (her website is good for a preview, as she still has a number of pages up for free as of this writing). This is the first issue of a projected five issue series, and it’s broken up so that it looks like you could read them in damned near any order, or at least you could after reading the first story where she meets her circle of friends. Stories in here include the aforementioned meeting of her friends at lunch (after awkwardly sitting at another table for a bit), her time in the orchestra and the slow disintegration of the hopes and dreams of her teacher, gym class and all the awkwardness that ensued (mostly from other people and the fact that everybody stank after class), joining the science league and the thrill of winning, a bully and a potential bully that never materialized, a crush and her delightfully awkward attempt at making the guy notice her, and a secret hut in the woods that they used to hang out on weekends. I’m intrigued to read this whole thing, as it has long been obvious from past issues of her comics that she has a lot to say on the subject of high school. My only complaint is that a panel here and there looks like it’s been seriously rushed, like the one in the science league story where it looks like the bus she’s riding in is a lumpy cardboard box riding down a street where the grass is on fire on either side and the houses have been flattened. It only happens a few times and doesn’t really diminish the quality of the stories, but shortcuts like that (if it is in fact a shortcut and not just me nitpicking) do tend to stand out. But that’s a minor quibble and shouldn’t detract from the solid storytelling that she did throughout the book. $3
This comic deals with a theme that a lot of people can relate to: grabbing for a chunk of stability in a world when it seems like everything around you is going to shit. Whit has had a tough year, with (according to her list) her grandpa dying from “a medical mistake in a routine procedure,” her cat of 19 years dying, her parents getting divorced, and her being forced into a career path that she didn’t really want due to the crappy economy. Her solution was to take her boyfriend to the Museum of Natural History in New York, which is where she would often go on field trips as a child. They take their time going through every part of the place, talking about the various things that they’re seeing and what they think might have happened to them. It’s also made clear to them multiple times that the things that we worry about so obsessively don’t seem like that big of a deal when compared to the vastness of the universe, or how the dinosaurs were wiped out in the blink of an eye, or even the many different kinds of minerals found underground. In a way it’s a trip to make sense of the world, but in another way it’s Whit coming to terms with the utter lack of sense in the world. Or that’s my interpretation anyway, your opinions will no doubt vary. It’s a hell of an impressive book regardless, as she avoids the pat answers that sometimes accompany stories of this nature. She also mentioned in her note with the books that she’s taking time off from auto-bio stuff for a while to focus on other things, and that sentence always sets off alarm bells in my head. If she means it literally, sure, it’s sometimes a good idea to get away from the whole genre for a bit, or to try your hand at telling a mystery or a science fiction story. But she’s too damned good at this for that to mean that she’s going to focus on her real job for a while instead. Not that I have any say in the matter, but she’s been increasingly onto that elusive “something” with her comics, and I’d hate to see her stop now. Hey, maybe if everybody reading this buys this comic she’ll change her mind! It’s worth a shot. She still doesn’t list any prices, but this thing is huge, so… $6?
Full disclosure time, for anybody who wonders about this “Whitey” guy who writes all the reviews: I’d had the nickname for probably four years before I had the slightest idea that there was any racial association with it at all. My hair in high school was damned near translucent, you see, so “white haired kid” got shortened down to “Whitey,” and here I am, currently in the awkward mid-30’s phase of the nickname, greatly looking forward to having my hair eventually turn white so maybe the nickname will start to make sense again. And as for why I keep the nickname, have you ever tried to disassociate yourself from a nickname that you’ve been given? Good luck with that. Just felt compelled to throw that out there, seeing as how the subtitle for this book is “and other things that make me uncomfortable as a black person” and knowing that some people were likely to experience some small brain explosions. So how about the actual comic? This is a great peek into the mind of Whit, obviously, but it’s probably an even better primer for people who probably don’t know when they’re being racist. There’s the cover story where she wonders how watermelon got started as a racist stereotype (and her grandma’s theory of “because slave owners wouldn’t give slaves utensils and watermelon was easy to eat” is probably close to the truth), what she does on the beach due to her “natural tan,” the dreaded n-word (who can use it, where it came from, and an unfortunate nickname for another black person in their neighborhood, “Reggin”), the south in general and New Orleans in particular, spending time at the beauty parlor listening to conversations and getting her hair done, black actors and tv shows, studying abroad in Australia and seeing the completely foreign attitudes towards race, black history month and WTF is Kwanzaa? She has an engaging, self-effacing style that makes you love the book more as you go, and I’d be shocked if you didn’t come away from this book having learned something, no matter what color you are. I wish she’d take a bit more time with her handwriting in certain panels, as it’s clear that she’s occasionally rushing it, but kids these days back in my time we walked to school in the rain etc. etc. Still, it’s a hefty piece of work that manages to take a fairly serious subject and make it funny, which is no easy thing. No price, but I’m going to spin the random price wheel… $6!
Just a suggestion for young small press comic artists: watch the handwriting. My handwriting it shit, for example, but in the few comics I did WAY back in the day (that will never again be seen in public, thank you very much) I slowed myself down and passed the pages around before putting the book together to make sure that people could read what I was writing. Not much point otherwise, is there? I’m mentioning to try and not single Whit out, as it’s not like she’s alone in this, but there were a few strips here where fairly critical words were crammed into the bubbles or entire bubbles felt like they were written under a time deadline. It was a pretty solid book other than that, but little problems that could have been solved before the book was released will always bug me. Anyway, she mentions in the intro that these were the first comics she did after being unproductive following a move across the country, just to throw that out there. Stories include discussing who would get to go through your embarrassing stuff if you died, trying to plan a party as a fake wedding extravaganza, watching shows about polygamy, a meticulous blowjob, and what your favorite artificial flavoring says about you. There are also short pieces of things she both will and will not do again, and a piece about how Jersey Shore doesn’t feel spontaneous any more because they all clearly see themselves as brands. Any comment I have on that one would be mean so I’ll just leave it alone. Like I said, it’s a pretty solid pile of stories, so you should probably check it out if you liked her previous work. Or hell, even if you didn’t, although if I’m being nitpicky I’d maybe start with Onesies or Attic before moving on to this one. $2
If you’re going to post comics up at your website, why not make mini comics out of them? Whit clearly has no trouble with that idea, as this is another collection of her website comics. She’s also working on a longer piece, which I’d be curious to see after two issues of shorties. Before I get started, embiggen that sample and read the strip. OK fine, I’m not the boss of you, but the next sentence or two will make more sense if you do. What the hell is an “angel master?” Whit clearly gets that clairvoyants are fraudulent, and hey, if she still wants to go see them, it’s her money. But angel masters? Anybody with a functioning bullshit meter would run screaming out of a room if somebody wanted to charge you for their advice based on their expertise as an angel master. I’ll go with the theory that she madeÂ it up, in which case it’s a funny play on just what people are willing to spend their money on. Other strips in here include her homage to her attic, snooty people who loudly proclaim that they watch no television, being caught out watching a crappy movie, an odd yet loving conversation about vomit, how to hide a hickey, the essential vapidity of having hundreds of Facebook friends, how many ads we see in a day, what happens to old soda, what era would be best to live in and how it’s stupid that robots in Pixar movies are given genders. It’s another pile of interesting and/or funny stories, in other words, so you should maybe contact her if you’re interested, as there doesn’t seem to be a price listed here or on her site. My random comic price guess of the day is $2.
Since I complain when people don’t do it, it’s best to start this review with a compliment: Whit put her e-mail and website address right on the back of her comic.Â See how easy that is everybody?Â Once I can get everybody in the world putting contact info in every book, erasing all pencil lines before releasing their comic into the wild and taking two seconds to check their spelling I can retire in peace.Â As that’s never going to happen across the board, apparently I’m never going to be able to retire.Â I do have one piece of advice for Whit: put a number after that title.Â If this is your main form of making comics (single page strips posted first on her website), then chances are you’re going to put putting out more of these, correct?Â Anyways, kudos for the title, as it’s a significantly better description for single page strips than, um, single page strips.Â I’m going with onesies from now on.Â So how’s the comic?Â Pretty funny.Â Strips in here deal with reactions to her drawing comics, trying to wrap her head around Facebook, deep thoughts about Disney characters, greatest fears, how everything feels the same at 12:01 on New Year’s Eve, a joke about a Fabio wig (which, in the strip, made no sense to the people the guy was talking to; I feel their pain), her admirable position of refusing to date a man who uses a Bluetooth (and ladies, if you’d all band together on this one the next generation would have significantly fewer assholes), giving up things versus doing evil for lent, deciding when exactly is a good time to start living in the moment, the projected theme of a strip club, whatever happened to Fruitopia, wallowing after a breakup, and what St. Patrick would be like if he was alive today.Â Â So you have the occasional important insight, funny bits spread throughout, and a wide enough variety of subjects that you never get bored.Â Seems like a pretty solid recipe for a good mini comic to me.Â $3