Update for 10/20/17

New review today for Instruction Manual for Lonely Mountains by Nicola Gunn & MP Fikaris, happy weekend everybody!

Gunn, Nicole & Fikaris, MP – Instruction Manual for Lonely Mountains

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Instruction Manual for Lonely Mountains

Oh, of course this was an adaptation for a theater show! Sorry, but I just saw the back of this book, and now it all makes sense. Not that it didn’t make sense before, it’s just that I can definitely see this as a play. Oh hi everybody, this may look like random thoughts popping through my head that made it onto the computer, but it’s really a review! Tricky, I know. This one starts off with a man walking into a group with the title of “Focus Group for the Protest Against the Extinction of the Human Race.” Three other people are present at this meeting, each of them trying to get to casually know the other members of the group at first. The difficulties start at an innocuous moment, when everybody tries to agree on what basic drinks and snacks should be included with each meeting. This moves into a demonstration on how repetition is more effective than violence, then a discussion of how we could be the first generation of humans that could theoretically live forever, provided certain technological advancements come through and are available to everyone. People discuss how they’re likely to be remembered, and a man starts telling the story of how he broke up with his girlfriend over the phone because he had fallen in love while staying in Paris in the springtime. The fractures from this story are substantial, but I’ve said enough about their conversation by now. MP also includes several striking visual images, vibrant splashes of color on an otherwise black and white story, sometimes accentuating the story, often completely separate. This books will provoke plenty of thoughts and feelings, with no easy answers but some obvious conclusions. To me, anyway. I can’t predict your conclusions for you, which is why you should read this for yourself. $20

Update for 10/18/17

New review today for Alien Lives by Joseph Hewitt, as once again the pile of the review comics shifted, revealing some forgotten comics. Surely you can all relate to such a thing!

Hewitt, Joseph – Alien Lives

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Alien Lives

So here’s an intriguing concept for a comic: half of these stories are in Korean with English translations at the bottom of the page, and the other half are English with Korean translations at the bottom of the page. Guaranteed to intrigue/alienate everyone! Kidding, of course. You can even learn a little bit of (written) Korean this way if you want. Just take some of the shorter pieces of dialogue so that you’re sure which words conform to which symbols, and voila! You now know what a few Korean symbols mean! The stories are all over the place, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Stories include a queen who sends a bird to get the heart of a prince (and a bird who takes that request a little too literally), robot hijinx while dealing with pigtatoes, a fishing trip with a bear and a puppet that goes horribly wrong when they manage to catch a wishing fish (and the only story that confused me when I was trying to line up the translations to the panels, and ironically it was a wordless bit that threw me), dating in the future while somehow also being dating in the past, and a brief stop for a joke about the real needs of finding a habitable planet. There were also a few strips that were parodies of those snack cakes ads from comics in the 80’s, which may or may not make sense to the youth of today, but I got a kick out of them. It’s a nice mix of stories and, like I said, a chance to learn at least a tiny bit of Korean. $2

Update for 10/16/17

New review today for The Chronicles of Fortune by Coco Picard. Election time is coming up fast, so I may be more scarce than usual around here soon. But not this week!

Picard, Coco – The Chronicles of Fortune

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The Chronicles of Fortune

Sometimes picking the sample image is the trickiest part of writing a review, especially in a book like this where everything unfolds at a deliberate pace and no single image can really capture its essence. Not that that’s usually an option, but it’s hopeless with this book. Unless you believe that this book is about a woman and her talking mountain, and hey, maybe it is about that! It’s also about so much more, as it’s the rarest of fictional treats: I was reluctant to leave this strange, haunting, depressing, enlivening, fantastical world. This book is a collection of moments in the life of Edith May, who is also a superhero who has the power to fix everything that is wrong with the world, but she suffers from a crippling case of ennui so she never quite gets around to saving the world. She splits from herself to become this hero after her mother dies, leaving a lingering sense of loss throughout the story. From there we learn about her quiet apartment and life, how she opens her home up to neighborhood weirdos, her getting a fish that was supposed to sing to her, her old fashioned stove and the one day when she forgot to light it right away, an impromptu trip to Alcatraz and her running into a ghost, the sentient mountain that just wanted to be a good roommate, what was causing the leaking from the ceiling and how that led to another roommate/sidekick, trying to fit in with people while attending a bachelorette party, doing the same thing while attending an office Christmas party, her job as somebody who listened to people complain about their Christmas lights, and her final struggle against Death. Sort of. Oh, and how could I forget the moths? The moths were crucial to everything else. I could talk about this book for hours, but my instinct is to (digitally) hold it up in front of me, say “take some time to read this amazing book,” and leave it at that. For what it’s worth, I’ve read a lot of comics by a lot of different people about a lot of different subjects over the 20+ years I’ve been enjoying the small press comics world, and I’ve never read anything quite like this. If I was rich I’d offer a money back guarantee, but I’m not, so… take a chance on this book. You won’t be disappointed. $20

Update for 10/12/17

New review today for A Carl Short: So Long My Sole Soul So Long by Marcos Perez. That’s right longtime readers and other people with excellent taste in comics, Carl has returned!

Perez, Marcos – A Carl Short: So Long My Sole Soul So Long

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A Carl Short: So Long My Sole Soul So Long

Boy howdy, have I ever reviewed a lot of Marcos’s comics. Go ahead, click on his tag, you’ll see. 6 issues of Tear Stained Makeup (still available in my store if you can get it to work!), several variations of Carl is the Awesome stories, a few other mini comics… it’s safe to say that I’m a fan. I missed him at CXC this year (2017), because of course I did, but I did meet Neil Brideau, who was nice enough to give me the free mini Marcos was giving away at the convention. If you’re not familiar with the lore of Carl, I’m not sure if I could do it justice here. Maybe check out the sample images and come back to this. The short version is that Carl IS the awesome, in just about every way. He’s also some kind of a dinosaur, but that’s irrelevant. In this story Carl decides that he wants to become the president of New Jersey, and he has no interest in facts like “there’s no such thing as the president of New Jersey” getting in his way. He manages to detach his soul by flailing his arms about wildly, which makes him the perfect politician. The rest of the comic involves Carl’s friends trying to find a way to restore his soul while this thoughtless version of Carl wreaks havoc everywhere he goes. The solution to the problem is just so perfectly Carl that I’m a little in awe of it, but I’ll leave that mystery for you. Carl stories are always welcome around here, and this one is no exception. Check in with Marcos, maybe he’ll have a few of these left over after the various conventions are done. And if you don’t have the other Carl stories, you’re not living your best life, so fix that problem ASAP…

Update for 10/10/17

New review today for You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis, in what’s looking like a (shortened) week of reviews of comics by longtime favorites of mine. Not to give away the tone of the reviews or anything…

Davis, Eleanor – You & A Bike & A Road

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You & A Bike & A Road

One of the true joys of this “job” is that I get to watch amazingly talented artists as they develop; search for her name or click on her tag if you don’t believe me. I got a few minis from here in Athens, Georgia in early 2005, got a few more in 2007 and then kind of lost track of her. Which happens way too often and is entirely my fault. Anyway! Since I can’t afford to buy all of the comics in the world, much as I would like to, I’ve been using the local library system a lot lately (if you live near Columbus, Ohio, go nuts with it, you can read damned near anything), which finally brings me to talking about this graphic novel. The idea behind it was simple enough: Eleanor got a new bike from her parents in Tucson, Arizona. She was dreading figuring out some way to get it back to her home in Athens, Georgia, and riding her bike gave her a kind of peace that she couldn’t get anywhere else, so she got the idea to just ride her bike all the way from Tucson to Athens. If you’re curious, that’s right around 1800 miles. This book is the story of that journey, how she handled the mental and physical wear and tear, and some of the people and things she met along the way. There’s also the constant question of whether or not she’s going to make it, as her knees started giving her trouble relatively early in the journey. There’s a lot to love about this book, and it often reminded me of Jeff Zenick (sadly, that’s probably not a familiar name to most of you) and the stories he would tell about his travels. For what it’s worth, that’s as high of a recommendation as I can give for an autobiographical comic. I knew the border patrol was active anywhere near the border, but she saw helicopters and vehicles of their pretty much constantly, along with one particularly memorable episode involving an immigrant (?) who was trying to get away from them and the tactics (lies) they used to bring him down. Despite the seemingly simple premise, there’s a lot going on in this story, from the reactions of all the people she met along the way to everything she learned and experienced to her pushing the boundaries of her own physical limits. At the end of the day it’s just a great story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this inspired more than a few people to try something like this for themselves. $12

Update for 10/6/17

New review today for Busybody by Eli Bishop, which should be a familiar name to anybody who’s been reading this site since the early days. Happy weekend everybody!

Bishop, Eli – Busybody

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Busybody

One of the things I really love about this “job” is when I get a new comic from somebody that I haven’t heard from in years. With Eli, I think it had been a decade since I saw his last comic, or at least close to it. The physical size of this one laughs in the face of the name “mini comic,” but nobody ever came up with a better name for these things that I know of, so a mini comic it must be. Eli has a few stories in this one, with a few very short bits coming from his older minis. The bulk of this is new, so don’t worry about that. Things start off with a double story; one story continuing along the top of the page and one along the bottom. The top portion (“Discovery”) deals with that feeling you get when you meet somebody, chat with them for a long time and leave the conversation realizing that you’ve forgotten their name. When you see them again you might have a brief window to ask for their name, but really you shouldn’t do even that, so you’re already stuck. Eli takes that concept to a delightfully extreme conclusion here. The story along the bottom of the page is a silent piece about a therapist and his strategy for bringing couples closer together. This concept is also taken to an extreme, with some terrifying consequences for some of the participants. Next is a story called “The Refresher,” told from a first person perspective with the reader slowly discovering what’s really going on, which doesn’t leave me much to tell you, as why should I ruin the surprise? Finally there’s the first part of “Shift Report” (meaning he’s still working on comics, which is good news), and this one does some genuinely innovative things in splitting up the characters and the story. We see the perspective of various nurses and patients as they go about their routine, sometimes with them bumping into each other, sometimes doing their own thing. And all the while there’s one section of the page that’s in a fog, which is difficult to realize until you start to see vague images in that fog, and once again I shouldn’t say anything else about it. It’s good to see Eli back and making comics, give it a look! $10

Update for 10/4/17

New review today for Ronq & Sceban & Shaus In Trouble! – A Plot Story by Neil Brideau. One of the very few actual comics I was able to get from the recent convention, not that I’m still bitter about being broke for it or anything…

Brideau, Neil – Ronq & Sceban & Shaus in Trouble! A Plot Story

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Ronq & Sceban & Shaus In Trouble! – A Plot Story

So I sometimes have terrible memory. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this. Having terrible memory isn’t always at a problem, but at a comics convention, when I’m meeting people I see once every few years at best, talking about comics that I reviewed as far back as 2001, trying to place the name to the right comic, let alone what I might have said about that comic… it can get problematic. I knew when I met Neil at Cartoon Comics Crossroads this year (2017, future readers, assuming there is a future) that I knew his name, that I had liked his comic, but the old memory crapped out on me, giving me unconnected images but no title. But I checked when I got home, and Neil is the guy who did Sock Monster, and the collection for that strip had what is still one my favorite titles of all time: In Anticipation of Hugs! It’s still out there to buy, if you’re curious (and assuming my online store is still running when you read this, I’m even selling copies). Anyway, this particular comic is about characters of a longer series of Neil’s called The Plot, and I don’t know a thing about that. He seemed great, his comics that I’ve read are great, so I’m guessing it’s great too, but the only story I’ve read with those characters is this book. It’s apparently a prequel to the series, which helps, and Neil says in his intro that he did this comic “to get to know the three sisters in this story a little better.” As such, it’s mostly these three sisters chatting, causing some trouble, and doing one terrible thing with an urn. No, I am not going to tell you what that one thing is. It’s a funny book, and I went from having serious trouble telling the sisters apart at the start of the book to seeing all their distinct character traits when I was done. Well, I’m sure it’s not all of their traits, but you get what I mean. It’s worth a look, and based on this I’m guessing the whole series is worth a look. No price is listed, but I’m sure Neil will be happy to help you figure that out if you ask him…

 

Update for 10/2/17

Want to hear a great example of “white people problems?” Cartoon Crossroads Columbus was this weekend, and A. right before the con I noticed a late bank fee, which meant that I had approximately $0 dollars to spend on a con I’d been looking forwards to for months and B. even though I went anyway, I somehow managed to miss an entire room, as I realized much too late that there were about a half dozen people I was hoping to see again/meet that I missed entirely. I did have a few really great conversations, and I did get (very few) review comics, but oof, that was a lethal mix of terrible timing and a missed opportunity for me. Anyway, Jon Mastanuono (formerly Jon Drawdoer) was apparently at the con, and even though I missed him he was nice enough to mail me his recent comic a few weeks ago. So there’s a new review today for The Guest House by Jon Mastanuono, hope to see you next year Jon!

Mastantuono, Jon – The Guest House

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The Guest House

Hey, it looks like Jon has started using his real name on his comics (he went by Jon Drawdoer before, or maybe he still does sometimes?). I’d know that for sure if I met him at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus this year, but I’m pretty sure I missed a whole room of artists, and it’s certainly not like I’ve been stewing in a quiet rage about that ever since, heavens no! But as Jon makes clear at the start of this comic, it’s best to let everything in, to sit with the good things and the bad, to let them affect you and change you. So I can’t change missing out on him this year, but next year I can keep a better mental guest list in my head and realize BEFORE I leave the building and the con is over that I missed several people that I wanted to see. And hey look, now we’re finally talking about the comic mostly! Jon starts things off by talking about his personal philosophy, how it has gotten him through some tough times, and even if he didn’t come out of those times as exactly the same person as he was before, he could see the value of the changes and make peace with the losses. I’ve talked about this before in my reviews of his other comics, but this is an excellent way to live, and what I try (although not always successfully) to do myself. Even Jon can’t do it all himself, as he goes to a gay support group to help get himself through some issues. It’s there that he hears the story of Trent, a man who fashioned an entire identity for himself and stuck with it far longer than he ever thought he could. Jon also tells his own story at therapy (about being the third in a married couple for three years, how it ended and what he regrets), with all of this eventually leading to Jon asking Trent out. I’m making this sound like a linear, straight ahead story with some messages, but it’s so much more than that. There’s so much more insight on these pages than I know how to convey in a review, nor do I think it’s really my place to do so. Anybody who has doubts about themselves and how they handle the world could do a whole lot worse than to read one of Jon’s comics on the subject. I’m not going to say that Jon has figured everything out, but he’s a lot closer to doing so than most, and I’ve gotten something meaningful out of each of his comics that I’ve read so far. $8

Update for 9/27/17

New review today for The Once Great Auk by Caitlin Cass. Everybody have their travel plans all set for Cartoon Crossroads Columbus this weekend?

Cass, Caitlin – The Once Great Auk

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The Once Great Auk

Want to get depressed about humanity? One easy way to do it is to learn in detail about how an animal was hunted completely to extinction. Granted, these days there are some basic protections and people actively fighting back against that sort of thing from happening, but back in the 1800’s, boy howdy were people stupid about it. The Great Auk would have been fiercely protected today too, that much is obvious. It’s goofy, harmless and adorable, which would get the letter writing/political campaigns really going. They were roughly three feet tall, couldn’t fly and could barely walk (Caitlin doesn’t state this explicitly but I got the impression that it was named for the noise it made as it was stumbling around). These Auks didn’t have any defenses against humanity and never really had a chance against them. I won’t ruin the depressing tale of how the last few Great Auks in the world died, but I will marvel once again that humanity has managed to survive this long, seemingly in spite of our best efforts. This is a grim story, but hey, where else are you going to be able to see Great Auks doing their thing? And who knows, maybe if enough people read stories like this we really will collectively learn from our mistakes and stop doing stupid shit all the time. A guy can dream… $3

Update for 9/25/17

New review today for Let Some Word That Is Yours Be Heard by Alex Nall. Keep the memory of Mr. Rogers alive!

Nall, Alex – Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

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Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

Do kids still know about Mr. Rogers? I don’t think that was addressed in Alex’s latest installment of “Teaching Comics,” but I’m curious. He passed away in 2003, and the final episode was in 2001. Meaning that people who are turning 18, unless reruns are still airing somewhere, might have no clue who this guy was. I’m going to assume that somebody somewhere is still showing reruns, mostly because I don’t like to think of a world with no connection to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. Anyway, isn’t there a comic here that I should be talking about? This starts off with a new school year and Alex being increasingly beaten down by his students and his job. We also see the perspective of his partner Keri, and to a lesser extent a teacher friend in Italy. Keri is having an even rougher time with students and seems to be constantly on the verge of giving up entirely. Both of them have nightmares about class, and the only place that Alex gets refuge when he can’t sleep is by watching old episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. If it is completely unfamiliar to you, there really was nothing else like it: his kindness and decency shone through, and it seems universally agreed upon even today when people tell their stories of working with him. I didn’t know most of his history so it was fascinating to watch it unfold here, from his earliest days trying to get a show together to stories from other people who worked for him. He wasn’t perfect, at least not in modern terms; he had a cast member who came out to him as gay in the 70’s and Mr. Rogers asked him to keep it to himself, as he didn’t think audiences were ready for such a thing yet. That sounds bad today, and it’s possible that if he had taken a step to support it back then that things could have turned out differently. It’s easy to say that in 2017! A far more likely possibility is that he would have gotten banned from television. Nobody knows for sure, and nobody ever will. This book is worth checking out for the history lesson alone, but wait, there’s more! Alex getting through to the kids in his class is a constant struggle, and it’s frankly baffling and impressive to me that he has the strength to keep trying. It’s not all losses, as things end on a pretty great note (finally getting through to a pretty big troublemaker), but I can see why he takes refuge in the calming glow of Mr. Rogers. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and hope that Alex has the strength to continue for years to come. That being said, if the final volume of this series is titled “That’s All I Can Stand And I Can’t Stand No More!”, I’ll completely understand. No price listed yet, but contact Alex through his website, he’ll be able to get you a copy…