It’s unintentional science fiction graphic novel week! What can I say, it just worked out that way. New review today for On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.
I almost always choose a sample image that I feel is most representative of the story, but in a case like this, when I’m dealing with an epic with countless moving parts, I just choose a page at random. A peek behind the curtain! This is Tillie’s third (or fourth) book, which started off as a webcomic and ended up becoming a 530ish page science fiction masterpiece. Yeah, I said it. There’s so much going on here that’s impossible to encapsulate in any review, so I’ll try to at least hit some of the high points. At a very basic level this is the story of Mia, told through two different stories: her back in 9th grade and her friendship with Grace, and her five years later with a spaceship crew whose job is to go around the galaxy, fixing up old and damaged buildings. So right off the bat we have a science fiction concept that was new to me, and I’ve read a ton of the stuff. In going back and forth between the two stories we gradually learn more about Mia, her friends at school, her co-workers (and eventual friends) on the ship, and what led her to that ship. Tillie, maybe more than any other skill (and she has bunches), seems to intuitively know when to tell, when to show, and when to just let something go for the sake of the story. For example, there are no men in the story. It’s not mentioned anywhere (unless I missed something, but I don’t think so), but we’re far into the future, so it’s not like it would be a constant topic of conversation, so it just never comes up. She also has a knack for making things seem effortlessly alien. Amazing things in the background that are glimpsed briefly but never seen, all of the other oddities (to modern eyes) that are just clearly part of their daily lives. There’s a lot more tension and drama than I’m mentioning here, but since we don’t see that until we’re about 300 pages in, I’ll leave it to you to uncover. To wrap up I’ll just say that I’ve read two of her books so far, and they’re both among the best comics I’ve ever read. And, if nothing else, I’ve read a whole lot of comics in my life. If you have any interest in science fiction, or just a really amazing story, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot. $32.99
New review today for My Troubles With Crumb #1 by Matt MacFarland, which he was nice enough to send my way after I expressed curiosity. And people say there are no benefits to being an unpaid comics reviewer!
Full disclosure here: I was a big Robert Crumb fan back in the day. How could you not be? He’s long been one of the best comic artists to ever live (I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag and even I know about the wonders of his crosshatching skills) and he influenced more than one generation of cartoonists. Still, his portrayals of women and minorities was more than a little problematic. I’ve been meaning to go back through his comics but haven’t done it yet, meaning I’m just going to review this comic and not all of Crumb’s work. This is a shorter comic than I was expecting (6 pages; Matt does list that fact on his website, so that’s my fault), and a good chunk of it is Matt’s history with the man and his art. As it should be; it wouldn’t be much of a comic if it didn’t show his perspective. One thing I was hoping for here were more direct examples of Crumb’s problematic work. I get it if he’d rather not draw his own versions of those problems, as that would just perpetuate it. But I was looking for references to a few comics/graphic novels that were particularly problematic, and he doesn’t list any of them here. Well, he does list one story, but that’s only to illustrate that Crumb has apologized for some of his past stories. So should Crumb’s work be consigned to the dustbin of history? Based on this comic alone, no. But Matt also has a second issue where he deals with the racial aspect of his work, so my conclusion could change after that one. As for this one, it’s still an intriguing and thoughtful read, but it would have been helped by some specificity. $7
New review for The President Killed My Dog #2 by Chris Kostecka & Dietrich Smith.
There was always a chance that this series would lose me, and it sure looks like that process started with this issue. I still mostly like the premise, although it would have been a more solid connection if the President’s limo was directly responsible for the death of her dog, instead of it just being basically a traffic jam that did it after some random asshole hit her. This time around we learn more about her history with her dog, her husband and his very convenient underground escape tunnel, and her quest to either get bullets for her gun or a new gun. A lot of it felt like wheel spinning, to be honest. Killing time until the real action of trying to get to the President starts. And it’s not terrible, it’s just that my suspension of disbelief was failing me completely by the end. That’s saying a lot when I’m already on board for the “out for revenge against the President and his dog” concept. But… OK, there’s no way to do this without spoilers, so off I go. Generally speaking, if you liked the first issue there’s enough here to keep going with this issue. But there’s a moment when Mary crashes her car into the gun shop after hours to take what she needs, and it’s just absurd. The idea that there were no cameras or security alarm was shaky enough, but even giving them that there’s still the fact that cops surround her house in the morning. Because she hadn’t been paying her mortgage, nothing to do with the gun shop. Anyway, she starts shooting at them, either hitting three of them or picturing it so vividly in her mind that it left me confused as to whether or not it actually happened. Which would take her completely out of the moral high ground. Even if that was just her picturing what could happen, her house still explodes in a great ball of flame at the end, meaning she definitely killed some cops (and repo men) when that happened. So now she’s going to be a fugitive going after the President, and I can’t imagine my problem with the believability of what’s happening is going to improve when that’s going down. So yeah, maybe it picks up after this, or maybe it starts making sense. It’s also possible that it gets thoroughly ridiculous from here on out. We’ll see! $6.99
New review today for Defiling the Literati by Alex Schumacher, which is as good a time as any to say: hey, do you make comics about politics? Send them my way! I’m always happy to see more that actually take real world concerns into account.
I’m often confused by the lack of comics about current affairs and/or politics and, as always, I’m also confused as to whether there’s a vast array of them out there somewhere that I haven’t seen, or if they really are just a rarity. Either way, it’s always welcome to see a comic like this, where current events are addressed with some skill and a message. The sample image is from a simpler time, when it was obvious to all that the American people as a whole were not dumb enough to fall for a man who was only famous for being a con artist for decades. Oh, and for a catch phrase on a scripted “reality” show. Sigh, the good old days. The rest of the book is a mix of strips with a message and other strips that are just funny. There’s room enough in this world for both! Subjects include tricking hipsters with laced weed, where obsolete pieces of tech end up, managing time online (along with several other observations about aging), and the messages of Satan (in the form of a homeless woman). There are also several strips about Mr. Butterchips, a drunk monkey, and I was nervous about those, and that type of strip can go wrong in a hurry. But the bulk of these were funny with some accurate and heartbreaking messages, as Alex seems to have a pretty firm grip on what he’s doing. Subjects include the low wages of an organ grinder, getting dumped, dealing with people knocking on your door and asking for political support, the struggle to not comment when somebody posts something bigoted and/or stupid online, getting help when you need it for suicidal thoughts, several tragedies that seemed to happen right in a row, and a devastating suicide note from a sexually harassed woman. So yeah, once again there are funny bits and bits with a message; not that those bits can’t be funny too. It’s an eclectic mix that works well together, and I’d recommend it highly for anybody who thinks comics need at least a dash of more real world events and opinions. $7
New review today for Dodo Comics #5 by Grant Thomas, as it’s back to the mini comics after a week of fancy graphic novels.
If anybody out there is a student of mythology, I have no idea if this version of Medusa is “correct.” As it’s a myth, it’s open to interpretation anyway, right? Grant has the first part of his series about Medusa in this issue, and we start off with her on a throne, with snakes coiling around her feet. From there we flash back three years to see her in a quieter time. Water is scarce and there are only three sources, each with their own conditions for access. Medusa eventually falls in love with a man who’s in charge with one third of the water, which leads to other women helping out, which leads to guys being assholes about women being in charge. Yep, that has been an awful, stupid constant throughout history. Anyway, I’ve already given away large chunks of the story, but this is the first part of an unknown number of parts, so there’s a lot more of this story to come. Grant’s books are consistently engaging and this one is no exception. I’m curious to see where this one is going, so give it a look if you have any interest in mythology or just happen to like Grant’s other comics. $3
New review today for Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley! Yes, I know I reviewed two of her books this week, but they were both too amazing not to talk about, so I really had no choice, if you think about it. Happy weekend everybody!
Future readers of this review, I’m writing this a couple of days after finishing Lucy’s last book (“Something New“), and I’m still mildly feverish from a cold. One of those facts will be useful for some context, while the other is more of an excuse if I start to ramble more than usual. This book is a direct follow-up to her last; that book tells the tale of all the planning that went into her wedding and finally the wedding itself, while this one is all about all the planning and troubles that went into conceiving and eventually having a child. I recommended the last book to anybody even thinking about planning a wedding, so you’d think I’d recommend this book to anybody even thinking about having a baby. And I do! I very much do. Lucy did an amazing amount of research. But I also very much recommend this book to anybody who thinks that they have a valid opinion about pregnant women, types of birth control, the history of medical research into pregnancies, or just the reality of living while pregnant. I read constantly so I already knew a lot of these facts, but frankly there were even more that I didn’t know. Morning sickness, for example. As Lucy shows, we mostly know it from sitcoms, where the pregnant lady excuses herself for a quick barf before rejoining the group for their adventures/hijinx. In real life it’s more like weeks if not months; some women have to be hospitalized for the entirety of their pregnancies because of it. And it’s not one quick barf, it’s constant, overpowering nausea. It also often has to be dealt with with a smile, as this is usually before a pregnancy is announced to family and friends. She describes it as akin to the worst hangover morning she’s ever had… but for weeks. Let that one sink in, drinkers. It’s also rarely mentioned in popular culture just how common miscarriages can be (1 in 4 pregnancies!), which can serve to make women think they should be ashamed of their miscarriage, or that they must have done something “bad” to cause it. And the state of research into pregnancy, really right up until the 1900’s! Just think of how misogynistic society as a whole was for most of those years, then try to picture any serious research being done into the mysterious but “evil” lady parts during that time. Somehow, the reality is even worse than that. Labor pains were seriously thought of as something that women deserved because of the myth of “original sin.” Doctors said that kind of shit! Agh, sorry, I’m getting off track, and mildly enraged. Lucy didn’t have an easy go of it with the pregnancy, nor with the depression that came from some of the complications. But her honesty and humor in dealing with it all made this book a complete joy to read. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, which I wasn’t expecting given the subject matter. Look, I can’t order everyone to read every book I like. Would that I could! But before you even think about offering advice to the pregnant lady at the bus stop on whether or not she should be carrying that thing, read this book, or at least do some research. Believe me, they probably don’t want to hear from you, and you probably don’t have as much useful information to give as you might think. $19.99
For all of you readers who have been around a decade or more, this one has been a long time coming indeed: new review today for Smile by Raina Telgemeier.
It’s been at least a decade since I reviewed one of Raina’s comics. That’s been one of the weirdest parts of running a comics review website for so long: I tend to lose track of artists, even the ones I really like, because I get buried in review comics and/or don’t have the resources to buy all the graphic novels in the world. It’s true, this isn’t a lucrative gig! Still, I reviewed the first Smile mini comic in 2008 (ish? The actual date is lost to time; too many site rebuilds), thought it showed a lot of promise and that it might end up being her best work yet, and then… nothing. As I don’t have kids, I had no idea for years that Raina became a rock star in the young adult book world, with several different graphic novels and a devoted fan base. And she’s a legit #1 New York Times best seller! Don’t mind me, I’m just always happy to see ridiculously talented artists make a living off their work, let alone become famous with it. Anyway, I’ve always wondered what the finished Smile would look like, and since I now live a block away from a library (in one of the best library systems in the country), I can find out. No big surprises here, but it’s pretty great. The mini comic I reviewed ages ago basically just covered her injury and initial reaction; obviously this is able to get into much more detail. The basic story is that Raina knocked out her two front teeth when she was in 6th grade. Well, she knocked out one tooth and knocked the other one up into her gums. Yeah, take a minute with that one if you need to. Anyway, this is the story of the next four and a half years of her life, of all the various procedures, operations and headgear she’d have to deal with to fix her teeth. Obviously this would all be rough enough at any time, but she made the transition from middle school to high school while all this was happening, and all the gory details are included. I can also see why she’s become such a star with the kids, as this book dragged me right back into my own middle school experience. She has to deal with crushes on boys, boys having crushes on her, her friends both having her back and not having her back, and an occasionally obnoxious little sister. This is one of those times when you REALLY don’t need me to tell you to check an artist out, as most people reading this have undoubtedly already read her work. But just in case you’re one of the few people who haven’t, maybe start here? As for me, I’m going to go back and see what else I missed from her over the years. $24.99
New review today for Something New by Lucy Knisley. I am trying to keep these gaps between reviews to a minimum, honest. Life just has a way of making that tricky sometimes is all…
I feel the need to start this review off with a disclaimer or two: I’ve never been engaged (meaning I’ve never been all that close to getting married), I have serious concerns about the whole concept of monogamous marriage and I’ve had a cold for the last couple of days, meaning that I’m feverish and mildly delirious. The perfect conditions to write a review! This is the story of Lucy’s relationship, the bizarre path taken to a proposal, and every little thing that goes into planning a wedding. Lucy also has the same inherent mistrust of the wedding process as I do (if anything, her concerns dwarf mine), meaning that she was examining every aspect of it as it came up and decided, bit by bit, which aspects she wanted to keep, which she wanted to change and which things to make entirely her own. If you’re planning on getting married any time soon (but not too soon, or your plans will already be completely locked in), I can’t recommend this book enough. Lucy lays out several areas where she was able to shave costs off the ceremony. Granted, these might now all be possible for you if you’re not surrounded by amazing artist friends and family, but a few of these steps are universally applicable. As for the graphic novel itself, the sheer amount of information I learned here was staggering. I knew that getting a wedding dress was arduous, but I had no idea the scope of it, or that it often took 6 months (!!!) after finding the perfect dress to have it in your hands. The number of steps involved, the number of people involved, the impossibility of keeping everyone happy… this book did more than anything else I’ve read to explain why it takes about a year to actually plan a wedding. And as for the various wedding traditions? Lucy seemingly researched all of them, and the sample image below shows just a few of the creepy and/or horrific origins of them. For example, that thing about it supposedly being bad luck to see your fiance on the wedding day before the wedding itself? That goes back to arranged marriages, where it was though that the sight of this stranger could cause the fiance to flee. So… not much use in modern times, right? There was even a fairly adorable scene where Lucy and her fiance intentionally woke up together on the wedding day, because both knew they’d be too busy to see each other for most of the day. As there’s so much here I feel like I could go on forever, but I’ll wrap this up by saying it also works really well as a sustained narrative, not just for the piles of piles of practical information. She’s also effortlessly funny, and this book was a good reminder that (outside of a few anthologies), this website is mostly Lucy Knisley-free. After reading this, I’ll be fixing that mistake sooner rather than later. $20
The saga of the leather pants continues! And I hate to skip right to the end (or technically right past the end), but Matt mentions that the next issue is going to be about the origin of the pants, so we all have that to look forward to. I get that the written word can sometimes come across as unintentional sarcasm, but I’m genuinely curious about the story of these pants. Anyway! This time around the pants find their way to Lisa, an older (i.e. 40’s or 50’s) lady with a couple of kids, an obnoxious and needy partner and a yoga instructor that’s the source of many of her sexual fantasies. We don’t see the pants for roughly the first half of the book, which is where we learn all about her life and how desperately trapped she feels in it. Not that she hates being a mother, she just always imagined something more in her life. Once the pants show up, as with past comics, everything changes. She’s noticed where she was previously invisible and has the newfound confidence to go along with it. Her yoga teacher notices too and asks her out, which is the subject of the rest of the book. These Dark Pants books are fascinating for the look they take into what people would do if they felt like they could get away with anything, whether or not acting on their fantasies would help them in the long run, and whether or not they even want to go through with their fantasies when the moment strikes. And hey, next time we get to see what it’s all about, maybe. There’s a lot to this series, and it’s well worth a look. I also saw on Matt’s website that he’s made a couple of comics about his problems with R. Crumb, and I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately, so I might buy some copies of those to see what he’s thinking. Not that I needed to mention that in a review of another of his books, so check out Dark Pants! $10
New review today for The Elements of Rough #2 by Max Clotfelter. Looks like things might be picking up at work soon, meaning that if you have review comics you’d like to send my way, soonish would be a good time…
The Elements of Rough #2
For anybody who missed the last issue (or the last review), this series is dedicated to answering the question of why Max’s comics are perceived as being “so rough.” Meaning that he’s telling the story of his life, or at least the interesting/relevant bits. Last time around we got a good look at his father, this time around we spend some time with his mother and sister. And a few of the assorted people who were in their orbits when Liz had her 35th birthday party, which is the star of the comic. We see the terror that Beth (his girlfriend at the time) showed at the idea of being at a party with his family, how much booze goes into planning such a thing, the efforts made to help Liz get help with her sobriety (making it odd indeed that their was so much booze at the party, but her mother was a terrible enabler), and finally Liz’s boyfriend, who was also an ex of her mother. There’s oddly little drama over that last fact, which is odd, at least to me. But the guy got her a rabid raccoon for her birthday, and that went about as well as you might expect. There’s more to the party and to the people at the party than I’m sharing here, but hey, a journey of discovery means that you have to have something left to discover, right? Check it out, if you have questions about Max or his comics this series is an invaluable peek into how it all started. $3