Update for 12/13/18

New review today for Poochytown by Jim Woodring, and you should all drop whatever you’re doing and read it immediately.

Woodring, Jim – Poochytown

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Poochytown

I’ve been reviewing comics for over 17 years here now, and do you know why I’ve never reviewed a Jim Woodring book, despite the fact that he’s long been one of my top 5 favorite comic artists? Because I never knew how I could do one of his books justice. Well, I’m here today to tell you that… I still haven’t solved that problem. I don’t think it is possible to say something revelatory about his work, because it so obviously speaks for itself, and it so obviously speaks in its own, unique language. I’m mostly doing this to tell people who stopped reading Jim’s work in the mid 00’s, when he wasn’t putting out much if any new material, that there are now several books of his that you could get. Congress of Animals, Fran, Weathercraft, they’re all probably new since the last time you checked. If you’re completely new to the world of Jim Woodring and are wondering if you should jump in with Poochytown, well, no. I mean, you could; every Frank story (oh, newbies, that’s what this is, a story about Frank) could be the first or last Frank story in the chronology. But no, if you’re looking to dive into the Frank mythos, start with the giant hardcover “The Frank Book.” The story this time around deals with a wealthy… man? Thing? It doesn’t seem to have a face. Anyway, this creature is in a balloon, whiling his day away. Meanwhile, the man in the moon (on the ground) is annoyed that the balloon casts a brief shadow over him, which causes the creature in the balloon to stick him tongue out at him. He only really has the tongue, other than that he’s quite faceless. Anyway, the moon man on the ground throws a rock at the balloon, causing it to start sinking rapidly. To help his situation, he starts throwing his goods overboard, desperate to avoid a crash. It’s at this moment that we see Frank, as he’s been roused from his home due to the commotion. Frank and his two pals rummage through the debris, eventually finding a large… tuba? Frank and one friend are unable to get the tuba to do much, but his other friend creates an entirely new floating city, full of offshoots of the creature that made it. Sadly, the two of them drift away in the floating city, leaving Frank very much bereft and desperate to find his friends again. I just read through that description again and yep, that’s accurate. The rest of the comic involves that search, finding an unexpected ally, and a revelation about how Frank heals himself from injuries. Of all the silent comics in all the world, none of them take longer for me to read then a new Frank book. Partially it’s just because I want to savor it, granted, but I’d defy any of you to look at any one of his two page spreads and then spend less than a couple of minutes gaping at it in awe. There’s nobody out there like Jim Woodring and there’s nothing out there like Frank, and you owe it to yourselves to thoroughly explore both. $19.99

Update for 12/11/18

It’s graphic novel review week! OK, fine, it’s only two reviews, but these are books you shouldn’t miss. Um, spoilers. New review today for Sabrina by Nick Drnaso.

Drnaso, Nick – Sabrina

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Sabrina

Yes, you can tell from the cover scan that this is a library copy. What, you think running this website makes me independently wealthy? Also, hey, support your local libraries! I usually just get graphic novels and read them for myself (yes, it’s true, there are many comics that I read without saying a word about it on this website), but I had to say a few things about this amazing book, just in case you hadn’t heard about it yet. It was the first graphic novel to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize, which, granted, I had to look up, but the list of past winners is ridiculously impressive. It’s also not quite like anything else I’d ever read, with some hints of Chris Ware sprinkled in with Adrian Tomine, but I’m not going to claim that he is all influences. No, this is a uniquely original book, which is probably a big part of the reason why it’s up for awards. What’s it about? Things start off slowly with a conversation between two women, ending with a gross story of a near miss on a sexual assault. From there we turn our attention to a young man with long hair who’s being picked up at the airport by a friend he obviously hasn’t seen in years. We gradually learn that he’s there because his girlfriend has gone missing and his parents, having no idea what else to do to help, sent him to an old friend. We then follow this old friend to his job in the Air Force, where we learn a few more details about the missing woman. The action mostly focuses on three characters: the young man with the missing girlfriend, his friend and how it’s affecting him (and his own attempt to reconcile with an estranged wife and daughter) and, to a lesser extent, the sister of the missing woman. It’s absolutely unflinching in its portrayal of grief; there were several moments when I wished the “camera” would turn away so I could get a break from the misery. The boyfriend can barely function (he’s usually only wearing underwear and there are a few times when his friend has to feed and clothe him) and there’s a particularly heartbreaking scene where the sister manages to find a brief moment of peace through meditation, but the second she comes out of it the misery comes pouring back in. The resolution to the disappearance is grisly, and the rest of the book turns into an examination of how quickly conspiracy theories get spread (he spends some time on the Sandy Hook conspiracy, among others, and shows how quickly the media turns to the next, bloodier story). It’s the tail end of 2018 as I’m writing this and the message couldn’t be more timely. You’re going to be seeing this book turn up on a lot of “best of” year end lists, and you know what? They’re right. This is one of the best, most disturbing books I’ve read all year, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. $27.95

Update for 12/7/18

New review today for The Fifty Flip Experiment #22 by Dan Hill, happy weekend everybody!

Hill, Dan – The Fifty Flip Experiment #22

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The Fifty Flip Experiment

I’ve officially been reviewing these comics for so long that I’ve completely forgotten what the title was supposed to mean. Seems like there was an explanation in the early days, but we’re talking over a decade here, so it’s apparently left my brain. Obviously to make room for more important stuff and not just because I’m gradually losing my marbles, right? Right. This is the rare issue of The Fifty Flip Experiment that actually looks simple on first glance. The basic story is that there’s a card game going on (in an old timey saloon, naturally), one of players wins the game in a suspicious fashion, and another player calls him out, leading to the prospect of some inevitable gunplay. But this is Dan we’re talking about, so obviously things aren’t going to be that easy. His missive on the front and back inside cover details the allegorical nature of each of the participants (I’d recommend reading it after finishing the story; I split the difference by reading the inside front cover, the story and then the inside back cover. Do not do this!), and each of them has a lot more going on than you may have guessed. There’s also the nature of the angry confrontation after the cheating has been discovered; I abhor spoilers but I will say no guns are fired during this comic. And that ending… well, you haven’t lived a full life until you’ve seen the final panel of this story. In case that somehow wasn’t enough for you, there’s also a short bonus piece with 14 different science fiction ideas, and if you know anything about this comic, 14 new ideas about anything coming from this brain are always welcome. Buy it, love it, be it! $7

Update for 12/5/18

New review for After School Special by Dave Kiersh and, believe it not, I actually found time for three reviews this week, so there’s another one coming on Friday. Can you believe your luck?

Kiersh, Dave – After School Special

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After School Special

One of the problems with the constant need for people to escape into nostalgia is that the thing they’re nostalgic for probably never happened. Or if it did happen, it wasn’t nearly as great as the person remembering it may have thought. Don’t believe me? If you’re out of your 20’s, go back and listen to the bands you loved when you were a teenager. Or watch a few movies that changed your lives. Watch/listen to them objectively. Sure, a few of them will hold up, but far more of them will fall apart upon inspection. That’s fine! That’s just your own personal growth; your tastes theoretically improve as you gather more experience. Well hello tangent, wasn’t there a comic here I was supposed to be talking about? Yep, and that little rant should show you the effect this book had on me. This is the story of two socially lost kids who find each other and end up dating. There’s Lisa, who had an abortion during high school and Jed, who’s recently moved to town and has no friends. Lisa had friends and lost them while Jed is just trying to find something to hand onto. He’s singing for old folks even though he has his own music he’d rather be playing, which is where his rant about nostalgia comes in. It’s endearing how quickly Lisa and Jed fall for each other; even though both of them have reason to distrust people, they can instinctively see each other as kindred spirits. Even when Lisa throws a giant party when her parents go out of town you still get the impression that Lisa and Jed only care about each other. This book is also packed with little moments of loneliness, hope, resignation, and yeah, more than a little bit of nostalgia. It’s all set in the mid 90’s, but it has very little bearing on the story, outside of the lack of ubiquitous cell phones. John Porcellino refers to this as Dave’s masterpiece on his website, and I’d be hard pressed to argue with that. If you’ve liked his work, this is the culmination of years of effort, of his researching after school specials at libraries in the hopes of finding one that would speak to him. If you’re somehow new to his work, this is an excellent place to start. $10

Update for 12/3/18

New review today for My Pretty Vampire by Katie Skelly, which has already been out for awhile but hey, maybe you missed it like I did when it first came out. Now’s your chance to fix that mistake!

Skelly, Katie – My Pretty Vampire

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My Pretty Vampire

It turns out that the nipples of vampires are invisible when they appear on the cover of a graphic novel. Who knew? They’re still visible on the inside, so relax, pervs. Why start out the review on a cynical note when the book is fantastic? Eh, who knows. Bad mood maybe? It’s just one more data point showing you that the opinion of reviewers is never meant to be fully trusted. Which is odd, as I’ve been reviewing Katie’s comics here for a decade maybe? And I couldn’t be happier that she’s getting books put out by Fantagraphics these days. This is the story of a vampire who’s being kept in a mansion by her creepy (to her) brother. She has all the comforts she could want, except she’s forced to live on ox blood, which is apparently terrible but able to keep vampires alive. After four years of this (and four years of being a vampire) she finally manages to escape, but she’s not used to the rules of being a vampire while being out in the open, not to mention having to worry about money, not getting noticed, etc. Oh, and she obviously needs a safe place to sleep every day when the sun comes up, which is more trouble than you might think. Meanwhile her brother has hired a private detective to bring her back, and she’s not particularly difficult to track with the trail of bodies she’s leaving behind. This isn’t the tale of a cunning ancient vampire who knows how to keep the body count to a minimum, Clover (the vampire lady) is basically feral, and when the need for blood hits her, she just lashes out, with very little regard for who sees or what else is around. It’s a tense story with atmospheric use of sound effects, subtle touches that you might not even notice the first time through (like the detective noticing the blood that one woman trailed into a bar), and a few genuinely horrifying moments. If you’ve been reading the website for long you’ve obviously already heard me sing Katie’s praises before, but if you’re new here or if you just never gave her a shot, here’s your chance. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this graphic novel, so check it out. $19.99

Update for 11/29/18

New review today for Goiter #3 by Josh Pettinger. If you look inside you might find Nazis! Of course, if you look outside you might also see Nazis, so maybe the novelty has worn off…

Pettinger, Josh – Goiter #3

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Goiter #3

When I was trying to find a place to buy this comic online (still not that easy if you’re not logged into Instagram), I came across a brief conversation between Josh and a fan. Josh mentioned that #2 was back in his shop, and the commenter asked about the availability of #1. Josh lamented that he had seen copies of it in the discount bin at Chicago Comics (so if you live in/near Chicago, now’s (11/29/18 as of this writing) your chance!) and said he was too embarrassed to ask for them back. To which I say… don’t feel bad about the discount comics bin! It has no bearing on the quality of the comic. Back in the day, when I was first getting into Fantagraphics/Drawn & Quarterly/mini comics, do you know how I got damned near every issue of Peepshow, Palookaville, Yummy Fur, Naughty Bits, Love and Rockets, even Eightball? Discount bins! This concludes my public service announcement to everyone who has comics in discount bins; you’re in good company. And there’s an even better chance that somebody without much money is going to pick up your book. Sure, it sucks now, but in the long run you probably gained a few fans. Isn’t there a comic somewhere in here I should be talking about? Ah, here is it, Goiter #3! This is the story of a fairly lonely young woman who’s stuck in a dead end job and has just turned 30. She could always move back home, but doesn’t want to admit that this is all there is. Sound familiar to anybody? If not, you’re one of the lucky ones. Anyway, our hero works this dead end job until one day a a giant head appears to her, acting like he has known her forever. Turns out that this giant head is Joe Murphy, or the only part of his that has come through from an alternate dimension. He’s also time traveling, so this version of him had already been dating our hero. She quickly falls in love with him, but meanwhile, things aren’t going so well on Joe’s end, both as a giant head (he has an unknown illness) and for his body back in the other dimension. The rest of the comic deals with those struggles and whether or not our hero can come to terms with the life she’s living. Josh also mentions in the back of the comic that while the book isn’t autobiographical, he also turned 30 and was working a dead end job while he was making this comic, so there are bound to be some elements that are true to his life. It’s a great story, both unnerving and somehow hopeful, so give it a shot, maybe you can find something in here to help with your own dead end job.

Update for 11/27/18

New review today for Stoner Alien by Pat Aulisio. Do you have all the comics that this guy has made since the mid 00’s? Because it’s entirely possible that I do…

Aulisio, Pat – Stoner Alien

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Stoner Alien

Some of you might be looking at that title and thinking that there must be a lot more going on in this comic, that maybe it holds some of the secrets of the universe or that the stoner alien is a jumping off point for a prolonged ethical discussion about stoners and/or aliens. Nope. Sometimes a stoner alien is just a stoner alien. But it’s still Pat, so there are plenty of funny bits involved. The story, as you may have guessed, deals with the stoner alien and his friend, who happens to be a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Were they aliens? Seems like they were just regular earth turtles who got hit by some radioactive goo. Anyway! Our heroes have a brief discussion about comics (Stan Lee vs. Steve Ditko specifically), demonstrate some advanced techniques for breathing in/out while smoking pot, and head off to their job at a deli counter. As you may have guessed, our alien friend has all sorts of problems paying attention to people when they’re asking for help, which leads to hilarity that lasts all the way through the point where we see how helpful a sneeze guard can really be. So yes, it’s true that this probably isn’t the comic you’re looking for if you’re on a nonstop crusade for enlightenment and the greater truth behind it all. On the other hand, if you’d like to get a few chuckles out of the behavior patterns of stoners (or if perhaps you are a stoner who is curious about these new smoking techniques I’ve mentioned), then step right up and send the man some money! I’m not sure how much money because it’s not on his website at the moment, but maybe $5?

Update for 11/22/18

New review today for Break the Cake by David Robertson and a bevy of other artists, happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Robertson, David & Various Artists – Break the Cake

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Break the Cake

Hey comics creators! David is back with another gigantic comic full of stories to shame you for your feeble efforts at getting your own books out in a timely fashion. Of course, he does have a small army of talented artists to help him along, so maybe not everybody has that advantage. That’s right, it’s time for another pile of stories, and, as usual, the good ones vastly outnumber the baddies. Based on my subjective opinion, obviously. There’s a lot in here, and I’m going to leave parts of it as a surprise, but highlights for me included his story about getting over Star Wars (not exactly a novel idea at this point, but he told his story well, and his losing interest is more based on all the clues he got over the years about future movies being abandoned by Disney than anything else), Jonathan Swift’s response to a question about where he got his ideas, a day in the life (starting with a night shift job, then trying to get any sleep and finally traveling), coming across a secret comics library at the University of Dundee, a time travel story by a 12 year old David featuring him feeding an entire cow to a tiger, the “lady” that isn’t Betty or Veronica, trying to feel sorry for somebody who got very rich at a young age and who is currently having an existential crisis about it, a lady reporter trying to honestly answer the question of her assignment and running smack into misogyny instead, keeping the reviews of Star Wars Episode 1 under wraps before it came out in the U.K., some acting advice by William Shatner to the new guy, how a puffer fish attracts a mate, and finally the lengthy story of an alien who comes to Earth with a mysterious purpose. Why is he shooting that gun? Does he have our best interests at heart? Does he even care that we’re here? I’ve mentioned his all star team of artists, but the range in this one was really impressive. Flipping through the book it looks like a regular anthology, which I guess it kind of is, except all written by the same guy. Still, it’s a visually impressive mixture, and it’s sure so send anybody who sees it down a few comic lanes that you might not have ventured otherwise. So yeah, check it out, there’s something to love in here for everybody.

Update for 11/20/18

New review today for Songs of the Field by Ryan Cecil Smith, and I’m also scheduling a review on Thanksgiving afternoon, just in case you were wondering if it was worth checking back in over the holiday for reviews. It is!

Smith, Ryan Cecil – Songs of the Field

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Songs of the Field

Ryan’s comics are one of the rare examples of a book that makes me want to dig through my old comics to reread everything else the artist has done. Because I like his books, sure, but also because he’s one of the few people working who keeps most of his comics in a self-contained universe; everything with “S.F.” on the cover or in the title is all part of the same story. Granted, he says that these are entirely new characters so you don’t need to go back to anything, but even if that’s completely true I still want to go back and see how everything that’s come before runs together if I read them all at once. So, once again, I’m accepting offers for unpaid interns who want to organize over a dozen long comic boxes full of mini comics. And a few assorted boxes. Possibly random bags here and there that somehow have comics in them too. Did I mention unpaid? <ahem> Hey, how about this comic? This is the story of a lonely lizard man who’s roaming the galaxy by himself. He eventually realizes that he’ll need fuel and runs through his options on how to get it; the short version is that all of his options come with varying levels of risk. So he lucks out and stumbles across an asteroid field with the ore he needs to refuel, but alas! It has been claimed with “dibs” from some human settlers. The lizard man isn’t clear on the exact definition of “dibs,” which leads to him breaking off a piece of ore for himself, which naturally leads to some irate humans coming after him with their space lasers. The rest of the comic is a lengthy space battle, occasionally broken up with talking as one side tries desperately to talk the other side down. And just in case I somehow haven’t mentioned it in previous reviews of his work, Ryan’s use of colors is unmatched by damned near anybody that I know of. That cover alone should give you some idea, but everything in here is gorgeous and it makes me hope that he goes back and colors some of the earlier work when the inevitable gigantic S.F. omnibus comes out. Hey, a guy can dream, right? $15

Update for 11/15/2018

New review today for Pre-History by Caitlin Cass!

Cass, Caitlin – Pre-History

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Pre-History

Sometimes during a move comics will end up getting shuffled off somewhere that leads to me not reviewing them in a timely manner. Or at all; I’m sure I’ve lost a comic or two during a move before. The good news is that when the comics reappear (like, in this case, by checking under a mound of other nonsense in my car), it’s like there’s a brand new Caitlin Cass book waiting for me. This comic tells an ambitious story in a tiny package: the entirety of history before civilizations. Caitlin takes us through the very first forms of life, the length of time it took for them to get up and running, the various setbacks to life that almost ended all life on this planet several times, followed finally by the extinction of the dinosaurs. Um, spoilers I guess, in case you thought the dinosaurs were still out there somewhere. She also designed it in the same manner as those old “find out whether the boy likes you” hand puzzles from grade school, meaning it was impossible to get a second sample up here to show you. But you know her work by now and that it’s always amazing, so I doubt you’ll need much more convincing this time around. It’s Caitlin telling the history of the world before people were in it, what more do you need to know? $6