Update for 4/25/23
New review today for Airbag #1 by Brian Canini. What are the odds that that man has the most overall reviews of anybody on this website? Considering he started making comics maybe a few years after I started the website, I like his chances…
Canini, Brian – Airbag #1
Good news, people who read Brian’s comics! He’s settled on a title for his various short pieces that don’t fit anywhere else, and it’s Airbag. Probably it’s for the best. I’ve been rereading (and getting caught up on the ones I hadn’t read) Love and Rockets after reading the 40th anniversary collection, and there was a point after a few series with different names where they went back to calling their comics Love and Rockets. People just didn’t pick up the other series as much for whatever reason. Sure, to comics folks like you and me it would seem like seeing their name on a comic (or Brian’s name, to try and tie all this together) would be enough, but apparently there actually are casual independent comics fans. And these shorter, more personal and serious comics of his should not get lost in the shuffle. There are a few laughs to be found here, sure, but mostly these pack a harder punch than his lighter fare. Things start off with a quiet piece about a son meeting his estranged father for lunch, which reaches a boil of resentment slowly but surely. Next is a story about a breakup, how it causes the man (Mark) to reevaluate his life, but offers no easy answers as to how somebody can break out of a rut like that. Finally there’s a group of kids who sneak into a frat party in college to get some free booze and a conversation happens along the way that changes the whole dynamic. It also started with an unanswered phone call on 9/11 before flashing back to the party, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out the connection. As always, blame a sleepy reviewer before blaming the artist in a situation like this, and either way it’s not like it blew up the story or anything. Finally there’s a wraparound piece which is grimly comedic, but I’ll leave that one up to you. I’ll just say that it involves that Bluto-esque dude on the cover and leave it at that. There’s also some encouragement from some of the best comics names around on his letters page, just in case you were clinging to the idea Brian was still your little comics secret. Here’s hoping Brian has enough stories to make these Airbag comics a fairly regular thing. Based on his insanely productive ability to produce comics so far, I’d bet on him for sure. $6
Update for 4/21/23
New review today for Travel Diary by Scott Finch. Happy weekend everybody!
Finch, Scott – Travel Diary
Best to be blunt about this one up front, I reckon: it never really clicked for me. Which was surprising! The Domesticated Afterlife, his graphic novel from 2021, was one of my favorites of the year. That one also took some time to cohere into something really compelling, so I kept waiting for this one to do the same, but it never got there. Disclaimer time, and I’m aware that this is a message I’ve repeated a lot (but hey, every review is the first for somebody!), but the fact that this didn’t come together for ME has absolutely no bearing on how YOU respond to it. The premise here (explained in his afterward, and I’ve rarely been as thankful for an afterward as I was here) is that Scott was cutting out drawings from his sketchbooks onto postcards that he was sending to a friend, and he went with the idea and decided to let “some creative chaos into the project.” Judging by that metric, I’d say he succeeded wonderfully. Certain images repeat themselves, they occasionally get additional details added, he even includes number breaks to indicate chapters. If you’re a fan of more abstract art, it rarely gets as widely open to interpretation as this one, so in that case I’d recommend giving it a shot. And to be very clear, I still think Scott is somebody to watch going forward. It’s not like this comic is going to knock the incredibly positive feelings I have for The Domesticated Afterlife out of my mind. These things just happen sometimes, y’know? $25
Update for 4/19/23
Join me today as I crawl all the way up my own hindquarters to talk about my experience with Love and Rockets: The First Fifty: The Classic 40th Anniversary Collection by Jaime and Gilbert (and sometimes Mario) Hernandez, Los Bros Hernandez! Hey, don’t I usually review teeny tiny small press comics? Yes, and I will mostly continue to do so, but I couldn’t let something like this come into the world without talking about it. Indulge me, won’t you?
Hernandez, Los Bros – Love and Rockets: The First Fifty: The Classic 40th Anniversary Collection
Love and Rockets: The First Fifty: The Classic 40th Anniversary Collection
(With apologies to Fantagraphics, as I stole…er, borrowed this image from their website)
Hell no, I’m not going to review Love and Rockets! Are you kidding me? This is instead going to be half “hey, did you know that this collection existed?” and half “story about how I got into comics.” As for you, gentle reader, you now know the first half of my intentions, basically. This exists, it’s amazing, if you have the money of course you should get it. The rest is going to be fairly self-indulgent, so continue at your own risk. Oh, one more thing before I start rambling: if you’ve never heard of Love and Rockets, it’s not too hyperbolic to say that it’s a foundational piece of just about every alternative comic going today. Sure, there was the underground stuff before that, and various newspaper strips and EC comics before that, but anybody who’s been doing comics since the 90’s on owes a hell of a lot to Jaime and Gilbert. When did you start reading Love and Rockets? I started reading this with Volume 2 of the collected editions, way back when they were just starting to put out collected editions. The image of Luba, always and forever a striking character, on the cover holding a hammer, was irresistable. That volume had Heartbreak Soup in it and, like anybody else who read that story, that was it for me. Instant fan for life, right there. This would have been maybe 1990 or 1991 (I got the book in a bargain bin, so it wasn’t brand new). Got caught up on the collections available at the time, got the rest of the issues of the magazine sized series, then kept going with the various issues/books since. I stopped reading them several years back for no good reason I can think of, but after reading this sucker I’m going back and filling in any holes; yes, you’d better believe I’m reading the whole thing again. So if anybody is left reading this, what about this collection? After all, at $400 it’s far from a casual purchase. If you already have the graphic novels from that era, do you need this? Highly recommended, still, and if you can afford it, yes, but I guess you could make do with those editions. Reading this again reminded me of one thing: my preferred way to read Love and Rockets is like this, when they’re taking turns. Odd, I know, and not something I enjoy doing with any other creators. I’m perfectly content to read 10 pages of Poison River (Gilbert), followed by 8 pages of a Locas story (Jaime), followed by 6 pages of X (Gilbert), with a short story mixed in here and there. Probably because that’s how I started reading them, but it’s still true. Both brothers (although mostly Gilbert) were also big fans of adding panels or pages to the collected editions, and those pages aren’t in this set, so if you’re looking for the whole thing you probably do need both. One of the main attractions of this set is the 8th volume, or the “extras.” There are plenty of reviews from when they first started and following them as they evolved, along with a few short interviews. Some of their comics are in here from various sources, including things I’d never seen, and more comics from Mario Hernandez than I’d ever seen in one place. It went a long ways towards my more greatly appreciating the third brother (from the first issue of the series, I mean). My only quibble, which means it’s my only quibble with the whole collection, was that it sure seemed like they could have included one of their interviews from The Comics Journal. They’re the gold standard for interviews, after all, and they’ve done a few with them over the years. Maybe it was a space issue? They’re all in a TCJ archive online, but it would have fit nicely here. Yep, that proves it: I can never be completely happy with anything. One other reason to recommend this: since this reprints the issues exactly (ads, letters pages and all), you can see Fantagraphics grow as a company in real time. This was the first series they published, but by the 90’s they had just a ridiculous number of quality series going. Should I go back and edit this “review” into a more coherent whole? Eh, probably, but I’m not gonna. Bottom line time, I guess: if you’ve managed to never hear of these two and have some disposable income, you are in for quite a treat. Hell, you can maybe even get this from your local library, if it still has funding where you live. Aw, just use your tax return if you’re broke. That’s what I did! $400
Update for 4/17/23
New review today for Marshmallows by Chris Resnick, as I’m dealing with another unintentional theme week. This time around it’s “comics that are too big for my scanner,” although the Friday review just barely fit. Exciting times!
Resnick, Chris – Marshmallows
(Note: the image above was swiped from Howling Pages, an amazing comic shop in Chicago. Buy the comic from them, won’t you? Or buy some other comics, their selection is unreal.)
This is one of those rare comics that’s too big for my scanner, which is why I provided the disclaimer above. Anybody looking to sue can have one of my cats, and that’s only after I’ve gotten him riled up with a laser pointer. Good luck! So once you get past the giant exterior, what’s going on in here? Chris calls this “half true,” so it’s open to interpretation as to which half he’s talking about. This is the story of a camping trip Chris took with his friend back when they were both 12. It was with Chris’ grandparents, but naturally the main goal of two 12 year old boys in that situation would be to escape having to deal with them. It’s a delightfully real tale of how obnoxious kids like that would be, with the very true disclaimer that 12 is a decidedly odd age; not a teenager, not really a small child either. They talk about girls (that they’re both aware they have no real chance with), make fart jokes and are eventually kicked out of the camper for farting excessively. The tent they’re given is too small for the both of them, and they’re still trying to figure out how to make that situation work when two girls who seem to be about their age come running out of the forest, asking the boys to hide them. No spoilers from there, and the next section seems to be surreal enough that that’s the fictionalized portion. But strange adventures seem more common when you’re that age, so who knows? This is a sweet comic, with real things to say about being a kid, and there are more than enough funny bits to keep things moving. I don’t know where you’d store something this large, but it’s worth a read. Hey, just do what I do: put the giant ones in an ungainly pile in the closet, where they’re forgotten about until the pile eventually collapses. It’s foolproof! $8
Hill, Dan – The Fifty Flip Experiment #31
Oh, what a journey we’ve been on together, as I’ve spent the last couple of months getting caught up on Dan’s comics so that I’ll be ready for the blockbuster #32, which should be coming out any time now. The things we’ve seen! This one starts off once again with Dan’s lengthy introduction, and just in case anybody reads “lengthy” and thinks that’s me taking a passive aggressive dig at the man for rambling, well, listen. For one thing, I have no standing to criticize anybody for rambling. That’s literally 85% (according to scientists) of what I do here. For another thing, his intros (and outros) are a joy, and you’d only think such a hurtful thing if you’ve never read one of his comics. Which is more of “you” problem than a “me” problem, hm? Anyway, this time around he really breaks down what exactly is happening in this issue, as well as what’s not happening, so if anybody occasionally gets lost in the narrative, he’s written a handy guide to lead you back. Honestly, I would have put that intro as the sample page but the print is too small. As for what you’re getting into this time around, the title is: Crazy Drag Racing Days During Dinosaur Times: Forced Ascension into the Crystal Dimension Because of a Spell from the Forest Witch. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Things start off, as all races did during dinosaur times, by a Fred Flintstone looking dude racing home at the end of his work shift, xylophone spine on a dinosaur’s back and all. From there the mayhem comes a pace that’s difficult for anybody to faithfully retell, but you will have the chance to put your picture in the story, further enmeshing yourself into this tale. Can you get out after that? That depends on your level of basis in reality at present. There are accidents, a cat puts a full fish into its mouth and pulls out a fish skeleton, an emergency ejection is needed, and a bird friend commits a betrayal most foul. Also the Fred analogue has odd eye stalks instead of regular people eyes. Again, I’m giving you a basic taste of the comic; the whole meal can only be found out by reading. Oh, and if you’re getting back issues along with this one, he suggests #23, as a character in that is similar to one in this issue. Makes sense to get a few at once, right? Right. $5 ($7 with shipping)
Update for 4/4/23
New review today for Odds Clods #3 by Steve Steiner. Also, even though I’m in my usual perpetual state of trying to clear out the review pile (Sisyphus has nothing on me), many of them are multiple comics from the same creator. So if you have single new issues of your stuff that could use a review, now would be a good time to send them my way.
Steiner, Steve – Odd Clods #3
Steve’s been sending his books along for a lot of years now (I want to say at least a decade) and while I’ve always enjoyed them, I’d swear that the dude has hit a new level in recent years. These newspaper comics of his are absolutely hilarious. As in, I put the paper down a few times to wipe my eyes because I was actually laughing hard enough to be crying. That’s as funny as funny gets! Please don’t sleep on what a rarity this is, and do yourself a favor by grabbing a few to see whether or not I’m correct. Humor is subjective and all, but everybody could use a few more laughs in their lives, and these magazine comics are chock full of them. What’s this one about, anyway? I included a single page strips as a sample, because this one really takes you on a journey. Is Dragon Roommate funnier, and should I have included that instead? Maybe so, but that just means you still get to read it for yourself, totally unspoiled. Other stories include Goth Bot (her friend, her crush, and her parents; this one really took me on a journey), a set of trading cards (cut them out yourself!) with only the “greatest” skin ailments, The New and Improved Death Maze (what to do if you’ve made a fool of yourself with your previous death maze), Judge Alpha (not the most caring judge, and not one you’d want in charge of your trial) and Ham Goblins, of which I will say no more. There’s also a wonderful center spread of a new toyline (my favorite was Stained Glass Robot, but there were many fine choices), followed by a description of their creative process. Again: if you think that comics should be funny, whatever comics this man is putting out at the moment should be required reading. Also don’t be afraid of those numbers in the title, these aren’t connected in any way I can see. $10
Update for 4/6/23
New review for The Fifty Flip Experiment #31 by Dan Hill, and this concludes his weekly reviews. For now! The man’s always putting out new comics, don’t you fret.
Update for 3/31/23
New review today for The Stoneware Jug by Stefan Lorenzutti & John Porcellino, who you may remember as the king of cats.
Porcellino, John & Lorenzutti, Stefan – The Stoneware Jug
There’s this disconnect in my brain, and I’m becoming more and more aware of it as I get older. I think of myself as somebody who doesn’t enjoy poetry, and I’m certainly not somebody who seeks it out. But when a book like this lands in my lap, and I enjoy literally every poem in it, with the only problem being that I wish that it was longer, well, what am I supposed to take away from that? But hey, this is not about me, even though my rambling in reviews may make that difficult to determine. These are poems written by Stefan and illustrated by John. If you’ve seen John’s work over the years (and I’m just assuming that everybody reading this has), then you’d know that his sparse, expansive artwork would be perfect for short poems like this. I’m not familiar with Stefan at all, but after reading this I’m thinking that maybe I should fix that. There are so very many books on his website, and I have no idea where to start, so maybe I’ll just do a blind buy one of these days. Anyway! These poems range from one to several panels (although none longer than a page), with the page title on the otherwise blank page opposite the image. It’s fair to say that “quiet contemplation” is the overall theme, but subjects include the right drink for the right season, the quiet walk to the cemetery, a silent fire on a hillside, tractors, peace in heat, and the various types of orange heat. These are intentionally vague descriptions, of course, as I could easily put all of the text from this comic in place of what I’ve written so far and it would probably be about the same word count. So basically if you already like poetry, well, here’s John Porcellino illustrating some of it, so you’re obviously ordering this right now. If you’re like me and think you don’t like poetry, read this one specifically. Maybe you’ll also either find out that you were wrong about that, or you should at least put more thought into that opinion. Oh, and the profits for this go towards children traumatized by the war in Ukraine, which is one more huge reason to support it. $8
Update for 3/29/23
New review today for The Fifty Flip Experiment #30 by Dan Hill. One more issue for these weekly reviews, unless I missed something else that he sent me, which is entirely possible. Suspense!
Hill, Dan – The Fifty Flip Experiment #30
The Fifty Flip Experiment #30
As these weekly reviews roll on, I feel like I’m telling you all less and less of the actual story. The subconscious reasoning is simple: these are a joy to read, with constant twists, turns and unexpected detours, so what kind of miser would I be if I took that experience away from you? Granted, as he admits in his outro, certain bits might get away from him or end up leading nowhere, but this is one of those cases where the journey is the thing. For example, could this story have survived without the line “My feet are changed to cheeseburgers!”? I suppose so; events would have barreled on without it. But oh, what a better experience for all involved, when that line and the subsequent image of it just there, waiting for anybody to pick this up. OK fine, so what’s going on this time around? Dan once again has his introduction, and I think (combined with the outro text that gets so small that it almost fades away) that this might be the most he’s written in this area. It’s fascinating stuff too, as he muses about money, how much more productive he’d be if he had more of it (but not TOO much more, as too much money makes people terrible), the general idea of the wisdom of enriching the artist, and how he feels like he’s really reached the top of his game lately. I’d agree with that assessment, especially now that I know that that impression holds true whether I’m reading his issues once or twice a year or all in a row like I’m doing currently. That’s scratching the surface (the man wrote A LOT), but I must move on to the comic. A woman named Gig Christmas has a plan to replace all the bug juice in middle school cafeterias with healthier kombucha. Chimbly Daddy is trying to stop her plan, but there’s more to the both of them than you’d expect, as we eventually take a detour to see that they area actually two parts that make up a whole, and an explanation of that idea is necessary, so off we go. Gig also has a team, and although each member could have used a bit more backstory (look, a complaint!), they did a lot with the page time that they had. One more suggestion, although I’m guessing cost would be a problem: I do wish that these comics could be magazine-sized, like the original Love and Rockets series. This art, in places, could use some room to breathe. Ah well, I can dream, can’t I? Yes of course you should check this out, and since he mentioned that he could put more of these out with more money coming in, that also sounds like a clue to pick up a few of this back issues. $5
Update for 3/27/23
New review for Farewell by Joao Fazenda, which concludes this current batch of mini kus comics. Always a sad day, granted, but since this is #114 of their series, I think we can safely expect to see more of these wonders in the future.
Fazenda, Joao – Farewell
For the last of this current batch of mini kus comics we get a simple, heartfelt tale where the title does a wonderful job of summing things up. It’s the story of a family going back to their childhood home, which just so happens to be on a peninsula that’s soon going to be underwater. There’s a plan in place to use all of the materials from the house so that nothing is wasted, but what’s going to happen to the things inside of it, the items that might trigger memories from its former inhabitants? Three generations meet up to figure things out, and there’s the added factor of a possible tiger lurking in the woods. Joao does impressive work here with light and shadows, particularly the scene towards the end where they get lost in the woods in the dark on their way back to their boat. As for the story itself, it’s a thoughtful piece, where everybody has their specific things that they’d like to take back with them, but there’s also an overall acceptance of the state of things. Does this mean that I’d call this yet another solid mini kus book to add to the gigantic pile of them, and that anybody reading this could do a whole lot worse than to check this out? Reader, you know it does. $7.95 for the issue, but I still say the $22 offer for four of them is a much better deal.
Update for 3/23/23
New review today for The Fifty Flip Experiment #28 by Dan Hill. I also saw on his website that a new issue is coming out soon, so now it’s a race against time to see if I can get through these weekly reviews before it comes out. Place your bets!
Hill, Dan – The Fifty Flip Experiment #28
Have I mentioned yet that it’s alarming that my reviews of Dan’s work appear on a Google search way above his own website? The friends who set this website up oh so many years ago really knew what they were doing, but reviews should never come before the work itself. Do better, Google! Meanwhile, hey look, a comic! If you’re anything like me, you read that cover image and instantly thought “Marge’s hair… does he mean Marge from the Simpsons?” In which case you would have been completely correct, as the villains of the piece are… ooh boy. They have the bodies of turtles (with little wings on their shells) and crab claws instead of hands. And the heads of many a Marge Simpson. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Dan starts, as always, with an essay, this time about whether or not the company that made his new pen was historically terrible, and whether or not his depictions of birds, on some unconscious level, may have been based on awful racist cultural stereotypes. I don’t see it, but it’s an interesting essay, and nobody on this planet should consider me an authority on that subject. He also revealed a bit about his creative process, and had one line that was too good not to share: “I hope the fun of sitting down and writing nonsense comes across.” It does, Dan! It absolutely does. The comic itself shows the story of how the two creatures depicted in that statue managed to die at the exact same time, and yes, it does explain the quote about Marge’s hair on the column. It’s a sort of love story/training montage/drug run/brief musical montage/doomed final battle kind of thing, and it is as delightful as you might expect with all of those things blended seamlessly together. There’s also a kicking bazooka involved. Also, you may not expect a happy ending in a comic that starts of telling you that the main characters are going to die, but you know what? You just might get one anyway. Give it a shot, I say, and I also say you should send him enough money for a few issues so you can get some idea of the sheer range of ideas that passes through this man’s mind. One comic by itself is simply not enough to give you that context $5 (or $7 with postage through his website)