If you’re wondering why it’s taken me this long to get back to reviewing the series, I’d somehow managed to lose a few review issues that Brian sent me, so the plan was to take stock and then buy those issues the next time I saw him at a con. But lo, what was lost is now found! In a drawer. In the kitchen. <cough> Not much of a dramatic reveal, I guess, but I can at least get the reviews back on track now, and after this one I’ll be switching to a “multiple issues reviewed at once” format, because that’s probably the best way to read this series. Boy howdy, that was a whole lot of gibberish. Anyway, if you need a refresher, go back to the old reviews (or issues, obviously), but this one starts with our first long look into a… plastic surgery church? I’m not sure that it was ever named, unless it’s in one of the older issues and I’ve forgotten it. We get a deeply creepy sermon (and call and response) from the pulpit, then the detectives take the “priest” aside to ask him some questions about the murdered girl. We get a lot of information in this issue, although it’s tough to say if we’re any closer to solving the mystery, and things end up with a major update on the celebrity who was attacked at the end of the last issue. It’s still compelling as a story, and he’s up to #20 as of this writing with no signs of slowing down. Grab yourself a few of the compendiums to catch up, why don’t you? Or the single issues are $2 if you just want to dip a toe in.
All of the Caniniacs out there (fan name subject to change, but I like it) are probably wondering why Brian occasionally puts out big old books like this, full of different types of stories, if he already has a few different ongoing series with a variety of different subjects. Why not make a few more minis? Well, because it wouldn’t work nearly as well to have interconnected stories in a variety of minis where the similarities wouldn’t be nearly as clear, now would it? Now that that imaginary strawman has been handily defeated, I can go on with the review. This is a collection of several stories, with comedy, despair and heartbreak (seriously, the first long story was devastating) all wrapped up into one bundle that still somehow works beautifully. Things start off with the “invention” of comics back in 1925 and the all too predictable reaction of the hoity toity types of the time. This picks up again later, but next we get the story of a woman who’s tasked with clearing out her father’s home after he passes away. Their relationship wasn’t all that close, especially after the divorce, but she learns a lot about the guy by digging through what he thought was meaningful enough to keep, which all leads up to the moment that explains a whole lot of his attitude towards her wanting to become an artist. From there we get an explanation of how a forgotten comics artist gets rediscovered before moving on to a comics convention, and am I ever thrilled that “DeForgian” is a descriptor that’s being used out in the world. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, read some comics by Michael DeForge. Yes, any of them. Anyway, the artist at the convention gets sick of it, find a “magic” pen and gets dragged into a magical comics land. There’s all kinds of things going on in here, as the artist takes a real spiritual journey, but this is one that’s best left to the reader to discover completely unspoiled. Finally it all wraps in the Billy Ireland museum in Columbus, as the forgotten comics are finally collected. OR ARE THEY? Yup, a mystery. That back page comic is also a winner, and a nice little dig at the newspaper business. So yes, if you’re just curious about Brian’s work, it’s probably more economical to get a few minis. But if you’re looking for something that’s complete in one volume with some serious variety to boot, this would be an excellent place to get started on his comics. I’m talking to the newbies, as I’m assuming everybody who already reads his stuff either already has this or is now ordering it now that you know it exists… $10
A peek behind the curtain: I was planning on getting back into Plastic People, as it’s a bad idea to get too far behind in any series Brian is doing, but I seem to have a gap between #9-12. I’ll get it sorted (CXC in Columbus is only a few months away, after all), but it’s not like I ever have a shortage of his books to review. Blirps is more self-contained than his other series, or at least it seems that way after reading #2 and #4. It’s a series of four panel strips, and in this issue each strip starts off with an insecurity of the main character as they try to work their way through it. Subjects include indecisiveness, false hope, trying to put yourself out there, standing out in a crowd, self-doubt, going out on a limb, and getting way too far into your own head. And a couple more, which I leave (as always) for the reader to discover. Honestly, at this point I’m a bigger fan of his ongoing series or his autobiographical work, but the benefits of somebody like him putting out so many quality comics is that I could end up flipping that opinion with a few more issues of this series. It has its moments, is what I’m saying, and if you’d like a flavor of Brian’s work without diving in to a series, this is your best bet for fiction (and Slice of Life is probably your best bet for autobio comics). Or, like I always say, just send him a pile of money and ask him for a grab bag of comics. One of these days I should probably ask Brian if anybody has ever actually done that… $1.99
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
In this issue, Brian reveals the secret of how he’s been able to stay so productive while working a day job and having two kids (three by the time this issue is done. Spoilers!). I’ve got some bad news for the procrastinators out there who think it simply can’t be done: his secret is to work on comics whenever he can, panel by panel when necessary. So if you were hoping for the one neat trick to make it all simple, my apologies. This is a collection of autobio strips for February 2021, so two years ago as of this writing. Brian and his wife Amy are awaiting the imminent arrival of their third child, so this issue is mostly all about the few complications that came up and the general effect on their lives. Stories specifically deal with Brian driving a practice run to the hospital (to make things less stressful when she’s in labor), trying to have quiet time at home to work on comics, reckoning with the knowledge that the new baby is going to take up most of his free time and trying to plan accordingly, fun with their cat and dog, a few scares with early contractions, having a baby shower basically online because of covid, sending the kids and the pets to their assigned destinations when the moment came (this all seemed spectacularly organized to me, so kudos to them), and drama with his parents not contacting them for months up until just about the single most inconvenient moment. Everything went fine with the baby, so don’t worry about him sneaking a tragedy into this comic. Unrelated, but since his baby was born a few months before I adopted my cat Miles, technically it’s a human name that I stole for use as a cat name. Unintentional, but linear time remains hard to beat. I keep wanting to say “pregnant pause” but it seems so cliche, but screw it: this comic is the pregnant pause in his life while waiting for the inevitable to happen. They’re both a little on edge throughout, for good reason, but it’s a tenser read than I’m used to with his autobio stuff. Still worth a look, obviously, so give it a shot why don’t you? Especially if you have small children or have a kid on the way. Lots of good tips/lived experiences in here for people in that position. $6
Well, it’s official: Brian broke the website. His productivity did it, specifically, and it’s not like he held a gun to my head so I’d review his books a few at a time. Still, this might have to be the norm for a few of his series. When you last saw me talking about Applewood Canyon, I was assuming that that was it for the series and that it had wrapped up in fairly confusing fashion after five issues. I was wrong, which is a thing that happens on a regular basis, and Brian was nice enough to give me the next few issues at CXC in Columbus last month. So, breaking this down by issues, #6 had the escape of our “heroes” (probably need to come up with a better descriptor for casual murderers and a dummy) through the sewer system along with some narration that described what they were all going through, #7 showed them the horrifying truth about Coconut Valley, and #8 had their new plan after being denied entry back into Applewood Canyon. I can instantly see that my problem with spoilers is going to be a big deal while covering a few issues at a time, so let’s just say that any review with more than one issue involved is going to have at least a few spoilers. I liked their trip through the sewer, as we learned a lot more about the characters through an issue of conversation and narration. I would have liked to have learned more about Coconut Valley in the seventh issue, but I get why he’s trying to keep it vague for the time being. And #8 was great for showing just how diabolical this crew could be, with some mayhem sure to follow in future issues. I’m no longer making guesses for how long this series will last, but I am enjoying the ride.
$1.99 (per issue)
It’s the grand finale for the series, as our “heroes” still have to figure out some way to get the dead body out of town. There’s the north entrance, which is guarded 24 hours a day, so that’s out. And the south entrance is a literal minefield. What can they do? Obviously I’m not going to tell you, as it would be a gargantuan dick move to wait until now to spoil the ending. It’s always tricky when I can’t get into such things, so I’ll just say that I thought the ending was… fine, I guess? It solved their central problem, but it also felt like the ending just kind of happened and that was that. Which, granted, is how endings work, and you can throw this whole review away if there are further issues planned. Honestly, it’s probably one of those things where I was anticipating a zig and Brian instead zagged. Who can’t relate to that! I also thought we were going to get into further detail about the nature of the town (what kind of town has guards at one end and a minefield at the other?), but that never happened. Which I get in one sense, as that probably would have required a whole other series. And since Brian is a comics making machine, there’s every chance that he has such a series in mind or is already working on said series. Overall this was still a really fun and/or disturbing series and I think that fans of his work should definitely check it out. $1.99
It’s the penultimate (a word I just don’t get to use often enough) issue of this short series, and when we last left our heroes (?) they were bagging up a body and starting to take it away. The issue ended with a flashlight being shone on them, so in this issue we naturally see who was holding the light. It turns out it was… a small child. With a surprisingly quick grasp of the situation, to the point where it’s hard not to instantly wonder what else is going on with this kid. The rest of the issue deals with her making an offer to the two of them, their response to said offer and what happens once they try to take the body out of town (a town which we were previously told was locked down at night). So! Lots to wrap up in the final issue, and only 8 scant pages to do it. This one has gone a long ways from the faux documentary style of that first issue, that’s for sure, but I’ll make the prediction now that we’ll be left with many more questions than answers. I could very well be wrong, but I probably won’t be (this time). Mainly because I want to know the life story of that kid, and there’s just not enough time to deal with that while wrapping up the main plot. Either way, it’s been a blast of a series, and a pretty cheap one to get all the issues, in terms of Brian Canini series, anyway. $1.99
One of these days I really need to tally up these reviews to see who I’ve reviewed the most over the 21 (!) years I’ve been at this. If Brian isn’t the winner, he’s got to be in the top 10. Of course, him putting out comics at a ridiculous pace like this doesn’t hurt his chances. It’s the middle issue of this series (assuming there aren’t more to come, but there haven’t been new issues since I started these series reviews), so this was bound to be when things got serious. I’m assuming you’re either caught up or aren’t going to get caught up on this series (which you should; some damned odd vibes in this one), but this one picks up right where the last issue left off, with the murder of the narrator after he stumbled across a grisly scene. How does a narrated comic continue after the murder of the narrator, you may wonder? The sample image will clear that one up for you. It also tells you exactly where this comic is headed, as Mr. Johnston and a reluctant Floyd try to come up with a good plan to get rid of the body. I’ve previously mentioned that these comics are shorties (8 pages each), so I can’t say much more without the dreaded spoilers showing up. I will say that it ends on another cliffhanger, so maybe I’ll give in to temptation and just review the final two issues next week. Or maybe I won’t. I’m mercurial! Anyway, I’m enjoying this series quite a bit, and unlike the saga that Plastic People is turning out to be, this one is a quick five issues. Much easier on the wallet, you cheapskates you (says the guy who usually gets free review copies). So yeah, check it out! $2
The creepy tension from the first issue continues here, overlaid with that wholesome narrator telling an unseen audience about the charms of this town. If you didn’t read the review (or the comic) of the first issue that might be a little confusing, but who would just jump in at the second issue? In the previous issue we saw a bit of the town, and this time around we focus on one house in particular. Our narrator checks the door and, as it’s such a trusting town, finds it unlocked. We get a brief tour, have the residents of the house explained based on a large family portrait, and are suddenly distracted by a loud noise coming from downstairs. Any more than that and I’m well into spoiler territory, which is a constant concern anyway while reviewing 8 page mini comics. Maybe I can get away with saying this: it’s going to be extremely tricky to continue the unseen narrator action going into the third issue. But that’s fine! Two issues in and I’m completely hooked on the mystery, and Brian is doing an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension. Some of the asides are also brilliant; after getting detailed bios of two of the people in that family portrait, we land on the third one and the only piece of information the narrator is willing to dole out is “deceased.” Raises a whole lot of questions, huh? I’d recommend this series pretty highly so far, and since Brian is the man of a thousand comics series, I’ll even go ahead and say that you should start with this one. I suppose it could still fall apart, but it’s certainly off to one hell of a start. $2
Here’s another intriguing start to a series from Brian, the Cal Ripken of comics! Uh-oh, an extremely dated reference. See kids, Cal Ripken is famous mostly for his streak of consecutive baseball games played in a row, which I think was way over 2,000. Google has just told me 2,632, which is insane. Anyway, my point is that Brian has been making comics for a whole lot of years, and in that time he has produced a whole lot of comics. OK fine, so it’s a flawed analogy! I was shooting for a compliment. This follows Brian’s usual (?) format of an eight page mini, and as a first issue the whole point is to get the reader hooked on what might happen next. He succeeded on that front, as I’m very curious. This issue is done like an olde timey tourist commercial for why somebody should visit a town, but it’s peppered with imagery that adeptly disrupts any sense of comfort you might have with this seemingly quaint little burb. As it’s a shortie, it’s tough to say much about it without ruining something for the reader, but putting a panel of a 30 foot high wall (with “expertly equipped guard towers”) in between a panel showing quaint stone walkways and a serene dog park was an excellent way to bat away any expectations I already had going for how the series might develop. This “commercial” ran for the whole comic, so we got to meet a few characters and even learned about a rival town, so I think everything is set up quite nicely for future issues. Brian being Brian, he already sent me the first 5 issues of the series, so I’ll be able to check for myself very soon. And I still have to go back to Plastic People and see how that’s going, but that’s more a note for myself than part of the review, so please ignore this last sentence if you’re not me. Check it out, get in on the ground floor! $2
For anybody who’s brand new to the website (welcome!) and are just wondering if this particular comic is worth reading, yes, it absolutely is, especially if you’re a fan of autobio comics. Brian has been doing this for roughly a couple of decades now, has damn near mastered the areas of the artform he’s working in, and is prolific to a degree that honestly has me wondering if there are secretly two of him out there. But I wanted to get into a general problem with autobio comics, and this one is an excellent opportunity to bring it up. This is a collection of his journal comics from January of 2021, so if you’re reading this in the distant future, let’s just say that things were extremely screwed up in America at the time. This comic mostly covers the attempted coup (and the fallout) in Washington, the impending arrival of Brian’s third child, and the troubles that Brian and his wife (Amy) are having with his parents. It’s this third subject that I want to talk about, because after reading this comic… I have no idea what the problem is with Brian’s parents. Oh, I know that they’re distant to him (after five months they didn’t ask even once how Amy or the baby was doing), I know that the problem seems to stem from his sister moving back to Columbus two years earlier, and that every attempt to mend fences seem to be coming from Brian’s side. But… what happened? Did they split over politics, as is happening to all kinds of families? Did his sister burn down his house? If your response to these questions is “that’s way too personal a thing to be asking,” well, fair enough! One way I never would have asked about this is if it was never in the comic. That’s the thing about autobio comics: you can’t go halfway. Joe Matt back in the day (I’m really dating myself with this one, as he hasn’t made a comic in at least a decade) blew up chunks of his life with his autobio. He put out some brilliant comics for awhile, but you’d have to ask him if it was worth it. Maybe Brian addressed the origins of the problem in a previous comic and I’m either forgetting it or never read it, but a brief synopsis would have done wonders. Maybe his parents have a legitimate grievance? Maybe Brian and his family are really going above and beyond by even trying to mend fences? The point is that in a truly open journal comic, I wouldn’t have to ask the question. I’m just left with the impression that his parents are assholes, which may or may not be fair to anybody involved. Still, all in all there’s a few great strips in here, and the attempts to patch things up are fascinating. I just think there’s a glaring hole that the reader is missing and that it would probably bug more people than just me. $6
It’s an eventful issue of Plastic People! As always, if you haven’t been reading this then number eight is an odd place to get started, but maybe your thing is to read reviews out of order of books you haven’t read. Who am I to judge? This time around we get an interview with the ex of the murdered woman and a better sense of what exactly was going on in her life when she was killed. The back half of the comic deals with a big old movie star going about his daily business, ending on one heck of a cliffhanger. Is Brian building up to something or is he making it up as he goes along? My money is on the first option, based on his past series like Ruffians. And based on the fact that he’s up to #15 of this series on his website, so he might actually be done with it for all I know. Check out one of those beefier 3 issue compilations, that’ll give you a chance to read a chunk of the story at once. Or get the single issues like this one for $2. You do you!
Four stories? In an eight page comic? Who would have thought that such a thing was possible? Granted, two of the stories are only a single page, but it’s still impressive. This is a really solid mini, and it even ends with a nice little update to the first story, which features a grimly realistic tale of a fish slowly developing the ability to walk on land and what happens to him when he gets there. All on one page! Next up is the meat of the comic, a tale about the hidden costs of dining out at a seriously upscale restaurant, which is a little too close to real life, and something that’s probably coming (if it’s not already here; I haven’t dined at a super fancy restaurant since before the pandemic, so I’m a bit behind the times). Next up we get the juxtaposition of a letter home from an aspiring star in Hollywood to the actuality of what she’s going through. And finally there’s a good old fashioned gag strip about how quickly time can pass you by and make you seem completely out of touch. As somebody who still has trouble grasping why it’s so terrible to use a period to end a sentence in a text message, boy howdy can I ever relate. It just means the sentence is done, not that I’m yelling at you! Ugh, kids today. Well, since those last two sentences aged me twenty years, I’d better wrap things up. This one has variety, a couple of surprisingly dense stories (especially considering the format), and a few laughs. All for a measly $2!
(I’m going to assume that everybody reading has at least a passing familiarity with the events of the previous issues)
This time around we finally get to spend some time with the family of the murdered woman, and can I just say that this format is finally growing on me as a way to tell this story? Sure, you’re only getting a fragment of the big picture each time, but it’s a self-contained fragment, and it’s clearly building towards something. This one starts off with an ad for a new action movie (called Terror Stopper, and I’m astounded that nobody has used that title until now. It tells the whole story!), and then we briefly meet the family who’s waiting to identify the body. They meet the detectives, but even when they see the body they’re not sure. One of the drawbacks of living in a society full of people who all get the same plastic surgery, I guess. Once again it’s tough to review one of these shorties without giving too much away, so I’ll just say that what does identify the body (and how the mother instantly recognized it) was not what I would have guessed, and her brother has a one track mind with what’s really important. With this issue I’m halfway caught up to what’s out there already (I just saw #14 listed on his website) and thoroughly hooked. I’ll also point out that the compendiums put together three issues at a time if this pace is just too slow for you, so maybe consider going that route? $2
Would it be cheating if I started reviewing these issues two at a time. It feels like cheating. But what would I be cheating, exactly? Ah, the deep questions that go on in the mind of a reviewer who’s several issues behind of a series that comes out faster than I can review. In this issue we see a few folks waiting outside to get into a club, and while they’re waiting we get a few more bits of insight into what’s going on in this beauty-obsessed world. It’s all so that they can have a fun night out dancing, while a few interpersonal dramas play out along the way. We get a definite sense of the importance of plastic surgeons in this world and, as you can see by the sample image, nudists. That seems like that something that’ll pop up again in the future, but we just get a few hints this time around. It’s another solid issue, and there are relatively cheap ways for you to get caught up on Brian’s website if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, I might check in with the comics elders to see about that double reviewing thing… $2
Some good news for those of you who like their comics in bigger installments: Brian has been selling compendiums of three issues each on his website. So instead of an 8 page installment, you get a 24 page installment and even save a buck! Wow, did that ever sound like a commercial. But hey, I’m enjoying this, and we live in an age of instant gratification, so I get it if reading this story in 8 page bites isn’t enough. Wasn’t there a comic here to review? This time around we see the reaction of the big corporation to the news of the murder of their model. It’s about as awful and soulless as you might expect: they need to be reminded of who this person was, desperately cast around for some reason why it might not be murder (because they thought they had that issue solved decades ago), and of course the best possible way to spin it. It’s gross, but it’s also a thoroughly realistic imagining of how this world would handle a problem like this. Somehow Brian is managing to stay roughly 10 issues ahead of me, as he’s up to #14 as of this review, but there’s only one of me over here! Maybe if that benevolent billionaire ever comes around and hands me a sack of cash I could hire somebody just to review his books… $2
Sometimes the title says it all, so if you guessed that this comic has two stories in it… well, that wasn’t much of a guess, really, since it’s pretty obvious. Anyway! The first story here is about a man who wakes up one day with some gunk on his hand. He tries to wash it off but can’t manage it, and soon notices some smoke coming from his hand. He then notices that a society is growing on it, which of course leads to questions about what he’s going to do about it and how it’s going to impact his life, but it’s a short story and I shouldn’t give any of that stuff away. The second story is one of the most honest and open inner monologues I’ve seen about why somebody continues to make comics, which I’m sure at least one person reading this is wondering about right now. It’s not explicitly said that it’s Brian asking these questions, and it’s entirely possible that this is meant to be “some guy” asking these questions and that I’m reading too much into it by assuming it’s Brian. Anyway, it’s raw and fascinating, and he even manages a decent punchline at the end. It’s a different aspect of it for sure, but as I go barreling (limping? wheezing?) towards a 20 year anniversary of rambling about comics here, the question has occurred to me too. How long do I keep this up? I started off as an idealistic dude in his 20s; clearly that’s no longer the case. The best answer I’ve come up with? People do read this site for suggestions about what small press comics are around that are worth checking out. Not many, probably (I’ve lost the password to the stats page so I have no clue of traffic these days), but being a drop of the bucket is fine when it’s a small bucket. Not that anybody asked! You’re here to read about comics. Well, this is a good one, from one of the most prolific and varied people going today. Check it out, why don’t you? $2
Across the Diner
How many hours of the day does Brian spend drawing? I’m honestly curious. This is a stand-alone mini, as opposed to one of the series he’s also producing on a regular basis, and it depicts a conversation almost every one of us has had in our heads at one point: should we go over and say hello to that attractive person? In this case we start off with Emily, who’s just been stood up on a date but seems to be taking it in stride, as she plans to get some food anyway and head out. Before this happens a woman walks into the diner who absolutely captivates our hero: she instantly imagines a future with this lady, how they’d probably be compatible but different enough to be able to learn a lot from each other, etc. There’s only one problem: should she go over and introduce herself? It’s the eternal struggle in situations like these, and Brian does a great of portraying all the pros and cons that go through your mind at a moment like that. This one is well worth a look, and I defy anybody to read this mini without relating to at least one thought that goes through her head before it’s all said and done. $1.99
Do you mean to tell me that Brian has yet another series out there? Yep, he sure does. Feel shame, comics artists who are only putting out one series at a time! This is a series of four panel strips meaning, as always, that some are going to be funnier than others to me, and that humor is subjective anyway, so what do I know. Each starts with something like a mantra from the main character, as he repeats whatever is bothering him in that strip. The one sampled shows the dangers of getting lost on the internet, despite your best intentions. Other subjects include fitting in, patience, blinking, trying to not be a jerk on a date, pretending to be rich, convincing the bully that you’re tough too, and avoiding panic. Plus a couple of others I’m not mentioning, because who doesn’t like a surprise or two? Anyway, this is a mostly funny book, which is all you can ask for out of four panel strips like these. It’s also very cheap at $2, so why not give it a try? Or just send him $20 and ask for a grab bag; the guy has a vast back catalog at this point. Send him money and ask him to surprise you!