You’ve heard about flip comics, but how about a whole flip graphic novel? Yeah, don’t panic, the only time you have to think about it is in the very middle. Where two stories combine and make the whole thing seem even more surreal than it already had at that point, which was quite a feat. This is a collection of comics that have mostly (but not entirely) been collected in other things, but it was also another case where you’d have a difficult to impossible time to get all of those books, so just enjoy the new stuff, alright? Chris’s comics are damned near indescribable in any kind of linear sense and you’d have to be a dummy to try. Oh hi, here I am, about to do that! Stories in here tend to wander off, or end with explosive vomiting, so I’ll just stick to some of my personal highlights, and you can quietly disagree from the comfort of your home/coffee shop/car at a stoplight. The wordless tale of the murderous toothpaste golem was terrifying and somehow bittersweet, the released killer who accidentally killed his own kid left me with a few questions (that I almost certainly wouldn’t want answered), the inventor of the sleep gas probably got what was coming to him, and the diner conversation that led to the overlapping story was surrealiest thing to ever surreal. Yes, I mean that in a good way. Other than that the madness is best discovered for yourself, without any preconceived notions to push you one way or the other. $20
On Your Marks #1
Oh, what a crank I am. I get a pretty damned great anthology filled with small press people living in Seattle who could use a little more exposure and I can’t help thinking that I would have liked it better with a clear indication of which artists did which pages. They’re even all listed on the inside front cover, but they’re inside of a drawing, which makes some of them tough to make out. Does this take away from the quality of the content? Not one bit, no, as it’s not like it’s impossible to figure out who did certain pages with a little bit of work. Eh, I blame it on the general tone of the holiday season. All this Christmas music everywhere just bugs me. And if you ever needed more proof that I am in fact a total curmudgeon, there you have it. Anyway! This is a collection of mostly one page strips, done by all kinds of people that you either already know about or should be ashamed of yourself because you’ve never heard of them. Stories include Ben Horak having the comic he made when he was 6 read by adults (with a perfect final panel), Tom Van Deusen’s creepy piece about a head growing out of a roof and what happens when it’s removed, Bobby Madness and the sacrifice he made for the environment, Kelly Froh’s traumatic moment on an aimless afternoon, Pat Keck and his dungeon Gremlins, Aarow Mew and the result of his “spider” bite, Julia Gfrorer’s tale of a creepy ouija board experience, Rick Altergott and Pat Moriarty’s story of what cats think is going on with their litter boxes, Marc Palm’s Flannelwolf and Frankcan, Robyn Jordan’s worries about what she’ll be like in 10 years after she has kids, David Lasky’s questions about what you would do if you were a superhero, and Max Clotfelter’s mistaken assumption involving getting his older brother involved in protecting him. Like I said, it’s a damned solid anthology, full of ridiculously talented people. Maybe next time they’ll put page numbers on the pages to lessen my crankiness, or maybe it’s something I need to work on on my own and I’m sharing too much here… $4
Crikey, Chris has produced quite a show here. I don’t think I’ve ever referred to a graphic novel as a show before, but I’ll be damned if I know what else to call it. Lazy readers, and I know you’re out there (there are times when I am one of you), best stay away from this one. Chris makes sure that you’re never allowed to get fully comfortable in this story, and that’s a good thing. You get a pretty clear warning right away that traditional narrative storytelling may take a few twists and turns, as we start with a man (with as vague of a face as possible) working on a large electronic device. He pours a cup of coffee, puts a few (what we later see to be) gems into it, takes out his dick and pees all over the device. Welcome to the comic! From there we get to meet our hero (not the guy from the first two pages) as he talks about a new job that he’s picked up with his indifferent/borderline hostile girlfriend. Or not, as he then has a very similar conversation with another lady (this one has a duck bill for a mouth). Suddenly, grinning spiders! Then we’re back with our hero as he tries to get a ride to his new job, but the guy he was counting on ends up abandoning him at a gas station, leaving his looking for another ride. Suddenly, a tiny masked man fighting a spider! Then the ride to the caverns (have I mentioned that his new job is in a cavern?) reveals the history of the town, as we see a patchwork donkey beaten and drowned by a mob, except not really, and an army of eyeball blob creatures are unleashed as payback. And that’s plenty from my end, don’t you think? From there we get to see plenty of those caverns and those creatures, there’s a party, and a strange goat creature is born. Or it evolves from a regular goat. The point is that it’s all up to you to put it together, but holy crap is it worth the effort. $14
Gag-Hag Now Available! $4
This reviewing thing is, at times, the easiest thing in the world. Dan Zettwoch, Ivan Brunetti, John Hankiewicz, Jeremi Onsmith, Chris Cilla, Ted May, David King, Bryce Somerville and Johnny Ryan contributed to this collection of one-panel gag strips. So what you have here is some of the funniest people around and probably the best title for a collection of this type imaginable. What, you’re still reading this? OK, I’ll also mention that I had a really hard time just picking one sample, but I’m trying not to give too much away for free here. It’s $4, as you can see, and it’s available here, as you can see. What’s stopping you? Don’t you like to laugh?
Tea Now Available! $4
You can see the names on the cover, right? I always feel like these reviews are a waste of time, because anybody who reads the site on a regular basis and/or knows mini comics knows that it would be tough for a collection like that to be terrible. So what’s good? The story from Clutch, about a woman going on a first date with a guy she likes and having to break down and tell him that she really doesn’t like tea, Dave Kiersh getting grabby, Dan Zettwoch revealing a secret recipe, and Scott Mills talking about his mom. Nothing particularly bad about this at all, although I think I liked Garlic better. Probably just the subject matter. Oh, and these are both now available, so check them out, or just go to the website if you need more convincing.
Here’s another sketchbook-like creation from Chris. This one has a few more of the traditional strips than the last one did, or at least the beginnings of strips, so it’ll probably be easier for the uninitiated to enjoy it. In here he deals with violence, hippies, robbery, failure, and your mother. There are also more than a few sketches, with all kinds of splashes of color all over the place and some odd pieces of clipart. As always, I’ll stick with the story based minis over the sketchbooks, but this is pretty neat if you already like his stuff.
Stun Nuts #3
I could just be making this up (and, in fact, I am), but with the publication of this story from the SPX 2002 anthology, I think every single piece in that has been reproduced as a mini comic. There were a lot of stories in there, so maybe a few are still only in that one volume, but if you’re any sort of small press completist then you’d be a lot better off getting that anthology and leaving these reproductions alone. However, if you only like a few artists in that book, chances are they’ve put out their story in mini form, so everybody wins! This one is a short bio of Edward Gorey, who was a fascinating man with a body of work that’ll probably never be matched. It would be nice if this was longer than four pages, but there are other bios out there for people who are interested in his work. It’s a good little mini if you know and love the man, if you don’t then this is a cheap and easy way to get a tiny primer in his life. I’d say that this is $1 but I’d only be guessing…
Who loves the handmade tiny sketch books? If you don’t, it’s probably best to move on. If you do, you’re in luck! That cover is just about actual size, and inside are a bunch of tightly stapled drawings, distinguishable and indistinguishable, with a wide variety of colors, smudges and aliens. Or maybe just very odd people, it’s hard to tell. These are $3, supplies are limited and this is mostly only for people who already love Chris’ work and people who like to see pure creativity in action without necessarily being bothered by a story. Contact info is up there…
Here’s a silent comic from Chris, about making a golem and the results of doing it. Well, maybe not the intentional results, but why ruin the story? A man makes the golem out of (if I had to guess, as it’s black and white and all) toothpaste, pills and flour, when suddenly he’s attacked by some mysterious people. It’s silent, like I said, and it’s hard to over-analyze the silent ones for me, but it’s a neat story and I’m a big fan of his art, even though this story didn’t leave much room for variety, as most of it was set in two rooms. Still, it’s worth a look. Here’s an e-mail address, it should be up on the USS Catastrophe site soon and it’s $4!
The Diplomat #4 (Chris Cilla only)
Well, I have a dilemna. I picked this one because it looked like one of the few that I could review in a short time, as I’m here on my lunch hour and all. After reading it I discovered that it was one of the more original and unique things that I’ve read, making it hard to sum up in a few lines. The closest thing I can compare it to would be Jim Woodring’s Frank, which is what I always compare things to when I’m at a loss for words. It’s funny, it’s odd, it looks great, and you’re not going to understand a lot of what’s going on but will still come away feeling strangely satisfied. Sometimes the stories seem normal enough (like the first story about a man having a rough day) before veering off into insanity, sometimes they don’t make much sense to begin with and are over before you know what happened (like Silent Running), and sometimes you have a story like Pink Blazer, which defies all words that I know. Check it out, let yourself go, and keep your mind open.
A Moon, A Girl… Swonk (with Greg Petix)
There are times when I can resist scanning both parts of a wrap-around cover, and there are times when I just can’t help myself. Well, take a look at it, what do you expect? I’m only human. What you have here is a collection of strips, about half of which are completely random and unconnected, and about half of which are a long tale about a man trying to gather Hitler’s paintbrush, Hirohito’s monocle, Mussalini’s hairpiece, and Stalin’s moustache. The unconnected strips deal with the real story of Jesus, Chicken Soup for your ass, learning from the Road Runner cartoons, video “reviews”, why onions make you cry, and the origin of Swonk. I can’t tell you which set I liked better, which is probably a good sign for the comic as a whole. If you like newspaper strips that actually make you laugh (and they are a very rare breed), then you should probably check this out. $2
Howling Swonk (with Greg Petix)
Wasn’t I just complaining about newspaper strips yesterday? Well, you’ll be happy to know that this looks like a good one. It’s a small book, granted, and the content is a little uneven, but I could see where a big book of this could be pretty funny. It’s $2 for this one and I can tell you for sure that it’s well worth the money. Tons of random things happen, which is about as vague of a description as you’re likely to see, but there you have it. Let’s see… Uri Gellar’s daughter tries to kill the President because she loves Hillary, one man buys another a cock ring with unexpected results, and the Trix rabbit freaks out. A few of many and, like I said, most of them are funny. UPDATE 7/09/04: Chris has informed me that all the Swonk books are gone, but USS Catastrophe might be putting them all up on their website one of them days, so don’t fret!