It’s Gareth Brookes! Sorry, I sometimes get way too excited when an artist I’ve been reviewing for a lot of years ends up with a mini kus book. If you’re curious about his older work, click on his name and you will see a whole lot of me rambling about him. Anyway! This particular comic deals with a love triangle, sort of, between three people who are obsessed with working out and workout apps. There’s a brief affair between two of them, a new lady enters the picture, and the dude ends up with her. It all plays out through online messages, and the comic has the appearance of a hastily crumpled up note that quite possibly also gets tossed into a lake and then retrieved. Roughly half of the messages are distorted mirror images of existing messages, really bringing home the panicked but still somehow distant and opaque nature of the dispute. There’s no contact between the original couple past a certain point, or at least it’s not depicted on the page. Instead it’s an online cheering session and, as it always ends up, an opportunity to trash the happiness of the newer couple. It’s a dreamlike (or nightmarish, depending on your perspective) tale of betrayal and jealousy that’s inextricably mixed with an obsession of (hey look at that it’s the title) the gym goals of the main character. If you’ve ever buried the pain of heartbreak with a compulsive need to work out, this comic is for you! It’s also for you if you wonder if those types of people are capable of honest self-assessment after the fact. It’s worth a look for just about anybody, is what I’m saying ($7.95 for the issue but, as always, I’d recommend getting a bundle of four comics instead of just one)
Hey look, anthology reviews on back to back days! Readers in the future, never mind about that comment, but for today I can compare the two, and I’m happy to say that this one got every single little thing right that made me cranky about the last one. Clear and legible table of contents, the pages are numbered, and most of the strips had the name of the artist on the bottom of the page. Yep, my only complaint here is that they managed to put together an anthology of U.K. cartoonists and left Rob Jackson out of it, but maybe he lives somewhere else and I’m just confused. OK fine, so they got the basics right. What about the quality? Pretty much top-notch all around, which is always at least slightly rare for an anthology with this many people in it. Highlights include a chopsticks dilemma by Luke Pearson, putting all of the eggs in one basket by Lizz Lunney, the wisdom of using egg whites instead of cream by Philippa Rice, the fantastically destructive Skull Force by Jack Teagle, one seriously destructive romance by Luke Pearson, a great example of a comic about nothing that ends up being pretty damned great by James Downing, a horror show called Dream Leader by Joe List, an excellent way to turn the tables on door to door salesmen by Joe Decie, deciding who you would like to survive the apocalypse along with you by Stephen Collins, video game monster advice by Dan Berry, judging someone from their shoes by Lizz Lunney, “I Was Attacked by some Naked Children” by Isaac Lenkiewicz, being stuck as a conscious fossil by Kristyna Baczynski, terrible story ideas that Gareth Brookes has been given over the years, and the Death Train by Lizz Lunney. Huh, I seemed to like Lizz Lunney’s work quite a bit, but there’s a pile of great stuff in here. Check it out, support both Hic & Hoc and the idea of getting more international anthologies going over here in the U.S. $12
The Black Project #1
I never know what to expect with Gareth, and that is a wonderful thing. Between the Man Man books and some other assorted comics it was already made clear that he has a real knack for genuinely funny stuff. This one, on the other hand, takes another turn entirely. This is the story of a young boy and his obsessive quest to “create” a girl. I don’t think it’s ever spelled out how young the boy is. I’d guess somewhere around 12, as he’s still in school and rarely gets much time away from his parents. Anyway, he manages to assemble a monstrosity called Laura, but a friend notices an arm, a fight ensues, and the boy has to dismantle it in a hurry. That’s enough creepiness for one comic, but Gareth is just getting started. Our hero decides to make another girl, and this time he’s going to do it right. Naturally it isn’t going to be as easy as all that, and the boy is eventually found out, but I’m in danger of spilling too many beans here. I’ll just say that (according to the message at the end) this story is going to be continued, and I’m a big fan of the new direction. Well, maybe not if this is going to be 100% of his focus, as the world needs a new Man Man comic every year or so, but this book succeeded on just about every level. It’s set up with large chunks of text with illustrations filling in some gaps, but it’s not like a lot of text-heavy comics that seem to rely almost completely on the words. Those pictures are crucial and add to the horror of this “girl” that he’s constructing. Once or twice the words got a little too small (I’m guessing he had to shrink things down for the comic size), but that’s the only negative thing I have to say about this. If you have a hollow spot where your funny bone used to be, buy this for your first introduction to Gareth’s work. Or if you just like a good, unnerving as fuck comic. No price as always, but I’ll guess $5.
Man Man and Friends #5
Ah, three cheers for comics that never fail to make my day. I’d say that this issue of Man Man is maybe a little behind past issues, but it’s a very tiny difference and an issue of Man Man that’s slightly less than perfect is stillÂ better than most other things going. My main problem was that his spelling and grammar was all over the place, and that’s not generally a concern for his work. Maybe he was making an artistic statement that I missed. Anyway, you people should know the drill for this comic by now, or at least you should if you’ve been smart enough to order some comics from Gareth. Stories in this one include the shitting ghost, a severely misinterpreted party invitation, Man Man being too drunk to have sex and his excuses for it, the wisdom of getting one of those permanent grocery bags in the shops, leg shaving sound effects, Valentine’s day, Man Man proving that he’s cool and Man Man grading himself on how many of his life goals that he set out in 1994 he’s actually accomplished. This issue also has a rare three page story depicting the inevitable marriage of Man Man and Woman Woman that was pretty much perfect. What were my earlier complaints again? Yeah, there are a few misspelled words and at least one “to” instead of a “too,” but that’s not worth discarding the whole comic. If you like his previous stuff then there’s no reason to skip this one, and if you haven’t read his comics yet, you’re in luck! By now there’s quite a backlog of comics that you can enjoy from the man. You should probably get to it. $2 (ish)
Sherlock Holmes vs. Skeletor
I feel for anybody reading these reviews every day and trying to get some sort of consistency out of them, I really do.Â One day I’ll say never to judge a book by its cover, and the next I’ll get something like this in the mail, see that title and “Gareth Brookes” on the front, and it will be clear quickly that the cover won me over completely.Â Ah well, consistency is for the weak!Â This is, as you may have guessed, about the feud between Sherlock Holmes and Skeletor.Â What, didn’t you hear about that one?Â If you’re looking for apocalyptic action as depicted on that cover you might be disappointed; if you’re in it for the funny you’re going to go away very satisfied indeed.Â This is a series of pranks between the two, um, “men”, and it took a few pages for me to get that Holmes even knew that Skeletor existed.Â It seems a shame to spoil even one of these pranks by revealing them here, but as a reviewer I suppose that the spoiling of fun is, like it or not, in my job description, so here goes: potato, Aniston, “it burns”, wattage, poo, cheating, birds, and an infernal contraption.Â There, that seems vague enough.Â Look, if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you should know that getting a book from Gareth Brookes is as close to a sure thing as you can get in this medium.Â If not, search around a bit and check out some of the older reviews.Â Really, all this rambling is irrelevant, as one look at that cover should be enough to convince you one way or the other.Â If it’s the negative way I mourn for the lack of fun in your life, if it’s the other way you won’t be disappointed.
A technical note: the website listed above is for J.’s boyfriend Gareth Brookes, as that seems to be the only place where you can get this comic at the moment.Â I hate to have that as the only link due to the generally transitive nature of relationships (not that I’m cynical about that subject or anything), but what are you going to do?Â Â This is a collection of one panel gag comics, unique in that most of these are actually funny.Â The sampled image will, as always, tell you a lot about the book.Â Is that funny to you?Â No?Â OK, read it again and think about it for a minute.Â Is it funny now?Â Have you tried reading it aloud?Â Â If none of that worked, it’s probably best to move on.Â If you smiled slightly or chuckled, you’re going to love this.Â Â Most of the jokes here are homophones, which means I learned something today, as I thought they were all homonyms.Â Well, according to Wikipedia anyway, but they do seem to have a lot of brightly colored charts, which must mean they’re correct.Â You also have images of spoons spooning, donuts at a gunfight, hot potatoes, and I really have to stop myself there.Â What’s the point of my ruining all the fun by blandly describing jokes?Â The only thing you need to know is that there’s a pretty decent pile of funny in this comic, and it’s worth checking out.Â While you’re at it you should also get a pile of Gareth’s books and have a marathon of funny.Â No price, but let’s say $3.
Man Man and Friends #4
It’s a testament to Gareth’s skills that he’s able to keep this series fresh and interesting.Â I mean, a stick figure man and his friends, talking about life and relationships, and managing to never get preachy of annoying?Â That’s takes talent.Â Once again I had a hard time picking out just one sample, and once again I laughed out loud more than a few times.Â Stories in here include the shitting ghost getting startled, man man deciding to make woman woman instigate sex for once, a couple of hilarious bits about things his mother said when he was a kid versus what she says about the same things now, trying to meet up outside a mall when they all look exactly the same, ra man “saving” a party with weed, Mr. Shit, unhappy lawnmowers, and one of the pitfalls of speed dating.Â There’s also a page where Gareth draws things that are not stick-related (it turns out he’s quite good at it) and quite possibly the highlight of the strip: the vicious triangle of alcohol, work and women.Â At this point I’ve been talking up this series for years, so at least a few of you have already checked out his work, but for those of you who haven’t: send the man some money and buy some of his comics.Â It’s stuff like this that made me want to do the website in the first place.Â He also sent along a couple of “regular” mini comics, which I’ll be getting to in the coming weeks.Â They can’t possibly be as funny as these minis… right?
Man Man and Friends #3
Nope, I’m officially not even close to being sick of this book. I laughed out loud at something on almost every page in this issue, something I can’t remember doing with a comic in years. Man Man and Woman Woman still make their appearances, but the highlights of this issue go to the “friends”. We get the origin story of the prudish lightswitch, the shitting ghost gets misunderstood, the Mere Trifle’s disillusionment with politics and lack of faith in his sex appeal, Ra Man’s miserable (because it’s drug-free) trip around the world, and the origin story of the uncompromising compass. Single Man Man (not to be confused with Man Man) is a sad and lonely figure, chatting up a woman with a boyfriend and checking out women on escalators. Meanwhile Man Man and Woman Woman have their share of adventures, but I’m on the verge of telling you everything in this issue. It’s either the strongest of the bunch or it’s just been a few months since I’ve seen one of these and the humor is fresh and new again, although I’m almost certain it’s the best one yet. Check out the website and seriously, send the man a pile of money. A few of the jokes get lost in translation (like Man Man’s evolving record collection over the years, filled with groups I’ve never heard of), but overall it’s nonstop funny.
Man Man and Friends #2
Another issue of stick figures and other assorted items. Has it gotten tiresome yet? Well, in my usual wishy-washy fashion, yes and no. There’s still plenty of funny in here, and we get to see a bit more of the “relationship” between Man Man and Woman Woman, an unpredictable paper clip, Ra Man, an unpleasant spoon, a prudish lightswitch, a shitting ghost, and a horny rubber band. The pathetic but happy life of Ra Man was one of the highlights, as was watching Woman Woman figure out why she was still with Man Man. Another few issues of this and the novelty will probably be pretty well gone, but Gareth has other sorts of books to go with these, so no worries there. Still worth a look if you enjoy funny but minimalistic comics, maybe you could get some sort of a deal for #1-3 and go nuts with the stick figures.
Man Man And Friends #1
Any of you comics folks out there who are convinced that what you’re doing is as minimalistic as it gets, please take note of Gareth Brookes. In this comic you will find a series of brief conversations and/or jokes, usually between Man Man and himself, Man Man and Woman Woman, or an electric plug with either itself or the wall socket. There are no backgrounds, no facial expressions (or, conversely, faces), and very little at all outside of the basic lines necessary to make objects. Luckily that’s not a bad thing in this case, as pretty much the whole thing is funny. There’s something in here for everybody, whether it’s the secret shame of making fun of a fat lady to impress your friends, trying to reach that magical “drunk enough to have sex but not so drunk that he/she’ll get sick all over the place” threshold with a date, showing no fear to a dog, or shattering the dream of being a pornstar. Gareth sent me a hefty pile of comics with this so my opinion will become more informed over time, but for now there’s always room for one more insightful, funny guy in the world of comics. It’s from the UK so I’m not entirely sure on the price, but judging from the way the dollar is going I’d say just send him a pile of money and hope for the best. Or you could just check out that handy website linked above…
Woman Woman #1
From the pages of Man Man and Friends, it’s Woman Woman in her own series!Â For those of you who enjoyed Gareth’s depiction of unsightly male behavior, you’ll be happy to know that he has an equally keen understanding of the female mind.Â Or at least he seems to to another male; I’m sure the ladies will be able to find issue with some things.Â Gareth details the ongoing sage of Woman Woman telling her troubles to her gay hairdresser (who seems to keep most of this advice to himself), the death of chivalry, an ill-advised attempt to stop guys from staring at her, a battle of naming rights for the new dog, the awkwardness of an unsuccessful one night stand, getting dolled up so much that it leads guys to believe that they have no chance, getting hit on by a repairman, and trying to compete with a woman who is always surrounded by guys.Â Gareth has proven conclusively with his comics that you don’t need a thing besides stick figures to have a hilarious comic, as damned near everything I’ve seen from the guy has made me laugh out loud at least a few times.Â I have no idea on the pricing of any of these, but a good strategy would be to send the man a pile of money and see what happens.Â Oh, and request a few comics, of course.
Hallelujah, it’s a Gareth Brookes that somehow ended up at the bottom of a pile of already reviewed comics! I’ve been wondering what his non-Man Man books were like, and I feel informed enough now to be able to say: still funny. This is a mish-mash of images and concepts, not a straight collection of random stick figures and granted, the whole thing isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damned good. Subjects in here include the rude sounding countries of Europe, boring animals, bad jokes by small children, a piece of art explained for the novice, a delightful story found in a used book (written by hand, or just made up completely by Gareth, it’s still delightful), boring dreams, and a tiny (literally) history of the universe. More than enough funny here to keep even the jaded happy, pick this up along with a few Man Man comics if you need a laugh from something that even makes you think a little bit.
The Manly Boys Annual (with Steven Tillotson)
Ladies, leave the room for this one.Â Granted, you could probably read this and get quite a few laughs out of it, but this is really for the guys who read Boys Life (or the U.K. equivalent) when they were growing up.Â Â From that fantastic front cover to the fake ads in the middle all the way to the airplanes on the back cover, this thing rings all kinds of memory bells for me.Â The fact that it’s often hilarious doesn’t hurt a bit.Â Some of this, frankly, will be lost on the American audience, but there’s more than enough to make up for it.Â Case in point: the introduction by Major General Sir Henry George Gordon Neville Balfour II.Â Â From there you go to a poem about Englishmen (and I, never a fan of poems, think this is the weak part of the comic), a word search (that actually looks legit), a fake ad trying to get young boys to enlist, a comic about a young boy who accidentally kills a tramp, a fake ad proclaiming that “Self-Touching is Bad!”, how to skin a rabbit narrated by… Phillip the Rabbit (one of the creepier/funnier things in the book), a comic about fishing and the language that fishermen use with their kids, how to tattoo yourself, a story that answers the question “What the devil do women want?” (“attack a fellow” being something that is always a good idea), a fake ad about how to hypnotize women (a requirement in these magazines as a kid), a maze guarded by Chinamen, a text piece about an escape from a jungle (with much more going on at home), and an A to Z of useless knowledge.Â There are also the Stupid Boy! strips that punctuate the comic, always ending the same way and yet somehow always funny, and a vision of your future involving your head being grafted onto a giant robot body.Â Â In short (although it’s too late for that), this comic is loaded.Â You’ve already seen plenty of Gareth’s work on this site, and if you ‘ve enjoyed it chances are you’ve clicked through and read even more of his work.Â Â This, as a whole, ranks right up there among his best.Â No price, but it’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.
Can I Borrow Your Toilet?
Chances are that you’ve never wondered what goes on at a cardboard box factory.Â Actually, it would probably be called a recycling plant, as they smash cardboard boxes into little cubes and send them out, but the point remains the same.Â Gareth, with his uncanny ability to turn everything comics-related he touches into gold, manages to make a completely engaging story out of it.Â The story begins with Gareth taking in his surroundings, improvising for some breakfast (unless you think porridge in a stale ice cream cone is normal), and avoiding a conversation about football on the way to work.Â Once he gets there we need a list of the people he works with, and he doesn’t disappoint, telling us the stories of his three main workmates: Ticking Time Bomb Tom, Sleepy Roberto and Frightened John.Â From here Gareth also mentions other regulars that show up, the daily rituals that come from every mundane job in the world (like the daily eating contest, always involving the same people, food and winner, who always uses the same technique) and the daily appearance of the one woman who always walked by the factory at the same time of day.Â She was a plain woman, but most of the people in the factory had fallen in love with her anyway.Â It’s a thoroughly engaging “day in the life” type of story, as Gareth proves once again that he can make anything entertaining.Â The sample isn’t really representative of the style of the comic, as mostly it’s text on the left side and images on the right, but hey, this is a comics website after all, so I had to pick one that fit the “regular” comics standards.Â No price on this hefty thing, I’m guessing it’s around $5 US.Â And if you haven’t seen the rest of this page, you can’t move along without at least looking at Man Man…
Publish You (edited by Gareth Brookes, Jimi Gherkin, Peter Lally & Saban Kazim) Website
If anybody out there is curious about the current state of small press comics in the UK (and shame on you if you’re not), this is as good a place to start as any.Â Gareth is one of many people involved in putting this thing together, but it goes up on his page because… well, I don’t have a particularly good reason.Â Mostly it’s just to draw attention to his comics one more time, as they are one of the genuinely good things in this world.Â So how about this anthology?Â It’s in color (except for the pieces that stuck with black and white), the pages are numbered and there’s a solid table of contents, so there goes any chance I had of bitching about the production values.Â This book is right around 80 pages but it feels longer than that.Â I believe that’s a compliment.Â Stories in here include the tale of angry freakish neighbors by Steve Tilotson, some of the lies we’ve always been told by Gareth, Edd Baldry finding out that walking to work in the snow is no better than riding a bike, Mickey Lam cramming the story of Falun Gong in China today into two pages, Zarina Liew with an adorable piece about mime speed dating, cheerful suicide by Enrico Ariis, Scott Jason Smith deals with old poisoned candy, Saban Kazim lays out the relentless side of peer pressure, Sina Shamsavari gets into the awkwardness of running into an ex long after the breakup (and what to do if they “don’t recognize you”), and Richard Cowdry proves that bringing up comics in conversation with the opposite sex doesn’t always result in them running off in the opposite direction.Â As always, I’m skipping plenty of stuff in this book that should probably be mentioned, but that’s where you come in.Â If you’re as curious as you should be you’ll check out that website, and if you’re even more curious you’ll just go ahead and buy the damned thing.Â This, of course, will mean that I’ve done my job, such as it is.Â The price is in that funny foreign currency that’s actually worth more than “real” money these days (as American dollars are powered by our imagination at this point) so let’s say… $13?