Full disclosure time to new readers: I’ve been a fan of James Kochalka since the days of his mini comic and Little Mister Man in the 90’s. Eventually lost interest in the daily strip and he went in a direction of comics more geared towards kids (like the Johnny Boo series), so I’ve lost touch with his stuff over the years. Except for Superfuckers, which was great. Anyway, this isn’t about me, much as it might seem like it from that intro, it’s about Elf Cat in Love! Which is another of his “all ages” books, so again not one that’s geared towards adults, but it still retains that Kochalka charm. It’s broken down into three chapters and is basically the love story between Elf Cat (a magical (?) cat) who’s afraid of girls but thinks an awful lot of himself and a talking, flying tennis ball. Maybe I missed an origin story somewhere, but how much of an origin do you need for such a pairing? The first chapter deals with Elf Cat on a quest to save a princess that doesn’t go at all as planned, the second deals with his quest to heat up a hot dog, and the third is basically the two of them coming together. Even though they’ve been together for the whole book, but you know what I mean. Their mutual reluctance to admit any kind of attraction was fairly adorable, and their escape from the monster/princess in the first chapter was certainly memorable. Overall it fell a little too much on the kids side of all ages for me to think of it as great (but I’ll remind everybody again that that line is crazy subjective), but it was still a fun read, and I’d have to think that most kids would find it adorable. $15
Ah, girls going to beaches for vacation. Why are they there and what does the local population think of them? I suppose neither of those questions is a big mystery, as they’re mostly there to let loose in ways that they can’t at home, and the local population thinks of them as either easy marks or obnoxious invaders to their town. This comic digs a little deeper into both of those things, as it wouldn’t be much of a comic otherwise. We’re introduced to the three girls first: the unnamed (or I missed it?) leading lady and her two friends Ducky and Katy. Our hero would like to be like Ducky (uninhibited) and Katy (gorgeous), but she also wants to make her own way and is more than a little annoyed at the two of them in general. On the other side we meet a muscle bound oaf and his friend. The oaf is thrilled that the tourist ladies are coming to town, while his friend just wants to surf and work at his skateboard shop and is most than a little annoyed at these intruders. Along the way we see various little interactions in the town, the nightlife options, how our lady heroine decides to spend her vacation time and how it changes her (and how it doesn’t). It was, simply, a damned near perfect representation of a vacation spent in a strange town, all of the days blurring together with all of the booze and marijuana. If you’ve ever been on one of those trips (or lived in a town where those people visited), good luck reading this without getting hit with some serious nostalgia and/or general memories and regrets. There’s also a story in here by James Kochalka, and I have to admit that I’ve lost touch with his work (other than Superfuckers) after he started aiming his comics more at kids. He has a pretty funny story in this one, as two… mushroom people? Whatever they are, they follow a trail of empty beer cans until they run into a passed out lady. The elder mushroom dude leaves when she starts to wake up, but the smaller one (Dweeb) starts yelling at her that she’s a pretty princess, and in her still-drunken state she takes this as her boyfriend from the night before making up with her (it doesn’t seem like she ever opens her eyes to see this little monster). So hey, there’s two solid stories in one comic for you to enjoy, all for the reasonable price of $6. What a deal!
I can’t even express how happy I am to finally have another James Kochalka book around that I love completely.Â I’ll admit it, all the all-ages stuff got me down.Â Not that it was awful, or at least not the parts that I read, it was just that there was so damned much of it, and so little of it was actively awesome.Â This comic right here, as if you couldn’t tell from that explosive cover and the title, is actively awesome.Â Oh, and I get to say “Superfuckers” without the asterisk because I’m an adult and I’ve earned it.Â Kids, please insert that asterisk in there in your brains so you don’t think adult thoughts accidentally.Â It’s a bit silly that I’m complaining about the childish nature of his recent books when this could be accurately described as a series of jokes featuring the words “gay”, “retarded”, “fart” or “homo”, but there’s a way that it all makes perfect sense.Â You see, the juxtaposition of wordplay with the intricate… hey, look over there, that house is on fire!Â As I was saying, this book is fantastic.Â All of the issues of the series are included, even the hysterically priced first issue ($7!), along with a bonus issue to reward you for buying the collected edition.Â It’s only #1, right?Â There’s more to come?Â One can only hope.Â The cast of characters features Superhero Dan, Plant Lad, Jack Krak, Princess Sunshine, Grotessa, Vortex, Orange Lightning, and Donkey Anus.Â OK, I made one of those up.Â Their powers are irrelevant, as it’s not like they spend any time fighting crime or anything.Â They mostly get high off the slime trail of Grotus, remain blissfully unaware of their nemesis (a lump of goo who hangs around outside their house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Princess Sunshine), and insult/try to kill each other.Â The highlights (among many) include Jack Krak becoming a Christian, superhero tryouts (in which the last one standing gets to be on the team), Tumor and Grotus gettin’ it on, the pocket universe, the murder of Orange Lightning (um, spoiler alert, but only kind of), and the choices Vortex makes when setting up the new universe.Â This is exactly the reason I was such a fan of the works of James Kochalka back in the day, and the reason why I’ve been “meh” on it for ages, not that I can begrudge the guy some cash for books for kids.Â James’ super power is making books like this one, which is why I wish he would focus his energies in this direction more often. Buy this to restore your love in comics and superheroes, or buy this to reaffirm your belief that superheroes areÂ really, really stupid.Â It works for everything!Â $14.95
Triple Dare #2
The thing about experimental comics is that, well, they're usually not all that good. Sure, they're interesting to students of the genre, and it was neat to read about the strict rules that the people involved in the first Triple Dare had to follow. Here's my problem: this is a book with two of my favorite comic people ever, James Kochalka and Tom Hart, and two other people that I'm trying to learn more about, Matt Madden and Nick Bertozzi. There's not really a bad story in here, but there's nothing all that great about it either. It would be nice to have a book with all these people in it that I could just hand to people and say "Look, here are some of the best comic people working today!" and have it be their best stories too. Maybe I ask too much. It's an interesting book. All the stories have to be on an island, and then are other stipulations, but hey, it's a surprise. Let's just say that they're inventive and possibly a little obnoxious when you know about them. If I have one piece of advice for the next issue it's that they should keep these stipulations secret and let the people figure them out for themselves. My favorite in the book was probably the Bertozzi story. Like I said, there's nothing bad in here, it's just that maybe all this daring is dragging the stories down a bit. I know, that's the whole point, it's not like my opinions have to make any sense or anything... If you're looking for a copy of this, go to the Alternative Comics website and ask nicely.
It’s actually called Rosetta: A Comics Anthology, but you all get that, right? As for the book, it’s pretty much your average anthology, in that some of it is great (John Porcellino, Marc Bell, David Collier, Ron Rege), some of it is not so great (James Kochalka) and some of it is downright incomprehensible (M.S. Bastian, Renee French). Don’t get me wrong, I usually love James Kochalka’s stuff, it’s just that I really didn’t need to see the breakdown of one of his diary pages. Isn’t it self-explanatory enough as it is? Overall the whole thing is definitely worth a look, as more of the pieces are good than not and the production of this book was pretty amazing. It looks great. Unfortunately, that great look makes it $20, unless you go to Amazon quick and get it before they take the discount off. Another good thing about this is that there’s a lot of international talent, something we don’t see enough of in general. One problem I had was with Megan Kelso’s story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, it’s just that it was the length of a regular comic and it seemed sort of out of place in this setting. I say this fully knowing that I’m going to get her collected story when it comes out… Anyway, worth a look, but I’ve seen too many great anthologies this week already to get too excited over this.
Conversation #1 (with Jeffrey Brown)
This review is going to be a bit of a cop-out, as these sometimes are, but there’s a fairly simple reason for that. People are either going to be interested in seeing James and Jeffrey talk about life, work, art, creating and punching each other or they’re not. I wish they would put this in a format that wasn’t so expensive (and sorry, nice cover or not, $5 to read these two rambling makes little sense to me) but, as I like pretty much everything that both of them have done, it’s not like I was going to pass it up. Did that sentence make any sense? Oh well, let’s move on… I don’t know if these two settled anything, but it is fascinating watching them go over having a job (which Jeffrey does) and not having a job (which James doesn’t), the point of making art, if there is a point at all, and whether or not they should have a gratuitous fight scene. So the bottom line here is the same as the point I made right away. If you like the work that these two do, this is an insight into their minds that you rarely see, or at least you rarely see them playing off each other. If you don’t care about one or both of them, there are many other comics out there you should probably be checking out first. $4.95
Reinventing Everything #2
It’s hard to say that this is his most personal work when he’s made a career (in a fair amount of his comics, at least) of laying himself open to the public, but I’m still saying that this is his most personal work. It’s all about his reaction to 9/11 and how it led directly into his decision to have a baby. If that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, check out the sample and the rest of the book. They (James and his wife Amy) talk things over, live it up before they get pregnant and just go over everything involved with having a baby. I wish he would do more mini comics, but his schedule is pretty full with putting out two or three graphic novels every year and his daily comic diary, so it’s hard to bitch too much about a lack of Kochalka. Contact info is all over the place, I guessed $2.50 for the first one, so I’m sticking with it for this one until I hear different…
Reinventing Everything #1
Looks like James is spending a lot of time with the mini comic format these days and, much as I love the vast majority of his graphic novels, his style is just about perfect in this format. This one is about video games, and spending time to see the beauty in everything, linked together with a fairly meandering central message. Which is fine with me, as I don’t read James’s stuff to see him take over the world with the power of his mind, I read it because I like the funny pictures and he invariably (when he wants to, anyway) makes me stop and think. His stuff is always worthwhile in my view and this is a much more affordable setting for some people, so check it out! If I had to guess I’d say it was $2.50, but that’s just a guess. His website is up at the top of the page, why don’t you go there and check out the other three (that I know of) minis that he’s done in the past year, along with the free daily diary strip? Oh fine, here’s the website, as all that scrolling could be a bit taxing.
Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever!
I had no idea that he had done so many of these stories. This book is right around 300 pages, with commentary between stories from Peanut Butter (the cat, in case you were wondering) and Jeremy (the crow). A few of these stories were put out in comic book form over the last 4 years or so, and I’m not sure if some of the other stuff is new material for this or if it was only done for random anthologies. Whatever the case, and despite its length, I can sum up where most of the stories go pretty simply. Peanut Butter is working on a file for his boss (an unseen James Kochalka, or someone remarkably similar), and Jeremy tries to find some way to either steal his hat or trick him into giving it up. That’s the gist of most of the stories, anyway. This is an all ages comic, meaning that there’s no swearing and a few neckties, and it’s another fun book from the man. Good stuff to read with any younger relatives you might have wandering around, and the commentary from the characters between stories is funny too. If you’re looking to solve the mystery of human existence, you might want to read something else. Other than that, it’s Kochalka quality!
I’m still not sure how to review a James Kochalka book. If somebody was in the room with me when I was reading (for the ten minutes or so it took to read it) they mostly would have heard pages rustling and a chuckle every now and then. It has the best ending ever of anything, and I’m absolutely sticking to that until somebody proves otherwise. There’s a sad dog, a cranky James, an angry cancer robot, and a burst testicle. If that sounds depressing, you have to remember that this is a James Kochalka book. If I was king I think I’d make terminally ill people all over the world read this just so they could laugh and see what a silly farce the whole damned world is. The bottom line here is that this is another great book from the man if you like his previous stuff, and if you don’t like his previous stuff why are you reading this at all? Just go buy it already.
Sketchbook Diaries Volume 4
In this volume James stumbles on the cure for cancer and has to race against the evil government agents to get it to the people in time… oh wait, this is just another edition of his sketchbook diaries. Whoops. Not that I mean that in a bad way, but you could really pick up any one of these volumes and get the hang of his life in a few pages. He’s a man who enjoys his simple pleasures and I still love his take on the world. In this one (for real) his wife gets pregnant, James goes to many conventions, play video games and talks to all kinds of people. Vaguest description for something this big ever? Maybe, but if you’ve read the other volumes of this you get the idea. If you haven’t, why are you reading a review of #4 before you’ve read the other ones? And why is it that this page has (as of this writing) only gotten 19 hits since I put the new site up at the start of ’05? Just curious. It’s $7.95, chock full of comics and, still, some of his best work, although it is starting to get a bit repetitious…
Ah, life will be good as long as Top Shelf continues to put these books out. This one is primarily about 2001, so it also includes James’ reaction to 9/11. Not that you would care, but I thought it worth mentioning. If I have one complaint from reading a bunch of these it’s that if he has nothing at all to say in a day (and that could be argued for weeks, I’m sure), then he should really just wait until the next day and do two strips. I’m mostly talking about the times when he just obviously throws something together at the last minute because he’s exhausted/wasted. That’s fine, but I’d rather see a recap the next day of the previous night’s events. A minor quibble, as most of his “quick” strips are at least kind of funny too, but I thought I should complain about something. Other than that, his daily strips have never failed to cheer me up. The man has an optimism about life that just can’t be destroyed. You can read these daily for free at his website, or you could just spend $1.95 a month and check out the archives too. Make him independently wealthy! But not too rich that he stops drawing comics…
How do you follow up what has been called the best book of your career? With more of the same, apparently. I really thought that the first Sketchbook Diaries was probably the best thing that he had done for the sheer openness and honesty involved in it. This one followed that up, but it also made me realize that his life borders on dull. He’d often tell something in the four panels that would make me curious about the rest of the day, or about the thing that he chose not to write about it. The four panel structure was more than a little bit restrictive, but maybe that’s what he had in mind. There was also an extremely dull patch there right before he quit for a few months (he was obviously burnt out creatively and came back stronger than ever), but past that it was a solid work. His outlook on life is incredible and is something that simultaneously annoys and fascinates me. I’ll wonder for pages how Amy (his wife) could possibly put up with him and then I’ll go for pages wondering how she could ever possibly leave him. Whether that’s because of his strips or my own schizophrenia is up for you to decide. Anyway, both of these books are cheap (this one is $7.95 and it’s a much longer read than the rest of his books) and they’re both incredible. He’s right, if he spent more time drawing than he does playing video games he probably would be even more famous by now…
If you’ve read the rest of his work and wish for a little more, I don’t know, content to his work, you should go back and read this one. A collection of the “best of” his mini comics (call me a completist, but I really wish that people would just go ahead and reprint all of the stuff from their out of print minis, seeing as how nobody is ever going to see the stuff and a lot of it very important to see the development of the artist), this work is in a class by itself. Incredibly sad and introspective, it’s not the kind of thing you expect to see from this guy, and it turns out that it’s his first work. It’s probably because he was separated from his girlfriend at school, but this entire book just brings out feelings of loss and separation. I want to call old friends after I read this and try to figure out just why we don’t hang out any more. If you don’t like James Kochalka (and why are you reading his page if you don’t like him?), I still think you should get this book. It might show you a whole new side of the guy, which might make you appreciate his other books.
How the hell do you write a James Kochalka review? I’ve been trying to figure that out since I re-read Kissers for this. It’s, at least on the surface, a story about love, I guess. Spandy the cat falls in love with a cute little bird and Magic Boy keeps acting stupid and pisses Amy off over and over. Everything works out OK, but the story doesn’t mean a damned thing here. All of his books are purely about the characters and the things that make them do what they do. Usually, that thing is “nothing”. They just do things for a certain amount of pages and then the book is over. These aren’t the kinds of books that you pick up if you’re looking to read an evening away, as I think this one took me about 20 minutes to read. It does come with a CD too, and I’ve read all of his other stuff at least half a dozen times (I was late in getting this one), so it’s not like it’s a waste of money to buy his books because you read them so quick. You can go back to them again and again. Most of his books fit a certain mood for me. I’ll tell more about the moods when I review the rest of them, but the point is that they’re all perfect for something. I don’t know how he managed to pull that off but hey, I guess that’s why he’s a superstar. Man, that blushing bird has to be one of the cutest things that I’ve seen in a long time…
James Kochalka Superstar #11
At this point it’s impossible to deny it: somewhere along the line I fell out of love with all things Kochalkian.Â Scrolling down this page it’s a bit baffling, as I was pretty biased towards just about everything the guy did.Â Still, I checked out his website before starting this review and his daily strips mostly just got on my nerves.Â Is it me?Â Have I finally become a joyless person well on his way into middle age?Â Or have I finally developed a more discriminating taste in comics?Â Eh, who knows, and despite many people thinking this is a blog, this is supposed to be about the comics and not me.Â I fail in that on practically a daily basis, but that has always been the goal.Â This mini is about the San Diego Comic Con in 1998, as James was there promoting his new (at the time) book Tiny Bubbles.Â This covers a five day span (8/12/98 to 8/17/98) as he attempts to draw on a plane, washes his hair with soap instead of shampoo, sticks a carrot in his ear, worries about not taking a shit in four days, is told he’s nothing like his Magic Boy character, pees in the ocean, pees outside of his room when he locks himself out, and mentions (but doesn’t go into detail about) his conversation about comics with Seth and Chester Brown.Â See, this was the kind of thing that bugged me even when I was hopelessly biased towards the guy: he would reference something that happened during his day that had potential to be genuinely interesting but, due to the nature of his daily strips, never had the chance to go into any detail.Â I don’t know if this disillusionment is permanent or just the result of a bad day, so maybe I’ll go back to a few of the graphic novels I loved back in the day soon and find out for sure.Â Either way, for the time being this struck me as being more obnoxious than anything else.Â $1
God bless Lowjinx. I don’t know if anybody has ever come up with the concept for this book before, but it’s about time. In case you can’t read the cover, it’s an anthology of childhood drawing from some of the best small press cartoonists around. Included here are James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Nick Bertozzi, Greg Cook, Tony Consiglio, Jordan Crane, Pete Sickman-Garner, Jesse Fuchs, Megan Kelso, Alex Robinson, Kevin Scalzo, Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Steve Weissman, and, of course, Kurt Wolfgang. Once again, with this book, it’s probably not going to appeal to many people who don’t already know the work of those cartoonists. But for those people, this is absolutely priceless. It’s $6, if you like the work of these people go to the Top Shelf website and beg them to sell you a copy. OK, I should tell you a little bit about it first, even though if that list of names didn’t sell you, I don’t know what I could possibly say to convince you. Eric Reynolds (is he even on my page yet?) had a mostly text story about the Fantastic Four that’s hilarious, Sam Henderson hasn’t changed much over the years except now he swears more, Nick Bertozzi has a great story about a dog who’s learning to roller disco, and Tony Consiglio… aw, just buy it. I don’t want to ruin anything else for you, and everything in here is fascinating when compared to their later work. Don’t believe me? Fine, look at this:
Well, the book I’ve been holding my breath for since I heard about it in the planning stages is finally here. All the best small press people, all in one book! All Bizarro stories, all the time! Little seen talents finally getting a chance to shine on the big stage! And the end result is… mixed.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are moments in here that make it worthwhile, enough so that I can recommend getting it. You could probably wait for the softcover to come out and save $10 or so, because there’s nothing in here that couldn’t wait a few months. If you don’t know the concept, DC apparently decided to give all these “no name” people a chance. If anybody knows the complete story behind this book, let me know. I’m curious as hell to see how this got organized. And whose decision was it to put pairings on all of the stories instead of just letting one person shine? Granted, some of the pairings boggle the mind: Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel, James Kochalka (writing and not drawing!) and Dylan Horrocks, Jef Czekaj and Brian Ralph, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin, Evan Dorkin and Steven Weissman… it’s a hell of a list, don’t get me wrong. But most of these guys spend their time doing their own thing and I think it would have flowed a lot better if they had been allowed to do that here. Granted, you would have to bring in a color guy for most of these people that have never used it, but they do everything else themselves.
The story (such as it is) is this: a creature called A comes to Mxyzptlk’s world to try and take over. He challenges M to a best-of-seven of games, but M is disqualified and has to choose a champion. Remembering his past problems, he chooses Superman but can’t find an appropriate alternate universe substitute after the original one doesn’t believe him, and accidentally chooses Bizarro. Make sense? It doesn’t matter. Bizarro decides to win the contest by drawing a bunch of stories, and these stories are all the ones by the small press folks.Â When it goes back to the “story”, these comics are promptly forgotten about and the challenges begin, but not before they get an insult or two off about the quality of the comics. Which, I’m sure, is just an insult in the story directed at Bizarro and not the creators, but it’s pretty easy to take it the wrong way. The main story takes up about 60 pages of a 236 page book, which wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t mostly suck. It has a few moments, but the thought that this story was expanded upon at the expense of some of these extremely talented guys doesn’t make sense at all to me.
Flipping through this again to write this, I see that I enjoyed almost all of the shorts in this. I didn’t really like Wonder Girl vs. Wonder Tot, Help! Superman!!, Batman, and The Most Bizarre Bizarro of All! Compare that to the 23 other stories that I liked a lot, and it looks like they have a winner here. The Bat-man (by Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire and strangely, the only black and white story in the book) is brilliant. Old school classic Batman here, and he’s ugly as hell. Hawkman (James K. and Dylan Horrocks), while not drawn by James, has the same feel that I’ve come to know and love from all his work. Kamandi (Nick Bertozzi and Tom Hart) takes the cake for me as the best story in the book, but I’m hopelessly biased because Tom Hart drew it. That’s Really Super, Superman (Ivan Brunetti and Evan Dorkin) is a close second, and First Contact (Mark Crilley and Andi Watson), about the Atom, is up there too.
I was expecting a hell of a lot from this book, and I’m not sure that I got it. What I did get, however, is a thoroughly entertaining look at a lot of DC universe told through the eyes of some of the most talented people working in comics today. If I cared at all about the characters this probably would have been a great book, or maybe if they had allowed them to work by themselves, or maybe if DC had given them a little more room (and a lot more people. The names excluded here are too numerous to mention, although I am surprised and gratified by some of the selections) to the creators. All in all, if you like even half the people in this book, get it. If you like Evan Dorkin, Sam Henderson or Dylan Horrocks, they’re all in here a few times writing and drawing but not, as I’ve made pretty clear by now, doing both things at once. The Matt Groening cover makes the book, too. And yes, I did see the Dan Clowes cover in The Comics Journal and I thought it was great, but I think this is a better cover for the tone of the book.
Conversation #1 (with James Kochalka)
Blech. Sorry, did I give away my reaction too quickly? Let me set the stage for you: this is a comic with James and Craig, both drawing and lettering their own parts, talking about why they make art, the universe, and the necessity of restraining your imagination in art. That all sounds well and good, if full of the possibility of being deadly dull. But it’s not like the point of this book is to see how many things they can get to explode, so that’s OK. My problem with this was all the little cute characters, birds and turtles and whatnot, that they had littered throughout this book, I guess as a way to liven up the conversation. The problem with that, to me, is that they were incredibly annoying all the way through and most anybody who bought this already knew that this was going to be a conversation between these two and they didn’t really need the annoying sidekicks. I like both of these guys quite a bit, and this isn’t a bad concept at all, but they didn’t pull it off very well here. $4.95, it’s on the Top Shelf website if you want to see for yourself.
If you’ve ever wanted to see James Kochalka naked, buy this book! Seriously, I’m not going to scan the picture because I’m pretty sure it’s only for paying customers, but he’s totally nude, dude. As for this book, maybe I’m just looking for more mature stuff from James after his incredible work with his sketchbook diaries, but this whole thing is as childish and silly as it could be. You know, maybe you should try getting drunk before reading. I think that would help the humor a bunch. People who have bothered to read the rest of this page know that I’m a huge James Kochalka fan, so I’m not going to say that I hated this book. I’m simply going to to say that I didn’t like it as much as his other stuff. OK? If you’re looking for a story synopsis, I’ll do the best I can. Fancy Froglin wanders around a lot, either with a boner or trying to get his boner back, while talking to Some Bunny, Uncle Funky and Butterfly Guy. It’s $12.95, which is a pretty hefty price for a book that’s so quickly read, but you know what you’re doing when you buy a Kochalka book by now. It’s worth getting just to see the incredible coloring job that was done to this, but as far as content goes, I think he’s done better work. Contact info is scattered all over this page, you know what to do.