I can’t help it, it’s just been beaten into me over the years: I get nervous whenever somebody puts the first part of a continuing story in an anthology. I’ve been proven wrong to be nervous about this before, but I’ve also been proven right plenty of times. Which is to say that Rob Jackson has a fascinating first part of a story in here, and I’d really rather the rest of the story wasn’t lost forever because there was never a second issue of this series. Eh, don’t mind me, I’m working on being less pessimistic in the new year. The other stories are all self-contained, so no worries there. These other stories include Max Mose’s tale of a civilization wandering the stars in search of more of the nuclear weapons that destroyed their homeworld, Kyle Baddeley-Read and his piece on the benefits of child slavery (to the children), John Robbins with his story of a man who discovers a giant hole in his stomach and his conversations with his therapist about it, and Pete Batchelor’s tale of a man who thought that he had outsmarted the apocalypse by freezing himself and thawing himself out in 2130. Pretty great stuff all around, and it all added up to a really odd and fantastic vibe for the book as a whole. Oh, and Rob’s story, as I mentioned, won me over completely. It’s all about a man who’s annoyed at getting his new job while also happy because he desperately needed the money. Which wouldn’t be that odd of a story, but this man goes into his first day and finds another man there who has his name and who kind of looks like him. This is more than just a simple coincidence or there’d be no story here, obviously, but the direction that it seems to be taking has me really curious to see what happens next. So check it out, is what I’m saying. Even if future parts of Rob’s story disappear completely (and he has a pretty good track record of finishing his stories so far), then this works perfectly well all by itself.
Romantic Mayhem Pocket Book
OK, I’m only assuming that everybody involved is an Irish artist, and those assumptions never end well, but I’ll no doubt be corrected if I’m wrong. Which I probably am. Moving on! Romance is a ripe environment for parody. Granted, some of these stories almost play it straight, but it’s an inherently ridiculous concept that is clung to by otherwise well-meaning people well past the point where it makes any kind of logical sense. But it’s romance, so logic rarely plays a role. But enough about me, how about these stories? It starts off with a story by Paddy Brown and Gar Shanley that nicely plays up the internal dialogue bits that overtake so many romance stories. In this case it literally does just that, as the thoughts of the smitten young woman completely overtake whatever the man is actually saying, with a conclusion that manages to be both hilarious and inevitable. Next up is a piece by Cathal Duggan about a young woman from fancy pants breeding that falls in love with the pool boy. The way she picked the last word or two of what the other young suitor said as her questions was brilliant. That sentence will make perfect sense if you’ve read the book, otherwise not so much. Ian Pettitt has a nice piece about jealousy (done in brightly colored romance comic style), John Robbins’ story deals with taking a virgin through the three necessary steps to become a woman, Davy Francis and Gar Shanley have the life’s story of a woman who has the hots for god (that’s the sample below, and the last thing said in that sample may well be my favorite thing in the book), Alan Nolan has a quick story about a woman whose super power is to change into any outfit that she wants (while then picking up the skills associated with that outfit), Deirdre De Barra and Gar Shanley mix an astrology lady with a scientist man with unfortunate results, Ronan Kennedy wins the the prize for the creepiest story that I don’t want to spoil even a little bit, and the zipatone is all the last story by Archie Templar and Gar Shanley, which deals with a woman who waits by the phone for her lover to call all throughout her life. There are a few other bits as well that I’ll leave as a surprise, like those fantastic fake ads or a few other short pieces. Overall it’s a pretty damned solid anthology, with only a piece or two that I’d qualify as “meh.” For an anthology it’s always amazing to me when at least one story isn’t actively bad, and there were no such things here. As for the price, I have no idea. I’ve seen it listed for digital download for around $4, but then I saw another site where the actual comic was going for something like $30. So who knows? Maybe I’ll get that cleared up when I figure out if listing this under “Various Irish Artists” was literally true.
If my website somehow exploded in a giant orange action movie ball of flame tomorrow, at least I would have comics from people like John Robbins that I never would have heard of otherwise to comfort me. Assuming that I survived the explosion of my website, as I have no idea of the blast radius of such a hypothetical thing. This is a collection of seven short stories, although they were all released first in different anthologies. Believe you me, John is living in Dublin and there’s no way in the world that you’ve already read all seven stories. I’d read the ones from Gin Palace #2 and the Side B anthology, but that was it, and I keep up with this sort of thing for a “living.” Dog-Eared is the story from Gin Palace #2, and it deals with an aging writer coming across a copy of one of his old books in a used bookstore. Upon closer inspection he sees that this was the copy that he gave a past girlfriend, which brings a flood of memories and regrets. Caro Mio Ben was from Side B and it details the desperate attempts to remember someone through the music that they enjoyed. Other than that (in order of personal preference) there’s The Receiver(computer support gone horribly wrong), Dad’s Head (in which John explains the various ways in which something is not quite right with his dad’s head, right up until the delightful mindfuck of an ending), Dental (the random sentences of a very small child), Troubled (idealism meets reality) and Zero (the heftiest one page story you’ll ever see dealing with a man who can’t forget childhood torments). If you think that that means that I hate the last story just because I listed it last, please be aware of the fact that every one of these stories is fantastic in its own way and you should all be so lucky as to be forced to read a “bad” John Robbins story. No price listed, but I’d guess that $5 or maybe even a little less could get you a copy.
Gin Palace #2
That Rob Jackson, he has to be one of the hardest working guys in comics today.Â Well, small press comics anyway, as those guys with Marvel and DC have a monthly schedule to keep up, but you know what I mean.Â The first Gin Palace was a success, and this one follows it up nicely.Â Don’t be alarmed with the familiarity of my using first names here, and check the tags so see exactly who they are if you’re unclear. Francesca starts things off with a story about how awesome it was to go out to a bar with her dad when she was very young, Andrew has a story about a black dog rib that flew right over my head, Rob has a lovely tale involving a black hole and a robot that became a god, John/Sean has a story about living with a serious regret even though things aren’t all that bad as they are (probably the highlight of the comic), Paul has an excellent mish mish of family drama, Dave tells the story of a pumpkin competition that goes too far, Pete has a great piece about a grandson being tricked into pursuing a career in science, Sin-Cat (I’m guessing that’s the name the creator goes by too, at least judging from the back cover) has another wandering tale that hits and occasionally misses, Jarod deals with his tricky future self, Brad gives us instructions to build our own intelligent robot cubehead, and Barry has a fairly straightforward story about revenge until the ending.Â What else do you want to know?Â Any comic with Rob Jackson, Dave Hughes, John Robbins and Brad Foster gets my vote, and this one has more than a few great stories besides that bunch.Â Buy it why don’t you?Â $6ish
Enter Out (“with” Sean Mac Roibin)
It’s lazy as hell to post the description given by the author on the back of his book for the contents of said book. I get that, and I will post my thoughts here in a moment, but this is too good for me to pass up and it sums it all up so much better than I will, so: “Mutually overlapping dreams resonate into the waking lives of two friends.Â Physicality violently communicates a couple’s finance-related despair.Â Remedies for loneliness and frustration are sought in odd places.Â Meat.”Â I could write a few thousand words on this and never hit on anything better.Â First things first: this book is backwards.Â Basically that means to take the title literally and start at the back cover and work your way forwards, reading the panels right to left (although the “top to bottom” formulation still applies.)Â Once you get that out of the way you’ll notice that the description I listed (that I didn’t read until I was done because it was on the front, meaning the back, cover) doesn’t mention that the listed happenings bleed over into each other and it all ends up being connected.Â There’s also one of those guys with the dreams who wakes up with blood on his hands, someone else wit h the ability to get words by squeezing the balls of a man with a donkey head, a floating doll head and a clown, but I suppose John didn’t want to give everything away on the back.Â I’m all for innovation in the small press comics world (or pretty much anywhere) and this one fits that bill in spades.Â I guess you could argue that the backwards setup is a gimmick, but you’d be wrong, or if you are right it certainly doesn’t read that way.Â It accentuates the mix-up that is the lives of all these people and the increasingly strange but distinct things that are happening to all of them.Â Much of John Robbins work could easily fall into the “fucking brilliant” category, and this is definitely on that list.Â $3
Sad Chemistry (“with” Sean Mac Roibin)
After reading Negotiating the Beast, I have to admit, I was curious to see if it was a fluke. Granted, that many really fantastic one page strips probably wasn’t, but the best way to find out was by reading something else from the man. The conclusion? Yep, the man has some serious talent. This is another collection of mostly one page strips, with a major difference: a 12 page internet romance in the center of the book. It’s the tale of John (although almost certainly not real, but who knows?) and Kaz, a significantly younger woman. John has some profound emotional issues, Kaz is a hopeless flirt who seems to want something real with John, and the dozen pages describe perfectly the state of modern correspondence: one person has all caps and sometimes barely decipherable abbreviations, the other manages to seem coherent and cogent at all times. Granted, the curmudgeon factor with me and internet abbreviations is considerable, so keep that in mind. It was a fascinating tale of “love” and loss although honestly, anything that takes space away from these incredible strips was bound to be at least mildly irksome. As for the strips, it’s the same story as Negotiating the Beast: various, seemingly pitch-perfect artistic styles, with the stories themselves being damned near too intricate for their tiny space requirement. Subjects in here include (and this is boiling them down as far as I can, which does them at least a mild disservice) early sexual awakenings, an eternal cynic, thinking too much, a realistic telling of the Disney Aladdin story, maternal bullying, an unwanted pregnancy, modern art, and a surrogate lover for the mentally handicapped. There are a few more pieces, but I feel guilty turning these stories into bullet points. Well worth a look, like the last issue, and it looks like the man has a few more things to choose from besides these two, assuming you check these out and love them…
Negotiating the Beast (“with” Sean Mac Roibin)
This comic was a welcome reminder to me that “a series of one page strips” can mean a number of things. In some comics, it’s a collection of gags, some funny bits thrown together and read in a few minutes. At other times it can have a bit more depth but, after all, how much can you pack into a story that only lasts one page? And then, on very rare occasions, it’s more like reading a book of short stories than anything else. This collection of pieces, written by Sean Mac Roibin (which involves a complicated bit of mythology that I maybe shouldn’t get into) is the first thing I’ve seen in years that reminds my strongly of the old Alec strips by Eddie Campbell, and it manages to pull that off without significant recurring characters. It starts off with a text piece dealing with the sad fate of Sean Mac Roibin and lets us know that all of these pieces were drawn based on stories left behind by the man. After that, I don’t know how I can do this book justice without writing a novel in lieu of a review, but I’ll try to hit some of the many high points. There’s a piece about letting go of your mother on the first day of school (while still letting the children believe that their mothers were just around the corner), wondering what would have happened if a young boy had gotten into that stranger’s car when he was younger, learning the fine art of fingering from your grade school friends, slowly starving yourself to death, worrying so much that life is a constant, horrific struggle, yielding to a macabre temptation while waiting for the bus, reliving emotions best left behind after learning that a sister is going to look up her sister’s old boyfriend, living life intentionally in a sick bed, and being stuck with only a guilty, horrible memory of a dead sister. This briefly covers about a third of the stories in here, each one being of such length and complexity that I feel like I’m cheating them by describing them so shortly. The art also varies perfectly for each story, sometimes being full of shadows and solid blacks and sometimes seeming more like a light, wacky sketch. It’s a tremendous piece of work, something I really can’t recommend highly enough. I don’t know from euros and pounds (sorry), but clicking on that link above will take you to site where you can buy this and a number of other international books (John is in Ireland). At a guess I’d say roughly $2…
Inside Outsiders #42
Another comic from John, another example of sheer brilliance.Â It’s a full length story this time around, more space to play around with characters and his art without having to cram in all those word boxes.Â The story here deals with a group of action figures (or, if you prefer to take away my masculinity, dolls) waxing philosophical and trying to stay out of the way of that hideous giant on the cover.Â There’s also a search for the missing Jean-Luc Picard doll, who is suffering through his own existential crisis trying to deal with dating the doll equivalent of the town slut.Â The action figures involved here are Skeletor and He-Man (referred to only as their “human” names), some apes from Planet of the Apes, the Six Million Dollar Man, the various monsters featured on the cover, and the slut, which I believe is a Bratz doll.Â It’s hard to pick just one highlight in this book, but there’s a neck and neck contest between the glorious ending and the earlier discussion between Skeletor and the Six Million Dollar Man on the nature of sexual need.Â Unlike John’s earlier books this one can be read in a few minutes (up to you if that’s a good or a bad thing, I generally like my comics meaty), but it’s probably my favorite book of the year so far, and possibly the only one of the ones I’ve recently reviewed that was actually made in 2009.Â It’s only a measly $2, if you had any affinity for any of these dolls… er, action figures, it’s not to be missed.
The Monkey-Head Complaint
You know, there’s a downside to my usual method for reviewing these comics.Â To the curious, here it is: I read the comic, go the computer and write a review.Â Some days I take more time than others, but mostly it’s a pretty simple formula.Â There is occasionally a comic like this one, however, where as I sit down to write it feels like the story is still blooming in my head and, in this case, increasingly making me uneasy.Â Not in a bad way; for the story involved that means Sean/John succeeded admirably.Â It’s just a solid hint that my usual instant reaction to these things is probably going to be lacking.Â This is the story of (and I’m cribbing this from the back of the comic) a jaded couple, a contrary mother and her oddly troubled son.Â The husband of the couple Frank, sees the son (Jack) out shoplifting a couple of times and, vaguely knowing the mother, decides to stop by and try to talk some sense into the lad.Â Most of the story here is told by the couple sitting at a table and chatting, and the idea to have them tell the story in a smarmy and literary manner (while the husband briefly bitches about it) was brilliant.Â Soon after this talk the mother ended up dead from a self-inflicted wound, or so everybody thought.Â Frank decided that perhaps his visit set something off in the boy and he needed to find out if that was the case; meanwhile the wife is worried sick after not hearing back from her husband.Â If this all seems vaguely creepy, Sean/John did a great job of making the story seem almost casual as I was reading it, even with a vague undercurrent of dread that was always around the corner.Â Still, the tone of the conversation alone kept things light, which is how they managed to make everything that happens next even more shocking, while still managing toÂ make perfect sense in hindsight.Â Â This doesn’t even mention the monkey-head, which is the sampled page anyway, so read it for yourself.Â Hell, read the whole thing for yourself.Â If we want comics as a whole to get smarter things like this are going to have to lead the way.Â Subtle horror is damned hard to come by in comics, or anywhere else for that matter.Â No price but John usually keeps these things cheap, so I’d guess $2-3.Â Send extra money and just get a bunch of his comics to be on the safe side.