Technical note: I use a flat scanner, meaning that when I try to scan images from a 600+ page behemoth of a book, the edges end up looking a little smeared. My apologies. Still, plenty of images are available at Justin’s website, if you’re interested…
I’m always delighted when I run into somebody at a convention who’s work I reviewed in the early days of the website but haven’t seen in awhile, and that’s when they have a new mini or two out. Imagine the thrill when I saw that Justin had this brick of a book available! He’s been working on it for a decade, roughly, and he originally released it in 6 different graphic novels (that I completely missed somehow). But hey, that just means that this is all new to me. How to describe this sucker without taking away all the fun bits for the new readers? I’m going to skirt around the edges, that’s how! This is a sprawling epic of a tale, with a huge cast of characters. Justin was smart enough put a dozen of the characters and some brief bios in the front of the book (and yes, I did reference it frequently), and even with that he probably could have done a few more pages with character bios. There’s a lot happening in here, is what I’m saying. This book deals with a society in which psychics (real ones, not the nonsense you see advertised on tv) have been around for decades, so they’ve already dealt with their discovery, the public reaction good and bad, being used, being abused, using their powers for evil, etc., and Justin does a fantastic job of using flashbacks sparingly but effectively. There’s a big, completely thought out world here, and it’s clear that he could go back into any of the material he’s written and answer whatever questions anybody might have. This book starts maybe 20 years into all of this (if he listed an exact time frame I missed it), where the anti-psychic (called Seers) sentiment is running very high, with proposed laws on the way promising all kinds of terrible things. We’re shown this world through the eyes of a Seer and her non-Seer brother (the former wrote a tell-all book about her childhood, which led to all kinds of problems with the latter), their father (a former cop and Seer whose mind has been ravaged by the years of using his powers), a mysterious woman who’s questioning her life choices and hiding a whole bunch of secrets (that play out throughout the book; her brother also pops up a lot), the anti-Seer contingent and the pro-Seer contingent (and how both sides are trying to deal with the other), and a kidnapped little girl and how just about everybody ends up coming together to try to help her. I’ve been writing for a while now and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Taking the time to really establish these characters as people really makes this book something special, so hey, young cartoonists, maybe spend a decade on your books too? OK, maybe that’s not realistic, but the more real your characters seem, the better off your narrative is going to be. There were constant surprises and escalations, a satisfying conclusion, and the general sense that Justin could put out another book about this world of this size or maybe even bigger and still have a lot left to tell about this world. That’s a complete success as a graphic novel as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a long time reader of this website and have also been wondering what he’s been up to, you won’t be disappointed if you check this out. If you’ve never heard of him until now, I was going to suggest maybe starting with some of his older minis for financial purposes, but it looks like all of those are all out of print. You’ll have to try your luck with a graphic novel, and you could do a whole lot worse than making it this one. $40
This year at SPACE I bailed out on my usual “der, which issue did I read last?” confusion and just went with a stand-alone issue. This one is about a man named Jordan having a hard time getting over the loss of his love, Elle. He’s able to see Elle (after a long journey) but resolving thing between them is a different matter. A good chunk of this is taken from the Orpheus myth, or is at least Justin’s interpretation of said myth.Â I mention this purely so I can sound more literate, of course. Also, I know it’s financially impossible for most people, but if you can ever get the money together to put out a book in full color, do so. This book is absolutely stunning, in no small part due to the coloring. $5 for a quick read might seem like a little much, but this is the kind of thing you’d want to leave out on a coffee table to show off. Well worth a look.
The Waiting Sun
OK, he wasn’t published by one of the “big” companies, but he finally put out a self-contained giant book. This one is a hefty 135 pages and doesn’t seem to have any binding problems, which is nice. It’s all about a couple, Matt and Jess, and their lives together and apart. Matt goes off to college and leaves Jess behind, but decides eventually that he needs to try and get her back. The rest of the issue is about how things are never quite what you’d expect, certain changes can’t be predicted and friendship is a damned important thing. Solid work all around, and it was nice to be able to read one of his books without being confused as to what had gone on before. There’s also a constant underlying problem with the sun, as it’s trapped in a state of eternal sunset, and it does play a role in the story eventually. I’m currently a sucker for all romance stories, so maybe I’m biased, and there probably was some hokey dialogue here and there if you’re as cynical as most people. Most of it rang true to me, and that’s all I can base these little rambles on. How he has time to keep his comic going on a regular basis and put out something like this is beyond me, but I think the comic world is a better place for it. Contact info is up there, but here’s an address if the website is down or something: 708 Birch Street Baraboo, WI 53913.
Happy Town #7
So there I was at SPACE, trying to remember which issues of this series I already had laying around. I panicked and just got the latest issue, knowing that I couldn’t have that one… but I missed a lot of the story that leads up to this. Not to worry, there’s a graphic novel coming out from Justin in the summer and I can only hope that everything gets collected in there. In this story the town has been in the middle of a blizzard for three days and tempers are getting frayed all over the place. People are floating for no reason, the flight to Saturn has been postponed and there are more characters than you can shake the proverbial stick at. I won’t try and pretend to understand most of what was going on, but the bits with making robots and their creator being recently out of prison were great. Phenomenal art and a story that’s quickly turning into a saga, this is a book to watch out for in the next couple of years. Mark my words, he will be published soon (assuming that his graphic novel isn’t published by someone other than him) and I’d recommend seeing what he’s all about here so you can see what there is to see. Contact info is above, check the descriptions of the issues so you don’t get the wrong ones and end up lost like me…
Happy Town #5
Uh…. oops. This is a story in the middle of a long story arc and, while the recap at the start was helpful, the truth of the matter is that I have very little idea of what’s going on here. There’s real life conversation over here, there’s a man with a metal arm chopping the head off a demon over there… What I can tell you is that I love the ear for dialogue that this guy has, and there’s something about the look of his characters that just makes them endearing. Don’t worry, when I get my next batch of USS Catastrophe stuff, I’ll get caught up on this series, and I’ll be able to tell you what’s up. Until then, try to start off with an earlier issue than this so you’re not as lost as I was, OK? Contact info is above, and you already know where the USS Catastrophe page is, don’t you? Oh, fine, it’s right here.
Anybody who picks this up thinking of the Mr. Show skits involving World’s Greatest Grandpa and expect to be laughing out loud at this has a big surprise in store. This is a genuinely moving tale of a father looking for his missing daughter years after he has given up hope of ever seeing her again. Justin does an incredible job of making you feel what the man is going through, and what he’s been going through in the years since her disappearance. It’s $2 and not on his website that I can see, but that’s probably because he hasn’t updated in a while. I’m sure if you e-mail him that he’ll scrounge up a copy. In the meantime, get some copies of his Happy Town books. I’ll probably get around to reviewing more of them one of these days when I’m not so lazy, but he really has a command of his craft that is rarely seen in minis these days. Might have something to do with the fact that he’s been doing this for years. Anyway, this story could ham it up or fail in several ways, and it’s rare to see something succeed this completely. Did I mention yet that you should buy it?
Cheers for a new series from Justin, one that I have a serious chance of keeping up with! Jeers for Justin also putting out a #0 of this series, meaning that this isn’t technically the first part of the series and, seeing as how I haven’t looked for #0 in a series since the early 90’s, I’m already behind. Ah well, it’s Happy Town all over again, although it looks like Justin is finally putting that story into collected editions, letting all of us absentminded types catch up on that saga. This first issue has all the makings of a story I can really get into: a vast array of characters, with more coming next issue, all with their own problems, all put together in one as yet vaguely defined situation. In this case it’s a town of people living in a world (or maybe just a town) where a breather is required for walking around outside, as apparently the air is fatal to anybody who breathes it unassisted. There’s a single mother who’s desperate to get the money she needs to take care of her little girl, the little girl who has an imaginary pet dragon, a crooked detective who’s busting the local drug dealer (who puts the drugs in the breathers) just to take his drugs, a shy guy at a coffee shop who is able to get a phone number, and a young woman who can, mysteriously, breathe outside without the aid of a breather. Justin clearly knows a thing or two about pacing and setting up a story, and I’m hooked already after one issue. This time around I’ll keep better track of this, maybe even pick up some issues outside of SPACE. It’s $5 but it’s a hefty book, well worth a look.
Happy Town Vs. Neil Jam
If you have “vs.” right in the title, doesn’t that mean that there has to be some sort of an epic battle in the book? Maybe I’ve just read too many superhero comics when I was a kid, but having a “vs.” in the title just screams out for mayhem. Not so much with the mayhem here, as it’s mostly about the some of the main characters from either creator (Justin Madson with Happy Town And Neil Fitzpatrick from Neil Jam) trying either to spend some alone time with the girlfriend or just getting away from it all. It turns into a giant web of deceit and lies, and proves once again that the best thing might not be getting what you want. I thought it was a fun little book, but only essential if you were already big fans of both books, for the sheer “gee whiz” factor of seeing these worlds crammed together. If you’ve never heard of one or both of these series, please remove yourself from your cave and check them out, as they’re both consistently wonderful. Then come back to check this out so you can see what it’s like when they’re all in one place. Contact info is around here somewhere, Justin Madson has a page on this website if you want to learn more about the man, and this one is oh, let’s say $3.
Happy Town #11
It’s like a yearly ritual at SPACE for me, or at least it is when I see Justin there: I get to his table, see all these gorgeous Happy Town books… and draw a complete blank on where I’m at in the series, as in most cases I haven’t read it since the year before. Lovely! So this year it was even worse than usual, as the last issue I got before this one was #7, leaving quite a continuity gap. So how do you write a review without actually giving anything away regarding the contents? Luckily I perfected this years ago, so I can give it a shot. In here you have a botched launch, an attempted suicide, robot love, a punched Mayor, jetpacks, a robot with a gun and a blizzard. One of these days (and if I had a nickel for every time I said this I would have a whole lot of nickels) I’ll get all of these and get a solid idea of what’s going on here, but until then you’ll just have to settle for a yearly blast of incomprehensibleness. Oh, Justin did make it clear in the back of this that he has no idea how this story is going to end, and if you look at his website you can see that he has a lot of books available, not all of them having anything to do with Happy Town. Check it out, if you’re smart you’ll buy a collection of the stories (if such a thing exists yet) and get caught up, as the sheer fact that this is a great comic every time even though I have little idea of what’s going on is an excellent mark of quality…