Blog Archives

Various Artists – Poison Pill

Website (to buy the book)

Poison Pill

I get moderately lazy when linking to individual websites for anthology reviews, but check out those tags. That’s a hell of a list of talent, and if you haven’t heard of a name on it, look them up and check out their stuff! Obviously. This is a collection of six new (I think?) stories, and to take all the suspense out of my conclusion, it might be the best anthology I’ve seen in years. There’s not a weak story in the bunch, and just about any of them would be considered the best story in an average anthology. Things start off strong with Caroline Cash’s First Date, a story about her just starting to come out of the pandemic restrictions in the summer of 2020 and trying to date, with all of the usual awkwardness that comes with that on top of not being sure if you’re allowed to touch the other person. Sam Szabo is up next with the story of when they did their own makeup for the first time, how it changed everything in terms of how they saw themselves, and how it all magically came together with them going solo to an Insane Clown Posse show (trust me, the whole thing comes together beautifully). Victoria Douglas is up next with a grim but hilarious take on being constantly expected to churn out content for the always voraciously hungry internet, including unwelcome feedback from family members, and if you’re not nodding along to several of the points, you’re not even online enough to see this review. M.S. Harkness juxtaposes her experience with fireworks during an awkward backyard fight when she was a kid with an entirely different experience as an adult out on the water with some dude she sort of knew, then Heather Loase is up with a piece about her first time looking up a porn search term and everything that came from it, followed by her years of denial of the feelings that it brought up. Finally there’s Audra Stang’s piece about her family’s “holiday tree” (i.e. the Christmas tree that doesn’t come down, so it’s just decorated for each successive holiday until it crumbles) fro when she was a kid, her jealousy of her classmates and their trees and how her whole schedule would change over winter break. Oh, and all of these synopses for the stories? They barely scratch the surface of each piece. Sometimes in anthologies you’ll at least get a rush job or two, or at least shorter, fluffier pieces. Everything in here would be complete if it was released as its own mini comic, and that’s just about as high of a complement as I can give for an anthology. There aren’t many places left that still have copies listed as being available, so if you’re interested, I wouldn’t dither too long. Click on that link while it still has copies! $20

Harkness, M.S. – Time Under Tension


Time Under Tension

(Unasked for) peek behind the curtain time! Generally speaking, these days at least, I read a few comics on the weekend, sweep whatever thoughts float around in my head into a pile, write them out in a vague review format and set them to publish during the week. I mention that mostly because I read this a few days ago and it has spent the past few days battering my head all to bits and I feel like my thoughts about it are getting less coherent as time goes on, so unless I write something soon I might lose the power of language. M.S. has already shown that she’s fearless when it comes to telling tales about her life on the page, and if anything this book is her somehow peeling back another layer and getting even more revelatory. This covers the period of her life right after graduating from art school, when she was around 25. There were plenty of unresolved issues with Murmur, her kind of sort of ex who has a girlfriend (read past volumes, specifically Desperate Pleasures; it’s too much to get into here), her still making extra income with her escort work, trying to get certified to become a personal trainer, the usual attempt to figure out what’s next after graduating, her abusive father getting out of prison and him trying to reconnect, attempts to find a decent therapist that she could afford, even Murmur’s upcoming MMA fight. There’s a whole lot swirling around, and it’s all peppered with her devastating insights and mental journey, if that’s even a thing. I loved how it opens up with her alone at a bar, with no title or even the requisite legal info (that doesn’t pop up until around page 60). She’s at a celebration with some of her graduating class and seems like she’d rather be anywhere else. We get a series of flashbacks when one of them asks if her mother is coming, which does a fantastic job of laying out some basics for new readers while still including a lot of new information for the regulars. This is the part where I would like to hit you with a few quotes from the story (I even marked a few pages like a real reviewer) but you know what? Fuck that. You should read this, and discover those quotes, for yourself. Can you find the most devastatingly succinct way to to describe a fairly pleasant past relationship with some serious issues of all time? It’s on page 241, but that’s all the hints I’ll give. I’ve seen a few review quotes lying around (she’s on a nationwide tour as I’m writing this) that call her a generational talent, Ivan Brunetti even says on the back cover that she’s reached “the elusive ‘next level.'” Which, hell yeah she has. It’s a lot of pressure, no doubt about it, but after reading this? I think she can handle it, or just about anything else that life throws at her. $25

Harkness, M.S. – Desperate Measures


Desperate Measures or here

Well, the bad news is that I may have waited too long after CXC in Columbus for M.S. to still have copies of this book on her website. But it is still out there, and for a few bucks more it even comes with a signed print. That was probably supposed to go at the end of the review, but I am just never going to get my end of this thing right. She’s also not making my pledge to go out and check out her older comics easy, as everything on her website is sold out right now (February 2023). Oh, the troubles I’ve seen! Maybe I should talk about the graphic novel, huh? It’s a riveting autobiographical look at her past, how it shapes her present and makes it extremely difficult to have a future. When it comes to love and dating anyway, but it’s a long story, so I prefer the ambiguity on my end. Things start off with a vivid memory she’s having of waiting for her father to come back ashore from his boating job. My early impression was that she was looking forward to this, but there’s reason to doubt that reaction fairly quickly. From there we spend the bulk of the book seeing the intimate details of her life, and M.S. is not the type to hold anything back. We read plenty about her dating habits, a couple of methods she uses to get extra cash, her troubles at starting a relationship and her (at times) indifference to even trying. Her main serious romantic focus here is split between two guys: one a longer term friend/partner, and one a newer guy who makes an immediate impression by treating her differently than usual to start things off. She seems to have more potential with the long term dude (make no mistake, she’s well aware of that), but the baggage of the past is a tricky thing to escape. There’s a lengthy, mostly silent section towards the middle dealing with more specific memories of her childhood, what her mother must have dealt with and a desperate attempt at change. There are lighter bits in here too, like her training her brother on weightlifting, in case you were worried about it getting too dark. Still, things are grim for her quite a bit in this book and, like I said, she’s not one to shy away from showing all the gory details. One thing that struck me reading this (it’s my first since Tinderella, so it’s been several years) is how much she’s matured as a writer. It’s not like she was a dullard before, but there were so many clever, insightful or devastating turns of phrase here that it’s impossible to pick one to highlight. I tried to find a solid sample page for examples, but just looking at it makes me think of a dozen others I could have used. All of this rambling feels like me just scratching the surface. I haven’t even mentioned her brilliant fake standup routine and the entirely too real reactions of the audience, or the adderal extravaganza, or pointing out the danger of the textured wall while having sex. Or the quiet moments and how they add layers onto an already complex story. Ah well, since I can’t mention everything, I might as well call it a day. After all, I already mentioned that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and that you should find yourself a copy, right? It also looks like she has a new book coming out this year, so now’s your chance to get caught up before that happens. $17 (ish)

Knickerbocker, Sean (editor) – Rust Belt Review #1

Website (for Sean Knickerbocker)

Rust Belt Review #1

Hooray for a big old comics anthology! And by “big” I mostly mean the size of the actual comic (which wouldn’t fit entirely on my scanner) rather than the page count, which is still more than respectable. This has stories from six artists, about half of which I’d read before. I should also point out that the second issue is coming out in a couple of weeks (6/14/21, readers of the future), so for all of you skeptics that think series like this rarely get beyond the first issue, in your face! One of Sean’s goals (from his introduction) is trying to find a way for artists to diversify their income, as this issue was done in a time when in-person cons wasn’t an option, and it’s not like that’s generally a big moneymaker for the artists anyway. First up is a story by Andrew Greenstone about a cult that kidnapped 100 people and forced them to compete in trivia and games, with death being a very real possibility if you get something wrong. I want to quickly complement the layout of this book: the artist’s name is at the bottom of every other page and the title is on the opposite page, so there’s not the danger you get in some anthologies of stories with similar art styles briefly running together. Next up is Caleb Orecchio’s series of short pieces (that all tie together beautifully) dealing with a group of children, their animal pals and their bullies. And one poorly timed erection, but I don’t want to spoil anything. MS Harkness’s piece about a bank robbery is so amazing that I don’t want to give a thing away about it, so I won’t, but I will say that it got a literal “lol” out of me. Juan Jose Fernandez has a more contemplative piece about yearning featuring some haunting video game-esque imagery. Sean has a couple of stories with the same dirtbag characters; in one the losers are given an ultimatum to clean up their act, and in the next they receive an unexpected windfall while nefarious forces plot in the background. Yep, that one is obviously of the “to be continued” variety. Finally there’s Audra Stang telling a story that connects to her overarching narrative in her mini comics, further cementing the need for a complete edition when it’s all said and done. This is a damned solid anthology, and after looking at the list of artists in the second issue it’s looking like that one should be great too. There are a few pieces that look to be continuing in the next issue, which is a solid way to keep people coming back for more. I hope this works out; there are too few ongoing comics anthologies for my tastes. $10

Harkness, M.S. – Tinderella



Did I have an assumption about this graphic novel from the title? Sure, in no small part because it’s a great title. I thought it would be a series of disastrous Tinder dates, maybe with a “happy” ending but who knows. Nope! Tinder plays a role in this, yes, but barely. This one starts off with her hilariously aggressive pickup technique at a gym and goes right from there to her having lunch with her brother. She’d ended up having sex on a tanning bed, so now she was half tanned and half pale. She takes her time narratively with her walk home, then in her chat with her roommate she goes through the pros and cons of the guys already on her phone. Finally it comes to Tinder, and the avalanche of messages she got right away. Which didn’t come across as a brag; based on the word of my single female friends it’s really a buyer’s market for ladies. Several mundane or horrible comments later, she finally found what she was looking for, arranged a date and had something going on that seemed to be exactly what both of them wanted. Was it? No spoilers here. Other subjects in the rest of the book deal with pink eye, spending Christmas alone, the booty call that she can never resist, Shane vs. Vince McMahon, even the origin of her last name, which I didn’t even know was a mystery. I don’t think I conveyed it properly, but this book is hilarious; her “come hither” look (that’s flirting for you young’uns) has to be seen to be believed. It’s a hell of a book, so I have no complaints. Well, one tiny one: after her wrestling comic (from SPACE 2015 if I remember correctly) and this one, now I have to go back and pick up all of her other comics. Is that a complaint? I don’t think that’s what the word means. Anyway, give this book a shot, you won’t be disappointed. $15

Harkness, M.S. – October 2015



October 2015

Wrestling fans, you’re going to love this one. Other people, well, it’s still a good story, so don’t dismiss it because it deals (tangentially) with wrestling. M.S. has been doing monthly autobio comics (she had several at her table at SPACE) and this one deals with a very special month. She woke up late one morning to find that her “gentleman caller” (yes, I am a time traveler from the 1920’s) had left while she was sleeping, but he left one important thing behind: a WCW tag team championship belt. Once and possibly future wrestling geek that I am, I immediately started wondering if it was legit, which era it was from, if it was discarded by a wrestler or sold at a pawn shop, etc. M.S. doesn’t get into any of that. She instead tells the story of how she knew that she was living on borrowed time with this belt and how she wanted to make the most of her time with it. It seemed to give her a whole new outlook on life, and that outlook was mostly that she was a badass for as long as she had this belt. She took on the cockroaches in her apartment, practiced her street dancing, rode a bike one mile to school that had no seat, and enrolled in a 5K marathon. Out of several funny bits the marathon was probably my favorite, purely because it looked like your average drunken get-together that nobody took seriously as a race, but she was in it to win it. In case it wasn’t obvious, I liked this one a lot, and autobio people take note: it’s perfectly OK to do your monthly autobio comic as one story. There’s no need to do daily recaps if you have nothing to say on certain days! I don’t know why I got shouty there, I just read a lot of comics. Oh, and as of today this comic is on her Tumblr page, so read it and see for yourself. Otherwise you can probably get this from her for a few bucks.