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Dembicki, Matt – Xoc: The Journey of a Great White



Xoc: The Journey of a Great White

Maybe you were one of the people who bought this delightful series when it was coming out in mini comic form, or maybe you stopped halfway through like me (for no reason other than the fact that I constantly lose track of series because I’m always buried under mini comics in this “job”). Even if you did get the whole series, I have two excellent reasons for you to pick this collected edition up: 1. hardcover fancy pants edition and 2. full color. This was a series that always screamed out for color, as the creatures Matt was drawing were sometimes some of the most colorful creatures on the planet, and Oni Press fixed that beautifully with this edition. But I suppose some of you haven’t read any of this series, and you maybe want to know what I’m babbling about already. OK! This is the story of Xoc, a great white shark who travels roughly 2,300 miles from California to Hawaii, and the adventures the shark gets into along the way. It picks up a turtle traveling companion more or less by accident, hunts various creatures to stay fed, sees more than one horror of the industrialized world, examines a shark tank with two people in it, gets two lampreys stuck to itself without any reasonable method to remove them, and gets attacked a few times by killer whales. Matt did his homework in a big way, as I learned plenty both through the comic itself and the footnotes after the fact (did you know that great white sharks could lose more than 1,000 teeth during its lifetime? Terrifying in so many ways). There’s a strong environmental message here, so if you hate such things… well, get your head out of your ass, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to fix this. And if you hate environmental stuff so much that you think it’s OK to catch sharks, cut off their fins and then dump them back into the water where they will drown because they have no damned fins, I’d rather not ever have a conversation with you, thanks all the same. Anyway! This is a gorgeous book and a compelling adventure story, and Matt stays true to life in acknowledging that most nature stories like this do not have happy endings. It’s still a fantastic story, and something that should be read by anybody with a pulse and/or conscience. $20


Dembicki, Matt and Carol; Auger, Michael J. – Bad Habits #1



Bad Habits #1

So a blind nun, a cranky nun and a hooker nun walk into a bar… This is one of those rare occasions where the potential origin story for these three is almost certainly as interesting as the comic itself. The story here is that there has been a rash of otherwise happy mothers drowning their babies and this special nun squad has been called in from the Vatican to deal with it. I clearly watch too much political news, as the idea that the Vatican would give the womenfolk any kind of power doesn’t strike me as believable, but that is not what most humans are supposed to be thinking about in this fictional tale, and rightly so. Anyway, the nuns notice something that is the same in all of the pictures of the drowned babies and start investigating the anomaly. Again, I couldn’t get over the fact that nobody blinked at the nun in the hooker outfit coming to question them, but that’s still just me. We learn a bit more about what’s going on, there are some great conversations along the way, and things are “to be continued” until the next time around. Oh, and I just now saw the back of the book, which tells us that each of these nuns has a “unique talent” that we haven’t seen yet. It’s a fascinating book and, like I said, I’m damned curious to see how this all came about, even if that’s not supposed to be at the top of my mind. All I can say is that for those of you who have been hoping for a squad of crime solving nuns: your dreams have come true! $3


Roberts, Rafer – Plastic Farm Volume 3: Seasons of Growth in the Fields of Despair



Plastic Farm Volume 3: Seasons of Growth in the Fields of Despair

A message to the people out there who still miss Cerebus (like me, up until the last couple of years of its run where I stopped caring): maybe you should give Plastic Farm a shot. Granted, it’s not a monthly comic, which is where the loss of Cerebus is most acutely felt, but good luck finding another ongoing small press series that’s this compelling. I was all set to bitch about the fact that there’s no recap at the start of this one, but it turns out that this is the perfect volume for there to be no recap. A new reader who picked up the third volume (but for some reason skipped the first two, which is a little crazy) would have no trouble at all picking up the basics of the story, as a lot of this is one long, continuing origin story. For people who are just starting this now, go back and read some of my reviews for past issues, as I’m sure as hell not going to recap everything here. The short version of the early days of this series is that it was a number of stories involving a wide cast of characters, often not initially seeming to have anything to do with each other, and their connections were revealed gradually along the way. Oh, and Chester, as he’s the main character here, and either the savior of the universe or its destroyer. Or a crazy person, or something in between. Most of this volume takes place in an airport bar as people wait until the bad weather clears up and the flights start up again. Chester takes this time to tell his story to this room full of people, with each of them chiming in at different moments to tell their own stories (most of them engrossing, a few not so much, but the other characters are also aware of that fact). This volume starts off with both of his origin stories: being baptized by a mysterious group and then starting college. We see his introduction to alcohol and drugs (and ladies, really), with little hints along the way of the underlying insanity of his life. Rafer seems to have come to terms with the fact that his story is going to be much longer than he initially planned and he’s really enjoying the freedom that comes with having all kinds of space. Chester’s race to get to his first day of class, for example, would have been a panel or two if Rafer was still trying to cram all of this into a dozen or so issues, but he was able to take 25 pages to really show every aspect of it. I was also impressed with how seamlessly this graphic novel came together, as I know it came from single issues but it was really hard to tell where one issue stopped and another started (that’s the highest compliment I can give, in case that wasn’t clear). We also get our first clear glimpses of what exactly that mouse-like creature is all about as well as a holding room of sorts for some of the more imaginative creatures I’ve seen outside of an issue of Idiotland (and those creatures were almost universally gross, while these are mostly just… odd). I’m hoping, unrealistically probably, that Rafer already has the fourth volume ready for SPACE in a couple of weeks, as I’ve gone from cautiously optimistic that he’d be able to pull all these disparate threads together to having full confidence in his ability to do so after reading this one. Provided that there’s still a Kickstarter around or something that he can use to finance them, that is. Of course, that would probably also be less of an issue if all kinds of people started buying his books. Try that out, see what happens! $16.99


Dembicki, Matt – Xoc #2


Xoc #2

OK fine, it’s another great issue of Xoc, I can’t believe how well the man can draw all kinds of different ocean life, blah blah blah.  The important thing this time around is Matt takes time in his introduction to explain the name Xoc (ancient Mayan word for “demon fish”, so most likely the name for shark) and even reprints an original poster from 1569 (the first known (?) display of a dead shark), which has a very interesting interpretation of what a shark actually looks like.  In other words, I learned something before the comic even started.  Kudos!  Once the comic gets underway things heat up considerably: Xoc gets attacked by a group of killer whales, discovers that there’s an old sea turtle following him around (they’re theoretically just going to the same place, and what safer company to be in than a great white shark?), observes a fight to the death between an octopus and a whale (turns out the octopus has developed a few decent defensive moves over the centuries), feeds on a recent whale carcass (saving some energy by not having to kill something), and gets latched onto by a couple of lampreys.  Seriously, I am constantly impressed by the range Matt shows in depicting these underwater beasts.  Quite a few comic artists never break out of their comfort zones (whatever it is that they like to draw, usually people and regular life situations), but unless Matt is a deep sea diver there must be a lot of research involved in putting out this comic, and he pulls it off flawlessly.  I’d say he should pitch this series to Disney for a movie but I don’t think the world is ready for a great white shark “hero”.  Oh well, the comics world gets this all to itself instead.  If you have any interest in the 75% of the world with no people in it, there’s no reason in the world to miss this. $2

Roberts, Rafer – Plastic Farm #5 (with Jake Warrenfeltz)


Plastic Farm #5 (with Jake Warrenfeltz) Now Available! $2.95

For some reason I haven’t been keeping track of the artist for these issues, as Rafer only drew #1 and 2 (according to his website). Oops. I’ll dig up the rest of them soon. I mention this because, really for the first time in the series, some of the art was noticably bad. I don’t know if it was rushed or if it’s just really tough to draw a rapidly changing party scene with people dancing and causing a ruckus, but those first 6 pages or so were tough to look at. After that it was fine, but that party scene was something else. Anyway, this issue still has nothing to do with anything else, at least not yet. It was titled “Sean”, so I’m guessing she’s the character to keep an eye on. Sean and a couple of friends crash a party, literally, and cause some havoc. The rest of the issue is calmer, dealing with Sean and her boyfriend, who is leaving as Sean sticks around for a year or so to get her degree. The backup story was an illustrated poem by Matt Dembicki called Witch’s Tongue, which had the benefits of looking great and being more than a little bit creepy. All in all this was the weakest issue of the bunch, mostly due to that crappy stretch of art and a disjointed story, but the disjointed story is one of the good things about this comic. What can I say, I’m taking them as they come. Maybe this’ll turn out to be a crucial issue later, but I’d say pick up pretty much any one of the other issues for a better example of what this series is capable of. $2.95

Dembicki, Matt – Animal Stew


Animal Stew

Unless you mostly hate animals, it’ll be tough not to find something to like in this one. It’s a collection of one page strips from the Small Press Syndicate newsletter, and which eventually found their way into various alternative newspapers, about various animals and/or the people involved with them doing strange things. You have remote controlled rats, giant cockroaches as pets, bugs breathing, the tiniest dog in the world, premasticated dog food, a dolphin going AWOL, termite flatulence, and more than a few other odd animal related stories. There’s something that I didn’t know in about half the stories here, which is always a good thing. Of course, if you have no interest in learning odd facts about animals you’ll probably hate this, but if that’s true why would you still be reading this review? Good clean fun to be had here and it’s only a buck…

Dembicki, Matt – Coexistence



This was one of those cases where the cover made it worth a shot all by itself. That’s one creepy image, and the inside doesn’t let up much from there. A Vicar comes home from a day at church to find the devil sitting in his kitchen. The devil says that he’s merely there to sit and that he won’t try to talk to the Vicar or convince him of anything, he will merely sit. The Vicar, of course, is confused by this, because the devil is always up to something, and the rest of the issue is spent finding out just what that something is. Oh, and I should mention that this is based on a short story by Slawomir Mrozek, for all you literary types out there (it’s not a name I recognize). Matt manages to pack a constant sense of dread throughout this mini. There’s not a speck of white in this outside of eyes and clouds, the rest is shades of grey and black. Great stuff and there’s even a message involved. And did I mention that it’s only $.50?

Dembicki, Matt – Xoc #1



Xoc #1

OK, you can see the cover.  Are you one of the tiny amount of people in the world who aren’t intrigued, or do you immediately want to know more?  It made me read it as soon as it got here, and seeing as  how most things go into my “random review grab pile” as soon as they get here, that’s no small feat.  This was also nominated for an Ignatz award, and if it didn’t win it either got robbed or somebody else made an even better mini comic, which is a hard thing to imagine.  This is the story, more or less, of Xoc, a great white shark.  Matt takes great care with his facts here, noting the sharks migrating when they notice a change in the magnetic pull of the Earth and the position of the sun.  Granted, he could be making those up and I’d never know, but based on the level of detail in the rest of the book I feel secure saying he got it right.  The story opens with a group of sea lions arguing (they’re the only group in the comic to talk, oddly) about how they’re going to get more food and whether or not they should move off their current patch of land.  A brash young sea lion declares that they need to move now after seeing what he thinks are fish, and leaps into the ocean.  He makes it to another small patch of land, but is only saved from being eaten by the other sea lions that follow his lead and attract the attention of Xoc.  The blood from his first kill brings other sharks, and a feeding frenzy commences.  While the survivors huddle together and plot their next move, Xoc and the other sharks feel the pull and move out of the area, coming across some deep sea creatures and other things that generally end up in the bottom of the ocean.  This is a genuinely magnificent comic, something that is rarer than you probably think.  Granted, I feel like a bit of a dork for even using the word “magnificent”, but it sums it up perfectly.  The art is perfect, with all kinds of little details and some serious realism, and the writing is slowly starting to tell the story of Xoc.  Heck, I was nervous watching the sea lions swim to the other bit of land, and that’s saying a lot from somebody as jaded as me.  It’s well worth checking out, here’s hoping that Matt has an epic in him with this story.  $2