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Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Elm City Jams #3



Elm City Jams #3

These two (Mike and Isaac) are the mad scientists of the mini comics world. The great thing about that though is that they focus a lot more on the “scientist” part and a lot less on the “mad”. What they’re doing might seem insane, but they know exactly what they’re shooting for seemingly at all times. They might not get there every time, but they’re sure going to give it a shot. That being said, I’m supposed to be talking about this comic, right? Well, it’s a jam book, so other people are involved. Specifically Tom O’Donnell, Jeff Seymour, and people named Shana and Harry. The story behind this issue is that there is one central idea for each comic, which only takes up a single page. Individual panels can be passed along to different people, and they were kind enough (on almost every page) to tell the reader who did which panel and under what constraints they were operating. Examples include having a duck or a monkey in every panel (but not both), having one inbred character, getting hot liquid thrown in somebody’s face, ethnic stereotypes, not being allowed to have robot, human or animal characters, stealing the layout from a page of Fantastic Four #1, and having a comic within a comic within a comic. Look, every single panel of every single page isn’t a masterpiece, but the vast majority of the stories here are a blast. And the best thing about these two is that while you have no idea what you’re getting from issue to issue, you at least know that they’ve put a whole lot of thought and effort into the concept. Well worth a look if you love comics and what they’re capable of being.

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Fear


Fear (based on a sonnet by Ciaran Carson)

That cover is just about actual size, so we’re dealing with another tiny mini here. It’s based on a sonnet, as I made clear above, all about fear. Fear of things existential and physical, real and imagined, and has the effect after the last panel of seeming to be on an eternal loop. A solid mini that’ll actually make you stop and think, or at least it’ll make you stop and think if you are me. If you are you I don’t know what it’ll do to you, but I like to think it’ll make you stop and think too. This can’t be more than a buck and contact info is up yonder…

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Elm City Jams #2 (with various artists)


Elm City Jams #2 (with various artists) Now Available! $1.50

First, let me clarify that list of “various artists”: Linnea Duvall, Tom Hart, Bill Kartalopoulos, Jon Lewis, Tom O’Donnell, and Jeff Seymour. As always with these jam books, it’s all about trying new things and still making funny, interesting stories. These could easily devolve into academic exercises and it would be hard to fault anybody involved, but I laughed out loud more than a few times while reading this, and that generally doesn’t happen for “academic” books. The rules for this one are simple and wonderful. An artist can take a title (that they didn’t make up) and get to work, passing onto somebody else after a panel or two. The rejected titles are hilarious (my favorite being Meat: The Parents), so obviously the ones they did use are even better. The other method is a bit more complex, involving joining individual panels and filling in the blanks to make a coherent story. So how did they do? I don’t want to spoil a damned thing here, which I suppose is part of my “job” as a “reviewer”. So, while keeping it as mysterious as possible, some of the concepts here include making a deal with the devil, Bert and Ernie running Halliburton, the devil’s avocado, space as a mindfuck, robots in trees, a rapping chicken and knight, drowing in a submarine, and a cursed comic. So, to wrap up, what you have here is some of the best names in comics doing various experimental works that all somehow end up funny. What’s not to love? $2.50

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Demonstration


Demonstration Now Available! $2.50

These guys seem to do a lot of creative exercises with their work, which is a great idea, but it makes it a bit tough to write about. For example, for this one they simply decided to draw a hundred demons each, one per day, and then put out a book filled with their best efforts. They go to great lengths to say where their influences for that particular demon came from, or whether or not it came from anything conscious at all. Sometimes they would have a very clear idea in mind and other times they would just put the pen to paper, start drawing and hope for the best. This ends up being a very diverse collection, with influences ranging from Dore to James Kochalka, with all kinds of unique and fascinating creatures. Of course, if you’re looking for a cohesive story this isn’t the place to go, but there’s a lot more info here than your average sketchbook and more artists should follow their lead and try some of these experiments they’ve come up with. I have no idea how much this would cost, let’s say $4 because of the color cover and the sheer size of the book, contact info is up there if you’re intrigued and would like to find out!

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Satisfactory Comics #7


Satisfactory Comics #7 Now Available! $2.50

Time for another issue of a comic from two of the most inquisitive minds in comics today. You know, these two could “mail it in” in any of a number of ways. They could make crappy comics, saying that they’re focused on the experimental side of things and that quality is bound to suffer. Or they could chuck the difficulties they set in their way when they make these comics, taking some of the structure out of them but possibly having more fun making them. Instead they manage to make great comics out of any circumstance, which somehow manages to amaze me every time. This time around they did this comic mostly in a 30 hour period, on May 17th and 18th of 2007. Strips in here are either one or two pages. Some strips are passed back and forth between Isaac and Mike from panel to panel, usually with no communication on where these strips are headed. One they started with the last panel of a strip, drawing their way to the beginning. One uses monosyllabic words and has the artist draw left-handed (which, oddly, helped with the dreamlike quality of that particular strip). The highlight, for me at least, was two page spread in the center of the book, The Graveyard of Forking Paths. This one can be read any of a number of ways, up and down, side to side, reverse side to side, with different possible endings. They’re nice enough to put a little coded system at the start of the book with the titles, so you can tell who wrote and drew which parts. Oh, and the actual topics of the stories? A lonely spaceman, a string of assorted sentences, a killer tattoo artist, a tricky gardener ghost, an unhappy seaman, problems with the interpretation of evolution, virtual reality, a Maakies tribute, and being able to hear the thoughts of plants. Not everything works perfectly here, but they get all kinds of credit for being willing to take so many risks. Well worth a look, for students of the possibilities of the art form and people who just like a good batch of assorted stories.

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Satisfactory Comics #6


Satisfactory Comics #6

These guys have won some kind of grant by now, right? I’d have to think that two people with as much practical knowledge of the medium combined with a willingness to put in some serious work AND at least a casual acquaintance with some of the best talents in the field would lead somebody to hand them a pile of money, lock them in a room and see what they come up with. The first story is one section of a map that different cartoonists took time to plot out, this one about a race of tiny people meeting a huge human for the first time. Next up is a (wrongly) rejected story from the 2004 SPX anthology about how Isaac conquered his addiction to turn-based strategic games. Full disclosure here, I’ve fallen pretty far into World of Warcraft, which is in the same general area of what he’s talking about. I don’t get how he can discount the whole experience, as he says it really helped him to look at battles and world events in a different light, but he seems to be “cured” at the moment. Then there’s a one page “guess which caption goes with which gag”, which is interesting in theory, as each answer has different ramifications to whatever gag you’re trying to set up. Their next story is done as each page being a stanza in the sestina form, and if you knew what that was before reading this you’re much smarter than I am. The story is your basic hard-boiled detective trying to figure out a mystery, but they manage to make it entertaining as well as a fun exercise. Finally they have their adaptation of a part of the Bible, for a project online to illustrate the whole sordid mess at, which is something that all of you people with some sort of artistic ability reading this should work on. Maybe it can be done in our lifetimes, who knows? And, for their last bit of creative storytelling, there are 8 two-sided cards in a pouch in the back of the comic. These cards can be arranged in any order, from any side, to tell the story of a young student trying to learn the secrets of the universe from an old master. Fascinating stuff again, as much for the ideas behind the stories as the stories themselves…

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Satisfactory Comics #5


Satisfactory Comics #5

What an odd concept for a 24 hour comic. First off, this is still Isaac and Mike’s comic, but there’s a huge pile of comics talent who supplied a lot of the characters. Tom O’Donnell, Jeff Seymour, Dan Zettwoch, Adam Rosenblatt, Jesse Reklaw, Jon Lewis, Scott Koblish, Melody Lu, Jenny Blair, Liza Graham, Linnea Duvall and Bill Kartalopoulos all developed a character in this. What could possibly require that many characters? Well, there’s this young girl, see, and she gets a letter from the creature in the sample (not that she knows that it’s that creature, which was submitted by Jesse Reklaw, by the way) that’s asking for her help. Once she arrives, she discovers that she’s in a huge house with multiple levels and different dangers behind every door. I have to say, this looks great for a 24 hour comic, which I’m seeing more and more these days, so good job on that, guys. One complaint I have is that the lettering gets more than a little sloppy at places, which would be a lot more excusable if the art wasn’t so good. Spend the extra 30 seconds and make sure those letters fit in the boxes! Hey, it’s a minor pet peeve, granted, but I think it’s legitimate. Anyway, an interesting comic, especially just to see the incredible array of characters. $1, contact info up there…

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Satisfactory Comics #4


Satisfactory Comics #4

Throwing a bunch of random things together (some reader submissions) and making a comic out of it is just a wonderful idea as far as I’m concerned. That being said, I’d have to imagine that it would be a fairly easy thing to screw up, and I’m happy to report that that hasn’t happened here. This is the story of Sam, a young boy who runs away in search of adventure after getting yelled at by parents. He runs into a skunk and a Pogo-like creature and they discover that a group of ogres is ransacking the area and trying to turn everybody else into ogres to help. There are a few other random adventures along the way (including a fantastic full page spread in the center of the book) and everything ends happily ever after. Not to give anything away, but that’s not the point of a book like this. The point is seeing how they use all the random things to make a greater whole. I honestly didn’t know about the concept of throwing a bunch of things together until they explained it on the back of the comic, so I guess you’d have to call that a success. Good stuff, I’d say it’s $2 and contact info is up there…

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – Satisfactory Comics #2


Satisfactory Comics #2

I was thinking these comics were more random than this one, or was that only for #5? Whatever the case, this one is a split comic by the same creative team, with everything coming together in the middle. On one side you have Yeliz, who’s sick to death of dealing with inadequate men, get a set of “What If Men”. One is going to adore her, one is a lover of beauty, and one is a punk. Each have their own benefits to offer but, obviously, they all have negative aspects as well. Then you have Rob, who’s just trying to get over an old girlfriend but finds that everything he sees and does reminds him of her, until he has a dream about a monkey. Hey, I’m not giving anything away here. What I’ve seen from these guys so far tells me that they’re really good when they’re focused (here) and they’re really good when they’re mixing as many things they can into the pot and seeing what comes out of it (#5). Good stuff all around, and I really liked the ending. Contact info up there, $2, check it out!

Cates, Isaac & Wenthe, Mike – A Treatise Upon the Jam


A Treatise Upon the Jam

Sorry, but I’m much too lazy to type that whole title. You can read it, right? The title sums it up pretty nicely, as it’s a comic which is completely Isaac and Mike talking to some random person about doing a jam in comics and how it’s a great thing for any comic artist to try, and I couldn’t agree more. Way back in the day I did a comic with Jim Roy (and other, occasionally) called Churned Out Crap, appropriately enough. He would draw 16 pages or so of the most random stuff he could think of, while still keeping the same central character, and just leave space in word balloons and captions. He would give them to me, I would take them someplace quiet, rearrange them into an order that looked like a story to me, and start writing. I’m going into that much detail about it because it was a great experience and I think more people should try stuff like that. Many years later, about two of those issues hold up as good (I think), the other ones, well, live up to the title. That’s what these two are talking about here. They can both write AND draw, but it’s much easier to push yourself to work until sunrise if you have somebody there with you. They would actually have readers send in single panels and work from there, or combine them all into a story (I haven’t gotten to the jam comics yet), and say that sure, some of the ideas were horrible, but the thing that helped them grow as artists was trying to turn those bad ideas into something workable. It’s an interesting book, as not many people talk about this kind of thing in this great of detail, and should be seen by anybody who’s interested in trying something like this. Here’s an e-mail, I’m guessing this is $2, but why not ask them and find out?