One of the most prolific people in comics is at it again, and this time it’s about a historical event. Well, sort of. I don’t think this is based on a true story, but that’s also the beauty of it: if it was a true story, chances are that none of us would have ever heard of it. Things start off with an illustrator putting together a children’s book until she’s interrupted by air raid sirens. She’s in England in World War II, and that sort of thing was all too common back then. Edie is also feeling like she could do more to help in the war effort, so after lunch with a friend she meets up with another friend who’s involved in the intelligence aspect of the war. Edie’s plan was to help by drawing some illustrations to be placed around town, but instead she finds out that an old boyfriend of hers is suspected of being a spy for the Germans, so she somewhat reluctantly takes up the job of ingratiating herself with him again. After a brief training session she takes a job near his house and “happens” to run into him. She’s not suspicious at first, but after planting a bug in his phone and listening in she starts to have other ideas. From there it’s a bit of a cat and mouse game, with her trying not to get discovered and him refusing to listen to the suspicions of his friend telling him that her timing in arriving was entirely too convenient. And if you’re wondering if all this sneaking around leads to a big old shoot-em-up eventually, you had better believe that it does. I don’t remember the rules on the size of “actual” graphic novels, but this is 72 pages (per his website) and sure feels like a graphic novel to me. There’s also a lovely epilogue that I sadly can’t spoil, but just trust me on this, OK? If you’re looking to get somebody into Rob’s work (or if you’ve been holding off on taking the plunge yourself), this would be an excellent place to start. Based on historical events, with none of the weirdness that I love so much/that might turn off the more normal folk. I’m lousy at conversion, but it’s probably right around $10.
I won’t tell you why, but I will tell you that this comic ends with a song. And still I somehow resisted the temptation to not use that final page as the sample image! Sometimes this reviewing thing is a sheer test of willpower. So what’s up with this one? It’s a sprawling conspiracy, all with our hero Trashcan P.I. at the center of everything. Things start off with our hero creepily sizing up a young lady who’s come by his office… er, trash can, trying to get help in locating her missing brother. This is where a traditional noir story would begin their romance, but this comic doesn’t go anywhere near that. Possibly because the dude lives in and conducts business out of a bin, which traditionally has been a bit of an impediment in the romance department. So our hero tracks down leads, gets knocked out (which I’m using as a sample image purely because I’ve also often wondered why it’s so accepted in movies to bludgeon people into unconsciousness), and generally spends the bulk of the comic trying to get to the bottom of things. It all spirals into a vast connected gaggle of characters, and you’d better believe that things end in mayhem. I recently watched The Maltese Falcon and was a bit surprised how many of those tropes made it into this issue. Of course, noirs all have at least similar events happening (femme fatale, double crosses, bad guys accidentally telling the detective too much, etc.), so it’s not like I’m assigning any nefarious intent. Besides, all of the ladies loved Sam Spade, so that’s a pretty substantial difference right off the bat. And since I’m not going to tell you all the bits leading up to the dramatic conclusion, I’ll have to content myself and you by revealing a few of the (fantastic) names that Rob has come up with. Wall Face! Big Orange! Smart Guy Eddie! Big Jim Tuckshop! OK, that last one doesn’t even have a cameo, but what a name to put on a mailbox. If you’re already a fan of Rob’s, of course you should give this one a shot. You probably knew that already, as it’s not like the guy makes a lot of stinkers. If you’re new to his work, I’d recommend one of the heftier titles, but if you’re also on a budget and love noirs, you could do a lot worse than this one. If my internal currency converter is even close to correct (it almost certainly is not), then this is roughly $6.
I tell you what, this Rob Jackson is one hell of a storyteller. Yes, if you’ve been around this website for a decade or so you already know that, or if you’ve just read his comics throughout the years. But I can’t think of another comic artist who has this wide of a range of the types of stories he puts out. He’s very high up on my own personal list of reasons why I really do have to organize these comics of mine at some point, as it would take me hours (honestly, probably days) to pull all his comics that I own together. Anyway! You’d think that the theme would be obvious from the title, and you’d be right, but only sort of. The hotel does play a role in things, but not until the very end, and it’s not like I’m going to talk about that. This is a collection of three stories that the concierge of the hotel tells as he tries to give some prospective guests fair warning about what they’re in for if they stay overnight. It’s more than that though, as all the stories come together to further contextualize the concierge, his family situation and how all the disparate threads come together. The first story deals with a group of previous guests, a rock band who’s touring in Venice. They’re a bit depressed by one bad review in the newspaper (well, the lead singer is anyway), and they find out that he’s also staying in Venice. This leads to the thought of a confrontation, and the drunk lead singer ends up in a mysterious bar drunkenly asking somebody to murder the reviewer. The second story concerns the lady who was asked to do the murdering and how she ended up in her situation, and the final story concerns the efforts to get her out of that service. The band story takes up the bulk of the comic, and it’s full of little personal touches that really flesh out the bandmates as characters. The concierge ends up being the star of the story, although it’s way too much of a stretch to refer to him as the hero. This is another worthy addition to the Rob Jackson library, so if you’re in the mood to be creeped out more than a little bit, give this one a shot.
Is this the longest book that Rob has done? At 88 pages (according to his website anyway; he doesn’t number his pages and it’s not like I’m going to count them) it has to be close. This is the story of an aspiring writer who goes out to a secluded cabin in the woods to try and find some inspiration. Yes, I’ve seen stories start with this premise before, but believe you me, none of them came close to going the places that this one did. Anyway! Our hero (Bill) tries writing for a few days, has no luck, and eventually runs into the Woodsman as he’s out hunting and laying traps. They slowly strike up a friendship (I’m most likely rounding up a bit with that word), and they get to talking about previous writers that have also used that cabin for inspiration. The Woodsman reveals that they all had similar problems, and he offered each of them a deal: if they write a story for him, they were guaranteed to get back on track with their own books. Bill recognized a few of the names, so clearly the deal worked for them. He thought about it for a few days and agreed to the deal. The next thing Bill knew, he had significantly fewer blank pages in front of him and his writer’s block was gone, so he spent the next two weeks writing what turns out to be his best book yet. Still, the uncertainty haunts him. What happened that night? What did he write for the Woodsman? Surely it wouldn’t hurt to go to the Woodsman’s cabin and take a look, right? This is the point in the review when I can’t say much more, because despite the fact that I’m maybe 20 pages in at this point, there are so many twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil any of them. There’s the question of the nature of the Woodsman, what the other writers remember about their deals, what each of them ended up writing for him, and about a dozen more questions that I’m not even going to mention. It was riveting all the way through, who could ask for anything more? If you’ve somehow made it however many years reading this website without reading one of Rob’s books, this seems like an excellent place to start. No pesky series to get bogged down in and his artwork is as good as it’s ever been. Don’t ask me to do the currency conversion thingie, but I think this would be roughly $13 here in the U.S.
More than once I’ve thought that I should gather up all my old Rob Jackson comics and read them again. The man has been doing this for quite a while now; I’m curious to see what’s changed. If you knew my (nonexistent) organizational system you’d know why that always up just being an idea, but today a second thought struck me: maybe I should go back and read just my reviews for his books. I have to have written at least a couple of dozen reviews of his work over the years, and I’d be astounded if I hadn’t repeated myself in that time, probably several times over. For example, one of the first things I thought while reading this was how impressive Rob’s ability was to create a fully formed world, then move onto something completely different in his next comic and do it all again. This one is filled with characters that bring up a lot of questions, but chances this is all we’ll ever see of them. I should probably get to the comic, right? Right. This is basically one long cooking contest, with the stakes being pretty damned high if our heroes end up as losers. There’s the glutinous ruler, the other contestants, the judges, our hero the clown and his two helpers. Then there’s the meat itself, which is a delightful source of suspicion all the way through the ending. As always with one of Rob’s comics, there was suspense, surprises and more than a few funny bits. Seriously, if you can get through that sample page without laughing, you might be dead inside. Check it out, give the man some money so he keeps making these things. Probably around $6, but I don’t know the exchange rate at the moment…
I’m not sure if I’ve ever offered an alternate title for a comic in a review before (it’s pretty low down on my list of priorities for a great comic), but I’m surprised that Rob didn’t go with the obvious one here: Lute Brute! Granted, you’d have to read the comic for it to make sense, but Rob created a star here, and I for one would love to see an origin comic. Granted, the Lute Brute plays a small part in the proceedings here, but his reign of lutey terror effects just about all of the other characters in one way or another. This is (maybe?) Rob’s first graphic novel, but that’s based on my famously shoddy memory. He had a few series that could have easily been collected into graphic novels, but this is the first one I remember that came out all at once like this. It’s the story of a cast of characters (helpfully labeled on the inside front cover), their dealings with their bosses/rulers, the motivations of the rulers/bosses themselves and how difficult it can be to find good help or competent people in positions of power. Still, one of the main images that’ll stick with me is that of poor Edwardo being terrorized by the “pling” and “plong” sound effects of a lute being angrily wielded. One thing that this page count (roughly 100) does it allow Rob some room to breathe; he’s usually quite verbose, but this time around there are several sections with little to no text, where the action or the setting speaks for itself. It was a thoroughly entertaining read with a few sections where I laughed out loud, which is always a welcome surprise. Give it a shot, one of the most prolific artists in comics today could use your support! $12 (ish)
Beyond Thick Glass, I Saw the Stars
It never ceases to amaze me how far Rob can get from the humble beginnings of a story. This one, for example, starts off simply enough, with a gang of guys waiting for the right moment to strip a car of its tires. Right away the title doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, right? Yeah, you have to wait for the payoff on that one. Anyway, we learn that these guys had been saving money, and they finally have enough to go to “Big Town.” From here we learn that this gang is actually made up of tiny people, and there’s some serious friction with the larger folk. But we also soon learn that there are even larger people involved, and eventually we start to piece together exactly what kind of a society we’re dealing with. They’re forced to retreat to yet another society, which is where we learn exactly how people ended up as different sizes, with different expectations as to what roles they’re meant to fill in society. Oh, and at this point the comic isn’t even halfway done yet. Rob has always excelled at filling his comics with imaginative details, which is even more impressive when you consider that (outside of a few exceptions) he works in single issues, meaning he’s starting over from scratch every time. Anybody who’s looking to excel in comics should take a look at his workload and history, there’s a lot here that should be emulated. About the only negative thing I have to say is the same thing I’ve said a bunch of times probably by now: I wish he had a better command of the your/you’re differences. Oddly, I enjoy his comics so much that I’ve made peace with it. And if you knew how much I enjoyed being a pedant about that sort of thing, you’d understand why that’s such a big deal. Prices are listed in Euros, so in American dollars for this 52 page book I’m guessing… maybe $10? Somewhere around there, anyway. It’s worth a look, so go look at conversion rates. If you give him too much money, just ask him to send along some of his other books to make up the difference…
Slaves of the Megapode #3
Oh Megapode, what exactly are you? That question is answered in this final issue, more or less, and Rob even manages to sneak in an alarming epilogue on the back cover, but I’m getting ahead of myself. In the last issue our heroes were confronted by some Roman soldiers, although that fizzles out without a struggle. They’re arrested and kept under heavy guard, but there are many hidden passages and they manage to escape to get a better look at what’s really happening. From there they uncover where the conspiracy is coming from, which also explains why it’s impossible to do much of anything to stop it. This is also the point where I have to stop talking about the plot or I’ll get into spoilers, and nobody wants that. I’ll say instead that Rob wraps this up in a thoroughly satisfactory fashion; he has more or less mastered the art of the comics trilogy. Unless he’s implying that there’s more to come with that epilogue, in which case never mind. I like to think that he went with that last page to preserve some ambiguity, but I am most definitely not the author, so that’s just a guess. I wonder if Rob has ever considered some sort of personal omnibus? Marvel and DC have been releasing 1000+ pages of certain titles or crossovers, and it’s nice to have everything in one place. Rob certainly has a large enough back catalog that he could put out his own edition. Of course, money would be a big factor, but that’s why Kickstarter exists, right? Anyway, it’s another solid series from the man, and another one that you should check out immediately if you have not already done so.
Slaves of the Megapode #2
“It’s all fun and games until someone is crucified.” You know, sometimes I think I should start these reviews with a quote from the comic, or at least I should when a comic has as many quotable lines as this one. The second issue starts off a little bit after the events of the last one, with our two heroes waking up, unable to be sure about which parts of what they just saw was a dream and what was real. After a conversation about the night in question they eventually find a good place to get a little bit of sleep, where they once again see the Megapode in their dreams. One of them is woken up by a woman who claims to have inside knowledge of it, but she’ll only tell him what is really going on when his cravings get too great to control. He’s already tasted the fruit of this thing, so in theory it’s only a matter of time until the succumbs to it. The rest of the issue has an armed confrontation on the road, the two heroes infiltrating the Megapode cult (and getting exposed to some gas), trying to convince his Roman army that they really should investigate further despite them possibly imagining it all because of the gas, and an ending that I did not see coming at all. Should set things up nicely for the final issue, which I’ll most likely be reviewing next week if all goes according to plan on my end. Which rarely happens, but I live in hope. Either way, this series is another winner from Rob, and when you buy this be on the lookout for the winged penis statue. Yes, it’s in there.
Slaves of the Megapode #1
Are you ready for a mystery involving the Romans set way back when they were a thing? Well, THE thing, really, as their empire lasted for centuries, but in theory you already know that. Anyway! A caravan of Romans arrives to investigate some killings and disappearances. The local authorities are baffled, but a slob of a trained slave (with impeccable training and credentials) comes along to try and help them solve the mystery. As a local official says of the suspects, “I tried crucifying them, I tried not crucifying them. I’m at my wit’s end.” An examination of the body turns up traces of poison, and the chef of the poisoned man kills himself while leaving a note confessing to the crime, but it all feels just a little too convenient. So the investigation continues, a strange substance is discovered, and all that’s left to do is to try it out on a suspect. Best not to say much more about the story for now, but Rob has turned into a master of endings, and this one is no exception. Those last two pages are something else, and they have me all kinds of intrigued to see just what this Megapode is supposed to be. He was also nice enough to send me the entire series, so I’ll be reviewing the next two issues over the next couple of weeks. That breaks with my usual policy of spacing out reviews from the same author, but I’m curious to see where this is going and you’re not the boss of me, so I’ll do what I want! Not that anybody ever actually complained about it or anything…
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.
Anybody who starts with the fourth issue of a series is kind of stupid anyway, but I can’t help but think of at least one poor soul out there who picked this one up without seeing the rest of this series. Maybe they just liked California? Anyway, this poor person would have opened up the comic and seen (on the very first page!) a giant tentacled monster with one eye hovering over a house, a disembodied head bouncing around trying to stay away from the monster, a surprisingly calm family sitting down at a table while the monster smashed the table around them, and the disembodied head bashing into one of people at the table. If this poor soul didn’t spontaneously combust and they made it to the next few panels they would see the head bashing into a few more people at the table and those people vanishing after being struck. At this point I would only hope that they’d stop and go back to read the rest of the series, but hypothetical people can be stubborn. Oh hi, those were spoilers, kind of, for the rest of this series. But they were mostly from the first page of this issue so it’s OK to talk about them. This issues concludes the California saga, and after this one I’d say it’s safe to call it a “saga.” Once again I wish we lived in a world where something like this could be collected and released to wide acclaim, making Rob a wealthy man. But we’re stuck with this world for now, so you should maybe go back and get past issues for this series if you haven’t already. The rest of this issue deals with the horrible monster getting loose in the real world, the missing 200 townspeople, the key to defeating this monster, and the strategies of fighting an invisible monster. It’s a pretty damned great conclusion, all things considered. I loved the creepy teeth in that creature and how they seemed to go on forever, and life continuing to go on as usual so quickly after things wrapped up was nicely done as well. It seems like I’d already declared an older series of Rob’s as my all-time favorite of his (which makes me feel especially stupid for not remembering the name of that series, but it dealt with amusement parts (or my brain has just completely shut down on this topic)), but this one would have to be a close second or third. If you just read the first issue you’d have no idea that things would end this strangely, and that’s exactly how such comics should be done. Check it out and enjoy, and if we all wish hard enough maybe this could magically become a big summer blockbuster movie.
A Handful of Groats
Who likes some good old fashioned mayhem involving knights, mercenaries and castles? Everybody? Excellent. This is the tale of a knight with ambiguous motives who wanders into a small town. This knight goes to the local inn and hears all about the place: it’s being fought over by three people, and their fight is breaking the townsfolk, both financially and physically. So this knight decides that the best way to make a few bucks is by turning these three people even further against each other by killing/kidnapping various members of each group. This is another case where it’s difficult to dig much into anything without giving way too much away, but whether you like your adventure tales grand or maybe not so grand you’ll find plenty to like here. Rob does a great job of plotting everything out intricately while still keeping the allegiances easy for the reader to follow. He’s also come a long way in his depictions of fight scenes, as everything flowed together smoothly from panel to panel. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s really not easy to depict fluid action in a static panel format, and he nailed it. He’s still building an impressive comics library (and he sent along two more books with this, so he’s adding to that library at an impressive pace), and there’s still plenty of stuff in here that just about anybody should at least try out. So hey, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, but maybe think that that show is somehow not quite cynical enough, you’re in luck!
In this issue: shit goes down! There, I’m experimenting with shorter reviews, what with everybody using Twitter and willingly confining themselves to 140 characters per message. Eh, that’s cheating, as I’m assuming people come here to get a little more detail out of their reviews. What’s that? You say it’s mostly just to kill time at work? Fair enough. It’s impossible to say that this is Rob’s strangest comic, because there’s quite a competition for that title, but it’s steadily gaining on his other entries. In this issue Billy confronts Jake in the basement of the church and gets the barest glimpse of what exactly is happening. But when Billy wakes up the next day he discovers that everybody except for the preacher at the other (otherwise abandoned) church has disappeared, he has to go back to his friend from the first issue for advice. And that is when shit goes down. My policy against spoilers has rarely hurt more, but if you think that cover is a rare abstract Rob Jackson cover, nope. That happens in the book, even though you most likely have no idea what’s happening just by looking at it there. Things are “to be continued” again, although I’m guessing from the pace of the story that he meant to say “to be concluded,” but what do I know? This is another impressive series from a man who has built up his own personal library over the last 8 (or so) years, and you should damned well be reading it.
Well, this has gone from being a bit like “Grapes of Wrath” to being a lot closer to something from H.P. Lovecraft. And they go together much better than you may think! In this issue we see a tiny bit more of what’s out there in that forest, the whole family is finally together in California (with a few mysterious stops by Jake along the way), the water that was so suspicious gets made into communion wine, Billy gets a job where he sees a few more suspicious things, and a cellar is uncovered in an old mansion. See, this is there it gets tricky, as I don’t want to tell you anything past “buy this already,” and that failing has dogged me through 11+ years of writing these reviews. So join me as I try, once again, to thread that needle! The story is building up nicely, and the next issue (which Rob was nice enough to include with this one) promises to finally start revealing some of the mysteries. The last few pages, where ____ gets to the ____, were creepy as hell and set up the next issue perfectly. And those creepy glimpses of the _____ in the forest were done very well. So, like I said earlier: buy it already!
Spoiler alert: we never get to see California. This one starts off a lot like “The Grapes of Wrath,” with a family losing their farm and heading out to California in search of better times. They get into an accident on the way (well, an accident on their part; the truck that runs them off the road doesn’t seem to care about them one way or the other), the dad hurts his ankle and is unable to work, and one of the sons ends up taking a job to pay for repairs. While this is going on another one of the sons has taken to wandering off constantly, into the creepy local woods, and generally seems to have trouble concentrating or helping the family. This daydreaming son (Jake) somehow gains the ability to heal people, so he heals his dad and convinces the family to keep on going to California, leaving the other son (Billy) behind so that he can keep paying off their debt. Jake gets noticed by some religious folks in California, the family earns enough money to pay off their debt and get Billy back, and I’m on the verge of describing the whole book to you. We do start to see some very brief hints of what might be happening in that creepy forest, learn about the very human problem that also exists in those woods, and generally have things nicely set up for the next issue. Out of how many issues? Who knows, but Rob has proven in the past that he’s more than capable of juggling a few different series at once. Worth a look, and Rob has already made enough interesting/ridiculous/fantastic series that I’m on board with whatever he wants to try. And yes, I’ll be here to point it out if the whole thing goes off the rails…