It’s can’t be easy to write in a compelling fashion about ambivalence. Don’t get me wrong, Rob and John clearly love each other a whole lot (it’s adorable how Rob feels like he must have met John somewhere before, because it just feels like this guy has always been a part in his life), but neither of them had much interest in the institution of marriage. And yet! Should I maybe mention what this book is about, especially since it’s not going to be out for another couple of months as of this writing? This is the story of Rob and John’s marriage back in 2013 (on my birthday, which has no relevance to the book), how it came about, their attitudes about it, and what decided them on the concept. And, at its core, it’s about how the practical arguments for marriage ended up winning out in the end. Well, it’s also about the societal obstacles to their marriage (it wasn’t legal in all 50 states in 2013, which still seems shocking, but it was legal in Minnesota at least), their lives before and after, and Ginger, maybe the cutest dog in the world. Granted, I say that about most dogs, but it’s also usually true. I tend to veer away from “spoilers,” which maybe doesn’t apply in this case because they end up getting married, but there’s also the fact that this book isn’t out yet, so what’s the point in telling you all about something that you couldn’t possible read for another couple of months? Gloating, because I have a review copy and you (probably) don’t? Sure, I’m just petty enough for that to be a factor, but I’m still not going to give in to it. But to go back to what I said at the beginning, this is a story of ambivalence, and it’s still incredibly compelling throughout. I mean, Rob was planning on putting in half a day of work on his wedding day because the actual wedding wasn’t until 4:30pm, if that tells you anything. He also talks about the first married gay couple of the US, way back in 1971, believe it or not. Was there trickery involved? You’d better believe it! But it was for a good cause, and it was funny watching them turn bureaucracy against itself. Finally, he ended this book with a beautiful story about the two of them, and this one I’m not even going to give a hint about. But it was wonderfully done, and it did a great job of tying the whole story together. So basically what I’m saying is that you should rush out and buy this when it’s available, and if you’re the impatient type I’d recommend a few of his anthologies while you wait. Oh, and Rob, if you’re reading this, I didn’t notice any typos, and I’m usually a bloodhound for that sort of thing. So you’re in the clear on that front! $21.95
Damn, now that’s how you put together a fantastic anthology. The stories in here are of various lengths, but it gets going with a 20 page story by Eric Orner dealing with his coming to terms with his sexuality, dating a woman in college, having a right wing nut of a father and generally not having much of a source to educate himself about being gay. The social progress this country has gone through in the last five years on this front has been staggering (it’s like the majority of the country realized all at once that they were being homophobic assholes and all decided to stop and pretend like it never happened), but it’s stories like Eric’s that remind the youngsters that there were very few options when you were growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s. The closet was a lifesaver back in those days. Anyway, I’m rambling, and I haven’t even gotten to the other 32 (!) creators in here. Highlights include (and I don’t think there’s a single actively bad story in here, for the record) Annie Murphy’s story about her elderly closeted relatives and wondering what their lives were like, Marinaomi’s first time being an awkward threesome, Ed Nuce and the rules of survival at death metal shows, Dylan Edwards and his childhood friend who referred to his Transformers toys with headlights in robot form as women to try to even out the gender imbalance, Justin Hall’s story about dating a man with (unbeknownst to him) serious mental issues while Justin just thought the guy was trying to work out his life, Jennifer Camper’s hardboiled detective story, Terrance Griep’s most painful wrestling injury, Edie Fake’s hilarious two pages of jokes told by somebody trying to pay to get into a sex show, Steve MacIsaac’s coming face to face with his childhood bully and the unlikely way the conversation ended up going, Andy Hartzell’s story of Pvt. Manning (in his own words) talking about his potential gender reassignment surgery on top of trying to come to terms with his conscience about all of the awful things he knew that the U.S. was doing around the world, Carrie McNinch’s first summer love, and Sasha Steinberg’s triumphant tale of a drag queen buying panty hose. That’s right, I somehow didn’t mention Howard Cruse (who’s been at this for decades and who at least partially started gay comics in general), Craig Bostick, L. Nichols or Rob Kirby, all favorites of mine. So that should tell you the level of quality you’re going to be getting here, right? Oh, and since I’ve been cranky about it in past anthologies, I should mention that Rob does everything right in editing this thing. Creator names at the top of every page? Brilliant! Check it out and enjoy, but set aside an afternoon for it, as this here is a hefty pile of stories. $29.99
Has the theme of falling on your face/ass/other ever been the subject of a comics anthology before? I can’t think of one, but it’s such a natural fit. This naturally made me think of various falls in my life, and I kept coming back to one what wasn’t really a fall and also wasn’t me. I was walking with a couple of friends on an icy road years ago. One of these friends is 6’6”, and my other friend and I noticed him start to slide. This is one of those moments when time slows down, but after the fact we would both swear that he had fallen far enough backwards for the back of his head to slide on the ground, but he somehow more or less kept his balance and never did completely fall. Not sure even today if that’s a good story or a “you had to be there” story, but it’s notable that I still remember it maybe 15 years later. Anyway! The point of that story is that it’s impossible to read this comic without thinking of pratfalls you know and love, and Rob has assembled quite a talented bunch here to tell their stories. There’s Carrie McNinch’s story of getting her thumb slammed in the door (and her mother driving away with said thumb stuck in the door), Becky Hawkins and her amazing collection of bruises and cuts (not the mention her ridiculously unlucky landing spot), Aron Nels Steinke almost knocking his eye out, Tessa Brunton’s spectacular rolling fall, John Porcellino’s skateboarding mess, Jason Viola’s trip to Russia and the impression he must have left with some of those people, Noah Van Sciver and his preventative precautions taken to prevent ever being hurt again, Cara Bean’s skiing “mishap”, MariNaomi’s bowling injury (yes, it is possible), the cat of Gabrielle Gamboa taking her eyebrow, Tony Breed getting away with one, Max Clotfelter getting seriously punched, and the causes of Rob Kirby’s various scars from waiting tables. With a list of talent like that I doubt that I have to do much convincing, so just do yourself a favor and pick this up. Then, if you haven’t already, work your way back through the older comics of these folks. You deserve it! $5
Comic conventions! Maybe you’re one of the people who only go to conventions to buy comics and don’t create them yourself, but have you ever wondered about life on the other side of the table? Not really? Well, you really should try putting yourself in their shoes for a few minutes. This anthology has all kinds of stories from conventions, good and bad, from some of the champions of small press comics (if the industry had formal champions, which they should maybe think about doing). Stories in here include Max Clotfelter’s first time working a table when he was a kid, Cara Bean and Sara Carson’s long road to a triumphant show, Kelly Froh’s two worst shows (I hope), Carrie McNinch’s problem with shyness, Rob Kirby’s mostly bad day (but with plenty of good things in it, like the progressive redneck parents), Mark Campos’ ingenious trick to selling original art, Aron Nels Steinke dealing with a friend getting a tv deal while having a slow day himself (along with dealing with an annoying kid), Gabrielle Gamboa’s hilariously illustrated conversations among cartoonists, Justin Hall’s description of finally getting the sale after talking a guy into it for 20 minutes, Tony Breed dealing with putting a book together and the reality of the show, Matt Moses and Jeff Worby narrowly avoiding a beating/murder, Zine Crush trying to get a copy of their zine to the object of their crush without being obvious about it, Rick Worley learning the truth about Dash Shaw, Jason Martin showing the good and the bad and John Porcellino showing us the weather paradox at cons. Oh, and a bonus piece by Kelly Froh (I’m almost positive) showing us the moment at a con when her spirit leaves her body. I’ve seen plenty of comics about convention horror stories in my years of reviewing these things, so I was a little nervous about a whole anthology on the subject, but that was silly of me. This whole thing is full of goodness, and should probably be handed out to obvious first-timers as they walk into cons as a public service. $4
Snack Pak #1
Huzzah for diary strips! Yes, I am aware of the fact that I go back and forth on this subject on a fairly regular basis, so let me clarify: huzzah for thoughtful, professionally drawn (as in “not drawn in a rush while drunk to keep up with some arbitrary schedule”) diary strips! Rob was already more or less working with the format, then he got challenged online to do more of them, so he started posting them every few days here, every few weeks there. Or did he do daily strips and only post the “good” ones in this comic? Checking over his website… nope, looks like he put them all in here. Glad that’s settled! Stories in here include the time that he fainted on a plane (as somebody who once fainted maybe 12 years ago and STILL has no idea what the hell that was all about, I sympathize) and the reactions of the people around him, being creeped out by a certain building while going for walks, a compact retelling of his experiences at CAKE last year, the annoyance of coming home to a computer after spending all day at work on one, sights seen on a bike ride, a quiet walk after picking up lunch, the art of gradually waking up from a nap, the mystery of the ceiling tag, the abandoned rolodex, the stairs to nowhere, how roller coasters are getting so much more “extreme,” a diversion into a graveyard, having a birthday at SPX, wishing he could live like that forever, the wonder of coffee in a paper cup, a benefit for an amendment about marriage equality, a vacation to Cancun, tales of vomiting past, the shitty winter months, and a bevy of movie quotes. And if you think those descriptions ruined your enjoyment of the comics, you’re in luck! I mostly described a single panel from his six panel strips, and they usually covered a wide range of subjects, so there’s still plenty in here for you to discover. Oh, and the pages are glossy the art is gorgeous. Sure, there’s maybe an occasional reaching for a decent story that comes with the territory when dealing with diary strips, but I’d say he found it much more often than not. $5
Ginger the Wonder Dog
A cautionary tale before I get started: there’s a fine line between packaging your comics so that they’ll be safe from the vagaries of postal workers and packing them too tightly for me to get at them without risk of damaging the books. You might not even be able to see it on the scan (I stopped quickly when I realized what was happening), but this book was so solidly packaged that I made a nice long tear along the top of it just trying to get the book out. I wish I had the perfect answer to give you on this one, but a good rule of thumb is to imagine what somebody would have to do to open a package as you are putting it together. Now that my scolding for the day is out of the way, who likes dogs? I’ve always been more of a cat person, but a few dogs in my life have definitely won me over in a big way and I totally understand the person who likes them more than cats. This is a collection of stories about Ginger, with a few guest artists coming in towards the end with their own interpretations of certain stories. Rob starts with a pictorial list of all of the dogs he’s had over the years with some brief commentary and ends with a list of all of his favorite dog stories in comics. He’s right, #38 of King Cat (which was apparently reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly a few years back if you’re interested, and you should be) was the greatest family dog story ever. Anyway, stories in here include Ginger’s awkward way of greeting new people, a day in the life of the “neighborhood patrol,” the inevitable meeting with a skunk, an adapted poem that sums up dog thoughts nicely, and a short list of pros and cons. The agree of adorableness in this book will vary based on your opinion of dogs, but even the biggest dog hater in the world would have to crack a smile at a few of these stories. Well worth a look for people of all pet dispositions and pretty much indispensable for dog lovers. As always, there’s a solid chunk of samples up at his website if you’re on the fence. No price listed though, so I’m going with $3 as my random guess.