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Ford, Sean – Shadow Hills

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Shadow Hills (you can buy the book through this link when it comes out in September 2023)

What’s that you say, Secret Acres? You have a sneak preview of a book coming out at SPX this year from the guy who made Only Skin, one of my favorite small press series of the last decade or so? Why yes, I am interested in reading it! Getting this book also made me realize that I probably never did read the ending for that series, since I got it issue by issue, but that’s a me problem. As for Shadow Hills, there’s a whole lot going on in this one, with a wide cast of characters. Things start off with a young boy walking through a wasteland, until finally passing out after he sees a nearby town. A young girl finds him and brings him home to help him, discovering that he can’t (or won’t) talk. We also learn her name, which is a clue I missed the first time around (even though it’s clearly meant to be obvious, making me a dummy), so keep an eye out. From there we jump to today (as “today” is usually defined in books), as a young woman named Anne goes through town and meets several of the residents. One other resident is missing, and towards the end of the first chapter we see her trying to make her way back to town as a mysterious black goo is enveloping her, seemingly from the inside out. From there the cops get involved, we meet several more townspeople, occasionally flash back again to Dana and the mysterious silent boy, and the menace of the goo steadily ramps up. That’s one thing that Sean has done spectacularly well here: the pacing. We get plenty of time with the town, seeing how it’s supposed to run in an average day, before things start spinning out of control. We learn about years old rivalries, best friends, what happens to Anne and her mother after her sister disappears as a child, along with the slow but steady drumbeat of a feeling that there’s just not going to be a way to solve this problem. Do they manage it? Well, the answer to that is a long time coming, and you’re not going to hear it from me. This book is a terrifying masterpiece, and yet another chance to wish that I had a pile of money that I could give to artists like Sean so they could spend as much time as they wanted making art like this. Or whatever they’d like, really, but you get my meaning. I don’t do ratings for my reviews, but this one gets my super duper fantabulous ranking, and you know what that means! …it means you should check it out when it comes out. Obviously! $23.95

Mendes, Melissa (editor) – Can’t Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine



Can’t Lose

I’ve read plenty of anthologies over the years that I’ve been writing reviews here, but very few of them could qualify as a love letter. This comic here? That’s exactly what it is. This is 20 of some of the best artists going right now, and they all have one thing in common: an obvious love of the tv show Friday Night Lights. If you’ve never heard of this show, or if you dismissed it out of hand because “it’s about high school football,” all I can say is that you missed out. There’s still time to fix your mistake, as it’s still on Netflix as of May 2016; just watch the first few episodes and try not to get hooked. Or maybe the fact that so many great artists came together for this project will clue you in to how great of a show it was, I don’t know. Does it seem like I’m not reviewing the stories? Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’m just trying to convert the last few decent people in the world who haven’t already seen this show. Frankly, I remember most of the stories as giant hearts on the page, so it’s tough to write anything mildly intelligent about that. OK, I’ll flip through this again. Highlights include the Tim Riggins cut-out doll as the centerfold (comes with different outfits!), Tim Riggins in the year 2050, a story about young Billy Riggins, the conversion of a skeptic into a fan of the show, how the team playbook got leaked to a rival, a growing rage of somebody trying to convert friends as they get increasingly sleepy while watching the show, and Coach Taylor sitting on the Iron Throne. Seriously, if nothing else, just look at that list of artists and give it a shot for that reason alone. Or do it the right way: watch the series, then go back and enjoy this fanzine. I’m not going to close with the team motto right here, but know that I am thinking it.


Ford, Sean – Only Skin #6


Only Skin #6

One thing I’ve never managed to figure out in ten years of doing this site is how much information to relate in a review. Sure, it’s good for people who have also read the issue to be able to read along and nod their heads at various points (or curse loudly, depending on the point). And for a series like this, you’ve either already picked it up and gotten hooked or you’re never going to give it a chance.  But that’s not entirely accurate, is it?  Somebody who reads small press comics sparingly and comes here once every few years might stumble across this review today, be intrigued and not want anything spoiled. Then again, I read the whole series before reviewing #5, so I gave plenty of information away in that review, which somebody might check out if they were intrigued by this issue.  Maybe the answer is that I worry far too much about stuff like this when the vast majority of people coming here just want to find out about a few new comics with a minimum of bullshit coming from me?  I’ll admit, that does sound plausible, so I’ll try to walk a fine line here.  In this issue we do find out the identity of the main ghost, we learn how he became that ghost, the other ghosts play a much bigger role (and I didn’t notice last time around that these ghosts have arms and legs while the original one does not), it turns out that Jordan knows a whole lot about what’s been going on, there’s more violence than in probably every other issue combined, we get a reunion that was a long time coming, and the shit seems to be very definitely hitting the fan. There, that seems vague enough to not give everything away.  I’m not sure how much longer this series is going to go, as it seems to be heading towards a conclusion, but Sean deserves all the credit in the world for coming up with this idea and sticking with it.  It’s way too easy to see things logically and financially and give up on comics when you’re halfway through a story; it happens all the time.  But that’s not how genuine artistic achievements get done, and I think Sean is well on his way to pulling that off.  Well, unless we learn that it was all a dream in the end….  $5

Ford, Sean – Only Skin #5


Only Skin #5

Well that sure cleared a lot of things up.  I went back and read the first four issues of this series again and came away even more impressed with Sean’s attention to detail.  Cassie and Clay, for example, were clearly named because their father has a poster up in his apartment of Cassius Clay, it’s starting to look like Paul is going to play more of crucial role in this series than I had originally thought (based on new information about his medical condition and the fact that we still don’t know exactly why we moved to town), the sheriff’s insistence of sticking to the book and trying to arrest trespassers for going into the forest is going to get them all killed, and Albert is looking more and more shady all the time.  Oh, and Sean’s skills as an artist improved tremendously from the first issue, even though I don’t recall thinking it looked bad to begin with.  So what happens this issue?  Jordan drags Clay further into the forest, more ghosts are discovered, the identity of the original ghost is still not determined (although it sure seems like it’s their dad), Rachel is determined to be the textbook definition of a home-wrecker, that deer they hit at the end of the last issue has mysteriously vanished, and Cassie starts her own journey into the forest (on foot).  And I think I complained about the pace in which these issues come out in the last review, but looking back this is the fifth issue at the start of 2010 and the series started in 2007, so that’s a pace of better than an issue a year.  Blistering speed for most small press series, and it’s not like Sean is able to make a living off this stuff (yet, he sure has the talent to do so eventually), so I shouldn’t complain.  It’s mostly because this is such a fascinating series, and finally reading them all in a chunk really brings home how great this is going to be as a graphic novel.  But that can’t happen until the whole series comes out, or until he has enough of this done to make sense as a self-contained story, so I’m all for keeping up the gentle nudging to help make that happen.  $4

Various I Know Joe Kimple Anthologies – Trivial




Huzzah for another anthology from the I Know Joe Kimpel crew!  Crap, did I give away my reaction already?  Oh well.  This is, as the title suggests, the depiction of 4 trivial events, often wrapped in far more dramatic events.  Well, five, as Sean Ford has two short pieces.  First up is a piece by Alexis Frederick-Frost about the second expedition to the South Pole (and no, I have no idea if this is fictional or not).  He narrows in on an ongoing discussion among the group members about various dishes they’re inventing, continuing their arguments even while facing death.  Next up is a creepy piece by Alex Kim which deals with the lead character relating his dream of his hands becoming giant sized and essentially going on a rampage.  The piece by A.L. Arnold is my runaway favorite of the anthology, as it depicts a wordless struggle (unless you count grunts as words) between the last remaining protector of the earth and a particularly stubborn meteorite.  The utterly thankless nature of the job, the grim resignation of the protector and that tremendous ending all make this a wonderful thing, and makes me wonder why I haven’t seen more from this guy.  Or girl, as A.L. could be anything.  Finally there’s the two pieces by Sean Ford, who everybody around here already knows as the man behind the series that is taking the small press world by storm, Only Skin.  These pieces don’t reveal any of the mysteries of that series, as they’re just conversations between the ghost and Clay, as the ghost tries to get Clay to poison a girl (due to his own hatred of the world) and reminisces about times he’s never had drinking in a cemetery.  This is another solid anthology, and I’m still mildly surprised when anthologies don’t have at least one weak piece in the collection.  So it’s great and they managed to keep it at an affordable (for the impressive packaging anyway) $5.  Hard to ask for much more than that.


Ford, Sean – Only Skin #4



Only Skin #4

Here we have a fine example of the perils of a continuing small press series.  This is the first issue in about two years (well, the first update of this page in two years anyway, I don’t know exactly when this came out) and it is an “in between” issue.  That means that in the course of a longer series, this sort of an issue is absolutely necessary.  When it’s the only issue in two years, it’s at least mildly maddening.  Things are certainly getting closer to a resolution this time around with Paul still out searching for Albert, Clay learning that the ghost he’s seeing wants to die (without either of them having a clue how to make such a thing happen), Cassie taking the survivor out to search for her brother, and the survivor telling the tale of how she got away.  We also see (and this can’t possibly be a spoiler if you can see it on the cover) the a large chunk of the forest is dead, but we still don’t know why.  The pacing is pitch perfect, as everybody in their own little adventure is coming to a place of realization, but damn it if I’m not a little bit impatient.  Human nature, I suppose, and I’m sure it’ll all fit together perfectly eventually.  For now, and I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record on this page, this comic should be required reading for everybody who reads these things.  $4


Ford, Sean – Only Skin #3


Only Skin #3

Looking at this page, it just now occurred to me that I’m only using samples involving Clay and the ghost. Not sure why that is, as they only take up a little sliver of the storyline. It could be because I don’t want to give away a hint of the complex, sprawling story in these reviews and so pick only the images that’ll have the fewest “spoilers”. Or it could simply be because I love that little ghost. Either way, another issue of my new favorite comic is here and yes, if there was any doubt, Sean knows exactly what he’s doing here. The young woman in the hospital gown (and how she fits into the picture), just what that ghost is after, Paul trying to find Albert, everything takes a hefty leap forward. I’ll well aware of the fact that I praise books a little too easily around here, and so maybe don’t get taken seriously when I say a series is tremendous, one of the best I’ve seen, but… I have been reading comics for 20+ years and, in every measurable aspect of these things, this is one of the best series that I’ve ever seen. Anybody who stops by the site to check out quality comics and hasn’t looked at this yet is missing out, plain and simple. $4

Ford, Sean – Only Skin #2


Only Skin #2

Well, this might be a new record in the comics world. This is the second issue of the series and I already unreservedly love it. The timing of the slow revelations, the art, the genuine sense of slow, constant terror that hangs over the whole town, everything is absolutely pitch perfect. Any sense of “well, I’ll give this a chance for a few more issues” is gone, replaced by a sudden and rabid devotion. It would take the literary equivalent of a Paris Hilton guest appearance to drive me away, and even then I might find a way to rationalize it. So what’s this particular issue about? Without giving anything away, because everybody deserves to unravel this for themselves, this one deals with the mysterious girl from the last issue, a news conference in the town, Albert having a really bad idea, Clay (Cassie’s brother) getting a few more answers out of the floating ghost, and another missing person. I’m gushing more than a little bit here so I’ll wrap it up, but anybody who loves comics that is passing this up for some reason is only hurting themselves. $4

Ford, Sean – Only Skin #1


Only Skin #1

Every time I even start to think I’m getting sick of doing this website, a comic like this comes along that reminds me how lucky I am. I mean, I get random comics in the mail all the time, from all over the world (OK, mostly from the U.S., but still). Bitching about any of it makes no sense at all when I look at it that way. What’s so great about this comic? It’s obviously the start of something much bigger, which always piques my interest because it means the author has big plans. And when those plans are laid out as expertly as they are here, well, he automatically has a grace period of a few more issues even if those suddenly somehow drop off in quality after this one. This is the story of a small town in the middle of nowhere that just so happens to have people disappearing at a pretty steady rate. Cassie and her young brother come to town to help run the family gas station after their father disappears. Things get off to an awkward start when they show up at the gas station and find the police, trying to figure out why there are fingers lying on the ground. Everything is a slow build from there, with the little boy running into a ghostly figure that may or may not be his father (or may have escaped from a Pacman game), Cassie trying to get settled in and the townspeople slowly coming to a boil over all the disappearances. There’s much still to be discovered here, and I can’t wait to see it. The art is fantastic, the pacing is perfect for a mystery like this and it looks (from his website anyway) that this may be his first comic. Great stuff, and a bargain at $4 for something this big.