This is the highest compliment I can give: Theo Ellsworth is gradually becoming the Jim Woodring for this generation. Not that the current Jim Woodring is out of steam, and Theo (or any other human) still has some work to do before fully capturing that mantle, but he’s well on his way. If you’ve read Theo’s work in the past, you can agree or disagree, but at the very least you should be able to see where I’m coming from. This is also the first time (that I know of) where Theo’s comic is in full color, and it’s as glorious and disturbing as you would imagine. This is the part where I try to describe the comic, and on that count I am going to fail miserably, with the parts I get right mostly coming from the description on the back of the book. This is the story of a very nervous young man right before his “Inner-Space Birth Ritual.” See, I took that right from the description, as I had very little idea of what was happening before reading that. Anyway, keep an eye on the backgrounds throughout your reading of this comic, as there are little touches and/or creatures all over the place. Anyway, our hero finally gets a globe placed onto his head and the ritual begins. culminating in a final page that makes total sense in context, but try showing that to anybody as a single image. Anyway, it’s about rebirth, resistance to change, peer pressure, and I’m just making stuff up now. It’s a visual adventure through the mind of this young man as he undergoes an intense metamorphosis, how about that? It’s a fantastic book, with none of those pesky words cluttering things up, and it’s well worth your time to hunt it down.
A free sampler of some cartoonists you publish?Â What a great idea.Â And not just your average sampler, as the stories in here are self-contained, not just bits of stories to show off the artwork.Â They even have more available!Â It’s a good thing to be this impressed before I even get to the contents.Â Stories in here include Julia Gfrorer’s (and I would love to hear how that’s pronounced) story about getting killed by the chief man-witch and having to babysit for his child, Andrice Arp’s tale of a creep on an Amtrak train getting shot down, Zack Soto’s quiet piece about a relationship falling apart (told as an actual physical beating), Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg’s story of a cat trying to figure out the treat it got on Thanksgiving that was the best thing ever (and its sorrow at never being able to get said treat again due to the ethical constraints of its vegetarian owner), Farel Dalrymple’s piece on a botched magic spell and a girl who beats up boys on a regular basis (the only story that was a “part 2”, but it held up fine by itself) and a silent sleepy story by Theo Ellsworth.Â On the Spark Plug website they say that it’s available for $.01 and postage, but I’ll bet if you ordered a healthy stack of comics from them and asked politely they’d probably throw a copy in for you.Â Or maybe Nerd Burglar is better (as it’s also free), but I haven’t seen that one yet and this one if fine by itself.Â Any time I get a story told from the perspective of a cat I’m happy, as I’m apparently slowly turning into a middle aged woman.Â I still only own one cat though, so all hope isn’t lost for me yet…
Probably the toughest thing about this “job” is reading something that is absolutely brilliant, existing in its own world and needing no further explanation or description… and then rambling about it for a paragraph or so.Â This, like damned near everything I’ve seen from Secret Acres (what do they feed those people anyway?) is an utterly unique and fascinating thing.Â It’s ostensibly a collection of the seven Capacity mini comics, but Theo takes the whole process apart and explains why everything happened the way it did, all the while never leaving his bizarre, only mildly realistic idea of the world.Â The book starts with the reader pulled right onto the page, literally, as he often addresses _______ (your name here).Â Instructions are given at various times as to how to improve your reading experience, and “you” end up being pivotal to how he solves all his problems.Â If you think any of this sounds boring or ridiculous… OK, it may be mildly ridiculous, but never anything less than completely engrossing.Â Theo’s version of reality only barely resembles any commonly accepted notion, and it’s a delight seeing where his brain takes him from page to page.Â This is one of those rare books where just about anything would make an excellent sample, so in narrowing it down to one I just took one of the most gorgeous images in the book… and I can’t believe I’ve rambled this long without mentioning the art.Â Stunning, impossibly intricate, mesmerizing, and plenty of other words that haven’t been invented yet.Â I have no idea how he spends so much time in his own head coming up with these stories when each page much take him days and days to draw.Â As for the story, we follow Theo as he tries to “do something” (the seven issues of Capacity), all while taking criticisms way too much to heart, and exploring every corner of his brain.Â He also has a loop at the end where time goes back to the start of the book, but I don’t want to ruin anything.Â And yes, that includes talking about the actual contents too much.Â His website has loads of samples if you somehow have doubts about his art after viewing the sample, and seriously, these Secret Acres people need to know that their work is being appreciated, and that means buying their graphic novels.Â Hey, it’s almost the holidays, you must know somebody who still reads.Â Oh, and have I mentioned that this thing is a mammoth 336 pages?Â $15
It’s always a good day when I get a new comic from Secret Acres.Â Sorry if that sounds exactly like the start of a commercial about Secret Acres, probably with Wilford Brimley sitting at a kitchen table reading from a teleprompter, but it’s the truth.Â One thing that has changed about my comic reading habit since starting this website is that I get the bulk of my comics through the mail now, so of course it’s a good thing when one publisher, like this or Shortpants Press, is pretty much guaranteed to be good.Â This is an excellent comic for anybody who was too scared of committing to a graphic novel to read Theo’s work, even though that’s a silly attitude to take and you should be at least mildly embarrassed by it.Â There are many short pieces in here, dealing with a literal sleeper car, a car that collects information from a giant sleeping creature (not, however, using the sleeper car from the cover), how to build a pajama tent, Theo’s conviction about the 220nd President of the U.S., the creepiest train ride you’ll ever see, making it all the way to a big empty room, and a visual depiction of what happens when you let your mind wander waiting for a train.Â These remarkable pieces would be enough for most comics, but wait, there’s more!Â The main piece of the book deals with two robots making a bet.Â One of them believes in the existence of living, breathing gnomes and one does not, so once the parameters of the bet are laid out, the first robot detaches his head and flies off to find the gnomes.Â What follows is pages of that rarest of things: robot humor.Â Nobody does it better than Theo, or really much at all that I’ve seen.Â What you end up with is a book that is gorgeous and disturbing, funny and thought-provoking, wistful and disconnected.Â Or possibly all of those things, or maybe even none, as few things defy description more than Theo’s work.Â All I know for sure is that it needs to be read and enjoyed by everyone who still loves reading comic books, as nobody else is doing anything like this.Â $6