Friday, May 31, 2013

Review -- REPTILE MUSEUM #2

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Reptile Museum #2
(Cody Pickrodt; Ray Ray Books)
4/5 stars
Last time I talked about Cody Pickrodt's Reptile Museum, I compared it to a doorway, one which swings wide to let you in to a world of potential. The first issue was all about world building, scene setting, and initial character introduction.


Issue 2 continues along this vein, adding to each part of the storytelling. Pickrodt's world expands as we are brought to the actual Reptile Museum; characters are introduced -- like Olgethorpe and Gristin Gray -- and we learn a little more about our protagonist. His name is Pants, the Prince of all Things that Creep, our Common Shaman, the Seawanderer, and they say he killed his mother. We also learn what happened to the dogs.
Did I mention that the hero of this book is named Pants?


Pickrodt is doing some interesting things with this series, certainly in terms of the story he is telling, but more importantly with how he is telling it. Pickrodt eschews the classic panel structure of traditional comic book making, and instead works on open pages without boundaries, organizing each in such a way to capitalize on the reader's supposed  natural inclination to decode left to right, top to bottom. I'm wondering, though, how this structure would work with someone unfamiliar with how to read comics. The layout relies on prior knowledge, understanding how narration works in this medium. For those of us who do understand this, though, Pickrodt's choice of panel-less pages works flawlessly, adding another level of participation and interaction between reader and creator.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review -- X #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

X #1
(Duane Swierczynski, Eric Nguyen, Michelle Madsen; Dark Horse)
3/5 stars
Last time I reviewed X, it was a Zero issue and there was a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. Now we got us an honest to goodness FIRST ISSUE and… well… in this book there's a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. OK, maybe not the sausage part, but still...
What separates this first issue from the previous zero issue, though, is that there seems to be an actual plot developing -- a narrative with some purpose. Who is this mysterious X? What does he have against ham faced hoodlums? Why are the Arcadian police trying to cover up his existence? You know, it raises the kind of questions you ask when confronted with the beginning of a story.
And Swierczynski actually introduces a narrative center, a character that serves as our access point to get our questions answered. Boldly breaking new ground, Swierczynski casts his narrative center as a plucky, down-on-her-luck female reporter. Leigh Ferguson used to work for Arcadia's Evening Journal until she got fired (for being too plucky, perhaps) and is now pursuing the kind of stories her corporate overlords wouldn't touch before. She's got an actual BLOG, baby, and writes her posts using the nom-de-plume The Last Muckraker
Damn, that's plucky.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review -- POOP OFFICE #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Poop Office #1
(Ben Pooped; Naked Grape)
2/5 stars
Poop Office is a collection of short gag comics revolving around office politics. The hook to this book, though, is that it's a Poop Office, staffed entirely by poop. Seriously, this is a workplace farce populated by talking turds. That's right, it's a shitty Dilbert, and if I was seven years old, I might think this is THE GREATEST FUCKING THING EVER
But I'm not seven years old. I am a grown man of serious intent and perhaps not the target market for this crap.


For the rest of this review, I am going to refrain from spreading further fecal puns. Poop Office does enough of this. To whit: The main character, Poopert, works for Mr. Poopson at the Poop Office. They have a Poopluck lunch consisting of Pooritos and Poop Tarts, and hang around the Pee-Pee Cooler when they are not filling out Turdsheets and Poopress Reports. They have Staph Meetings where they discuss the Buttget, and, after work, they go to the bar and drink during Crappy Hour.
SERIOUSLY! This is what you get when you read Poop Office. The book even ends with a Fumetti photo comic featuring real poop. This is not highbrow. It's not even lowbrow. A matter of fact, I don't even know what this is.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Convenient Truths -- HAPPY


Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2011's Happy directed by Roko Belic


Elkin: To quote the Rolling Stones:
Well I never kept a dollar past sunset,
It always burned a hole in my pants.
Are you happy now? No? What about now? Still not? What's wrong with you? Fuck you for being miserable! Don't you know that you will live longer and more people will like you if you are happy? 
I mean if misery loves company, then happiness loves a party. As the Partridge Family once admonished you, “Come On Get Happy!”
I just finished watching Roko Belic's 2011 documentary Happy and according to it, being happy is a choice and something that I can will into being. Both of these things sound pretty good, right? Belic certainly thinks so, and he should know because he's an Academy Award nominee and Sundance Award winner.
Happy travels around the world, from Louisiana to Namibia to Brazil to Bhutan to India, finding a bunch of happy people. It then proceeds to tell you how happy these people are. It also interviews a bunch of “the world's leading happiness researchers” who tell you all about the benefits of being happy, how happiness works and what you (YES, YOU) can do to be happier.
Because your misery is bringing us all down, baby, especially you (apparently).
So Sacks, you're the one who picked this film. What about it made you so happy?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Review -- CRYING IN FRONT OF YOUR DOG AND OTHER STORIES

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin


Nick Hanover: It's often odd to think that cartoon strips gave birth to the comic form as we know it. Intended as a cash-in on the success of the strips in the early 20th century, comic books were merely reprints of the funnies from publishers hoping to coerce a readership mostly comprised of children and uneducated immigrants into giving away their last pennies. But they didn't really succeed until cartoonists began adapting to the new format and in the process gave birth to an entirely new medium. The modern era hasn't exactly erased that history, but as cartoon strips and the newspapers and magazines that house them succumb to the evolution of media in our culture, their legacy is more clearly felt in online comics and the work of people like Phil McAndrew.
McAndrew's new book Crying in Front of Your Dog and Other Stories collects two eras of material from the creator, the first a series of longer, more narrative works from 2008 and 2009 when McAndrew lived in Syracuse, NY while the second is a batch of short, gag heavy material from 2011 and 2012 when the artist lived in San Diego, CA. Though both eras are similar in tone and structure, McAndrew has vastly different goals with each, albeit goals that intersect and recall cartoon strips both new and old. The latter material in particular recalls the work Shannon Wheeler has done for The New Yorker, with its emphasis on surreal yet often tranquil moments; the two artists' may feature contrasting styles, but you sense that they pull their comedy from a similar place, whether it's stray conversations heard out of context or bizarre imagery noticed during every day life.
The beginning half of the book has its own surreality -- most notably a man's quest to become more manly, which involves a test by drum solo and a mustache that can spontaneously generate motorcycles -- but McAndrew fills it with quiet spaces and moments of intense minimalism, where the gag is the repetition itself. When we talk about pacing in modern comics, we often mean the cinematic tricks that have been pulled into mainstream work, which emphasize nonexistent camera movements and force the eye to wander down a path predetermined by the writer and artist. But McAndrew is the master of a different kind of pacing, a kind that emphasizes the page and encourages the reader to determine the pace themselves. McAndrew keeps his pages mostly uncluttered, but there's a frenzy to his work that is immensely pleasing and eye catching, like a bit about a voyeuristic ghost whose visage is unsettling, sure, but also pretty goofy. It works because the frenzy is an intrusion on his otherwise peaceful art, and in the case of the ghost, everything except for the unnatural force is scratchy and uncertain while our voyeuristic, ectoplasmic friend is a bright white beacon of calm.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review -- VIDDY WELL, BROTHER and BUDD & LUU PART 1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin


No matter what you may think of Australian comics creator Frank Candiloro, one thing you can't argue with is the fact that, bejeezus, the fellow sure is prolific. I mean, I think I took a nap for a couple of hours and in that time he produced two new books, Viddy Well, Brother and Budd & Luu Part 1.
As my other reviews of his books will attestCandiloro has a particular style. Up until now, I've been calling it his "signature black and white 'German Expressionism, wood-block print, indie wonk vibe'" and while I guess this is a pretty accurate description, I'd like to go a little further in describing it. It is unique in my experience and I feel it demands further attention.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review -- THE VICTORIES #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

The Victories #1
(Michael Avon Oeming, Nick Filardi; Dark Horse)
4.5/5 stars
I was convinced that were I to read a ANOTHER comic about ANOTHER superhero team trying to save the world by beating the crap out of ANOTHER over-powered Douche Canoe, I would start either foaming at the mouth uncontrollably while having full-body spasms akin to twerking OR give up reading comics altogether.
That's how bad it has gotten for me.
Then Djeljosevic sent me The Victories to review. I read it fully expecting to foam/twerk or quit, but surprisingly neither of these things happened.
Because this is a good comic.
For some reason I think I like it when my heroes are more fucked up than I am, and The Victories seems to be an entire superhero team of damage cases. And yet, still, despite all their flaws they persist in being heroes -- acting in a heroic manner -- saving the day and all that -- for no other reason that I can discern except it is "what you do" when you have super powers. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review -- LIFE THROUGH THE LENS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Life Through The Lens
(Kent Olsen, Sabine ten Lohuis)
4/5 stars
Life Through the Lens is a comic about two Chicago-based film critics who are struggling to separate fiction from reality in their lives. As a new year begins, they find themselves at some sort of pivotal moment in which ideas about narrative form and the actual narrative of their lives seem to overlap, and, in this, they become disassociated from each other as well as their own sense of self. It's a book thick with ideas, references, and subtle meta-textual tricks.  It's the kind of book you would expect from someone who majored in both philosophy and film studies.
Luckily writer Kent Olsen is that someone.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Review -- EAST OF WEST #2

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
East of West #2
(Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin; Image)
4.5/5 Stars
When reviewing East of West #1, CB's Nick Hanover called this title "one of Hickman's slow burns,"and he compared the book to Bowie's Station to Station. Issue #2 continues to languidly climb the wooden match, and, to continue the Bowie metaphor, Hickman has just released Low. Dragotta is Brian Eno, giving shape to the ideas. Frank Martin is Iggy Pop, throwing in the firebombs just by being around.


The experiment that is East of West continues and grows in complexity. Issue 2 moves confidently, both writer and artist are laying down a new groove. Pieces begin to be put together while new questions arise. War, Famine and Conquest start taking matters into their own hands. Death, all in white, he is constant... or is nothing, starts making deals. Antonia LeVay (seriously Hickman, you got balls) becomes President. The Chosen still are at work trying to orchestrate the end of the world. The Message is slowly being transmitted. We end with "A cup, of a cup. A chalice, of a chalice," and with that even more enigmatic conundrums are raised.
Were this anyone else but Hickman, I think we all would have thrown this series into the bargain bin by now. It is dense and seemingly impenetrable and a reader has to have faith that the author is not taking them down a dark tunnel only to abandon them when the journey becomes to difficult or exhaustion sets in. Hickman has enough cred now to warrant following him through his spelunking. We trust that he knows where he is going and, when we get there, we'll be glad he was our guide. It's a pretty crazy gamble -- ballsy in fact -- but you have to admire Hickman for it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review -- Ted McKeever's MINIATURE JESUS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Miniature Jesus #1
(Ted McKeever; Image/Shadowline)
 4/5 stars
Let's just get one thing straight -- if you start a comic with a Walt Whitman poem, you've got my attention. Add to this comic a musing on the nature of morality and an exploration of religion as a concept, and I'll probably ask it out on a date. Then add the fact that this book was created by Ted McKeever and I'll probably go down and one knee and propose marriage.
Miniature Jesus #1 is my new wife.
Ted McKeever makes great comics. They are smart, clever, well-executed, thought-provoking, entrancing, off-the-wall, poignant, insane, touching, masterful, and a host of other positive adjectives that, as I have lost my thesaurus, I could spew here. I understand he's also a really nice guy.
Anyway, let's talk Miniature Jesus #1. This is a book in which nothing is wasted either in art or in intent. Every panel contains a doctoral thesis of ideas, symbols, heft -- from an open mailbox in front of an abandoned motel, to Star of David crosshatching on the window of an open door, McKeever is begging you to go deep, to read with your eyes open and your brain engaged. And this is only on the first page for goodness sake.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review -- SUPERZELDA: THE GRAPHIC LIFE OF ZELDA FITZGERALD

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Much like last year's Lincoln mania, this year it's all about the Fitzgeralds, F. Scott and Zelda. Baz Luhrmann is set to release his much-hyped interpretation of Gatsby (which fills me with an unsettling mixture of excitement and dread), and there is slated to be a whole slew of biographies about these icons of the Jazz Age.
I fully expect to see a great deal of bobbed hair, gin-drinking and Charleston dancing the next time I venture forth from the Bunker.
And I'm not immune to the hype. I'm teaching The Great Gatsby to my junior class right now, and, as a lead-in activity, I talked a bit about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, calling them "the Beyonce and Jay-Z of their time". I'm not proud of that analogy, but it worked on enough of a fundamental level for my students to grok it. Scott and Zelda are legendary characters as much for their volatile relationship and epic intoxication, as they are for the art they created. One Peace Books' latest publication, Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald, explores all of this and, by doing so, elevates Zelda even further.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review -- SILENCE AND CO.

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Silence and Co.
(Gur Benshemesh, Ron Randall, John Workman; Crystal Productions)
3/5 stars
If you like your disillusioned hitmen stories to be full of twists and turns, hot jungle action and gritty New York streets, political intrigue and financial shenanigans, then Silence and Co. may be right up your alley. This 176-page black and white page-turner is pretty much a straightforward retelling of a story that's been told before and before and even before that as well. From time to time it puts its own stamp on the expected walk-through, but for the most part you pretty much know what to expect from whom and when it's going to happen.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cheap Thrills -- BIG DADDY DANGER #1

This Column Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult.  Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore!  Each week Daniel Elkin heads on out to Empire Comics Vault in Sacramento, CA and grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 25 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his solid quarter.  These are those tales.

April 17, 2013 – paid 25 cents for:
BIG DADDY DANGER #1
Published by: DC Comics
Created, Written, and Drawn by: Adam Pollina
Inks by: Tyson McAdoo
Colors by: Thomas Chu
Editor: Mike Carlin
BIG DADDY DANGER, THANK GOD YOU'RE HERE!
I know things are weird and unsettled right now, but if you think about it, we've been living in that sort of state for a long time. Remember October 2002? Things were weird and vicious and frightening then too.
Remember the Beltway snipers? How about when a lone bomber detonated a homemade bomb in Helsinki, Finland killing seven and injuring 166? Then terrorists blew up bombs in Bali nightclubs killing 202 and injuring over 300. And, of course, there was that whole (yes, I know) Chechen rebel takeover of a Moscow theatre that ended up with nearly 200 people dead.
All of these things happened in October 2002.
Hell, Richard Harris died, Jam Master Jay was shot dead and Warren Zevon was diagnosed with cancer. While there is no denying that April 2013 is a vicious month, it almost pales in comparison to October 2002.
But, even among the brutality, there are always little shining dewdrops of hope, of happiness, of joy. One of those things happened to be DC Comics' decision to publish Adam Pollina's Big Daddy Danger #1. While this event did little to mitigate the aforementioned horrors, of course, it did show that even as we flee from the darkness, there are small lights to guide our way.
Sometimes, though, those little lights end up in the bargain bin.
Big Daddy Danger, a comic with a truly unfortunate name that brings up all sorts of incestuous pedophile nightmares, is about wrestlers (which, I guess, brings about its own set of fears as well). As such, it opens as a microphone lowers, an announcer slurs about slobberknockers andchampionships, and “two giants enter from opposing corners of the arena”.
These two giants are our titular Big Daddy Danger and his opponent, The Meat Maker.  There is a double page splash of these two behemoths clenching each other in the ring (which my scanner couldn't fit) while Big Daddy Danger worries that The Meat Maker may be too strong and fast for him to beat.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review -- IRON OR THE WAR AFTER

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.
Jason Sacks: I'm writing the first part of my review of Iron on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, one of the most horrifying days that I've lived through in a while. It's terrifying to think of all the innocent people who were caught in those two terrible bomb blasts in Copley Square, of the loss of peace of mind that everyone will remember from this day, and of the ramifications that every one of us is going to have to live with for the rest of our lives.
No matter how we try to move past that horror, the events of April 15, 2013, will always linger in our minds as one of those rare moments that cut right through all the grind and pressure of everyday life -- like the Oklahoma City bombing, the Newtown massacre and 9/11, this is a day that people will remember, people will react to, and people will always have in the back of their minds as they consider attending a wide open, major public event.
I only hope to God that the authorities find the craven murderers quickly. I hope that they show the same mercy on that killer or killers that the murderers showed to all the innocent men, women and children who were living their happy, normal lives attending the Marathon with friends and family. There's a special circle in Hell waiting for these evil terrorists.
The central scene of Iron, or the War After is another terrorist act. Today's events cast that act in a dramatically different light than that scene might have otherwise.
The world that S.M. Vidaurri creates is a world of slow glances and quietly important moments. Vidaurri's world is a place where only a few small pieces of the characters' tumultuous inner lives are on display in every scene. Much happens below the surface in Vidaurri's graphic novel. Therefore the effects of so much pain and fear, courage and cowardice, terrible memories and wrenching politics show in every character's well-shaded eyes.
A war has just concluded, but the pain of the war still lingers among those who experienced its trauma. Simmering angers and resentments simply cannot be submerged in a new word, particularly because the losing side resents the winners tremendously. There have clearly been many experiences like the Boston Marathon bombings in the world that these characters live in. The trauma of those events still lingers painfully in the minds of these anthropomorphized rabbits and geese and mountain goats.
Because the war has not really ended for these anthropomorphized characters. As Vidaurri so smartly labels it, this is the "War After." And that "War After" has consequences. A train with over 800 people onboard gets blown up in Iron, by the nominal good guys, as a bit of revenge for the evil that has happened in the war. A child is even the one who musters the courage to set up the bomb. I child is the one who prepares to blow up the train. 
A child! Wars have consequences. Wars have terrible consequences.
Elkin, I've rambled a bit here in my introduction; can you help me focus my mind of the enormity of the actions that Vidaurri shows us readers?