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August 31, 2008


Emptying The Big Basket 05

CR receives two to three comics a day. That adds up. It's more than we can handle in our 200-plus regular reviews a year.

Some comics are reviewed right away. Some comics are never going to be reviewed. The remainder go into a giant basket. When the basket is full and must be emptied, it's time to run whatever commentary we can muster. It may not be a full review -- and even that ain't much -- but least it's something.

We greatly appreciate you sending in your material for review. Thank you. It helps us track what you're doing, and what's going on in the field. All of it gets read. If it doesn't end up reviewed that's my fault for not coming up with a proper idea. I hope you'll forgive me.

Below please find today's skeleton of reviews, a skeleton that will be filled with words throughout the day.

*****

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Title: Lost Colony Vol. 3: Last Rights
Creator: Grady Klein
Publishing Information: First Second, softcover, 152 pages, October 2008, $18.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781596430990 (ISBN13)

First Second's bravest experiment continues by splitting into two different directions. Grady Klein ramps up the story elements in this the third volume in his classic small-community children's story; with the characters given a more compelling schedule of things to do, there's less shtick and performance and a cleaner through-line when it comes to Klein's daring page design choices. At the same time, this is the first story that feels to be continued. In other words, Klein has both made his narrative leaner and made more complex the general story. Klein's other virtues remain. As the kids' comic market gets crashed by more and more pre-packaged junk done in the crudest and most pandering wasy possible, one hopes that Klein's series survives if only because it dares to be difficult and odd.

*****

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Title: Water Baby
Creator: Ross Campbell
Publishing Information: Minx, softcover, 176 pages, July 2008, $9.95
Ordering Numbers: 140121147X (ISBN10), 9781401211479 (ISBN13)

I don't read enough books aimed at teenage girls to know if the sensuality of Ross Campbell's art on display in Water Baby is ahead of or behind the curve. Campbell's characters are all sexually attractive, and with the exception of a few walk-ons including Mario Van Peebles, I believe they're all minors. Since my days as a minor with two digits in my age were mostly about sexual attraction and compulsion on some level or another, and because Oprah Winfrey tells me that today's kids are even more active than we were, I have to imagine that this isn't a big thing at all except for older people reading these books and feeling slightly queasy as they begin to put two and two together. The story is a kind of hard to categorize meditation on friendship and romance. I like how the lead character has her youtful potency reduced in overt fashion (her leg is chomped off by a shark), which kind of underlines the limited choices facing the characters as they struggle to go from one place to another and deal with each other with as much kindness as they're able to sustain. It's a weird damn book, that's for sure, and one can easily imagine some severely negative reactions. I had a hard time getting on board, although I appreciate that unlike a couple of the other Minx books I've read it doesn't seem like a TV show pilot. I also have to admit that reading the back cover describe it as a punk rock romance only made me never want to open it.

*****

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Title: Milla and the Prince of Space
Creator: Evan G. Palmer
Publishing Information: Self-Published, softcover, 64 pages, Spring 2008, $35
Ordering Numbers: www.evanpalmercomics.com

This limited edition book is stuffed to the gills with promising page design and already-lovely visuals. Any of you editors out there curating a line of comics aimed at young people should stop reading right now, click on the artist's site link and sign him up before someone else gets to him. In fact, this book by itself wouldn't be out of place in one of those lines. The narrative is paper thin and doesn't work according to the broad rules established for this kind of literature. The ending is way too pat and the meaningfulness of the initial encounter that allows cartoonist Evan Palmer to build the rest of the story is implied rather than shown. It feels like a story that happens because the story needs things to happen. I should also mention that the story is enormously sweet, like eat the frosting right off those cheap Wal-mart cookies sweet; the most delicate page from Blankets would beat up the toughest page from Mila and the Prince of Space and steal its lunch money, if it wanted to. Still, there's a definite talent here, one that might develop into something that a lot of people will greatly enjoy. Editors! Go recruit!

*****

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Title: Comic Foundry #3
Creators: Tim Leong, Laura Hudson and a Bunch of Freelancers
Publishing Information: Magazine, 64 pages, Summer 2008, $5.98
Ordering Numbers:

The central irony of Comic Foundry magazine is that despite the many ways in which the magazine and editors define what they do in opposition to fanboy bible Wizard, their approach can perhaps be summarized as an extension of that magazine's two most popular features: their top ten writers and top ten artists lists. As is the case with those lists, the funny profiles and photo essays and tongue-in-cheek articles in CF's pages tend to appeal to the creators they're covering by making them look good. Who wouldn't want to appear on the cover of a cool-looking magazine in a glamorous-looking photo or two? Who wouldn't want to be one of the "cutest creator couples in comics"? Who would be opposed to seeing elements of their comics reincorporated into a clever, modern-looking page design? I'm a big supporter of the magazine, honestly, so I'm glad that I finally have an answer to the question of who would want to read a magazine like this with comics at their core: anyone who wants to eventually appear in its pages. I'm more confident than ever it will be around for a while.

Content-wise I thought #3 was a step back from the previous issue. There's nothing wrong with interviewing a television personality that covers comics, and one of the great thing magazines can do is introduce or re-introduce you to a person in a way that makes you consider them in a fresh or compelling way. That said, I found the Blair Butler interview to be dull as dirt, and I wish it had been shortened by half just so it could have been over sooner. I feel like part of me is off somewhere still reading it. The shorter articles are better than the longer ones, although there's very little in the magazine longer than a page or two. I still had a feeling that more could have been done with what was presented. A cover-blurbed piece on a recession's potential effect on comics might have made a fine blog posting, but a print magazine article should probably do better than having the idea of peak oil introduced into its midst by Heidi MacDonald and its general economic forecast made by Michael Martens. There was also no firm conclusion to that article, nor was a compelling case made that such a conclusion was impossible, and as a result you don't know much more than when you started. These are growing pains, I think, and I look forward to how they next flatter their industry of choice and how quickly the industry responds with a run of its awards hardware. It's coming.

*****

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Title: The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels
Creators: Danny Fingeroth, Roger Langridge
Publishing Information: Rough Guides, softcover, 320 pages, $18.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781843539933 (ISBN13)

I'm the worst person in the world to review something like this, one of two major books this summer that doubles as a guide and a shot at a graphic novel canon. My main hang-up is that I hate shoving comics' beautiful array of approaches and story lengths into a commercial designation like the GN. I also don't think that you can use a definition that deals with content and intent -- which you have to do to include A Contract With God -- while ignoring all the long-form serial stories of the strips' distant past. In other words, I have a nerd's reaction to efforts like the one being made here.

With that understood, this is an attractive volume and Fingeroth is allowed to shoehorn in a lot of works that don't make his canonical list through a discussion of various forms and history and creators and the like. So I can imagine it being a useful book. I don't have much use for his canon. There are two books in his top ten that didn't make my top 40 list for the year in which they were released, and in general I think the lists are safe and conventional rather than daring and forward. Given a chance to bring a work back into the graphic novels discussion, Fingeroth favors a work like Brooklyn Dreams over something like Maggots. That's just not where I am right now. Comics seems to me to encompass a lot more in terms of artistic expression than a replication of the values of literary work in the format that's the most commercially viable for it to be purchased. Comics is bigger than graphic novels, or at least it should be. If all of that sounds snotty and you need to hear it in the form of a tagline: it's hard for me to imagine returning to a book that values Larry Young's fun but lightweight and always-in-print Astronauts in Trouble over Eddie Campbell's ambitious, unforgettable and hard to track down in all of its messy glory Alec.

*****

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Title: New Character Parade
Creator: Johnny Ryan
Publishing Information: Buenaventura, handmade comic, 28 page, 300 printed in total, $10
Ordering Numbers: go here

Johnny Ryan's work makes me laugh, and I think it's very well-crafted. I can't really go much deeper than that, and part of me would feel stupid for doing so. I mean, of course you want this new limited edition comic book, or, I suppose, of course you don't. If there are people on the fence I will say that this has a lot more humor that doesn't fall comet-like into a litany of crudities -- I mean, I like those, too, but it's fun to see things like Ryan riffing on old All in the Family dynamics and cockpunching the sacred cow of 9/11 humor by showing a dad spanking a child by crashing an airplane into his butt at which point the panel becomes, simply, "Ass 9-11." If you just groaned in horror or dismay, well, this comic really isn't for you. I laughed. I just hope we don't all one day wake up and realize we wasted Johnny Ryan by not buying enough of his books. Please help me in keeping this from happening.

*****

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Title: Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Vol. 1
Creator: William Messner-Loebs
Publishing Information: IDW, softcover, 600+ pages, July 2008, $19.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781600101915 (ISBN13)

The thing I like most about IDW's reprinting of the Journey is that it runs over 600 pages at $19.99. Not that I'm cheap -- well, I am -- but this mean the reprint is clearly meant to be read rather than collected or even offered up for purchase by charitable-minded buyers. As to that last point, a once-prolific mainstream comics writer after his run as a independent comics mainstay, Messner-Loebs' financial plight has been a part of comics lore for about a half-decade now. While that's a reason I imagine this book has seen the light of day, whatever the reason is you should be happy to get this many solid, idiosyncratically created comics at this price in a sturdy format (the reproduction is about as good as can be hoped, although some of the more delicate linework is lost after this many years) clearly intended to give it a shot at a wider readership.

As for the content, I hadn't remembered the comic being this loopy. While it didn't work for me as well as a historical novel this time out -- in fact, a lot of the book's more ambitious elements feel forced to me -- I quite enjoyed it on as a humorous adventure story, and found Messner-Loebs artwork to be exactly as evocative and moody as I recalled. I love the fact that this book exists if only that it reminds me that a comic book like this once existed, and that such a comic can retain its unique voice some 20-25 years after its brief, initial, flickering lifetime.

*****

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Title: MOME Vol. 12 -- Fall 2008
Creators: Olivier Schrauwen, David B., Killoffer, Nate Neal, Dash Shaw, Tom Kaczynski, Jon Vermilyea, Ray Fenwick, Sophie Crumb, Al Columbia, Derek Van Gieson, Sara Edward-Corbett, Paul Hornschemeier
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, 120 pages, Fall 2008, $14.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781560979302 (ISBN13)

The only thing you have to say about the 12th volume of MOME is that the first time co-editors Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds ran a story by David B. it fairly overwhelmed the entire magazine and this time it fits right. Part of that has to be the fact that their steady hand with the anthology has encouraged more cartoonists to come forward. Unless I'm missing something, there are exactly two of the original contributors in this issue. Also, I've gone three sentences without mentioning Olivier Schrauwen or Al Columbia, and both of their contributions are as good as their reputations. A must-have issue from a should-have anthology.

*****

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Title: Flight, Vol. 5
Creators: JP Ahonen, Graham Annable, Chris Appelhans, Bannister, Matthew Bernier, Scott Campbell, Svetlana Chmakova, Tony Cliff, Phil Craven
Michel Gagne, Kazu Kibuishi, Kness, Sonny Liew, Reagan Lodge, Made, John Martz, Sarah Mensinga, Ryan North, Richard Pose, Paul Rivoche, Dave Roman, Kean Soo, Joey Weiser
Publishing Information: Random House, softcover, 352 pages, July 2008, $25
Ordering Numbers: 9780345505897 (ISBN13)

We'll all be firing up our decade-in-review article next year about this time, and Flight will have to receive a lot of consideration as an influential anthology, injecting into comics at about as art comics fussy as it will ever get (I'd say not very) an assault of pretty, impressively-crafted short stories that can be read and enjoyed by a wide audience. I don't think by volume 5 you get the same sense of discovery, but there are certainly still a lot of nice-looking comics in there: my favorites were by Graham Annable and Kazu Kibuishi; I also liked the look of a couple of them, primarily a polar bear-starring short by a pair called "Kness and Made." The drawbacks seem more pronounced here than they did on earlier books. My main objection is that some of the stories are choking on sentiment to an almost ridiculous degree. There's a baseball story by Richard Pose that almost seems like a parody of heartwarming baseball stories, it lays the wide-eye emoting on so thick. I can't imagine its target audience will mind, and while there's practically nothing here I'd care to read again, I like the idea of this book hiding away in middle school libraries, holding the hands of its uniformed readership and potentially leading them someplace swell.

*****

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I enjoyed the enthusiasm the creators bring to this work, essentially a cross between hardboiled crime fantasy of the Mickey Spillane/Frank Miller school re-tooled to add a lot of monsters to the cast. However, to work with ideas this cliched and in the visual language of another artist (Sin City-era Miller) you really have to have major chops to execute matters so that by itself you've added something to the mix that the reader can't get by simply re-reading the source material. Ben Fisher and Mike Henderson aren't quite there yet, although one can imagine one or both continuing to work in comic books. If this were a movie, it'd be one you'd find on pay cable at 2 AM where you couldn't figure out if it was made two or twenty years ago. It'd pass the time, but you wouldn't hesitate to go to bed once you got tired. For this to be your cup of tea, you'd have to really want some tea.

*****

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Title: Gimoles: Secrets of the Seasons
Creators: Mike Bullock, Theo Bain, Michael Metcalf, Bob Pedroza
Publishing Information: Image Comics, softcover, 128 pages, June 2008,
Ordering Numbers: 1582409552 (ISBN10), 9781582409559 (ISBN13)


This is the product description for this book from Amazon.com:
"Follow Limmy and Ohgi Gimole on their quest to shut down the machines of winter when Ichabod Cornelius Frost, the nefarious Czar of Winter, refuses to let loose his icy grip in this all-ages adventure from the creator of the critically acclaimed Lions, Tigers, and Bears!"
If that sounds like a generic romp of the kind that appear on cable in animated form by the dozens during the holiday seasons, that's because that's exactly what this is. The art here is accomplished, particularly the execution of the various character designs. However, the designs themselves prove completely uninspired, a selection of generic looks and signifiers of the kind a harried costume designer might throw together working the racks at the local civic theater's wardrobe closet. The storytelling is muddied, the narrative meanders wildly and is outright dull in several stretches, and the message ends up being banal. Unless you're such a fan of holiday material of this type that you can look on this work in a way that an outsider like me simply can't, I suspect that you, like me, won't remember a single moment when you're done.

*****

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Title: The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics
Creators: Paul Gravett, Peter Stanbury, an army of creators
Publishing Information: Running Press, softcover, 480 pages, $17.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781845297107

This is a pretty solid anthology of its kind, a massively-stuffed anthology from a person with good taste, well-selected, at a terrific price. The only hall of fame works here are an Alack Sinner story and a Spirit strip from the immediate post-War era, but Gravett comes through with an eclectic group of top-rank cartoonists and comics creators working in a minor key, folks like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jack Kirby and Charles Burns. In fact, the Charles Burns inclusion is the kind of thing that really distinguishes a book like this one amid so many older works that may work better as attractive, sturdy filler than a source for re-discovery. Additionally, it's always nice to see selections from Torpedo and Kane. One wonders if the editors couldn't get their hands on certain works, or if the designation "crime comics" leaves off the table radical departures on detective books like the Karasik/Mazzucchelli City of Glass adaptation. It would have been nice to see something by Ed Brubaker in here as well, perhaps at the expense of Ms. Tree, which pains me to say as nice as its creators were to my father once upon a time. I just don't get that appeal of that one, and certainly believe that Brubaker's work with Jason Lutes, Eric Shanower, Sean Phillips and Michael Lark wee much, much stronger. Still, a pleasant surprise and great beach reading. Seriously.

*****

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Title: Method Man
Creators: Method Man, Sanford Greene, David Atchison
Publishing Information: Hachette, softcover, 96 pages, July 2008, $13.99
Ordering Numbers: 0446699721 (ISBN10), 9780446699723 (ISBN13)

I wanted to like this book because I like the idea of someone enjoying comics so much they have to put themselves into one. Sadly, this is a pretty pedestrian effort all around. A PI teams up with an ancient order to fight a great, world-threatening evil, tapping into his own resources as a once-promising member of that order to help thwart the bad person's plans. The execution would have to be off the charts to overcome that kind of straight to video plot, and it doesn't come close. Moreover, I wonder after its effectiveness in the marketplace due to a manga price point plus half again that amount for what feeles like much less than its 96 or so pages. Since some money apparently went into this project at some point, it's disappointing how much this feels like three or four dozen other comics that I've seen in my lifetime. Sorry, Method Man.

*****

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Title: National Waste #7
Creator: Leif Goldberg
Publishing Information: Self-Published, handmade, 38 pages, Spring 2008, $8
Ordering Numbers:

Available through PictureBox Inc., the latest in Leif Goldberg's mostly-good, sometimes-great mini-comics series is a pretty standard effort of its type: a few short stories, a lot of silk-screened imagery, some wonderful visuals, and more than a few abstract moments. In fact, the whole thing proves to be pretty first class for just about all the reasons you go to mini-comics -- well-crafted, idiosyncratic work that doesn't really stand a chance in the current marketplaces. If I told you it was a perfect mini-comic for everything except narrative coherence I'd be close to getting at the truth, but that sounds mean instead of the way I'd intend for it to be taken. It's more like I don't have any avenue to express a negative opinion about art like this, because it's so closely tied into a set of desires concerning personal expression that are impenetrable and have very little to do with the alchemical reaction that takes place when those ideas meet a readership. I can I don't think this is the best issue of the series, but at this point in the history of mini-comics there's so little continuity out there that simply having another one of these feels like a greater victory than it did with the release of past issues.

*****

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Title: Ralph Snart Adventures #1
Creator: Marc Hansen
Publishing Information: Self-Published, comic book, 24 pages, July 2008, $2.95
Ordering Numbers: MAY084037 (Diamond)

I used to buy Ralph Snart at my local drugstore, the first and possibly last time I could buy a straight-up comic book with this kind of weird, ugly art and featuring a character not Alfred E. Neuman. Marc Hansen's vibrant inks and his "hello, I don't give a shit" storylines are as admirable as ever. In this issue alone, Snart becomes world famous, goes to prison, loses his memory and murders a bunch of people, in approximately that order; it's the kind of done-in-one that used to happen on TV when they figured the appeal of the character wouldn't lead to a series. I think you could buy this comic and get 80 percent of what Hansen does about 15 or 16 pages in. Making a case for his own special uniqueness wasn't ever Hansen's deal; making loud and dumb comics where his lead runs around harming people while surfing a wave of mostly dumbassed behavior is. It may not feel necessary, but it's hard to imagine Hansen making a comic like that and staying true to his disposable, loud, and ultimately goofy roots.

*****

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Title: Tales From Greenfuzz #2
Creator: Will Sweeney
Publishing Information: Amos Novelties Ltd, comic book, 24 pages, 2006,
Ordering Numbers:

I'm not going to pretend I know what the hell is going on here. In what looks like a full-color cross between the demented world-creation efforts of an inebriated shut-in and educational film strip about nutrition, a sandwich is trying to rescue his girlfriend while an army of french fries sacks a town full of vegetables. Dan Nadel at Picturebox shoved one of these into my hands against my desires, and although I like the fact that it marches to beat of its own drummer -- I mean, forget marching: it fairly skips and jumps and rolls around in an irregular rhythm to its own drummer -- I can't say I enjoyed the book or was so taken with its displayed craft elements that I stopped to pay attention. It's bright and pretty, though, and it will make you glad we live in a world where this kind of dementia still exists. Of course, having said that, I'm going to find out this is the most popular children's book in Ireland or something.

*****

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Title: Comics Comics #4
Creators: Various
Publishing Information: PictureBox Inc., giant newsprint tabloid, 16 pages, $2.95
Ordering Numbers:

I heard a rumor that Comics Comics is going to settle into a more standard book project that may even come out quarterly from now on. I sort of hope not, because even thought there are several areas where the PictureBox-published celebration of comics and comics culture could improve, the irregular publishing schedule and demented format so perfectly match the content that I'd hate to see them go away. A sideways and passionate attack on a lot of comics' sacred cows -- imagine them as the much more fun DIY festival set up outside of museum-like official selections on the comics chatter map like Comic Art, TCJ and this site -- Comics Comics works better the further its writers reach past the accepted pantheon into a primordial stew of fevered creation to make the case for things like chalk talks, Shaky Kane, and the comic book format not as a publishing strategy but as a way of organizing art that's deep and mysterious and satisfying. The living embodiment of a way too drunk thinker about or maker of comics grabbing your arm in a bar at 2:30 in the morning, I'll miss it if it puts on a tie and goes to work.

*****

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Title: Webcomics 2.0
Creators: Steve Horton and Sam Romero
Publishing Information: Course Technology, softcover, 240 pages, 2008, $29.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781598634624 (ISBN13)

Title: How to Make Webcomics
Creators: Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz
Publishing Information: Image Comics, 200 pages, 2008, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781582408705 (ISBN13)

I can't read either one of these books as they deserve to be read -- with the eyes of a wannabe cartoonist hungry to make work of their own. I can still say with great certainty that the latter book, How to Make Webcomics, seems to me and my jaundiced eye about 25 times more useful and more of a quality effort than Webcomics 2.0. There's much more content in the Images Comics book, it's better presented, it's from cartoonists I've actually heard of in a webcomics environment, it's less than half the price, and like most of the best on-line comics it's essentially self-published.

The primary thing that may be missing from How to Make Webcomics from my outsider's perspective is that despite having four authors and despite the fact its text hashes out any number of differences in philosophy and divergent strategies in practical matters, it doesn't seem to represente a wide array of authorial voices and variety in kinds of webcomics. All four authors seem to do pretty standard transposed strips, and they're all guys of what seems to be roughly the same age (I'm going by the photos). I also suspect they may all like each other and each others' work too much for there to be compelling clashes when it comes to discussing that work. (There was one mini-roundtable of criticism in particular where I just kind of wished someone had it in them to challenge the quality of the gag as opposed to how the cartoonist got to the gag.) The continuity between the authors probably sharpens the focus in that there's enough agreement between them for that they can get to specific matters pretty early on, but I'm not sure if it ends up being for everyone as opposed to people that want to do comics like the authors' efforts. (Johanna Draper Carlson had many of the same objections I did to Webcomics 2.0, although she's much nicer about it than I would have been had I gone into detail.)

*****

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Title: Delphine #3
Creator: Richard Sala
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics/Coconino, Ignatz, 32 pages, $7.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560979357 (ISBN13)

Another ridiculous good-looking comic book from Richard Sala who's been on quite the run for about a half-decade now and with this project is working in a format that's particularly flattering to where's he has taken his art. I mention it here not because I have much of anything to say about it -- although I did find it interesting how much of the book is in a rigid grid -- but because I want to point out that the werewolf sequence reveals that Sala may be one of the few people that agrees with me that the horror isn't a man that turns into a wolf, but some freaky-ass four-legged animal turning into a man!

*****

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Title: Charlton Spotlight #6
Creator: Various
Publishing Information: Argo Press, magazine, 68 pages, Spring 2008, $7.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560979357 (ISBN13)

I don't have much to say about this latest issue of the magazine which, as should be obvious from the title, is devoted to the Charlton Comics company, a stalwart of 20th Century mainstream funnybooks. This issues features two pleasant but extremely slight Nic Cuti/Joe Staton efforts, an early 1990s E-Man effort that was never published and a 1970s Michael Mauser story that met a similar fate. It's buttressed by a number of pages of art and ephemera from the company's history including a nice promotional image from Steve Ditko, and the magazine's usual features providing obituaries for Charlton creators and letters from fans. I'm glad this material is out there, and I think future histories if they're written will be better for having this kind of first-draft material at their disposal. My own appetite for this kind of material is severely limited.

*****

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Title: Strange Detective Tales #3
Creator: Jesse Bausch, James Callahan
Publishing Information: Oddgod Press, comic book, 48 pages, $3.95
Ordering Numbers:

This is the third in I believe a three-issue series, concluding a storyline carried over from the first two issues. There used to be a lot of comics like this on the stands: genre-corrective or myth-blending efforts that march a bunch of different visual and prose icons through a different but still-familiar set-up. The execution outstrips the basic idea -- the dialogue snaps and some of the individual panels show off a nice, fiercely controlled line; I accepted the big moments as big moments rather than attempts to portray big moments, if that makes any sense. That said, it's hard remembering a whole lot of what happened even five minutes after I've put the comic done, even when the work is much better than I'm used to seeing in similar efforts. One thing that lingers is that I wonder after an audience. I don't get a sense in 2008 the way I did in 1978 that comics is the place where a lot of people are going with an equal passion for all these different corners of junk and fantastic culture. Still, I'd be interested in seeing the next work from both participants.

*****
*****

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Title: The Martian Confederacy, Vol. 1
Creators: Jason McNamara, Paige Braddock
Publishing Information: Girl Twirl Comics, 140 pages, August 2008, $15
Ordering Numbers: MAY083907 (Diamond), 9780979420719 (ISBN13)

I have no idea what to say about this comic, no firm conclusion, which is why it goes here instead of into its own review. It's pleasant enough company -- a kind of modern western/crime caper set in a far future Mars where an information-wipe and the evolution of animal-men has changed mankind's attitude towards history and civilization -- and the cartooning is breezy and flows well, even if it's not as atmospheric as the work from the sort of artist that usually gets this kind of gig. Much of the script is either amusing or close enough to it you recognize it as such and keep going. At the same time, it never really transcends its genre-blend roots, it never makes so much of an impression that I can imagine people flipping out over it and tracking it down. In a different world, there would be so much material in all genres that an audience could be had simply by creating work that was better than the average. Because there's almost no work like this, it has to compete not against mediocre but against the much more daunting barrier of people getting out of their comfort zone and trying something new. Works like Bone and Persepolis hit enough high points to draw that initial attention that led to a rush of readers. I'm not sure this work has it in it. I love the fact that there's a big ol' rambling science fiction western crime story out there, in this style, but I also don't think liking the idea of something is enough.

*****

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Title: The Shortpants Observer #1
Creators: Sarah Becan, Anya Davidson, Corinne Mucha, Becca Taylor, Jeremy Tinder
Publishing Information: Shortpants Press, comic book, 72 pages, 2008, $8.00
Ordering Numbers: 9780981846705 (ISBN13)

Shortpants Press is the Chicago-based mini-comics house whose various efforts I've enjoyed in the way one tends to think well of an effort to put young, developing cartoonists into print with their own, albeit essentially handmade books. I'm not sure that that goodwill follows into the first issue of their anthology, a definite step-up in ambition from the earlier publications. It's... well, it's okay. The most interesting work in the book (Becca Taylor's) is also the most aggravating in its execution; it just doesn't come together in a way that matches the ambition of the concept involved. Jeremy Tinder is the work's most fully-realized talent, but his contribution is slighter than slight, and ends in a way that feels more like a narrative twist or even cheat than a resolution. I like the idea of another anthology for cartoonists, particularly one that's regional in nature, so I hope this does well enough for there to be more. For one thing, it may be a few issues before I can recommend it.

*****

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Title: Dead Man Holiday #-3
Creator: Colin Panetta
Publishing Information: Self-Published, comic book, 32 pages, 2008, $3.99
Ordering Numbers: www.deadmanholiday.com

I was really charmed by this "haunted science fiction" comic. The artist shows some promise in terms of his laconic pacing and the way he provides some of his duller scenes with a bit of visual interest by moving the reader's point of view to different places (without calling attention to his doing so). The craft chops just aren't quite there for this to be the kind of comic book that demands $4 in today's marketplace, except by people that are strongly inclined to supporting this kind of work in the first place. There could be leaps and bounds to come -- it's certainly no less professional than the first Comico books from 25 or so years ago, for example. But right now this is more of an idea of a comic book than a fully executed comic book, and as a reader there's just too much for me to process and forgive to even begin reading it. Given the kind of genre-mixing involved, it's not as if I would be willing to give the cartoonist a lot of leeway of any kind when it came to presenting the story. But I wanted to let y'all know about it, because I love the fact that people are still making comics for other people to enjoy; it beats most of what I've done in with my free time the last couple of years.

*****

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Title: Shelter Stories
Creator: Patrick McDonnell
Publishing Information: Andrews McMeel, hardcover, 168 pages, 2008, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780740771156 (ISBN13)

This is a book collecting those Mutts strips of Patrick McDonnell's where he urges his readership to consider adopting a pet from the local animal shelter. Sometimes he does this directly, but mostly he does so by showing some of the animals in the shelters as they experience this themselves or as they wait for it to happen. The strips -- which are enormously sweet even when charted against McDonnell's genial baseline -- are interspersed with photos of animals and testimonies from their owners. In other words, this book is completely un-reviewable! I like McDonnell's work quite a bit, and at 14 years he's entered that phase of his run with Mutts where he's going to be ignored and even criticized for a while. It's almost an historical imperative at work. He's always an effective cartoonist, though, and even when he's working in an extremely strong set of emotional clues and icons and imperatives in a way that might not be to your taste as much as it is mine there's no getting around that basic fact. I like that he does these strips and hope they'll follow him until the end of his time in newspaper. Plus, he's undeniably right in this case: adopting an animal from a shelter can be a wonderful thing.

*****
*****
 
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