Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Skyscrapers of the Midwest

I read a lot about comics and comic books, and one blog I consistently read is Comics Should Be Good, which features a lot of different viewpoints about many types of comics. I recall the head blogger there, Brian Cronin, writing about this series with a curious title a bunch of years back now, and I am finally getting to read it for myself. If you want to see what he has written in addition to what I am going to say, you can see him extolling the virtues of it here, here, here, here, and here.

This book contains a collection of mini-comics and comic books about an adolescent drawn as an  anthropomorphized cat, his younger brother, and the imaginative adventures they find themselves in. Now, I know this sounds all kinds of light and cheery, but this scene is not an imaginary magical dreamworld, though it does have some fantasy elements, like giant robots that sort of look like ROM. Although this book is clearly some form of memoir it is not really all that nostalgic either. It is evocative and powerful, bringing back many of the strong emotions of youth in brutal, yet empathic ways. Reading this book, it was difficult for me not to recall similar situations I found myself in when I was a kid, some painful and some humorous. For example, these three pages are from the sequence early on in the book, a birthday with a wonderful and horrible gift.


Although he loves the gift, the reality of his age and his social standing end up crushing any enjoyment, which is highlighted by juxtaposed sequences where we see his little brother having a great time just playing with the box the backpack came in. This entire opening narrative is available in the preview link below, and I suggest you go read it. What I admire most about this opening, and the book as a whole is how it is clearly realistic and truthful about the realities of growing up. Lots of people struggle with their families, loss, love, religion, and fitting in when they are younger. Not everyone grows up popular and accepted, and the pain and nuances of emotion in this book are both palpable and powerful. Not to say I found this book depressing, but it does what Marianne Moore wrote the best poetry does, namely depicting "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

This was Joshua W. Cotter's debut comic, and the artwork certainly reflects his growth in that area over the course of the book. I admired the rawness and sketchiness of his lines as well as how he deftly tells stories and creates emotional impacts. He also created Driven By Lemons, a book containing an interesting mix of comics, sketches, and prose. He speaks more about his life, art, and work on Skyscrapers in this interview.

Reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Comic Book Resources' Timothy Callahan remarked that "Cotter has created something true and meaningful about the experience of growing up, and it's a powerful story." Brian Heater called it "that rare critical mass of dynamic art and storytelling" and went on that "Cotter manages to capture the wonders and horrors of childhood, which are perhaps far more entwined than we’d wish to remember." Andrew Wheeler simply called it "a hidden gem of modern comics."

A preview and more about Skyscrapers of the Midwest can be found here from Adhouse Books.

This review wraps up Adhouse Month for me. I hope that you enjoyed my look at a publisher of diverse and wonderful books from a wide range of creators. Go check out their catalog, because I only scratched the surface of their output.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Congratulations, 2014 Eisner Award winners!

The complete list of 2014 Eisner Award winners is available here.

Also, I want to point out a few of the winners I have reviewed in the past year:

Best continuing series: Saga

Best new series: Sex Criminals

Best publication for kids (ages 8-12): The Adventures of Superhero Girl

Best publication for teens (ages 13-17): Battling Boy

Congratulations, all!


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Bad-ventures of Bobo Backslack


Sometimes I feel like a bad person. I think that this song is funny (warning, it's NSFW). I am amused by these guys constantly hitting each other. I think this cartoon is entertaining. I miss the work of Mark Beyer, whose Amy and Jordan comics I absolutely love. The brand of schadenfreude in The Bad-ventures of Bobo Backslack is of the over-the-top and hilarious variety. It begins on a day when the naive, sweet, and unluckiest man in North Dakota is at the supermarket, girding up his courage to tell a woman that he fancies her. After one of his friends tells him to have some liquid courage, the innocent dope buys a giant can of alphabet soup using some dodgy logic.

Of course, consuming that much soup in one setting makes him incredibly sick, but still he soldiers on.
I will save you the disgustingly hilarious pictures that follow, but poor Bobo projectile-vomits soup intermittently for a few blocks. His spew spells out ghastly, mean, and obscene messages, which rile up a local thug, thoroughly insult his potential belle, and get him into a whole bunch of trouble. These events put a whole bunch of misery in motion, and no matter what Bobo does, it all ends of catastrophically. And hilariously. I do not want to spoil much, but the climax involves cat allergies, the Yakuza, and a large, hungry snake.

I understand that this comic might not be for everyone, what with its dark comedy and gleefully grotesque pictures. Personally, I think that artist Jon Chadurjian is following in a great comic tradition of folks like Chuck Jones (think that one cartoon where the artist torments Daffy Duck, or any Daffy Duck cartoon he did for that matter). Chadurjian works and teaches at The Center for Cartoon Studies and also publishes under the name Jon Chad. He has created the science-themed graphic novels Leo Geo and his Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth and Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis. Like this book, they are gorgeously rendered, but unlike this book they are appropriate for all ages.

Some of the stories in this book originally appeared as mini-comics. Also, I had a difficult time finding reviews for this title, but the ones I did find were complimentary. Shea Hennum praised its weirdness and stated that although it might not be for everyone "the book fits well in the catalogue of high quality books that Chris Pitzer is curating over at Adhouse." Rick Kreiner at The Comics Journal positively spoke of Chad's characters as "grotesques in their fully rendered, rounded, loving detail."

Like all the graphic novels I am reviewing this month, The Bad-ventures of Bobo Backslack was published by Adhouse Books. They provide a preview here.

I met Chadurjian at this year's HeroesCon, and he was a smart and funny guy. I bought one of his Leo Geo books on Saturday and was so impressed I came back and bought one of every graphic novel title he had. He was nice enough to sign one of these color initial-versions of this book's cover for me. You should check his books out because he is a very talented fellow!
Our hero surrounded by those who make his life difficult.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Even the Giants


Even the Giants is a wonderful experiment in geometry, emotion, and silent storytelling. From the snowflakes on the first pages to the first images of igloo building the artist is playing with form and tempo in telling a tale. These frosty pages convey a sense of peril but they communicate a coolness and a sense of unity.
There are multiple narratives happening here, with wordless passages about an Inuit and his dog,
a couple of monstrous giants cavorting and traversing the wastelands,

and a stowaway hiding in the cargo hold of a ship,
all interspersed with individual, surreal comic strips titled "One Million Mouths."
Somehow, elements of all these stories mingle, and even though it is not seemless, a sensational whole emerges from the combination. Feelings of community, isolation, survivalism, love, and loss emanate from the bizarre and stylized blue-toned drawings, and the pages coalesce in a way that highlights much craft and a deft storytelling touch. This book begs to be read and re-read, and it is rewardingly nuanced and detailed.

This was the impressive graphic novel debut of Jesse Jacobs, a Canadian artist with works in many areas including on the Adventure Time cartoon, skateboards, and gallery art. He has since published other graphic novels, By This Shall You Know Him and Safari Honeymoon. He was also honored with the 2008 Gene Day Award for Self-Publishing. He speaks more about his career and work on this book in this interview.

All the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise for its art and atmospheric qualities. The Comics Journal's Hayley Campbell praised it as "simple, sweet and a fine debut from an artist who makes beautiful and strange art that is instantly recognizable as his own." George at Crossover Comics called it "a beautifully stylized book" that seems "like a wonderful discovery the moment you pick it up." Grant Buist summed it up as "a sweet, surreal tale."

A preview and more about Even the Giants is available here from AdHouse Books.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Own Little Empire


My Own Little Empire is a comical, nostalgic look back at 1990, that I found very relatable, if a little cliched. The narrative follows a bunch of high school friends in Maryland as they rule their small town "empire," which means having crappy retail jobs, going to concerts, drinking, experimenting with drugs, and hanging out in an abandoned hospital that is said to be haunted.
The cast of characters
The bunch of characters in this book kind of ran together for me except for three: the main character Joe, who has a job and pines for Jacqueline, the only female who seems nice enough but dates Roop, who is a big dope who comes across as sort of a bully. This triangle gets explored some in the course of the book, but like the art the story is also pretty minimal. There are some funny bits as well, particularly those about Marty, the guy who walks around the mall in circles. However, except for the swearing and use of substances, I felt that most of this book was pretty sitcom-ish.
And because the story is about kids in 1990, there is a bunch of aimless driving around, drinking, and talking smack. The "verbal sparring" (mostly insulting) that happens between the characters was pretty realistic to me. I felt about this book that it was as if someone followed me and documented my high school years, only depicted them in snapshot fashion with little detail or development. I liked this book fine, but mostly in a hey-I-remember-that sort of way.
Zima! Do they even make that swill any more? Apparently not.

The art style here reminded me of the cartoon Ed, Edd, and Eddy, but even more minimal. Sometimes, I had difficulty figuring out who was who or what was happening, but for the most part I found the artwork pleasant and engaging. Writer/artist Scott Mills has done all kinds of comics over the years, including Zebediah the Hillbilly Zombie Redneck Bites the Dust, Big Clay Pot, and the Ignatz Award winning Trenches. He also makes all kinds of mini-comics, most notably the Xeric Award winning Cells. Mills speaks more about his comics works in this interview.

Reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Tom Spurgeon wrote that it depicted "a recognizable and realistic youth experience" but also that it was "like eating pizza with a bunch of people you don't know and having them trade high school stories replete with personal shorthand and slang. You feel slightly sorry for the sheer tedium of their experiences, but mostly you just wish they'd change the subject." Whitey was more positive, but also admitted to being a big fan of Mills' work, writing, "His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way)." Matt Martin opined, "Mills’ artwork ranges from barely discernible to absolutely gorgeous, with the median quality falling somewhere on the more positive side of the scale, but his flair for realistic dialogue amongst high school seniors never fails to impress."
His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way). - See more at: http://www.opticalsloth.com/?tag=my-own-little-empire#sthash.mmGwr2Bz.dpuf
His ear for dialogue is just about flawless and his art has gotten even more minimal (I mean that in the best possible way). - See more at: http://www.opticalsloth.com/?tag=my-own-little-empire#sthash.mmGwr2Bz.dpuf

My Own Little Empire was published by Adhouse Books, naturally, and they provide a preview here.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Remake Special & 3xtra

Yesterday, I reviewed Remake, and now I am looking at its two sequels:

In this first follow-up volume, Max Guy and a couple friends descend into the sewer to get vengeance on the doo doo monster that keeps tormenting Max at night. He, Magma Boy, and Sick Rick find many interesting characters underground, including an alligator DJ and a family of poop monsters. Like its predecessor, this book is full of silliness and surreal happenings. Even though it has a creepy edge, the outcomes are still surprising and delightful.
Lamar Abrams has made another fun comic book, tinged with sarcasm and just enough acidic wit to make things interesting. I agree with the review by comicsgirl, who stated, "While I wouldn’t necessarily hand this to a child (although maybe leave it out where they could find it, but that’s different), the kid-like qualities of it make it joyful." I should also add that I thought it was also good to see a full-length story here. Afterward, I wanted to read even more Max Guy adventures, and lucky there is one more entry in the series...

3xtra is a collection of three separate stories. In the first, Max's roommate Cardigan and friends go out dancing at a club where the alligator DJ is performing. Unexpectedly, their night of frivolity turns into a journey through time and space.
In the second, Max watches TV with his cat and battles the villainous Black Ice, who has frozen the city.
In the third, we meet Max's mother after Max starts experiencing some technical difficulties and requires maintenance.
All three stories are full of snarky comments and absurd situations. Although the third tale is the shortest and perhaps slightest, it has a punchy ending that rounds the book out well. I have to say that Abrams certainly is consistent on delivering fun comics. I was not able to find many reviews of this book, but Jonathan B rightfully recommends it for those who enjoy "fun video game references and people communicating by playful insults."

That's all the Max Guy adventures for now. Hopefully we will see some more in the future...

Both books are available from Adhouse Books.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Remake


Remake stars Max Guy, a robot boy who is a cross between Mega Man and Astro Boy. He loves bread pudding and Marshmallow Kitties cereal. He has a robot roommate named Cardigan. One of his friends is a boy made of magma and another is Sick Rick, who is covered with mucus. Max is trying to fit into the rest of the world and live his life, but many things complicate matters. Like the villainous King of Stretching. And a giant cat monster made of vomit. And Cy-Baby, a destructive robot baby that tricks women into taking care of him and being his mommy. Luckily, Max has a Max Blaster which can do all kinds of things, like shoot bananas or turn a dog into a fashionable pair of shoes.
Exhibit A
This book is weirdly funny but not overly cloying, mostly because Max is a tumultuous kind of kid. Sometimes he is kind and friendly and others he is surly and jerkish. The dash of acid is welcome in this narrative concoction, especially because the art is so sweet and playful. The episodes contained in this volume often end abruptly, which opens up possibilities for future storytelling and emphasizes just how kooky and fun these situations are. Overall, I enjoy the lack of satisfying resolutions, because it makes Max Guy's adventures as compelling as they are difficult to predict.
Exhibit B
Lamar Abrams is the writer/artist behind this bunch of surreal silliness, which originally was published as mini-comics. He has a couple of sequels to this book, including a Special and a compilation called 3xtra. He speaks about his work on Remake in this interview.

All of the reviews I read about this book have been positive. Dustin Harbin called it the "bomb-diggety" and went on to write, "I have found myself looking at this book again and again–there’s something really effortless and engaging about Lamar’s comics, as if he’s channeling the kind of silly comics you’d make when you were 8, but employing man-sized talents to those comics." Heather stated, "I appreciate the light hearted  nature of Abrams' art and storytelling. Max Guy is a robot I would want to hang out with to see what trouble he's going to get himself into next." Comicsgirl offered her opinion that "much of the humor here is slapsticky and ridiculous, but it’s all pretty delightful."

Remake was published by AdHouse Books, who provide a preview and more here. There is a smattering of swearing (nothing worse than found in a typical YA book), which means that I suggest an adult preview the book before giving it to younger readers.