Reviews - Illustrated Fiction 24


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Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting

Exapno Mapcase #8

Karmic Book #1

Losers Weepers #1 & 2

Mayakovsky and Nebula

Octobriana #1

Pork Belly #1 & 2

Skin Horse

Stewbrew #4*

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Losers Weepers #1 & 2

Losers Weepers #1 & 2 by J.T. Yost

The concept behind this title is instantly intriguing. Yost finds (or scrounges) real life letters and notes that someone has discarded—or if he's really lucky, journal entries—and imagines what might have led up to or after they were written. Each story ties together three or four disparate notes and weaves them together into a plausible—and so far—tragic story.

The first issue emerges from a three page journal entry written by a young woman who has fallen in and out of love with a mentally ill man. During their relationship he is assaulted—beaten and struck in the back of the head with a 4" x 4". He's hospitalized and his subsequent recovery is slow, uncertain, and steeped in depression. The woman no longer loves him but stays with him for a time out of a sense of duty and/or sympathy. In the final entry she has left him but is plagued with guilt. Yost picks up this powerful start and follows the lives of both characters to an imaginary, but believable conclusion.

The second issue is built around a letter, written in Spanish, a couple of notes, and an elementary school girl's homework assignment. The story he creates is about a single mom struggling to make ends meet while she raises two children who are both dealing with their own issues at school. Yost cleverly weaves together the messages from four scraps of paper he's found into a possible reality of a lower class urban landscape.

Panels from Losers Weepers #1

I liked both issues of Losers Weepers, but for me the debut issue was stronger. Part of that may be due to the strength of the longer, more developed journal entries. But it seems to me Yost went further with his own characterization as well. The journal's writer is firmly established when Yost takes over, but he adds some nice bits to her character by hooking her up with an older, more mature partner. Like she was compensating for some of the extremes in her earlier relationship. The recovering Sean is only roughed out in the journal. Yost does an excellent job fleshing out his character, building on what's already established and delivering a believable reality of where he might have gone next.

The story in issue two is also quite good, but for me the characterization didn't go the extra distance to solidify them into people that felt as real as the ones in the first issue.

Yost includes full-size reproductions of the actual artifacts he uncovers. Their inclusion lends an air of realism to the work, but the original handwriting is sometimes difficult to read so he also creates a text version in the back. This forces the reader to skip back and forth over the course of reading the story. It's a minor inconvenience, but it does work against the narrative flow. I'd be happy with a handwritten, but legible simulation of the originals.

Panel from Losers Weepers #2

Losers Weepers #1 (2009, Birdcage Bottom Books) is 44 b&w pages, plus a cover printed on colored stock. 7" x 7.25", saddle stitch binding, with machine trim. Although both issues are very good, this one has just enough extra depth to make it a Midnight Fiction Favorite.

Losers Weepers #2 (2010, Birdcage Bottom Books) is 36 b&w pages, plus a cover printed on colored stock. 7" x 7.25", saddle stitch binding, with machine trim.

Both comics are available for $5 each (along with several others books) from the Birdcage Bottom Books Shop. See The Holy Yost blog for project updates and such.

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  Front and back covers of Decorum

Decorum by Mr. Ed Choy Moorman Esq.

Decorum is a fun handmade comic book filled with a collection of short or single page episodes. The gags have nothing in common except Moorman's wry sense of humor. The cover bit gives you a good dose of what you're in for when you venture inside. Decorum, indeed!

The book opens with a bizarre little song-and-dance of a splash page. Somewhat reminiscent of Wolverton, Moorman certainly put his all of his chops into this one.

The Last Drop is the book's longest story at five pages. A scrappy little wiseacre grabs the last beer at the church Christmas party and is accosted by the Father of the flock. That's when things start to get messy.

Select panels from Decorum   A panel from The Last Drop and one from Cavalcade of Evil

At one page, Cavalcade of Evil is just right for a funny send-up of super heroes, iconic characters, and the game corner of the funny pages.

It may seem a little odd to include a Christmas card in a comic book, but this one, created for Moorman's Uncle Joe, fits right in.

How Do You Fill the Void? is a two pager in which the person on the street shares their answer in 25 words or less. But these persons were all posed in front of the "camera" by Moorman, and each one brings their own agenda and 'tude.

The book closes as it began, with a bizarre gag cartoon that's simultaneously funny and disturbing.

Decorum (2010, Bare Bones Press) is 12 b&w pages, plus color covers. 5.5" x 8.5", handmade, with saddle stitch binding. It's not listed in the Bare Bones Press store, but Ed's email is listed there, so drop him a line and tell him Midnight Fiction sent you there for a good lesson in decorum.

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Stewbrew #4

Stewbrew #4 by Kelly Froh and Max Clotfelter

Stewbrew #4 is as much fun as a knit sweater on a wiener dog. In fact, the elongated sleeve wrapped around the two oblong mini comix of Stewebrew #4 reminds me of a custom made crew neck slipped onto a sweet short-hair—without the "what have you done to me now" look. Subtitled 17 Good Names for Wiener Dogs, it's all about the dachshunds.

Stewbrew #4 by Kelly Froh

Froh and Clotfelter each put together a stretch-mini comix inspired by names they dreamed up for a little Doxie or two of their very own. Each sausage-proportioned page is a full page cartoon personification of seventeen of the best darned badger flushing appellations this side of a hunde fart.

Stewbrew #4 by Max Clotfelter

Stewbrew #4 (2010) is two mini coimx, wrapped in an illustrated, paper sleeve. Each comix is 8 b&w pages plus a cover printed on colored stock. 5.5" x 2.25", handmade with saddle stitch binding. If you're on the hunt for a low-profile package to curl up with for a playful short read, Stewbrew #4 is a dog gone treat. I'm pretty sure you can track it down for $2 from Profanity Hill, but if not try Slither or Snake Meat. Yup, anything this charming is an instant Midnight Fiction Favorite.

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Octobriana #1

Octobriana #1 by Steve Orlando and Chaz Truog

Czech artist Petr Sadecky is often credited with creating Octobriana. Originally she was purportedly a heroine created by a group of Russians who called themselves the Progressive Political Pornography group. But it was all a hoax Sadecky created while living in Prague. As the story goes he escaped to the West with the pages for an adventure strip called Amazona. He changed the name to Octobriana. Shortly after Octobriana and the Russian Underground was published Sadecky disappeared.

The character is uncopyrighted and gained notoriety as a sexy swashbuckling heroine who fights evil and oppression. She's appeared in a variety of Western comics including Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright stories.

A panel from Octobriana #1

Recently Posuer Ink promoted the character to her own title. Writer Steve Orlando and artist Chaz Truog have re-envisioned the character as a sexy goddess of love—in training. Thrust into an atheist Russia where everything is controlled by the authorities, Octobriana must complete seven labors to prove herself worthy of godhood in order realize her full abilities.

The first issue introduces the setting, characters, and the busty heroine's first task. Stop Liuba, a powerful telepath, who has unleashed a blood-thirsty rage that usurps lovers in the throws of passion.

Panel from Octobriana #1

In the tradition of Barbarella, Octobriana is an over-the-top mix of sex, science fiction, and adventure set in an unbearably oppressive Russia. Octobriana #1 (2010, Poseur Ink) is 24 b&w pages, plus full color cover. Comic book size with saddle stitch binding. Lettered by Thomas Mauer. It's available for $5.50 from the Poseur Ink Store. Adults only.

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Exapno Mapcase #8

Exapno Mapcase #8 by Mark Campos

I may have run across work by Campos at various times before, but I really became a fan of his comics after reading Moxie My Sweet, published by Finecomix. Campos is a terrific writer and a fine cartoonist as well.

Exapno Mapcase is a sort of alias for Harpo Marx that has something to do with Russia, Cyrillic, and pronunciation. I couldn't quite sleuth it out, but let's assume Campos' title is a tribute to fine comedy with a certain reverence for the past.

The eighth issue includes a nice collection of miscellaneous comix he put together for the 2010 edition of Stumptown. It's a fun read and well worth the price of admission.

Panels from Exaprno Mapcase #8

It begins with C-OVI a two page tribute to the career of jazzman Al Philips Jr. It's short, but authentic enough to feel like something Kim Deitch would dream up.

Panel from Exapno Mapcase #8

Next up is an autobiographical piece that begins with an early morning catcall that soon morphs into fanciful cartoon dreams of recognition and reward.

Panels from Exapno Mapcase #8

The collection's final piece is a mystery yarn framed from A to Z in rhyme, and loaded with noir-inspired characters and themes.

Exapno Mapcase #8 (2010, self-published) is 16 pages, including its self-cover. It's b&w except for the full color front and back covers. 5.5" x 8.5", handmade with saddle stitch binding and no trim. It's available for $2 (plus 50¢ postage) from Mark Campos, PO Box 20786, Seattle, WA 98102. He can also be contacted via his page on Poopsheet Foundation.

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Skin Horse

Skin Horse by Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells

Shaenon Garrity is a veteran webcomic cartoonist whose past work includes Narbonic, Li'l Mell, and Smithson. She's an editor for Viz Media. Almost a year after Narbonic finished its run Garrity approached Jeffrey Wells with a new concept. A small team of government operatives are assigned to search and reform "nonhuman sapients." Your basic anthropomorphic outsiders who need anything from simple counselling to capture and complete rehabilitation. He loved it and the two set off to bring Project Skin Horse to webcomics readers around the world.

The series is drawn by Garrity who shares writing duties with Wells. The 6X-a-week comic follows my favorite approach to comic strips: a continuing storyline with a punchline finish for every episode.

Skin Horse comic strip

The cast of Skin Horse includes: Dr. Dennis "Tip" Wilkin, an ex-army, cross-dressing fashionista who is officially a file clerk, but practices psychological encounters in the field. He's the only real human on the team, and despite his appearance, he's all man.

Unity is an undead field agent with exceptional strength and a powerful urge to destroy that she and her colleagues must constantly work to rein in. She also exhibits zombie like lust for brains and other human body parts.

Skin Horse webcomic

Sweetheart is a talking dog, who also happens to be the commander who leads Tip and Unity on their various Skin Horse missions. There are other cast members, just as wacky, but describing the starring trio should give you a flavor for things.

The first volume of Skin Horse collects a little over a year's worth of comic strips from Dec. 31, 2007 to Feb. 7, 2009. The adventures include Tip's first field mission, a attempt to calm a sentient lion; an infestation of enhance vermin that have taken over the basement of Skin Horse HQ; the night Sweetheart indulges her emotions and goes on a rampage with Unity; and a super secret mission in which the crack Skin Horse trio must diplomatically gain control of a rogue intelligence implanted into an experimental combat flying thingy.

Skin Horse web comic strip

There are a few sample strips included here to give you a flavor for the comic strip, but you can read the entire run online at Webcomics Nation, beginning with week one. The strips are about 1/4 larger online. The book reprints them at about 75% of the screen size.

Garrity's cartooning has advanced nicely over the years. Her artwork for Skin Horse is excellent. My only quibble is that the comic includes so much dialogue, that the artwork too often feels crowded into the remaining space. Unlike newspaper comic strips, I assume the overall size is less of an issue for webcomics. I'd prefer to see a more pleasing balance between the space for the art and the words.

In addition to 115 pages of comic strips, the book includes an introduction by Wells, a quote from Margery Williams from The Velveteen Rabbit, a bonus presentation by Garrity and Wells, a few full page drawings of the Skin Horse cast as visualized by other webcomics cartoonists Laura Chapple (Knowledge is Power), Dirk Tiede (Paradigm Shift), Jason Thompson (The Strange High House in the Mist), and a bio page on each of the book's key contributors, including designer Pancha Diaz (2D Comics).

Skin Horse (2009, Couscous Collective) is 134 b&w pages, plus color cover. 8.5" x 9", perfect bound softcover book. It's available for $14 (plus shipping) from the Couscous Collective Store. You can keep up with the creators at Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells at their respective online homes.

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Pork Belly #1 & 2

Pork Belly #1 & 2 edited by Dan W. Taylor

During his newave days Dan Taylor was a big contributor to Clay Geerdes' mini comix like Babyfat. In fact, when Taylor started his Time Warp Comix series in 2007, he designed the title after the classic 8-page mini comix formula embraced by Geerdes—right down to the colored paper stock Geerdes was so fond of.

Recently Taylor started a new series, Pork Belly, which follows in the tradition of Babyfat. This is a title where almost anything goes—and some of the content goes for adults only. Taylor gets things off to a great start in the debut issue with a nod to the title's predecessor in the caption on the cover. And I love the cover's "Immature Readers Only!" warning.

Panels from Pork Belly #1

Taylor often limits himself to the cover art on many of his mini comix, but for this one he contributes seven of the book's eight pages. You Are What You Eat is a four panel pun-fest of tom foodary. It's followed by When Worlds Collide, a visual teat by Chris Hoskins.

Panel from Pork Belly #1

There's no denying Taylor is one punny guy. His wordplay is at its funniest when it's delivered in rapid succession as in the book's highlight—a three page episode of Iggy and Snurt. Next is an illustrated recap that's based on a real (weird) news story—another Geerdes mini comix staple. The issue wraps with a full page pun-driven gag cartoon by Mr. Taylor.

Dan must've gotten the word out about his new title quickly, because his contributors fill out the contents of his second issue. The opening for number two is another visual pun rendered on the cover by the editor himself.

Panels from Pork Belly #2

Inside, the issue begins with A Worm's Tale by Meeah D'zasteur. This two pager is a hoot, but I have to wonder about the artist's pen name. Oh well, it's probably just a black shar-pei anyway.

Panel from Pork Belly #2

Macedonio Garcia, who was highlighted in Midnight Ramblings last week, contributes four frenetic pages illustrating OCD. It's great to see more of Garcia's work, especially in a Geerdes-inspired mini comix. Taylor's Iggy & Snurt return to close out the issue with a page of tennis puns.

At only 8 pages each, these mini comix are more fun to read as a set, so if you're looking for a tasty comix treat, get them both. They're available directly from Taylor's Weird Muse Productions for $1 each, plus 50¢ postage.

Pork Belly #1 (April 2010, Weird Muse)
Pork Belly #2 (June 2010, Weird Muse)

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Mayakovsky and Nebula

Mayakovsky and Nebula by Clark A. Dissmeyer

Somewhere along the way to creating the third issue of Weltschmerz #3, the characters Mayakovsky and Nebula emerged and got their own title. Think of it as a "special edition of a pre-supplement to Welschmerz #3," wrote Clark in a note that came with the comix.

Clark A. Dissmeyer signs his work CAD, and he signed most of the comix in this book. Still, the copyright is held by CAD and Lara McCoy-Rolofson so she must've contributed to the ideas and/or gags.

Panels from Mayakovsky and Nebula

Vladimir Mayakovsky was a famous Russian poet, whose early work in 1915 included a piece entitled A Cloud in Trousers. Hence his personification by CAD. Despite his inspiration, there's only a vague connection between the comic Mayakovsky and the poet who wrote about pants.

Mayakovsky and Nebula is made up of one-page comix with the two lead characters and an anthropomorphic mushroom, named Mushy, who appears when the recipe calls for it. The gags mostly revolve around the character's forms and they go through some pretty clever bits. CAD uses his medium expertly. His gag setups and timing are impeccable.

Panels from Mayakovsky and Nebula

Mayakovsky and Nebula (2010, Self-published) is 16 b&w pages, including the self-cover. 5.5" x 8.5" handmade with saddle stitch binding and no trim. It's available from the artist for $2 or trade. Clark Dissmeyer can be contacted through his page on Poopsheet Foundation.

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Do-It-Yourself ScreenprintingDo-It-Yourself Screenprinting
by John Isaacson

This 192-page book collects what appears to be three issues of Isaacson's zine of the same name, plus some bonus material. Actually, the first two issues carried the same name, the third one was changed to Do It Together Screenprinting, but we'll get to that later.

The first issue provides a wealth of information about low budget screen printing at home in your bedroom, living room, or garage. Isaacson does a terrific job covering even the most technical details in this hand drawn, how to guide.

Panels from Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting

Okay, once you've learned all about color separation, screen mesh, building frames, burning screens, ink, substrate, and squeegees—and you've successfully printed a few dozen T-shirts—what's next? Issue two explores the ins and outs of street vending. A few details may be unique to San Francisco, but Isaacson shares not only his personal experience getting started, but connects with apparently everyone in sight and unearths at least a dozen street savvy lessons learned the hard way by true veterans of street vending.

Panels from Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting

Issue three is a double-sized issue. In this one Isaacson lands a job in a T-shirt factory and learns how the pros do it. He shares the whole learning experience with his readers. The basic principals are the same as the homemade lessons, but in the factory everything is geared toward production, efficiency, and volume. He also learns how working together can accomplish more than working alone—hence the title change in issue three.

When I was starting out, one of my first jobs was working as a production artist in a T-shirt factory. I went through a training process similar to Isaacson's, and I can tell you from first-hand experience, he's done a terrific job covering the subject. He really gets into the nitty gritty of printing multiple colors on T-shirts and shares everything he learned.

Between chapters he presents several two to three page interviews with different screenprinters, probing for useful information to share with his DIY readers. Their websites are all listed so you can check out their work online. And speaking of resources, Isaacson covers sources for screenprinting supplies and equipment as well as a full page list of other reference material on the subject. The book ends with a glossary of terms.

Like Scott McCloud's landmark books, this is a textbook written in comics form. Isaacson tells the story using an autobiographical approach, as if he's learning right along with his readers. His personality and enthusiasm for the subject comes through to add extra interest to all the instructions and details.

Isaacson's artwork matches the tone of the narrative perfectly. It's as light and entertaining as an instruction manual can be. And when the material calls for it the author amps up the tightness of the detail and moves from chatty dialogue to straight documentation. If you're serious about learning how to screenprint, I can't imagine a better book to help you get started.

Panels from Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting

Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting (Dec. 2007, Microcosm) is 192 b&w pages, plus cover. 7" x 8.5", perfect bound, paperback book. First edition, 5000 copies. It's available for $10 from Microcosm Publishing, where you can find other comics by Isaacson like Feedback, Pyromania, and Ride the Lightning. For more about John Isaacson visit his website Unlay, his webcomic Feedback, and his Comics Lifestyle page.

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Karmic Book #1
Front cover and an interior page from Karmic Book #1

Karmic Book #1 by Carrie Taylor

Karmic Book #1 is at the intersection between an art zine and a mini comix. Let's call it an art comix. Inside its ivory covers every page is a full page cartoony illustration. Some are entirely abstract; some are tighter, more recognizable patterns; and some include elements of realism.

The drawings resulted from a series of zen like drawing sessions. In this approach, the artist incorporates free forms and repeating patterns into other shapes. The goal is to connect with a more peaceful state of mind through the drawing process. The calming state produced is exciting and inspiring.

Taylor holds no pretenses about her work. She calls it doodling. To me, it's a little more structured than absent-minded doodling. The best pages in the book have movement and a life of their own.

Karmic Book #1 (2010, Weird Muse) is 12 b&w pages, plus cover printed on smooth, ivory paper. 4.25" x 4.25", handmade with saddle stitch binding. It's available for $2 (plus postage) from Weird Muse Productions, where you can also find Images, written by Carrie Taylor and illustrated by Dan W. Taylor.

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Original content Copyright © 2010 Richard Krauss.
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