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Jim Main is one of the most prolific publishers of small press comics and zines and his latest, Strange Space Stories #1, is one of his best yet. I love the concept of combining comics and prose stories under the same cover.
And speaking of covers, this one is terrific. Robert (Floyd) Sumner's tribute to Wally Wood captures the look and spirit of the master, with enough of Floyd's own style peeking through to make it his own as well.
I enjoyed John Lambert's clever approach to storytelling in his comic story The Ark. The plot itself is somewhat routine, but the past tense narration with an omniscient voice gives the tale weight as if it's a piece of secret history revealed at long last. As always, six pages of Lambert's artwork is a treat (with embellishments by Sumner).
Sam Gafford's prose story, A Bucket of Nerves, does a nice job combining a classic detective story with an outer space yarn. I's a fun read in the spirit of the pulp magazines. And Dan Taylor's illustrations provide extra visual interest as the tale unfolds.
The issue's final comic, Strange Frequencies by Sumner, is some of the artist's best work. It's great to see him doing a nine page story! Very nicely rendered with lots of detail and atmosphere. It's a creepy tale in the spirit of something EC or Warren would have produced.
The full page illustrations by Jan Johnson, Marc Haines, Miguel Guerra, Rene Blansette, Jason Gillespie, Jim Pack, and Tim Tobolski (back cover) serve as a showcase for their artwork and as useful pacing, placed throughout the issue. The debut effort gets this book off to a great start. I hope we'll be seeing many more issues.
Strange Space Stories #1 is 36 b&w pages, plus color covers. 6.5" x 10.25", POD, saddle stitch binding with machine trim. It's available for $3.25 (plus $1.50 postage) from Main Enterprises. Production management by Sam Gafford and Robert Sumner.
Poor Herman. Like the Charlie Brown of the undersea world, we love to root for the underdog. In this second collection of his dependable webcomic Jason Viola expands the gags and storyline beyond getting clobbered by speedboats. This time out in addition to his manatee pals, the cast includes a puffer-fish, starfish, sturgeon, sunfish(?), dolphins, and even a few humans who try to corral the humongous sea cow for their tourist attraction, Manatee Adventure. When that doesn't work out they try to create a "swim with the manatees" program, but Herman has other ideas.
Viola continues to refine his artwork. His characters are rendered with crisp, clean lines. Their expressions and body language are rich and animated. The deep sea setting provides simple but varied backgrounds with large blocks of black to bring the simple cartoons to life.
Viola's writing is also progressing. His set-ups and punchlines are getting more imaginative as he's added some depth to the characters—Herman in particular; this time out.
The opening strips all devote their first panel to a title block, like some Sunday comic strips. In a collection like this it doesn't add a lot of value. Perhaps Viola realized this in the transition from monitor to print from his first collection and dropped the titles after the first five or six pages. The subsequent pages look and feel better for the somewhat subtle change.
If you regularly follow webcomics Herman the Manatee should be on your list. It's excellent. Herman the Manatee #2 is 28 b&w pages, plus a heavy-weight cover made from colored paper with a b&w image firmly affixed. 5.5" x 4.25, handmade with saddle-stitch binding. Both issues #1 and #2 are available for $3 each from the Herman the Manatee store, where you can also find his other titles Sunward, The Profiteer, and Rabbit Shadows.
Z-Blade XX is a superhero comic with an underlying indie spirit. The first thing that grabbed me was Guy LeMay's artwork. It's bold, fun to look at, and full of life. And when you start reading you realize that description fits the whole package. The creative team seems to be having loads of fun putting this comic together.
The book is published by Atomic Basement Entertainment. A serious, dedicated group with a good sense of humor that comes out in the story's narration and dialog—and the two page editorial by Steve Palmer that details the background on how the title came to be.
In the opening issue Z-Blade battles the Insomniac, a deranged, human lab rat who literally never sleeps. He escapes from the Quittance Insanitarium to wreck havoc on the city with only Z-Blade to force him back into his box. If you're looking for an all-out action adventure for your indie comics reading list, don't miss this one.
Z-Blade XX #1 is 32 pages, plus cover all in full-color. 6.5" x 10", looks like POD, with saddle-stitch binding and machine trim. It's available for $3.99 from comic shops. Also check out this interview with Palmer and LeMay on Gene's Music Memories, and the websites for Atomic Basement and Guy LeMay are also worth a visit.
Clark Dissmeyer, aka CAD, is a long time comix artist who's been making mini comix almost since there were mini comix. Weltschmerz is a great collection of mostly one pagers that typifies the irreverent, go-for-the jugular humor of the prolific cartoonist.
The softer gags like The Vision goof on themes of meaning and purpose, while the hard core stuff like Phantom Limb Funnies flirt on the edge of tastelessness. Most of CAD's comix feature a loose, sketchy cartooning style, but a few pages are more embellished, like the cover cartoon.
There are a few "tribute" pages; one that pokes fun at Rasper the haunter hacker (Casper) and another where CAD riffs on Vaugn Bode. All told, it's a great collection of rebellious rabble that combines the best of CADs free-wheeling newave sensibilities with the years of an experienced gagman.
Weltschmerz is 36 b&w pages, including covers. 5.5" x 8.5", untrimmed, with saddle-stitch binding. It's available directly from the cartoonist for $3 via his page on Poopsheet Foundation. He's also interested in trades, so let him know what you've got.
The title and cover art do a pretty good job encapsulating the tone and look-and-feel of this first mini comic from Lauren Barnett. I was expecting this to be a collection of her single-panel gags from her sketchblog, Me Likes You. Instead, the book is a (new?) collection of short comics. The subject matter seems inspired by real life events or situations but it's not what you'd call autobiographical. Barnett's comics relate the stories from a removed perspective. She simply reports what happened and adds her own, often funny, observations.
Barnett's writing is what makes this comic worth a look. It's clever and snarky and she dreams up some funny situations. Her artwork is a bit scratchy in places, but has a nice charm to it that grows on you as you read her quips and qualms.
I'd Sure Like Some Fucking Pancakes is 16 pages, printed on ivory colored paper. The interior pages are b&w. The front and back covers are in color. 5.5" x 8.5", handmade, with saddle-stitch binding. It's available directly from the cartoonist for $2 from Me Likes You, where you can find additional minis too.
The second issue of Ochre Ellipse was nominated for an Ignatz Award and won the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. That's a wonderful legacy, and it leaves a lot of live up to. Part of what made issue two so appealing was its emphasis on experimental storytelling. Madden-Connor really pushed the boundaries of traditional comics with striking page layouts and innovative visual communication.
He shows moments of inspiration in issue three, but took a more traditional approach to storytelling and concentrated most of his effort on plot development and writing. Issue three is oblong to support the comic strip-style layout. Every page presents three evenly-sized panels. Madden-Conner's artwork is clean and crisp with just enough detail to pull you into his imaginary world. Everything is rendered in long shot, so you never get too close to his characters. The reader is an observer, not a participant, and that fits his science fiction yarn quite appropriately.
At the surface level it's a fun adventure story, part time travel and part ghost story. But there's enough underlying depth to reflect on the story's larger themes.
Unlike its predecessor, issue three won't dazzle you with clever visual tricks or unusual layouts. Its magic is more subtle. Its captivating story and artwork will pull you into an imaginative world and suddenly you'll realize you've been dazzled again.
Ochre Ellipse #3 is 36 b&w pages, plus cover printed on heavy green paper. 7" x 3.5", with saddle-stitch binding and machine trim. It's available for $5 from the Family Style store.
CAD aka Clark A. Dissmeyer is a newave cartoonist who's been publishing mini comics since the 70s. A few of his titles include Plague of Humor, Tales from Nebraska, Anal Retentive Horror, and Shlumyelhummer, but he's created and contributed to many, many more. He recently sent me a batch of his latest comix, which I'll be reviewing over the next several weeks.
First up is Phantom Girl, a story of life and death. I don't want to give too much away here, but the phantom visitor wanders the city streets and neighborhoods calling on various homes to deliver books—or perhaps they're ledgers. Each one reveals a different story and evokes a different response. Great concept and execution by an indie cartoontist that's been telling stories for decades.
Phantom Girl is 8 b&w pages, plus a black cover with handwritten lettering by the artist. 4.25" x 5.5", handmade with saddle-stitch binding. You can see a preview of the mini comix in one of CAD's photo albums on Poopsheet Foundation. He sells his comix, but prefers to trade them. His contact information is listed on the Clark Dissmeyer page at PF.
Jenna Blue is a hired gun. The result of a genetic experiment designed to develop a superior race of humans. To what purpose? For the betterment of mankind? Not quite. More like a really effective, yet expendable assassin. She's not exactly superpowered, but she certainly has abilities far beyond your typical hit woman. As her adventure begins, a routine assignment soon turns into a mystery she's compelled to resolve.
Outlaw Entertainment editor-in-cheif, Jason M. Burns turns in another well-written script wonderfully illustrated by Steve Grendon in a cartoony realistic style. Like the other comics I've seen from Outlaw this one is a little over 100 pages. Plenty of space to develop characters and plot elements. I like Burns' approach to writing comics. Lots of dialog and narration. Grendon is fond of dynamic camera angles for his page and panel layouts that add to the fun. The comic is full color throughout, but colorist Ciaran Lucas paints Jenna's world in sepia tones with only occasional flashes of sexy red lips and of course that telltale genetically-engineered blue skin.
Jenna Blue is divided into four chapters of twenty-something pages each. The extra pages in the back provide a preview of an upcoming project called Confession. The balance of the pages are ads for other Outlaw graphic novels.
Jenna Blue is 6.5" x 10". Cover by Nick Bradshaw. It's available from Outlaw Entertainment for $7.99 or in comic shops around the country.
What a treat it is to read roughly one-and-half years worth of this classic comic strip in a beautifully produced hardcover volume. Although the strip was still called Thimble Theatre at the time, it was all Popeye. His character was so powerful he was more than the star. The whole Thimble Theatre universe revolved around him. The Sunday pages in this volume include a secondary feature, Sappo, that runs along the bottom of the page. Sappo is a fine comic strip in it's own right. It features the same wacky sensibilities and down-to-earth roots of Thimble Theatre, but it lacks the star power of the one-eyed sailor.
The dailies take Popeye out West to capture Clint Gore the outlaw; to the kingdom of Nazilia for the epic Rough-House War; and back West again to run a ranch in Skullyville for Olive's papa. The Sundays feature shorter adventures. Some are simply standalone gags while others may run for a month or more. In these Sundays, Popeye's life as a prizefighter is the central plot as he's challenged to bouts with a succession of progressively tougher opponents.
Wimpy's role in the strip grows nicely over the course of the Sunday run. He starts out as the referee in Popeye's fights and then re-appears at the lunch counter cafe where Popeye is a regular. As the Sundays roll by Wimpy's role increases and we soon learn of his insatiable appetite for hamburger sandwiches and his constant panhandling.
The book features a heart-felt foreword by Mort Walker, which includes a wonderful cartoon letter Segar sent in response to the then young Walker's fan mail. Donald Phelps provides an introductory essay with insights into Segar's influences.
The second volume in Fantagraphics Books' series features 78 pages of daily Thimble Theatre comic strips (Dec. 22, 1930 to June 8, 1932) and 83 pages of full color Sundays (March 1, 1931 to Oct. 2, 1932). It's available at bookstores everywhere and from many online shops. The suggested retail price is $29.95, but if you shop around you'll find it for much less.
The influence of rock and roll permeates the cartoons and illustrations of Matt Chicorel aka Chic in Buzzpop. Part comix book and part showcase for his event and art posters, the second issue of this title published by Night Light Comics is a sizzling collection of energy and wry humor captured on paper.
The exaggerated motion of the cartoon figures and lettering in his posters is outstanding. The full page illustrations serve as interludes between his comix stories. I found myself lingering over the sweeping and swaying anatomy and lettering.
Rock and roll influences Chic's comix too, but it's more in spirit than content. The main storyline features the garage sale-inspired adventures of two would-be superheroes (Trenchcoat and Kim) revealed through multiple perspectives in three episodes. Another, separate story features a guy and his monkey pal discussing 7th Heaven until the aliens arrive to grill them on (slightly) more important matters. The book's final comic is the third episode of the nine-part superhero adventure, and things are developing nicely as the issue concludes.
Buzzpop #2 is 36 b&w pages, plus a cover printed on heavier orange paper. 5.5" x 8.5", with saddle-stitch binding. You can read Chic's comix and see his art galleries on Night Light Comics. Buzzpop #2 is $4 and available directly from the artist through his contact page.
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Original content Copyright © 2009 Richard Krauss.
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