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The Experts by Kenn Minter and Clarence Pruitt
The Experts is a wacky dramedy about a dysfunctional team of second-string super heroes. The stories were originally published as a series of three 24-page comic books that have been collected into this trade paperback.
The team is formed when the Frost Queen summons the mysterious Doctor Delta, the fresh-faced Free Mary, the enigmatic Ninja Witch, the elongated Mr. Elaztik, the jade-hued Emerald Yeti, and the naive Naked Man, and asks their help in ridding the world of evil—or something along those lines.
In the first adventure the Ninja Witch and Free Mary take center stage as they seek to defeat the menace of the Silver Muse. The rest of the team are just there to quibble, complain, and try to pick-up the women—just like in the serious super hero comics.
The final story must've been a two-parter in the original comic books. It starts out with a few pages drawn by Jason Cheesman-Meyer, and then reverts back to the original creative team. The change is handled seamlessly, smoothing what could have been a jarring effect. Ninja Witch emerges as the series' star character in this longer adventure, but we learn more about several of the team's members including the origin of Doctor Delta.
The artwork in The Experts is top notch. It reminds me of an updated version of a golden age style. The gray tones lend additional depth to the panels. The stories are entertaining and funny and the book provides an enjoyable read for the price. The final pages reprint the original covers from the comic books (in black-and-white).
The Experts (2009, Near Mint Press) is 120 b&w pages, plus color covers. Comic book size, printed by ComiXpress, with perfect binding. It's available for $14.99 via The Experts website. The book contains mildly adult language and situations. For more on the artists, visit their sites at Kenn Minter and Clarence Pruitt.
Ben White (aka Ben Snakepit) said in a recent interview with The Daily Cross Hatch that 2010 will be the last year he'll draw the Snakepit daily comic strip. After ten years, he's tired of the project and wants to work on other things—primarily music and other comics.
I've run across other years of Snakepit collections in the past, but this is the first one I've actually read. Although this is a collection of a full year's worth of strips in a book format, the first thing that struck me about them was their similarity to Carrie McNinch's You Don't Get There From Here.
The drawing styles are similar. Both cartoonists are absolutely dedicated to sharing a daily record of their lives, and they both include a different song of the day that captures a mood or feeling of the moment.
Maybe I'm trying to put them in boxes, but I was as struck by the similarities as by the differences in their approach. McNinch is more emotional—introspective and self-critical. White is more reporterly. He simply recounts what happened during the day with less emphasis on how he felt about it. When he expresses his feelings it's usually via a single "cool" or expletive.
Every day of Snakepit 2008 is depicted in three panels. After reading a couple of week's worth I was a little annoyed with how many of the strips began with basically the same panel: "I went to work at the video store." One third of four or five strips a week was spent on "the work" panel. White even complains about it himself at one point because he's so tired of drawing it. He vows to try different approaches—which he does for awhile—until he eventually returns to his basic "just the facts" approach.
But as I progressed through the year, I started to feel very different about the monotony of "the work" panel. It's repetition and frequency became a perfect metaphor for a decent, but not very artistically fulfilling, day of work—the life so many struggling artists live. A day job to pay living expenses is the day's priority while the love of music or cartooning or whatever takes second or third priority.
Although I enjoyed White's simple cartooning, taken as individual episodes, not much happens from one day to the next. But as a collection, a real story of a year of a real person's life emerges. And that, as Harvey Pekar might say, is fascinating stuff.
Snakepit is a rare glimpse into someone else's life. The ups and downs and how much can be accomplished juggling priorities like work, relationships, and outside interests; White's are music and cartooning.
Snakepit 2008 (2009, Microcosm) is 96 b&w pages, plus cover. 6" x 8.5", perfect bound paperback book. First edition, 4000 copies. It's still available for $5 from Microcosm Publishing along with an earlier volume, My Life in a Jugular Vein (2004-2006), which includes a CD. Snakepit 2009 was recently published by Birdcage Bottom Books. You can track Ben Snakepit on FaceBook.
Sounds of Your Name by Nate Powell
This massive volume collects stories from 1999 through 2003 that originally appeared in Nate Powell's small press comics like Walkie Talkie, Wonderful Broken Thing, Tiny Giants, etc.
Literary fiction requires more work from readers than popular fiction. It requires closer concentration to appreciate the craft and the subtlety of the prose. That's true of Powell's literary approach to the comics medium as well. If you're looking for action and adventure, you won't find them here. Powell's work is about life's larger questions and the search for meaning. Sometimes he reminds the reader of a simple or difficult truth, and other times he shares his laments about life's harsh edges that aren't easily soothed.
Sounds of Your Name is divided into three sections. The first is a series of short stories, typically two to fives pages in length. The bulk of the volume are stories not so short that fall in the 20 to 30 page range. The final section reprints covers from the original small press comics from whence the stories came.
The short stories focus on single concepts and are often told with minimal dialog or narration. They move in a linear fashion, from start to finish. The stories not so short are more challenging. Here, the narrative shifts from one character or story to another. The sub-stories always relate to the larger theme that eventually emerges—but sometimes it's more obvious than in others. Powell works hard to keep his stories cohesive and moving forward, but the constant scene shifts sometimes challenge the reader to stay oriented. Even a moment of confusion jars the story's spell and takes yet another moment to woo you back. Powell's storytelling is complex enough that a second reading is often worthwhile.
The artwork in Sounds of Your Name is fluid and forceful. With beautiful linework, bold contrasts, and dynamic design, the work is eminently suited to its black-and-white presentation. Powell experiments with styles and orientation throughout. But pushing boundaries is risky business and there are moments when Powell trades off visual excitement for clarity.
The introduction states Powell has worked with adults with developmental disabilities since 1999. His comic stories are obviously affected by his experiences. They explore life's mysteries and our search for meaning and dignity, and islands of refuge in the challenging world of coming of age.
Sounds of Your Name (2006 & 2007, Microcosm) is 360 b&w pages. 7.25' x 10.25", perfect bound, softcover book. The story Frankenbones was written by Emil Heiple. The second printing is available for $12 from Microcosm Publishing. Visit See My Brother Dance, Powell's website, for more news, gallery, etc.
New West #1 by Bram Meehan and Caleb Yeider
I like the premise of this new comic from Panel Press: In a harsh future, years after California has dropped off the map, a stranger rides into town with adventure on his mind.
New West #1 is the opening third of three-part story called The Hill. Two bikers join a mysterious stranger on this journey to Los Alamos, New Mexico to reclaim something that was taken from him in Reno after the quake. The trio head into New Los Angeles where they track down a bar frequented by off-duty soldiers. Trouble ensues.
I have faith in writer Bram Meehan, and there's lots of action and attitude, but not enough story yet to decide if this post-apocolyptic western will live up to its promise. The next issue will tell the tale in more ways than one.
The artwork by Caleb Yeider adds to the gritty feel of the New West world. He seems to be having the most fun in the bar fight, where his characters shrug off some of the stiffness they exhibit in the earlier pages. And I particularly enjoyed watching the protagonist down a bottle bourbon before the fracas breaks out.
New West #1 (2010, Panel Press) is 32 b&w pages, plus color covers. 6.5" x 10.25", POD by South Island Press, saddle stitch binding with machine trim. Lettering and production work by Monica Meehan. This issue is available for $2.99 from 7000 BC. You can download a preview PDF at Panel Press.
WTF!?! #2 edited by Jim Main
The first issue of this title was what I think of as a true mini comix. Quarter-page-size, handmade, black-and-white, with a self cover. Its single page gags and comic strips that incite an exasperated WTF-reaction, fit the format perfectly. A modern day version of the minis of old.
Maybe editor Jim Main's contributors wanted more room to work. For whatever reason, issue two has expanded to digest size. The comics inside remain single page efforts; either a full page gag cartoon or a comic strip with a few panels to set up the joke and deliver the punchline. Sometimes the WTF-reaction is literally part of the gag and sometimes it simply hangs in the background.
Main rounded up a terrific group of contributors for his expanded second issue. They include Wade Busby (who turned in a terrific cover), Dan Taylor (Weird Muse Productions), Josh Blair (Candy or Medicine), Terry Pavlet (Haus of Design), Ed Jackson (Hard Times), Lance "Doc" Boucher (InterFan), John Lambert (Chase), Barry Southworth, Scott Shriver, Jack Bertram (website), Bill Shut (the late Jamie Alder), Michael Grassia (website), and Brad Foster (Jabberwocky Graphix). Marc Haines (Deadlyworld) handled the production work as well as coloring for the front and back covers.
WTF is a quick read that provides a few moments of entertainment and a nice sampling of work from a handful of (mostly) Main's regulars. WTF!?! #2 is 16 b&w pages, plus color covers. 5.5" x 8.5", saddle stitch binding, machine trim, printed by the SPA. It's available for $2 from Main Enterprises.
BFF by Nate Beaty
Otherwise known as Brainfag Forever, BFF the book, collects most of Nate Beaty's BFF mini comics published from 1999 through 2007. In this case, fag is short for fatigue. Brain fag is a condition of mental exhaustion. Beaty's brain fag stems from survival issues—work, life, love, and health.
For most of the book the adverse political climate of the era colors the main events but keeps to the background. It certainly affects Beaty's life choices and his narrative voice, but it only takes center stage once when his frustration with Bush and the United States of Corporate America surges out onto the page.
A portion of the book is about living in cold, rain-swept, rudimentary quarters on Orcas Island or in Oregon's most northwestern city, Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia. Beaty embraces his life as a struggling, independent cartoonist in this tell-all autobiography. It may be too angst-filled to appeal to everyone. But Beaty is honest (sometimes brutally honest) about himself and establishes enough of a connection with his readers to draw you into his relationships with women, chronic health issues, living situations, work, friends, family, cats, and appearance.
The short, mini-episodes of his pages work surprisingly well to present a coherent portrait of eight years of recollections. Like his life, Beaty keeps trying different approaches to his cartoons. He creates a new caricature of himself every fifty pages or so. But the artwork in his comics is secondary to the narrative. His cartoons get the job done, but it's the patter and narrative that keeps you reading.
Don't get me wrong, Beaty's a terrific cartoonist. BFF also includes sketchbook pages of cityscapes, Portland bridges, and train tracks that are gorgeous. His artwork is a staple of the front and back inside covers of Greg Mean's wonderful Papercutter anthologies. In the end, BFF is a slice of life and the struggle to figure it out.
BFF (Aug. 2008, Microcosm Publishing) is 224 b&w pages, plus color cover. 5.5" x 7", perfect bound paperback book. It's available for $8 from Microcosm Publishing. Beaty has retired his Brainfag website and now lives on the grid at Nate Beaty.
A Rabbit in King Arthur's Food Court by Josh Latta
The sixth episode Rashy Rabbit is an example of a terrific small press comic. King Arthur's food court is a world all its own inside an upscale mall somewhere in the Rashy universe. It's steeped in medieval atmosphere, yet it's only a sarcastic social snipe away from the Urban Pedestrian storefront and its ilk.
Rashy's picked up a clean-up job in the King's court and he's holding onto it for dear life. He needs something steady and reliable to impress his Honey Bunny, a buxom, single mom he's gaga over. But King Arthur's only provides the setting and costumes for this outing. The real adventure involves a crate of stolen pot and its angry owners—with Rashy right in the middle of everything.
Latta tells his tale like a knight of his cartoon realm. His entertaining adventure is in constant motion, but never feels rushed. His cartooning is even better. Latta's artwork transports the reader into Rashy's universe where funny animals walk the malls and run the show. It looks like one of the great comics of the 1950s, but these characters have seen the underground comix revolution and they'll never be the same.
A Rabbit in King Arthur's Food Court (2010, Wide Awake Press) is 32 b&w pages, plus a color cover printed on heavier stock. 7" x 8.5", saddle stitch binding, untrimmed. It's available for $4 from Lattaland. A Midnight Fiction Favorite
My Brain Hurts Vol. 2 by Liz Baillie
The second volume of Baillie's acclaimed My Brain Hurts collects work that originally appeared in issues 6-10 of her mini comic.
My Brain Hurts is an ensemble piece whose characters are struggling to find their place in high school, work study, the streets of New York, or wherever they happen to be. Some of their lives interconnect and some run in opposite or parallel paths interrelated only from the vantage point of Baillie's readers.
The characters are all struggling with major life issues as they claw their way toward adulthood. Drugs, sexual identity, broken families, and poor support systems all collide with the appeal of the punk aesthetic and outsider lifestyle. The characters often make poor decisions and Baillie's narrative stays with them while they suffer through the consequences.
My Brain Hurts is a lingering snapshot of a pivotal period in her character's lives. She ends their stories not with definitive answers, but with a reasonable hope that they will move on and find better lives for themselves. In fact, she adds a "where are they now" epilogue that brings a greater sense of closure (and relief) to the saga.
The second bonus feature of the book is an extras section with original character sketches, script pages, and a couple pages worth of false starts that were abandoned.
My Brain Hurts Vol. 2 (2009, Microcosm Publishing) is 128 b&w pages, plus color cover. 5.5" x 8.5", commercially printed with perfect binding. It's available for $6 from Microcosm Publishing. Liz Baillie was interviewed by The Daily Crosshatch about the story. For her current work see the Liz Baillie website.
Om Box by Lara McCoy-Rolofson
I had to Google it, but an Om Box is a Buddhist chant box that repeats a chant to prepare the mind for meditation. In Western civilization this used to be called a transistor radio.
In this case, Om Box is a collection of sketches and comic strips LMR produced in early 2010 for readers to clear their minds of angst. The comics are all one-pagers. Some seem like a stream of consciousness that LMR thought up as she went along, while others seem more idea driven with their punch lines known in advance. Either way, her life's commentary is humorous and entertaining.
The artwork in her comics is minimalistic. She saves her more detailed artwork for the full page sketches sprinkled throughout the zine.
Om Box (2010, LMR) is 16 b&w pages plus a color self-cover. 5.5" x 8.5", handmade with saddle stitch binding, and untrimmed. It's available for $2 from Lara McCoy-Rolofson, who can be contacted via her page at the Poopsheet Foundation, where you can read some of her comic commentary online.
H-Boyz Comix #1 by Blake and Clay Hatrison
The cover of the debut issue of H-Boyz Comix proclaims it's "introducing the new lords of the underground." That pretty much sums up the in-your-face attitude and energy of the comix the Hatrison Bros have produced. The comix seem to be over-the-top auto-biographical riffs on their real life drugs/sex/metal life style.
The artwork is impressive. It's nicely rendered, with layered shadows that add depth. The animated characters leap off the action-filled pages. The stories take their situations to the same extremes. The humor is laid on thick and non-stop, but for me it's like reading deviant entries on the Urban Dictionary; more than I wanted to know. Bodily functions and degenerate behavior that comes across more gross than funny. It could be me, maybe I'm just not in the target market for this one.
You can probe the sub-domain at Malignant Strain to get a whiff of what the boyz are didding. The H-Boyz Comix #1 (2010) is 32 b&w pages, plus color covers. 6.5" x 10.25", saddle stitch binding, printed by ComiXpress. It's available for $4 (plus $2 shipping and handling) from the H-Boyz Store. Adults only.
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Original content Copyright © 2010 Richard Krauss.
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