Reviews - Illustrated Fiction 16


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Reviews on this page:

24 x 2

Bird Hurdler

Candy or Medicine
Free Comic Book Day Special 2009

Comic Fan #4

Dreamer #1

Hard-Times #8 & 9

Herman the Manatee #1

Papercutter #9

The Profiteer #1


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Herman the Manatee coverHerman the Manatee #1
by Jason Viola

I really like Jason Viola's publishing model. His webcomic is formatted to fit comfortably on a standard computer display or on a page of a mini comic with a landscape orientation. After a series of comics appear online he collects them in a low-cost, self-published mini comic to sell at conventions. When he has enough material, I imagine he'll produce a larger collection in book form. I know this is a relatively common publishing model, but I particularly like Viola's design decisions. His website has a simple, clean interface. It's easy to find and use the navigation buttons. The site includes sharing options, advertising, and blog entries but the the dominant feature is the comic and it requires no screen adjustments or scrolling to read.

I love the way the comic fits perfectly onto a page of a mini comic without tweaking the layout. The first volume of Herman is standard mini comic size in a landscape orientation. About my only minor complaint is the title box. It makes sense on the web, where you're reading one strip at a time, but it seems like a waste of space in the printed version when you're reading one after another.

comic strip

Adding color to a webcomic is hard to resist. Obviously it adds depth and enriches the visuals, but it creates another set of decisions for the print version. Full color printing is expensive. You can print colored comics in b&w, but the tones may not translate well. In the end, color adds several layers of complexity to the production of a webcomic on its journey from screen to page.

Viola has resisted the lure of color and streamlined his production as a result. The strict black-and-white design of his mini comic complements his website perfectly. The corporate crowd from his other webcomic, The Profiteer, would be proud of the brand consistency Herman demonstrates.

The first volume of Herman centers around his encounters with speed boats. Thunk! I was surprised how far Viola went with this and how successful he was in coming up with so many gags about it. They range from mildly amusing to laugh-out-load funny.

Viola's artwork is crisp and clean with a pleasing balance of black and white spaces. His characters are cute and charming. The book includes a couple of tribute strips, styled after George Herriman and Edward Gorey, that are a lot of fun.

I was aware of the Herman webcomic before I met Jason and his Profiteer collaborator Neal Stoddard at Stumptown this year, but I didn't follow the webcomic on a regular basis. Having read the mini, I'm now subscribed to his RSS feed. Further proof that this publishing model works.

Herman the Manatee is 28 b&w pages, plus cover. 5.5" x 4.25", handmade, with saddle-stich binding. It's available for $3 from the Manatee Power Media store. You read or subscribe to the webcomic here.


Papercutter #9 coverPapercutter #9
edited by Greg Means

Papercutter is my favorite comics anthology. It has consistently high-quality and varied work, beautiful production standards, and a price anyone can afford. The book's pleasing package is no accident. Not quite thick enough for perfect binding, Papercutter is easy to read in a single sitting—long enough to lose yourself for a few minutes, but short enough to never tire or bore its readers. Editor Greg Means has established a wonderful publication in its look-and-feel and through his steady, consistently high standards for selecting contributors. I even like the off-white, uncoated paper stock spec'd for the interior pages and cover. It's all part of what sets Papercutter apart from the pack.

Like its earlier issues, this one features one long story followed by two shorter pieces in the back. The lead feature is a fanciful mystery by Aron Nels Steinke. It reads like a real life incident progressively embellished as the tale is told and retold. Strange things are happening around the house. Weird, dangerous dreams at night. Even the cats seem to sense something isn't quite right. Is it just an active imagination? Too many episodes of Paranormal State? Or is something beyond really going on?

Panels from Papercutter #9

Steinke chronicles his haunted tale with humor and his typically charming artwork. If you haven't read his self-published mini comics, this is a great place to sample his work. And be sure to check out his website for more artwork and blog ruminations. His Super Crazy Cat Dance mini is available from the Poopsheet Shop.

Panels from Papercutter #9

Elijah Brubaker is the creator behind the wonderful Reich series from Sparkplug Comics. Here, he contributes a page of snarky comic strips featuring Hubert and Ray.

Panels from Papercutter #9

Diamond Heights by Hellen Jo is an edgy tale about a late-night encounter between two pals who've had too many beers and a pair of mysterious twins who appear at will. Although Jo bills her yarn a true story, like Steinke's, believe what you like. The truth only makes it stranger.

Papercutter #9 is 32 b&w pages, with a full color cover. 6" x 9", offset printed, with saddle-stitch binding. Front cover by Steinke, back cover by Jo, with inside cover illustrations by Nate Beaty. Published by Tugboat Press it's available for $4 from several shops linked on Tugboat's website.


Hard-Times #8 and 9 covers

Hard-Times #8 & 9 by Ed Jackson

The title of Ed Jackson's comic certainly captures the current economic climate perfectly. Each page of his digest-sized Hard-Times features a four-panel comic strip about office and/or employment hijinx. The fourth panel is the gag's punchline, but the story continues on the next page and throughout the book. You might think it's a collection of webcomics, but I believe the print version is the only one.

Issue #8 features an adventure with Jay, a walking, talking business cat. Jay wants to blend in with the corporate culture surrounding him—maybe even advance through the company's ranks—but he struggles with all the busy work, arduous meetings, and spreadsheets.

Issue #9 finds an unemployed superhero trying to make ends meet as part of the day labor pool. He trades quips with his fellow day laborers, lands a series of low-paying jobs, and explores a few other creative income-generating options.

Jackson has a great sense of humor and I enjoyed his cartooning style. It looks as if he inks his drawings directly over the pencil sketches without erasing. The results give the artwork a little extra depth in places and a distracting shadow effect in others (like in the lettering in a few places).

All said, Hard-Times is a terrific, low-budget comic that's an absolute bargain at $1 a copy.

Hard-Times #8 and 9 are 12 b&w pages each, including covers. Each issue is 5.5" x 8.5", stapled.
They are available for $1 each or trade directly from the cartoonist:
Ed Jackson
PO Box 3243
Oak Park, IL 60303


The Profiteer coverThe Profiteer
by Neal Stoddard and Jason Viola

I had a blast reading this self-published comic. Stoddard and Viola take the world of superheroes and villains and embed them in the corporate universe of sales, marketing, technical support, and complex business processes. The result is an hilarious sendup of bureaucracy and procedural gotchas.

Stoddard knows the territory well. His script is loaded with buzzwords and acronyms. He knows exactly where to plant the internal glitches as if he's following the low hanging fruit of a six sigma process map.

Viola's cartoons are clean and crisp. His storytelling complements the script nicely—no small task as Stoddard's dialogue is profuse at times and downright dominating at others. Still, Viola works it all out with clever layouts and athletic prowess arranging burgeoning dialogue balloons. In fact, he gets my vote for employee of the month.

A few panels from The Profiteer

The Profiteer is 24 b&w pages, plus a heavy cover with a full color panel affixed to its center. 5.5" x 8.5", with saddle-stitch binding. The Profiteer is a hoot. It's a steal at $3 and you won't even need a P.O. at the Manatee Power Store. Stoddard and Viola also collaborate on The Bullet Points webcomic and Viola produces Herman the Manatee as a sole proprietor.


Brid Hurdler coverBird Hurdler

This comic anthology was published in partnership through Tugboat Press, Sparkplug Comic Books, and Teenage Dinosaur for 2009's Free Comic Book Day. It you're lucky enough to find it at your local comic shop grab onto a copy and don't let go—it's outstanding. The look and feel—and content—of this comic is like a bonus issue of the Papercutter anthology, edited by Greg Means. However, the editor of this follow-on to last year's Nerd Burglar, is uncredited.

Bird Hurdler's beautiful cover by Andrice Arp sets the book apart immediately. The publishers and price tag are cleverly worked into the painting as post-it notes stuck on the wall. The note on the blackboard warns: "mature readers, please". But it's a borderline rating as any adult themes inside are expressed through dialogue or narrative rather than graphically.

Julia Gfrörer panels from Bird Hurdler

Julia Gfrörer opens the book with a series of four-panel comic strips that feature a punchline at the end of every sequence—but also work together to form a longer story that runs for six pages. The dark adventure concerns a woman who eats so many carrots she'll never be the same.

Andfrice Arp panels from Bird Hurdler

Andrice Arp provides a disturbing two pager called This Happened on an Amtrak Train from NYC to North Carolina. It could've easily been a story from Tales From the Bus. There's just something about confined, moving spaces that makes travel unpredictable and often memorable.

Zack Soto panels from Bird Hurdler

Zack Soto's experimental contribution is fun and funny and still manages to make a serious point about relationships.

Lisa Eisenberg panels from Bird Hurdler

Lisa Eisenberg's six page story provides the human and feline perspective on the same event. Eisenberg's drawings create depth and substance using only a single line weight with minimal shading and texture. Just beautiful to look at!

Farel Dairymple panels from Bird Hurdler

Farel Dalrymple's story is the second installment of Em and Gwen in: Magic Spell. You can read part one online. I love the rich color of the web version, but Dalrymple's bold lines and strong storytelling are no less striking in black-and-white.

Theo Ellsworth panels from Bird Hurdler

Theo Ellsworth provides the final six pages with a fanciful dream called Sleep Disrupter. It's great to see Ellsworth's intricate linework used to tell a story in comics form. In this case it's wordless and each panel speaks as a separate composition or as part of the larger adventure.

Bird Hurdler is 32 b&w pages, plus full color cover. 6" x 9" with saddle-stitch binding. The book is beautifully offset printed by Brown Printing. Back cover by Julia Gfrörer. It's available for free in select comic shops for FCBD.


Candy of Medicine FCBD 2009 coverCandy or Medicine
Free Comic Book Day
Special 2009
edited by Josh Blair

For second year running Josh Blair has created a special edition of his mini comic Candy or Medicine to celebrate Free Comic Book Day. If you live near one of the shops in his network you may be lucky enough to find a hard copy, but if not—no worries—Blair has made a free PDF of the comic available on his website.

I won't describe this book in great detail since you can simply download a copy and read it for yourself, but I will say it's well worth the clicks. Contributors include Issac Bidwell (cover), Josh Blair & Alberto Pessoa (1 page), JB Sapienza (1 page), Noah Van Sciver (2 pages), Morgan Kessler (1 page), Alex Chiu (1 page), and Kyle Brown (back cover).

Candy or Medicine Free Comic Book Day Special 2009 is eight pages with self-cover. It's 4.25" x 5.5" with saddle-stitch binding or whatever else you come up with. Get it (without even leaving the house)!


Dreamer #1 coverDreamer #1
by Nic Carcieri & Eric Dotson

Following the death of his father, Atlanta Police Officer DJ Bennett receives a strange artifact. Its origins date back to a secret program that began during World War II.

This mini comic from Portal Productions launches a new series by writer Nic Carcieri and artist Eric Dotson. The first issue is twelve pages and begins with a flashback when Bennett's father receives his first briefing on the top secret Operation Dragonslayer.

Carcieri is chairperson of the United Fanzine Organization (UFO), a co-op of self-publishers dedicated to the production and promotion of high-qulaity small press comics.

A page from Dreamer #1

Dreamer #1 features a full color cover with b&w interior pages. You can see sample pages on Carcieri's ComicSpace page. Copies are about $1. Send an email to Nic for his PayPal info or send a money order to:
Nic Carcieri
42 Bellevue Avenue
Warwick, RI 02888


Trivial coverTrivial from Four Square Books

Trivial is the third comic anthology from Four Square Books in which the four contributing artists each create a story based on a common theme. Past issues were drawn from themes of "Sorry" and "No." Sale proceeds go toward the artists' convention expenses.

Trivial's bold cover leverages the design of a famous board game and immediately piques your interest and imagination. But when I sat down to read it I suddenly realized I had no idea what the stories would be about. Something trivial, but what does that mean? Each of the four artists inside responded to the question with an answer as unique as their styles.

A panel from Trivial

Alex Frederick-Frost studied the journals of explorer Ernest Shackleton. During the hours the tenacious explorer and his team spent braving the harsh Antarctic conditions what did they talk about? Frederick-Frost tells all in this riveting but inconsequential tale beautifully rendered in bold strokes. Frederick-Frost won a Xeric Award for his comic La Primavera.

A panel from Trivial

Alex Kim, another Xeric Award-winner, recounts a recurring dream about hands. This may sound like a mundane fascination, but Kim soon manages to blow his obsession entirely out of proportion and provide a handful of unexpected emotional twists in the process. Kim uses virtually a single line-weight for all of his drawings giving them a unique look. It was fun to see how and where he chose to add texture to his artwork using this technique. The story opens with a series of twelve panels showing a relatively stiff character from a static vantage point. What makes them interesting is how well Kim is able to portray the character's nerves using only his body language. Great stuff!

A panel from Trivial

A.L. Arnold regales us with the mythology of Atmus, an ancient cloud-walker dedicated to protecting our world from the unseen evils raining down. It may sound grand, but it turns out that on a day-to-day basis, not many cloud-walkers have the fortitude to deal with this endless monotony. Fortunately, Atmus understands the importance of patience.

Other than the opening narration and a few grunts from Atmus, Arnold's tale is told entirely through his artwork. His panels and pages are nicely conceived and his artwork is clean and bold.

A panel from Trivial

Sean Ford gives us two short adventures with Clay and the Ghost. These are more like comic strips than stories, but the off-beat characters are intriguing and the jokes are funny. Clay seems drawn to bland tasks until Ghost comes along to shake things up. Ford's artwork is engaging and his writing imbues his characters with personality that emerges over the course of just a few panels; adding punch to their punchlines.

Trivial is a beautifully produced, handmade package. Inside, it's 56 ivory pages are printed with crisp, saturated black ink. The three-color cover is printed on heavy stock with rich, opaque coverage. The seven-inch square package is secured with saddle-stitch binding. It's available for a trivial $5 from I Know Joe Kimpel along with plenty of other great comics by the new generation of cartoonists.


Comic Fan #4 coverComic Fan #4 edited by Jim Main and Sam Gafford

If you're in the mood for a great fan magazine, Comic Fan should be at the top of your list. The look-and-feel and tone of this fanzine positively exudes a passion for the comics medium from the largest franchise to the smallest self-publisher.

The issue's cover story is a tribute to Tower Comics. In The Age of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Glenn Walker reports on the origins of Tower and their longest-running series, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He provides a character profile for each Agent, each series that earned its own title, and follows the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent franchise through various owners up to its present-day status.

A Visit to the Tower by Steve Skeates provides a surprising look at the haphazard editorial direction behind the nameplate, the series, and the characters. Skeates was a fledgling writer at Tower in the 60s with an inside seat. He shares his observations and insights into the company and its culture in this fascinating and frank memoir.

To remember the fifteenth anniversary of Jack Kirby's passing, Sam Gafford offers a fond look back at the legendary King's career and the impact of his work. Gafford recounts a few of Kirby's career highlights, his place in history, the business challenges he faced, and the remarkable impact of his work on legions of fans and readers.

Comics historian and leader of Inter-Fan, Lance "Doc" Boucher offers a report on the work of fan-favorite, the late Richard "Grass" Green. The two page tribute includes a loving eulogy by his widow Janice Green. Comic Fan's publisher, Main Enterprises, has collected work by Green and writer Michael Vance into a special tribute publication called For Ever Green.

Comic researcher Dennis Kinninger provides a profile/memoir about the American Comic Group's kooky character Herbie, The Fat Fury. ACG's rotund superhero is being reprinted by Dark Horse for those who missed his Silver Age adventures the first time around.

Comic Fan's impressive review section called The Spinner Rack includes reviews of mainstream, indy, small press, and manga comics. Plus a blistering review of the new Spirit movie. The review team includes Mark Allen, Allen Freeman, Dennis Kinninger, Matt Levin, Michael Vance, and I.

Nic Carcieri provides a profile of The Perhapanauts, a team of unlikely heroes dedicated to finding creatures who have crossed through the fabric of reality and return them from whence they came. The series is produced by Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau who offer The Perhapanuats Annual #1 as a free PDF download on their website.

Artist Larry Tisch returns with another two page spread of Comic Memories that includes his take on a few of his favorite costumed heroes and two of the medium's most famous little girls.

The issue concludes with Sam Gafford's Sez Me! wherein Comic Fan's Associate Editor walks us through The Watchmen's twenty-three year uphill battle from page to film. A convoluted campaign fraught with copyright court, greed, false starts, and creative disputes only a team of superheroes could untangle. It's a wonder it ever made it to the screen.

As usual, this issue is loaded with cover reproductions and artwork by Dave Farley (cover), Dan W. Taylor, Larry Tisch, Rich Limacher, Jack Kirby, Marc Haines, Hal Jones, Richard "Grass" Green, John Lambert (back cover), and Don Newton & Dan Adkins.

Comic Fan #4 is 56 b&w pages, plus full color cover. 8.5" x 11", POD, with saddle-stitch binding. Production work by Richard Sullivan, with Tim Goebel as the mascot. It's available for $7.75 (postage paid) from Main Enterprises.


The cover of 24 x 224 x 2 by David Chelsea

Who knows who holds the record for the most 24-hour comics, but it may well be David Chelsea. By May 2008, he'd celebrated nine successful wins, two of which are featured in this Top Shelf production. 24-hour comics are always fun to read because you never know what to expect. In spite of their inherent lack of polish, they are usually inventive, playful, and surprisingly good.

This is a nice collection that showcases two approaches to creating a spontaneous, deadline-driven, comic story. The first, Everybody Gets it Wrong was drawn in December 2005. The setup here is the idea that the point of view in every autobiographical comics is wrong, because the author is writing the tale in first person, but drawing it in third person. Chelsea aims to tell and show it all in first. After outlining his case, Chelsea sells it with examples shown in a series of short episodes drawn from dreams. But the pressure of the pages to come and the looming deadline never let him forget he's on the clock. Everybody becomes a realtime diary tracking his progress in between the dream sequences.

comic strip

By April 2007 Chelsea was a veteran of 24-hour marathons and the second entry, Sleepless, shows it. This one furthers his vision of first person words and pictures through a variety of dreamy subjects too—but this time with an underlying confidence. Chelsea is no longer a slave to the clock, he's its master. Sleepless is spontaneous, but it's also nicely paced and wrapped up smoothly in a satisfying improv sort of way. The style of the artwork on Sleepless is wonderful too. The grainy (dry brush?) technique includes so much detail it's as if Chelsea is thumbing his nose at the ticking deadline. The not-quite-perfectly-clear images suggest the long hours and sleeplessness of the process.

comic strip

24 x 2 provides a great look at 24-hour comics. The first entry is all about the adventure and getting through the challenge. The second round shows what can be done once a veteran gains his feet. 24 x 2 is 48 b&w pages, plus a color cover. 5" x 7.5", offset, with saddle-stitch binding. It's available for $5 from Top Shelf.



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Original content Copyright © 2009 Richard Krauss.
All other copyrights belong to their respective owners.