Tagged: Reviews

Relationships According to Savage Chickens by Doug Savage
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Relationships According to Savage Chickens by Doug Savage

It’s not quite tripping myself up, but…I sometimes specifically pick really short books to read so that I can have something to write about here the next day. (More often when I’m doing a Book-A-Day run, but at other times, too. Like right now.) But then I usually find that the really short books don’t provide a lot of material to write about, because – and here may be the point where I’m stating the blindingly obvious – they are really short.

Now, that could be a feature: if I’m just trying to get done quickly, I read a short book, I write “hey, this book is short and is a really obvious thing” and go on with my life. But I feel like I’m short-changing you, my faithful reader.

(I address you in my head like that, when I’m feeling puckish, as if there actually is anyone who goes out of their way to read this random book-blog with no real theme and possibly the worst circa-2010 Blogger layout imaginable, in this the year of our lord twenty twenty-four. We all have our crotchets.)

Anyway, here I am again. Relationships According to Savage Chickens  is a short collection of “Savage Chickens” strips by Doug Savage, one of a clump of themed books that came out around 2012 and only available digitally. (Well: now that I look more closely, this one and Zombies  came out in ’12, and there were three more last year. That’s a good sign for the health of the ongoing Savage Chickens project, which I like to see: it’s still a funny strip, and I like to see funny things stay successful.)

When I say “short,” I mean “fifty single-page cartoons.” That would be tiny for a book with a square binding, though about twice the side of a modern comic book – so I guess it all depends on perspective.

We start and end with “Romeo and Juliet” jokes. Savage is modern and at least mildly edgy; this isn’t glurge in any way. I still like his rounded line: his chickens are just funny, with their big round eyes, their little wattles, and the way they look just a bit too big and ungainly for any possible situation.

As always, tastes in humor will vary. I think Savage is funny, and I wish he had more books that were somewhat longer (so I didn’t feel awkward trying to write about them). I hope you will have a similarly positive reaction to his work.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver
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Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver

There are times when I don’t have much to say here. I read a book, I mostly liked it, I’ve already read a number of things by the same creator, I don’t have anything particularly new or specific to say this time.

And that sounds so horribly minimizing, doesn’t it?

But “this is good stuff, in line with the same person’s previous good stuff” is actually very positive. (Right? I think so, anyway.)

So, with that caveat: I just read Noah Van Sciver’s 2016 collection of comics short stories, Disquiet . It’s a general, miscellaneous collection – everything I’ve seen from him previously has been more focused, from the graphic novels Fante Bukowski  and Saint Cole  to the self-explanatorily themed As a Cartoonist  collection.

But this one is just some stories and art Van Sciver did, over about the previous five years, collected between two covers and assembled into a plausible order. They have different tones and styles and concerns – some modern-day, some historical, one more folkloric – and they’re separated by individual pieces of Van Sciver art, so they each sit separately, like objects on a shelf. I like that in a collection, frankly – with prose, it tends to be a thing of making sure there are blank left-hand pages where appropriate, and maybe icons or dingbats or similar decorative elements, but comics-makers are more likely to just have more art, that they did, which can help to divide stories from each other.

I guess I might as well take the stories one at a time:

“Dive Into that Black River” is a nearly wordless, two-page spread, more of a poster than a narrative comic. It’s the opposite of “hang in there, baby!” if you think of it as a poster.

“The Lizard Laughed” is the story of one day in the life of Harvey, a middle-aged man in New Mexico, whose estranged son Nathan comes to visit. They’re meeting for the first time in close to twenty years, since Harvey ran out on the family when the boy was nine. They go on a hike; the two have little in common, as you’d expect. It doesn’t end the way Nathan expected, which is good for Harvey. Harvey didn’t have any real expectations; he may be too self-centered for that anyway.

“it’s over” is a two-pager in a straightforward confessional/realistic mode, in which a young man reconnects with an old girlfriend for a one-day fling on his thirtieth birthday – which also turns out to be a major (fictional) world-historical event.

“The Death of Elijah Lovejoy” combines a two-page text introduction to the overall life of that 1830s abolitionist with a comics retelling of the mob that attacked his printing press, burning it down and killing him. (This might be the most Van Sciverian comic here, to my eye, all sweaty/bloody men fighting for their rigid views in the19th century.)

“The Cow’s Head’ is some kind of fable, I think – a young woman (who has the same name as Van Sciver’s then-girlfriend, who also wrote the book’s introduction – possibly coincidence but I doubt it) is driven out of their rural hovel by her cruel stepmother, finds shelter, and is polite to a flying, talking head of a cow. (As you do, in fables.) This, as also happens in fables, leads to better things for her, though not for her sad-sack father.

“Down in a Hole” is a weird one, in which a former TV kid-show clown goes spelunking and is captured by the secret subterranean race of mole people. Both of those random elements are equally important, and then there’s a twist ending. There’s a lot going on here, and I bet there’s some subtext or purpose I just didn’t get.

“Untitled” is told in small-format pages – maybe it was a minicomic? – and focuses on a young woman, visiting her parents for Christmas. She lives nearby – close enough to bicycle – but rarely visits. It’s a slice-of-life mood piece, so I won’t try to explain the moods.

“Dress Up” is the doubly-narrated story of a good Samaritan/vigilante who foiled a robbery, as told by him to a young female reporter a little later, after the initial media furor has quieted a bit.

“When You Disappear” tells the story of a prison break, two men fleeing to New Jersey, there talking and separating. It’s based on a dream, but is less “dream-logic-y” than that might imply.

“Punks Vs. Lizards” is a pulpy post-apocalyptic story about, yes, punks who battle giant  intelligent lizards that have apparently conquered the world. Our Hero defeats one particularly powerful lizard at great cost.

And last is “Nightshift,” in which yet another young woman tells how she worked at a bakery overnights for a while, saving up money to get out of this unnamed town.

I found all of the stories interesting, and many of them compelling. They were aiming to do different things, and all were good at what they aimed to do (assuming I was correct). This is a probably a better introduction to Van Sciver than the two or three books of his I actually read first, if anyone thinks his work sounds interesting.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Victory Parade by Leela Corman
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Victory Parade by Leela Corman

It can be easy to lose track of just how much work and time goes into a single comics panel – to think of a graphic novel like prose, where you can strike out a line and rewrite it at any time. But comics are much more architected than that, built up in stages, and you can’t build a penthouse unless you have the right foundation.

It’s more obvious with books that don’t tell simple, direct stories – ones where the architecture had to be laid out more carefully, planned more fully, and where the foundation had to be chosen to tell this particular version of all of the possible stories circling in the creator’s head.

I bring this up with Leela Corman’s stunning new graphic novel Victory Parade , because this is not a straightforward book. It’s skips around in time and space – not hugely, but enough that the reader needs to pay attention – and is not telling one single narrative, but a loosely connected skein of stories weaving through an interconnected cast during WWII. It starts in the middle of a situation, and ends without a single big moment, like life.

Victory Parade is mostly the story of three women, of three different ages, starting in 1943 New York. All are Jewish, which is important, alongside a dozen other facets of their personalities and lives that are also important. Rose Arensberg is working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard while her husband Sam is fighting with the Army in Europe – and she’s also sleeping with the maimed veteran George Finlay, who lives in the same building. Her daughter Eleanor has the least to do of the three, as a mostly-innocent primary-schooler. Then there’s Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany who has been living with Rose and Eleanor for several years – she came as a young teen, and is now twentyish. 

Ruth is the only survivor of her family, as far as she knows.

Ruth is also pretty enough and young enough that she gets endless attention from men – grasping, crude, horrible attention – and hot-headed enough that she fights back and gets in trouble for it. An opportunity arises for her to use all that as a wrestler, and she takes it, starting to train and fight matches.

Late in the book, we also see Sam – first back from the war, then in flashback, after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp. He’s as admirable or relatable as the other characters: that can be “a lot” or “barely at all,” depending on the reader, of course.

Corman tells these stories on pages that feel smaller, more constrained, than the reader expects – mostly four-panel grids, as if a whole tier was cut off or never existed. Her drawing is organic, her people have sharp, strong faces – none of these people are pretty, but then their world isn’t, either. There are multiple dream sequences, sometimes bursting into waking life, full of violent imagery, particularly severed limbs.

Again, Corman is not telling one story, and there’s no crisp “plot” running from beginning to end. All of these people do things, feel things, worry about things, suffer things. Not all of them make it to the end. And standing behind all of them are the millions who didn’t make it through WWII, both the dead of the Holocaust and the soldiers on all sides doing their best to kill each other. We’re seeing the stories of a few of them: mostly women, mostly in New York, mostly Jewish, mostly survivors. But “surviving” is a moving target; there’s a lot of brokenness that isn’t quite “actually dead.”

Victory Parade has an ironic title: there are few victories here, and no parades. It’s a powerful, deep story that will not tell you how to read it, how to feel about it, or about whom to care the most.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Good.: From the Amazon Jungle to Suburbia and Back by FLuX and David Good
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Good.: From the Amazon Jungle to Suburbia and Back by FLuX and David Good

First up, this is not non-fiction; there’s a disclaimer on the copyright page: “This book is a work of fiction inspired by actual events.” It does use the real names of all of the people involved, was written or co-written by the main character, and roughly follows the real history as far as I can determine from news stories and the description of David Good’s 2015 prose memoir The Way Around .

But there’s something constructed at the core of the graphic novel Good.: From the Amazon Jungle to Suburbia and Back  that led to that disclaimer. I don’t know all of the details. But it’s clear that this is not, at its core, true. And that’s a puzzling thing for a book positioned as a memoir.

David Good is the eldest of three children of American anthropologist Kenneth Good and the Yanomani woman Yarima. The elder Good took his first trip into the Amazon rainforest to live with the Yanomani in 1975, and spent much of the next twelve years there, learning the language and being accepted by a local tribe, said acceptance meaning he had to marry a local woman. “Woman” here means maybe 12 when they were married and possibly as old as 16 when the marriage was consummated.

Kenneth and Yarima then lived in New Jersey for a few years – the mid-80s, if I have the sequence right – where those three children were born, while Kenneth was working on his PhD. Yarima was left, while Kenneth worked long hours, in a suburban house with three pre-school children, in an alien culture where she didn’t speak the language well, while she still possibly wasn’t old enough to drink legally. The family returned to the Venezuelan rainforest roughly once a year for a long visit – I’m going to guess each summer, during the long break of the academic year, and possibly partially funded by an ongoing research grant of Kenneth’s – and, one year, for reasons and in a manner that seems to vary somewhat between retellings, Yarima refused to return to America, so Kenneth left her behind and took the children back north.

In Good., this is the dividing line: David Good was five years old when his mother faded back into the jungle instead of getting onto a small plane, and he didn’t see her again until he was an adult. But it’s not clear what Kenneth did, since the Yanomani were still the core of his academic work. Did Kenneth continue his fieldwork, visiting without his half-Yanomami children for the years in between? Did he visit a different Yanomani tribe – maybe the break-up of his marriage soured his relationship with this one?  Or did he just stop doing fieldwork after he got his PhD? None of that is clear in Good., which is the story of the child David rather than the adult Kenneth.

Meanwhile, Kenneth wrote his own book about his experiences, 1991’s Into the Heart . I haven’t seen a clear timeline of this whole thing, but that seems to be fairly soon after Yarima returned to the Yanomani. I’ve seen references to David being twenty-five in 2010, which would put his birth in 1984 or 1985, and make him five around 1989-90. Arguing for a slightly earlier timeline, the repeated “twelve years” of Kenneth’s fieldwork, starting in 1975, could imply the break was around 1987 or 1988. Finally, a 1991 book would have been written at least a year or two before. (I found a NYTimes review of Kenneth’s book, which implies its viewpoint is from before Yarima returned, and which provides more context to Yanomani life.)

That’s the general outline of the story, consistent across what I’ve seen across all three books and various articles. How much, and what parts, of this story as told in Good. are fictionalized, I don’t know. Good. doesn’t make that clear, or explain why it was fictionalized. I haven’t read Into the Heart or The Way Around, both of which were written with collaborators, as Good. was. I suspect that at least part of the fictionalization has to do with the “warlike” nature of the Yanomani people – the first major book about them, from the 1960s, was Yanomama: The Fierce People – and how that violence affected Good’s family, since I’ve also seen references to his mother having been gang-raped during one of Kenneth’s trips away from this tribal group. David Good’s vision of his mother’s people in Good. is entirely positive and sunny and happy: that’s a beautiful vision, and inspires his charitable and other work these days, but no people in the history of the world are perfectly peaceful and happy.

I’ve also neglected to mention David Good’s collaborator on Good., the gallery artist, cartoonist and illustrator who works as FLuX. (From the acknowledgements, I think his real name is John Malloy.) The book doesn’t make their roles clear: the PDF I read has FLuX listed first in the author credit, while covers online have the reverse order. I don’t know if Good scripted the book, or if he met with FLuX to talk through his story and FLuX scripted it, or some more complicated process. Somehow, though, these two men made this fictionalized version of David Good’s story.

I think the fictionalization is to frame it. Most of Good. is told in alternating chapters: the longer ones focus on David, are presented in black and white and heavily narrated in his own voice, telling his story from childhood. In between are color-saturated, wordless short vignettes of Yarima’s life, from her own birth, presenting an idealized vision of a paradisiacal life in the rainforest among a wonderful, loving people. (Until she moves to New Jersey with Kenneth, for a darker interlude that ends with her return to paradise.) As an adult, after a tumultuous adolescence, David seeks out his mother – the narrative doesn’t emphasize this, but it’s notable that it’s another anthropologist, not his father, who helps him get into the jungle and find his mother’s nomadic people – and that heals him and makes everything better. The book ends with a sequence marrying the two art styles, with David’s narration boxes overlaid on the sunny, bright colors of the Yarima sections.

It’s an uplifting story, a lovely one marred only slightly by that lurking question of how fake it is. It’s probably mostly true. And David Good has dedicated his life to good works since then, pursing a PhD based on the Yanomani microbiome and starting a foundation in their name.

I just want Yarima’s real story. This one is clearly fictionalized so far as to be a fantasy. It sounds like Into the Heart also had long sequences ostensibly from her POV that, I suspect, were equally “true.” What I really want to read is what she really thought, what her life was actually like – including the violence of the Yanomani culture that Kenneth Good seems to have made a career out of minimizing (and, to be clear, it also sounds like researchers before him leaned heavily into the “noble savage” myth, going much too far in mythologizing and centralizing that violence). That would take an independent viewpoint – not a man related to her – and will probably never happen.

Good. is fine as far as it goes, and David Good’s story is genuinely inspiring. I don’t fault him or his collaborator for not understanding his mother, a woman from a completely different culture who he knew only as a very young child. But it’s important to be clear on what Good. is and isn’t: it’s a cleaned-up, fictionalized version of this story, from David Good’s viewpoint, presenting him as the hero and savior. That is a plausible reading of the story, admittedly: and much better than plausible if you happen to be David Good. But the Yarima sections of this book are just too cartoony, too kumbaya, to be believable, even if you don’t already know that her people are famous in anthropological circles as “the violent people.”

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Roaming by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki
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Roaming by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

The publisher says this is an adult book, but it’s about young people (nineteen; at my age nineteen is very young) figuring out what they want out of life and how to live in the world, so it’s at least thematically appropriate for not-quite-adult readers. I’m tagging it thus; complain in comments if you think high schoolers should be shielded from the view of first-year college students traveling to New York, drinking and smoking pot, swearing and causing trouble, staying in hostels and getting busy. (And then I’ll point and laugh at you, because you are just wrong.)

Roaming is the third major graphic novel by cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, after 2008’s Skim  and 2014’s This One Summer . (So we can expect their next book together about 2035, assuming three points can be extrapolated infinitely.) I don’t know how they work together. Jillian is a cartoonist who does other projects all on her own, both writing and drawing. Mariko has written other comics, but I don’t think she draws. So my assumption is the art is all Jillian, but not that the writing is all Mariko. And we all know what they say about assumptions.

It’s set in 2009. Two friends who grew up together in some random Toronto suburb, Zoe and Dani, are meeting up at Newark Airport on spring break, to spend a week together in NYC, after going away to different Canadian colleges for the past year. Zoe is aiming for a STEM-ish degree; Dani is studying art – again, they’re second-semester freshmen, so all of this is new and somewhat tentative.

When they meet in Newark, Dani has brought along a new friend: Fiona, another art student, assured and opinionated and a former New Yorker herself. We think this will be the story of how Fiona’s presence affects Zoe and Dani’s old comfortable friendship, and that’s true…but not in the way we first expect, seeing quiet Zoe react warily to brash Fiona.

It’s organized into five sections, corresponding to the five days. We open with Zoe alone in that airport, and we close on a subway, all three women heading to one last new experience on the day they’ll fly out. And much-too-old me ended the book thinking they’re heading in the wrong direction, even if they do have most of the day, to be sure to get to the airport on time. But that’s old-person thinking; they’re trying to cram as much experience into a few days as possible – to be somewhere they’ve dreamed about for years. So I can worry about them, but I can’t fault them.

The plot is deceptively simple: they wander around the city, doing things – apparently from a list Zoe and Dani worked out ahead of time. Fiona, who was not part of the planning and is vastly less go-along and vastly more opinionated about everything NYC, pushes them in very different directions – not always the ones you’d expect. And Zoe connects with Fiona. And Dani and Zoe talk, eventually, about who they used to be as friends and who they are now after a year away at different universities.

My fingers wanted to type “universes” there. It’s almost equally true. They’re doing different things, living different lives, and we get only snippets of those new lives here – but enough to know they’re as tumultuous and often uncomfortable as most lives. They have idealized visions of each other – their dreams from high school, mostly – and Roaming is, in part, how they learn that they each are not the people they dreamed about being – maybe not yet, or maybe not ever.

What it’s mostly about is circling back to someone who was really important in your life, thinking you can pick right back up where you left off, and you both have changed. You may still be friends, you may still be really close friends, but you’re not sixteen anymore: you’ve both already changed, and you will both keep changing.

And the dialogue is great; true, in that broken, rambling, random way that people really talk. Half-thoughts, cut-off sentences, pasts alluded to rather than detailed. The Tamakis don’t tell us everything about Dani and Zoe, but they tell us what we need to know, and they show us how Dani and Zoe used to be with each other, and how they are now.

This is a lovely book about an important time of life, and an important kind of transition. We all have old friends, and we are all changing, all the time. Even if we’re no longer nineteen, Roaming has a lot to say to us.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Thorn by Jeff Smith
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Thorn by Jeff Smith

It’s always complicated looking at the early stuff. Especially when “the early stuff” hasn’t been publicly available for a few decades, and was very much a trial run for the later stuff, which used a lot of the same elements and ideas in a more coherent, consistent way.

That’s why it took until 2024 for Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone College Strips 1982-1986  to be published; Jeff Smith knew that as well as anyone, and Bone, even now, is his major work, the core of his resume, and probably still his largest source of income. Add that to any creator’s standard disinterest at looking back at juvenilia, and this is work that could easily have stayed moldering in a vault indefinitely, only to roll out in some posthumous Complete Works or similar exercise.

But, for whatever reason, Smith decided to look back, to clean up, and to publish a comprehensive collection of his earliest major work: it shipped to his Kickstarter backers recently and is scheduled to hit regular retail channels this summer.

It’s a big book: over three hundred pages, on good paper, in a wider-than-tall format suitable for printing strip comics two-up on each page, in a large, clean presentation. And the material is equally comprehensive, with all of the strips Smith did in college – the full run of Thorn from his college paper The Sundial, a short try-out called Mickey & Rudy that ran very briefly during a Thorn hiatus, and a book-formatted one-pager from another campus publication – surrounded by notes, introductions, and other material to put it into context and explain how it all came to be.

So, physically and technically, this is impressive. It’s the best possible presentation for this material, treating it all seriously and presenting it all well and clearly. The material itself if a bit more of a mixed bag, which is what we all assumed.

Thorn was a daily strip – five days a week, during the four quarters of the Ohio State academic calendar – and it has the rhythms of a daily. It wanders, it digresses, it has one-off silliness and gags. Dailies, especially by college students, tend to be “about” everything in their creator’s worlds, almost equally, and that’s the case here. The first two years of Thorn feature a shorter, substantially different version of the main plot from Bone, alongside other material and including topical elements that dropped out of the later comic-book version.

Most obviously, Thorn was a Reagan-era strip. There’s a Reagan caricature that shows up late in the run, and other digs earlier on. Smith has a whole quirky subplot about Thorn’s religious mania, which loosely ties into a storyline about a con-man evangelist – it was the 1980s, and shady evangelists were big in both pop-culture and the real world. There’s also plenty of Cold War material, including a major antagonist – a Russian-accented pig who denies he’s a pig – that dropped out between this version and Bone.

It’s not all successful, or artfully done, but it’s all authentic. Smith was young, working on deadlines, and getting his stuff down on paper to tell stories. Some of the threads don’t go much of anywhere, or are phrased weirdly – the Thorn religious material, and her subsequent feminism, have particularly stilted phrasing a lot of the time, either because that’s how those topics were discussed in Ohio in the ’80s or because that’s how Smith could phrase them for a general newspaper.

The art runs through the same variations, too: some of it is as crisp and clear as early Bone, and some is a lot sketchier, or with half-formed ideas left in the drawing or half-erased. Thorn herself in particular isn’t as pretty as I think Smith wanted her to be: her face is usually an only-slightly-younger version of Grand’ma Ben’s. Or maybe what I mean is that she’s treated as an adult here, and turns into an ingenue for Bone. She clearly does seem to be somewhat surer of herself, and possibly older, here than in Bone.

All of that is reading Thorn with one eye on the future. It’s more difficult to think of it as a thing complete in itself, to imagine how we would look at it if Smith had never reworked this material into Bone, if he’d, for example, done something like RASL or Tuki first in the comics field. That’s also partially because a few years of a daily, even one with a clearly defined central story (at least for those first two years) like Thorn, isn’t generally one thing: it’s a conglomeration of dozens or hundreds of things, one per day, for as long as the strip runs. Dailies generally stop rather than end – even this one, with that clear plotline, kept going almost as long again after the big climax.

Thorn is a fun ’80s-era college strip, and a fascinating signpost on the way to Bone. Smith was a solid artist even this far back, and does at least workmanlike art all of the time, and quite nice art fairly regularly. It’s a quirky, interesting precursor to a major work, and it’s great to see it get published in this definitive edition.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown
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A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown is a prolific, interesting cartoonist (and teacher of cartooning), yet another creator that sits in my head in the category “I need to keep up with their work” until I realize the last book of his I read was in 2015 .

I have reasons, or excuses, for that. The most reasonable one is that Brown has been mostly making comics for middle-graders for the past decade-plus – a couple of Star Wars series, Incredible Change-Bots, and their follow-ups – and that I did read a few of those but lost track of them eventually. A lot of cartoonists are mostly making books for middle-schoolers these days: middle-schoolers not only buy books, but actually love them, and there’s a whole ecosystem of school visits and book fairs and whatnot to provide income and marketing opportunities and fan contact for those creators.

I found A Matter of Life randomly recently, and read it quickly. It was published in 2013 and – if I’m reading Brown’s Wikipedia bibliography correctly – was his most recent book actually aimed at an adult audience. So I might not be as far behind as I thought I was.

This is a memoir comic, like a lot of Brown’s work for adults, in the style of Clumsy and the rest of his Aughts work. I’ve read that he does these stories in sketchbooks – I’m not sure if he just works them out there, and then re-draws them “officially,” or if the sketchbook pages are the final work. But Brown’s stories in this mode do come off as less polished – or maybe I mean “processed” – than the usual modern memoir comic, a collection of short chapters about moments or ideas rather than a long single story with a point of view and an overarching message.

Brown’s autobio work is more about exploration than presentation – this book’s subtitle is “An Autobiographical Meditation on Fatherhood and Faith,” which covers the ground solidly – he isn’t presenting a GN that says “here’s this story of my life.” Brown instead has a cluster of thoughts and moments, little stories and bigger ones, that circle around something important and interesting. In this case, it’s thoughts about the relationships of fathers and sons, primarily Brown to his own minister father and to his then-young son.

The faith piece is less explicit – to tell a story about what you believe, you really need to explain those beliefs, by speaking directly to the reader or something similar. But Brown doesn’t work that way, so other than a short intro, this instead is a collection of moments – some when he was younger, and believed in a traditional flavor of Christianity as much as he did believe (however much that was; Brown, again, keeps it vague) and some when he was older and no longer believed. Brown unfortunately does fall back on the usual “It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in something bigger than myself” vague statement that means exactly nothing – I mean, so do I, because Mt. Everest is bigger than I am and I believe in it, but it’s not helpful in defining any specific belief in the supernatural underpinnings of the universe. There’s no one in the world who only thinks things smaller than them exist.

Brown’s style, I think, works best on interpersonal, daily-life questions. His initial fame came from books about his love life, and what works best in this book are the father-son interactions, in both directions. To really get at what his father believed, and how his relationship with his father shifted after he stopped believing, Brown would have needed to work in a different, more explicit style – to define things rather than just show them.

So this is more about fatherhood than faith, and more about realizing that in-betweenness – that you are both a father and a son – and having new appreciation for both roles. That’s plenty for one book, actually, and Brown, as always in this style, tells his story in an organic and grounded way, full of specific moments and thoughts.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

This Must Be the Place by Michael Sweater
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This Must Be the Place by Michael Sweater

This book is one of the few records that a strip called Please Keep Warm ever existed. Well, there are launch announcements and excerpts elsewhere, but the actual GoComics strip has fallen into the memory hole, never to be seen again.

The strip launched in February of 2017; this book came out in the summer of 2017. When did the strip end? I have no idea. So this is probably the beginning, but it’s unclear how much more more might be lurking in creator Michael Sweater’s files, if anything. So This Must Be the Place  declares itself to be A “Please Keep Warm” collection, but my suspicions are that it’s the only one.

Anyway: This Must Be the Place starts with a five-page page-formatted comic – the bit excerpted in Vice – and then turns into a four-tier layout, with each tier (I think) an individual strip, for about eighty pages, and then has a few more page-formatted short stories at the end. (My assumption is that those are from anthologies, either during or after the life of the strip.) The whole thing runs 108 pages of comics, and it’s all consistent and coherent – all the same kind of thing. (That’s not always the case with new strips; creators often write their way into things and experiment, particularly if they’re shifting formats like Warm does.)

Four people live in a house together: the book starts out by centering Clover, who is a kid of unspecified years – probably elementary school, maybe even younger. She lives with her Uncle Stan, who is trying to write a novel; Catman, who I think has some sort of office job and is low-key the Krameresque goofball of the group; and Flower, who doesn’t seem to have any sort of central deal other than the fact that her sleeves are longer than her arms. Stan, Catman, and Flower all seem to be mid-20s, pseudo-slackers, the kind of characters who would probably be stoners if this strip appeared somewhere even slightly more counterculture than GoComics. Clover is mostly the center, and has the typical strip-comic kid’s random enthusiasms, energy, and big body language while her enthusiasms (death metal, skateboarding) are more “adult” coded.

It comes off as a slightly “alternative” take on a standard family comic strip – found family rather than nuclear, all that jazz – and the humor oscillates between those two poles. At it’s best, it finds a sweet spot in the middle, as with Clover’s death metal obsession – she loves it like a kid would, but also makes a demo and worries about promo like an professional. Each of the other characters has similar quirks that I’m leaving out here, including several members of the secondary cast who don’t live in this house.

It’s mostly “nice” with eruptions of “cool,” I guess – it might not have run that long because it is trying to be both of those things regularly, and the two audiences might not be hugely compatible. But Please Keep Warm makes its own consistent vibe, has fun with the way it tells stories, features amusing characters, and does pretty much what it sets out to do. That is all just fine with me.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

This Must Be the Place by Michael Sweater
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This Must Be the Place by Michael Sweater

This book is one of the few records that a strip called Please Keep Warm ever existed. Well, there are launch announcements and excerpts elsewhere, but the actual GoComics strip has fallen into the memory hole, never to be seen again.

The strip launched in February of 2017; this book came out in the summer of 2017. When did the strip end? I have no idea. So this is probably the beginning, but it’s unclear how much more more might be lurking in creator Michael Sweater’s files, if anything. So This Must Be the Place  declares itself to be A “Please Keep Warm” collection, but my suspicions are that it’s the only one.

Anyway: This Must Be the Place starts with a five-page page-formatted comic – the bit excerpted in Vice – and then turns into a four-tier layout, with each tier (I think) an individual strip, for about eighty pages, and then has a few more page-formatted short stories at the end. (My assumption is that those are from anthologies, either during or after the life of the strip.) The whole thing runs 108 pages of comics, and it’s all consistent and coherent – all the same kind of thing. (That’s not always the case with new strips; creators often write their way into things and experiment, particularly if they’re shifting formats like Warm does.)

Four people live in a house together: the book starts out by centering Clover, who is a kid of unspecified years – probably elementary school, maybe even younger. She lives with her Uncle Stan, who is trying to write a novel; Catman, who I think has some sort of office job and is low-key the Krameresque goofball of the group; and Flower, who doesn’t seem to have any sort of central deal other than the fact that her sleeves are longer than her arms. Stan, Catman, and Flower all seem to be mid-20s, pseudo-slackers, the kind of characters who would probably be stoners if this strip appeared somewhere even slightly more counterculture than GoComics. Clover is mostly the center, and has the typical strip-comic kid’s random enthusiasms, energy, and big body language while her enthusiasms (death metal, skateboarding) are more “adult” coded.

It comes off as a slightly “alternative” take on a standard family comic strip – found family rather than nuclear, all that jazz – and the humor oscillates between those two poles. At it’s best, it finds a sweet spot in the middle, as with Clover’s death metal obsession – she loves it like a kid would, but also makes a demo and worries about promo like an professional. Each of the other characters has similar quirks that I’m leaving out here, including several members of the secondary cast who don’t live in this house.

It’s mostly “nice” with eruptions of “cool,” I guess – it might not have run that long because it is trying to be both of those things regularly, and the two audiences might not be hugely compatible. But Please Keep Warm makes its own consistent vibe, has fun with the way it tells stories, features amusing characters, and does pretty much what it sets out to do. That is all just fine with me.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire’s friends
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Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire’s friends

My standard complaint about the Black Hammer comics is that they’re mostly static, locked into an initial premise that wasn’t all that exciting to begin with. I suppose that’s in distinction to “real” superhero comics, which rely on the façade of change – someone is always dying, someone’s costume is always changing, someone is always making a heel-face turn, and worlds are inevitably always living and dying so that nothing will ever be the same – but it’s not self-reflective enough to count as irony.

But some kinds of stories aren’t supposed to change anything – the whole point is that they don’t, and can’t, change the things we already know. Jam comics by entirely different creators tend to fall into that bucket: they’re sometimes “real” and sometimes not, but even if they’re canonical, they don’t push the canon in any direction.

Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1  is a book like that – it collects four of the eight issues of the title series, each one of which was a separate adventure, by an entirely different team, set in the Black Hammer-verse. It’s all sidebar, all “I want to do this story” by people who will do only one Black Hammer story and this is it. So it’s self-indulgent in a somewhat different, more inclusive way than the main series.

Since the four issues here are entirely separate – and half of them have no credits within the stories themselves, making me wonder what comics editors do with their time if they can’t handle the most basic parts of their jobs – I’ll treat them each in turn.

Issue 1 has a story, “Transfer Student,” written by comedian Patton Oswalt and drawn by Dean Kotz, which is supposedly about Golden Gail but really is a light retelling of Dan Clowes’s Ghost World – I’m 99% sure Oswalt knew it was a comic first, and not just a movie – in the context of the pocket universe. This is pleasant and well-told and has decent emotional depth, but… We the readers know that the Enid character can never get out of this town: there’s nowhere else to go. She can’t go to college, find new friends, and have a different world to fit into. She is stuck in small-town hell, in the background of someone else’s depressive superhero story.

Oddly, the narrative doesn’t seem to know this. And that knowledge makes the reading of this story a substantially different experience than I think Oswalt wanted: this is a dark, depressing story with bone-deep irony, saying one thing and meaning the exact opposite.

The second issue sees Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins bring us “The Cabin of Horrors!”, a Madame Dragonfly-hosted horror tale. It features what could have been the sensational character find of 1996, Kid Dragonfly, and a nasty serial killer getting his comeuppance. This one feels the most like an actual random issue that could have been part of a larger comics line at the time – well, more like a Secret Origins retelling, cleaning things up maybe a decade later, but still in the same vein.

It’s a perfectly acceptable horror/superhero comics story, entirely professional and hitting all of its marks.

In the third installment, Chip Zdarsky writes and Johnnie Christmas draws “Uncle Slam,” the obligatory “I’m too old for this shit” story. The person too old for the shit is of course Abraham Slam; that’s been his main character note for the entire series. Here, he’s sixtyish, retired, running a gym and dating a woman who I think is meant to be a little younger than him but looks childlike (much smaller, very thin, drawn with a young face). But of course a new, more violent hero “takes his name” and he Has To Stand Up for Punching Evil the Right Way (Without So Much Death), which goes about as well as it ever does. He does not die, since he’s a superhero-comics protagonist, but other people do, and he loses a lot. The ending tried to move away from And It Is Sad, and would have been OK if this were a standalone story, but we know Abe gets back into the costume like five more times after this point, so it’s mostly pointless.

And in the last of these stories, Mariko Tamaki (of all people!) tells a story with Diego Olortegui art that I don’t think has a title. It’s a fun bit of metafiction, with our core heroes seen in multiple universes, as the viewers of and characters in and actors behind a popular TV show, with different relationships and interactions on each level. It is amusing, a fun exercise in moving the chess pieces around in unexpected but pleasant ways, but it doesn’t really turn into a specific story – it’s just a sequence of riffs on these characters and their interactions.

On the other hand, that’s the most successful and interesting thing in the book, so I can overlook the not-going-anywhere aspects.

So: all in all, it’s amusing and is pretty much what you would expect – random quirky takes on these characters and situations by other people, who each get to have one good idea for this setting and then go back to their real careers.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.