Mondo Double Feature : “Mondo Groovy Horrorshow” #1

If you read my review of C.J. Patterson and Jeremy Rogers’ Mondo Groovy issue one, you’ll recall that one of the things I appreciated most about that admittedly trashy — hell, deliberately trashy — comic was that it was totally un-pretentious and utterly lacking in both self-awareness, and awareness of the broader comics “scene” in general. And all of that goes double for its companion book, Mondo Groovy Horrorshow #1. And you kind of can’t help but tend to love this one, too.

Look, let’s be honest — normally a cartoonist has to be a fairly “known quantity” before they decide to try to monetize the contents of their old sketchbooks, but here’s Patterson, a fairly “unknown quantity” if ever there was one, doing it right the fuck now, before anybody has much of a clue who he is. Not because he seems particularly arrogant, mind you. Not because his material is something amazingly new and unique. No, he seems to be doing it because nobody told him that he couldn’t — and what could be more beautiful than that?

As far as the contents of the book itself go, they’re certainly nothing to be ashamed of — mainly composite illustrations of famous scenes from “B” movies mixed with portraits of horror luminaries such as George Romero and Joe Bob Briggs (who is now, for those not aware, pretty well crashing the entire horror community in his new role as leader of a cult of alt-right assholes), with a short “Mondo Groovy” strip in the middle co-written by partner-in-crime Rogers — but they’re also, and I say this with all due respect, nothing particularly different than what you’d find on any number of deviantart pages. Hell, for all I know, this might even be stuff that Patterson plucked from his own deviantart page.  And while the comics aesthetes may be recoiling in shock at the sheer temerity of somebody packaging and selling their sketchbook stuff before they’re supposedly “in a position to do so,” I say — good on Patterson! There’s nothing quite like giving the middle finger to the self-appointed “elites” of the art world — and what’s doubly delicious is that it’s patently obvious he has no idea that’s what he’s doing here.

The art itself is of plenty decent quality, and while it’s pretty clearly all photo-referenced, the layouts of his various montages show a fairly keen eye for composition that he can proudly call his own. It’s not revelatory and/or groundbreaking by any means, but who the fuck cares? That’s hardly the point here — Patterson just wanted to do some cool drawings of a bunch of horror flicks that he likes, and see if he can make a few bucks at it while he’s at it. I’m not gonna begrudge him that, and if you do, then you need to get your head out of your ass. Everyone has the right to try to earn a living off their art.

That being said, honing his skills wouldn’t be a bad way for Patterson to give himself a better chance of doing that. The drawing in the short strip in this book has considerably more personality and panache than the art in the full-length MG comic, so he’s moving in the right direction, and rather than laugh at the occasional instances of pure amateurism, I encourage him to keep going in the direction he’s going. He’s developing a solid penchant for comical expression and doing more thorough work on his backgrounds, and it all looks pretty damn good, if not wholly original — but who is? I wouldn’t call his cartooning great, but I would call it inherently fun, and that’s precisely what it’s trying to be.

So, yeah, I’d still consider Patterson to be a horror fan first and foremost (I don’t think he’d take that as an insult), and a cartoonist second, but if he keeps at it, that equation could be reversed. I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on his work and seeing where it goes.

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Mondo Groovy Horrorshow #1 is available for $6.00 from C.J. Patterson’s Big Cartel shop at https://mondogroovybooty.bigcartel.com/product/mondo-groovy-horrorshow-1

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Mondo Double Feature : “Mondo Groovy” Issue One

So, yeah, my first thought when I got Mondo Groovy issue one — along with its companion comic, Mondo Groovy Horrorshow #1 — in the mail from cartoonist C.J. Patterson was “these guys are trying too hard.” I mean, that title alone is just way too spot-on, right? You know this is probably going to be about a couple pothead dudes who are into trash cinema and don’t have much else going on. Maybe with a Fat Freddy’s Cat-type pet/sidekick thrown in for good measure.

And so it is. But here’s the thing : while it may, indeed, be every bit as obvious as it seems at first glance, and while it may be as all-over-the-map in terms of its effectiveness (or lack thereof) as any “gag humor” comic aimed squarely at the stoner crowd, it’s so damn unpretentious, and utterly lacking in fucks to give, that you can’t help but go with its flow and have a stupid good time with the thing.

And speaking of stupid, one thing I appreciate about what Patterson and his co-writer, Jeremy Rogers, have made here is that it never for one minute pretends to be anything but. The book’s two protagonists are basically more likable versions of Beavis and Butt-Head, and if my guess that they’re stand-ins for the creators themselves is correct, then you gotta kinda marvel at the fact that they’re willing to make themselves look like a couple of go-nowhere dipshits just for laughs. What would be even more remarkable, though, is if they flat-out didn’t realize these guys looked like go-nowhere dipshits because, hey, this are what the people they know are all kinda like — and hey, for all I know, that may be the case. If it is, then they would be a lot like any number of horror/cult movie fans I’ve known over the years, and yeah, if I said I missed that scene I’d be lying, but at the same time, there will always be a nostalgic glow — okay, maybe more like a nostalgic haze — associated with that whole crowd for me. Could it be that’s why I like this admittedly disposable comic?

Well, partly, sure, but I think the other thing that’s notable is that this has obviously been written and drawn with no knowledge of what pretty much anybody else in comics has been doing for about the past 20 years. and therefore is free of more or less any sort of influences whatsoever. Forget wondering whether it was Chris Ware or Dan Clowes who had the biggest impact on these guys — I doubt either Patterson or Rogers has ever heard of them except perhaps in passing, much less read any of their stuff. There’s not an ounce of sophistication to be gleaned here, whether actual or aspired to — and if that’s not a breath of fresh air right there, I don’t know what is.

As such, this means that Patterson’s cartooning leaves a bit to be desired — in the main story, “Jerms Breaks it Off,” the illustration is pretty loosey-goosey and non-descript, while the shorter backup strips are drawn a bit tighter and frankly look a bit better, probably because he’s doing smaller panels to fit more story into each page — but it’s fundamentally sound enough in terms of its exaggeration and fluidity to do what it needs to do, and with a bit of formal art school training, who knows? He might be able to refine things to the point where he had a fairly distinctive style. Buuuuut —

That would also likely kill this comic’s bizarre energy, and admittedly low-grade charm, dead in its tracks. We’re talking about a book centering on a couple kids who hang out in backyard clubhouse, smoke dope, and watch Z-grade horror movies, and what hijinks ensue form that are little more than temporary interruptions from sitting around on the couch. Pretty much nothing of consequence happens in these stories, just as pretty much nothing of consequence happens in the lives of guys like this, but imagine being so free of pretense that not only do you see nothing wrong with that equation, you actually think it’s kinda funny? The mind reels at the utter lack of self-awareness, sure, but I’m also kinda envious of it — and when you really think about it, there’s absolutely no reason why two guys who aren’t particularly “up on” comics and just want to string a bunch of intentionally-lame jokes and sight gags together shouldn’t do exactly that. Sure, there’s no way this book is going to end up being talked about as one of the year’s best, much less one of its most important, but it’s probably among the most honest — and when you spend most of your time neck-deep in a pile of comics that all have, or at least hope to have, something to say, then one that not only doesn’t, but admits it, is a very welcome change of pace indeed. Shut your brain off for this one, you certainly won’t be needing that — and I don’t mean that as any sort of “sideways” compliment, I mean it as a perfectly sincere one.

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Mondo Groovy issue one is available for $5.00 from C.J. Patterson’s Big Cartel shop at https://mondogroovybooty.bigcartel.com/product/mondo-groovy-issue-one

Review wrist check – going casual (hell, flat-out relaxed) today with my Raven “Solitude” gray dial model riding a BluShark green and red “Pajama Stretch” strap.

Two From Josh Simmons : “Ghouls”

Horror and humor are often a potent mix — as any fan of films like Frankenhooker or Street Trash can tell you (and, for the record, I’m “guilty” as charged on both counts) —but, more often than not, humor is the “senior partner,” if you will, in the pairing, largely because it’s easier to make someone laugh at atrocious shit than to show them how frightening the stuff we laugh at can actually be. A pure half-and-half serving of each is perhaps an even more rare thing to come by — and the challenge to create precisely that when you’re dealing with subject matter that delves into the existential ? Well, that’s a fairly stiff one indeed.

Still, it seems that’s the task Josh Simmons set for himself with his just-released mini Ghouls, a self-published series of single-panel cartoons that begins with an “abandon hope, all ye who enter here — and don’t expect any to come along” premise and proceeds from there. The point of view he approaches these ostensible “gag” strips with is, then, an inherently nihilistic one, but hey — that doesn’t mean he can’t see the funny side of the void he’s staring directly into. And, even more importantly, it doesn’t mean he can’t show that funny side to you, the reader.

Now, I’ll grant you, all of this means you’ve gotta be wired a certain way to take a perverse sense of, for lack of a better term, “enjoyment” from this ‘zine, but if you’re familiar with Simmons’ work, you knew that much already. What ups the ante here, however, is the sheer weight of outside forces : I mean, who are we kidding? Seldom, if ever, has apocalypse of one form or another seemed as inevitable as it does now, and seldom, if ever, has that inevitability been raged against and resigned to in equal measure. Credit to the largely-youthful group of protesters and activists who are actually demanding real and substantive change in hopes of either preventing the end of all things or remaking our society into one worth fighting to preserve before it’s gone, but on the other side of the coin we’ve got very nearly as many people happy to permanently (that being a very relative term) hand the keys to the Doomsday Express over to our modern iteration of Nero and crash and burn along with him as long as he keeps them dazed out on a cocktail of racism, nationalism, spite, grievance, and mean-spiritedness. “Who cares about surviving as long as other people have it even worse than we do on the way out the door?” may not seem a very rational way to approach the death-throes of corporate gluttony to you and me — at least I damn sure hope it doesn’t — but it appears that it’s what at least 1/3, maybe more, of the folks here in the US want, and right now, they’re the ones in charge.

Trust me when I say these garden-variety observations only seem superfluous to mention in relation to this comic, because the sad truth is that they’re anything but : Simmons’ cartoons are very much the product of, and communicate the specific concerns and absurdities of, what’s conveniently — but accurately — been labeled as the “pandemic mindset,” and if you’re looking for some relief from that, it’s incumbent upon me to inform you that you won’t be finding it here. If, however, you’re looking to see it laid bare and to have a grim chuckle or two while you ruminate on its implications, well, you’re in for a hell of a time.

Notice I didn’t say “a hell of a good time,” because if Simmons makes one thing perfectly clear, it’s that even if we do stumble or earn our way out of this COVID mess, the same anxieties and stresses that plagued us before will still be there, whether we’re talking about money worries, relationship worries, or the spectre of our own mortality. We’re all doomed — it’s just a question of when and how. Ain’t life grand?

And on that cheery note, I’m actually giving this comic my highest possible recommendation, not just because it’s brutally honest, but because it’s brutally honest and brutally funny and functions as both a mirror of these brutal times and a brutal reminder that, one way or another, there’s no escape from the bullshit.

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Ghouls is available in a package with Simmons’ other new comic, Micky (shown above), by sending $10.00 via PayPal to joshuahallsimmons@yahoo.com.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Two From Josh Simmons : “Micky”

We’ve all been there — you’re sitting on a plane, or a train, or a bus, and some nosy asshole plunks down next to you and starts asking all sorts of invasive questions, most likely because they’re both bored and boring. After all, when you haven’t got much of a life yourself, then you become unnaturally interested in the lives of others. But what if the person who started nosing around in your business had motivations beyond merely alleviating the tedium of their existence?

That’s the premise behind Josh Simmons’ latest self-published mini (well, okay, it’s only a “mini” in terms of length — as far as its physical format goes, it’s magazine-sized and offset-printed) Micky, an intense short story that plays to its artist’s strengths as the small press scene’s most accomplished purveyor of visceral horror. But the visceral only hits home as anything beyond a splatterfest if it manages to set the stage for bloodshed with some carefully-constructed psychological fucked-upness. And our titular Micky is one very fucked-up individual indeed.

Just how fucked up only becomes apparent in due course, but you get a strong feeling that something ain’t right with this guy from the outset, as he pesters a young couple with a series of increasingly uncomfortable questions, followed by a number of observations and statements that can most generously be described as “grossly and disgustingly inappropriate.” And then shit really goes off the rails.

Obviously, the claustrophobic confines of an airplane make for a good setting for a horror story (you wanna talk about “I’m not locked in here with you — no, you’re locked in here with me!!!!”), and Simmons paces this gut-punch of a short-form yarn expertly by spending roughly half of it on pure buildup, and the other half on deliriously OTT ultraviolence. It’s a thoroughly unpleasant and unsettling experience, and given that’s precisely what it’s supposed to be, well — props for a job well done, even if that job was quite obviously a tough one to stomach. Or am I assuming too much?

Who knows? And, furthermore, who cares? We’re here to discuss this comic’s effectiveness rather than speculate as to the mindset of its creator while he was making it, but I will say this much : it’s always plain as day when an author, artist, or both feels the impact of what they’re doing, and the calculated nature of Simmons’ plotting and his art’s attention to both detail and impact leads me to think that he probably spent more time in his character’s head than would generally be considered “healthy,” and that he spent at least that much time deciding how best to visually communicate the horrific mayhem he was preparing to unleash. There are no accidents here, no sense that the cartoonist is ever “winging it” — and the deliberate nature of the process that went into making this really pays off in the mark (hell, maybe that should be the stain) it leaves on a reader’s brain and conscience afterwards.

Obviously, then, given its profoundly disturbing nature, I can’t recommend this comic to everyone — but for folks like me who appreciate a truly unhinged reading experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Micky is available in a package deal with Simmons’ other new mini, Ghouls (pictured above), by sending $10.00 via PayPal to joshuahallsimmons@yahoo.com.

Review wrist check – it really doesn’t get much better than this in the summertime : my Squale “1521” classic blue dial model riding a Zodiac NATO-style caoutchouc rubber field strap in burnt orange.

Double Your Reading Pleasure With “Detective! Double Digest”

The old saying goes that “you’re either on something, or you’re onto something” — and it seems as if Minneapolis cartoonist Peter Faecke might just be onto something with these “flip-book” split releases that he’s been doing, so after sharing the workload and cover space with A. T. Pratt for last year’s Wacky Western Double Digest, he’s back with a new dual release with one of my absolute favorite emerging cartoonists, Drew Lerman, this one focused on a detective story theme and bearing the admittedly unimaginative, but nevertheless apropos, title of Detective! Double Digest. So, yeah, it’s exactly what you think it is.

Especially if you think it’s going to be good, because this top-notch mini in certainly that. The two-color riso printing scheme employed by publishing imprint Really Easy Press is spot-on, the black/gray and pink gradations bringing the whimsical tone of both the stories and the art right to the surface, while the cardstock covers and high-quality paper are nice touches that give good value for money — but it’s the cartooning on display in these 24 pages that matters most, and if you know either of these artists, you know they’re not likely to disappoint.

And, of course, they don’t — Faecke’s prior work ably demonstrated his skill at what I would call in a pinch “reverential pastiche,” playing up the absurdities of genres ranging from the western to the superhero to the paramilitary vigilante yarn to the sex comic while showing a level of respect for them that’s far from the ironic and begrudging tone that too many lazily fall back on too often, and that pattern holds here in this tale of world-weary gumshoe Ira Hurt taking on a missing persons case that absurdly but entirely expertly morphs into the “Love Triangle” of the strip’s title. There’s little by way of thematic depth to be found, it’s true, but what of it? Faecke’s intentions are clear on their face and the more classical cartooning style that he adopts for this project isn’t just pitch-perfect, it also showcases his skills as a pure illustrator to a greater degree than any of his previous ‘zines barring, perhaps, his “Bronze Age” comics send-up Hand Of Misery. His humor here is also well-timed, and he gets the balance just right in terms of using it to accentuate, rather than overwhelm, his narrative. Yes, the whole thing has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but that doesn’t mean he’s shitting on old-school detective fiction — rather, he’s just reverent enough to show he understands the genre’s ins and outs, but just irreverent enough to adopt a slightly askew take on it. This is a comic by someone who obviously digs comics — not just making them, but reading them — and something like that is always a joy to spend some time with.

Flipping things over to Lerman’s “B” side (or maybe it’s the “A” side, take your pick — not that it particularly matters either way), we find him spinning a tale centered around Dav and Roy, the hapless protagonists of his superb Snake Creek strip, who here adopt the trappings of, and set up shop as, a pair of amateur sleuths and quickly find themselves hired by a “femme fatale” of sorts whose daddy is a billionaire. And a nutcase. Funny how the two usually go hand in hand. But there’s even more going on with him than first appearances would indicate, which means you get a lot of story crammed into these 12 pages, even if it’s delivered at Lerman’s trademark laconically dense (I promise, that only sounds crazy) pace.

Honestly, both of these strips are so damn enjoyable — and so damn well-drawn — that picking a favorite is a pointless exercise, and so I shan’t. What I will say is that both do exactly what they set out to do, and you’ll find plenty of value in contrasting the work of both cartoonists for their similarities and their differences — and that study in contrasts will leave you with a greater appreciation for how each approaches and executes their craft.

To put it as mildly as possible, then, it’s safe to say you really want to get your hands on this comic. You’ll read stuff this year that’s better, and plenty that’s worse, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that’s more sheer fun.

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Detective! Double Digest is available for $10.00 from The Stink Hole at http://thestinkhole.storenvy.com/products/30493732-detective-double-digest

Review wrist check – dressing things up today with my Zodiac “Olympos” gold dial model riding a Hirsch “Genuine Alligator” strap in green. This watch looks plenty sharp on its black factory-provided strap, but hey — I think the green really kicks it up a notch. I don’t see myself needing to put on a suit anytime soon (at least I hope not), but if I had to, this is the combo I’d wear with it.

 

Two From Sean Christensen : “Dress Rehearsal”

One of the more straightforward of Portland-based cartoonist Sean Christensen’s self-published minis — to say nothing of it also being perhaps the longest, clocking it at a whopping 60 pages — 2017’s Dress Rehearsal is both a figure study and a motion study, but is nevertheless an interpretative and fairly abstract formalist work on its own merits. Which sounds like me leading off on a contradictory foot, and so it probably is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate and truthful summation of the work.

The bulk of the book, as you may have surmised by the cover, is an extended depiction of two people performing a nude dance — for, as it turns out, an appreciative audience — but there’s something more at play here than what can be seen on the surface. As the figures ebb and flow — working with, against, and sometimes in contradistinction to, each other — stages and phases of the relationship between the two of them can be either inferred or intimated (maybe both), and part of the fun here is in figuring out whether what you see, what you absorb, what you interpret is an actuality, or just something you assume and/or want to be the case.

Are these two a couple? Were they in the past? Are they on the brink of becoming one now? These questions are all communicated via means of precise minimalist linework that privileges motion above all, with a deep undercurrent of what that motion either means, or might mean. Take your time and relish it all, because there’s a lot of visual information being communicated in these open, border-less panels, and there are plenty of opportunities for you to write your own story in the negative spaces that Christensen’s figures move within — that is, right up until the final few pages.

When the show is over, Christensen does an intriguing 180 and makes the abstract concrete, while remaining committed to his minimalist linework. I won’t give anything more away as to what transpires when an actual narrative arrives on the scene, but I will say that it’s thoroughly satisfying and very much “of a piece” with all that’s come before. It’s a jarring enough immediate transition on the face of things, sure, but it’s timed and executed so successfully that it absolutely works — in fact, it works to such a degree that you can’t envision things concluding any other way, and when you’re talking about a comic that’s wordless for the first 95% of its pages and suddenly becomes quite text-heavy, that’s really saying something.

Christensen’s figures/characters may not walk a literal tight-rope in this ‘zine, it’s true, but the balletic elegance and precision of their movements is very much akin to doing so, and so it seems appropriate indeed that the cartoonist does the same himself, rolling the dice on a major transition that the success of the entire comic ends up being predicated upon — but luckily for us all he’s as graceful as they are, and by the time all is said and done you’re truly ready for Christensen to take a bow, as well.

There’s more than one dance going on here, then, in the final analysis — the one we see on the page, of course, but also the one that is engaged in between reader and artist. And while I may have two left feet myself, all I had to do was follow Sean Christensen’s lead to end up somewhere pretty damn wonderful indeed.

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Dress Rehearsal is available for $8.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/dressrehearsal.html

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it our by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Two From Sean Christensen : “Questions Of Molten Motion”

Consistently one of the more interesting artists working in the small press and self-publishing milieu, Portland’s Sean Christensen never fails to surprise and enthrall with his cartooning, and the latest of his works that I’ve managed to get my hands on (although I believe he actually self-published it last year), Questions Of Molten Motion, may be his most abstract and challenging ‘zine to date — an entirely wordless mini full of single-panel illustrations that convey fluidity in its various aspects, yet attempt to capture it by means of static and intransigent imagery, with most of his individual pen-and-ink drawings “hemmed in” by straight-rule lines at the top and bottom, but open at the sides.

Now, don’t ask me what the fuck some of these images actually depict in a concrete sense, although both bodies and loosely-rendered “objects” (after a fashion, at any rate) are reasonably inferred at the ocular level, even if how they “feel” to you may be something entirely separate and apart from how they look. We often use the expression “bring your hard-hat and be prepared to do some of the work yourself” pretty often around here (I really should make better use of a thesaurus, I guess), but it’s never been more true than it is in this utterly unique case.

None of which is to say that this comic is in any way impenetrable or indecipherable, but Christensen’s modus operandi results in a finished work so oblique that both what it’s communicating and how it’s doing so is very much a matter of absolutely individual interpretation. Forget such garden-variety questions as whether you like it or not — first you’re going to be charged with the task of deciding what it all means, and that’s as sure a clue as there is that you’re in for an exciting time with this work.

A loose-knit (to say nothing of loosely-drawn) commitment to formalism, and to pushing that formalism to its limits while “playing” within its strictures, is at the core of this book — and, it seems to me, of Christensen’s approach to art in general — but you could be forgiven for losing sight of that even though it’s never anything less than absolutely obvious. Containment and the struggle against and within boundaries — even loose (there’s that word again) ones — is one thing on a literal level, but the constant depiction of it here in an endless variety of forms and fashions raises the bar considerably and moves it from the physical realm to the conceptual one, and as such one might be tempted to think that this ‘zine is only part of a larger project that explores the same themes in other mediums. Or it could be, at any rate. And whaddya know —

It appears that Christensen, under the name of Phull Collums (which, for all I know, may be a band and not just him) has an album, or at least a series of songs or musical pieces, of the same name that complements and/or accentuates this “suite” of illustrations. I haven’t listened to it myself, not being a fan of digital music, so I can’t comment on it, but I will say that this is a strong enough ‘zine in an of itself to be taken on its own merits — although I admit to being curious what the music sounds like. Who knows, maybe I’ll give it a go one of these days.

Until then, I’ve got this mini, and returning to it frequently is something I can very much see myself doing. As is probably perfectly clear, I have yet to fully wrap my head around it, but not only is there no shame in that, it means this is the kind of thing I’m always looking for . If you’re up for a challenge, I think the same will be true for you.

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Questions Of Molten Motion is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/questionsmolten.html

Review wrist check – a perfect summer say calls for a perfect summer combo : my Squale “1521 Onda” aqua blue dial model riding a Zodiac camo caoutchouc rubber NATO-style field strap.

A Pretty Strong “Wimp Digest”

To address the elephant in the room right at the outset, yes — Josh Pettinger and Evan Salazar’s new eight-page mini, Wimp Digest, is a “gimmick” comic, the stunt in question being that Salazar is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Pettinger’s childhood, and Pettinger is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Salazar’s childhood. Got that?

I’m sure you do, as the idea of one cartoonist telling the other a story for them to commit to paper, and the other doing the same, isn’t a terribly difficult conceit to grasp — nor is this comic itself a difficult one to kick back and spend about 15 minutes with. It’s a fun, kinda heartwarming, and certainly well-illustrated little number by two of the more promising new (-ish, at any rate) talents in the “indie”/self-publishing scene (although, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover, the publication of this is every bit the “joint venture” that its creation was). Here’s the thing, though — you’re also more than likely to see some actual value in it, and by that I mean value beyond its inherent cleverness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being clever, mind you — in this cynical day and age, it gets kind of a bad rap, but when done right it still makes for an enjoyable reading experience, which this ‘zine certainly is. But I think Pettinger and Salazar are reaching for something a little more here — something maybe, dare I say it, at least nominally approaching understanding. And not just of each other.

Rather, what I see in the essential character of these admittedly quick little vignettes — the subjects of which you can pretty well glean from the titles of the strips as presented in the image above — is an effort to understand their own artistic processes, and where the line between subjectivity and objectivity (always murky at best, true) lies by applying their own creative practices to the task of playing biographer for someone else. And who better to try something like that on than a friend, right?

Please don’t take this to mean that we’re playing around in “where does the end of me become the start of you?” territory here or anything, though, as we’re most assuredly not. Rather, what these guys are doing is seeing what, if anything, of their own unique cartooning “voice” carries over into someone else’s story, and how that “voice” informs said story. And when you’re talking about two people whose approaches and concerns are pretty singular unto themselves, that’s likely to prove to be a very interesting exercise, indeed — and so it is.

I guess I’d be lying if I said this was anything like an essential purchase — -after all, if you want straight-no-chaser Salazar you’re better off picking up Rodeo, and if you want straight-no-chaser Pettinger you’re better off picking up Goiter (and I should state for the record that you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you’re not already reading both) — but it’s definitely an intriguing and worthwhile one all the same. Plus, it’s cheap, and in times such as these that’s always a plus — but don’t take that to mean it’s inherently disposable or purely a vanity project. This might be a gimmick, sure, but it’s nevertheless a substantive one that allows each cartoonist to discover something about the other — and, more importantly, about themselves.

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Wimp Digest is available for $4.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/wimpdigest.html

Review wrist check — I was wearing my Farer Universal “Stanhope” mechanical hand-winder when I wrote this one, the only non-automatic watch in my modest little collection. It’s riding a Hirsch “Paul” alligator-pattern leather strap from their “Performance” series for a dressy look but a comfortable, sporty feel.

On The Road To Ruin And Revelation : Mara Ramirez’s “MOAB”

There’s truth in packaging, and then there’s this : Oakland-based cartoonist Mara Ramirez’s recently-released debut graphic novel, MOAB — which comes our way courtesy of Freak Comics — is formatted to look like a sketchbook/diary with a lush moleskine cover because, well, it is a sketchbook/diary with a lush moleskine cover, it’s just that it happens to tell one complete story. And one complete true story, at that.

think, at any rate. Granted, there’s no indication that the narrative herein is strictly autobiographical — or even loosely autobiographical — but even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean the story, and the emotive and expressive qualities that positively ooze from its metaphorical pores, is any less real. In fact, it only takes a few pages to clue readers in to the fact that this, right here, is as absolutely real as it gets.

And no sooner do I say that than I immediately contradict myself, because if there’s one thing Ramirez excels at above all others, it’s imbuing her work with a distinctly ethereal and dreamlike character. Clocking in at well over 100 pages, this book proceeds at its own pace, which is to say that sometimes it may not even proceed at all. Stopping to smell the roses is one thing, but these undeniably immersive graphite sketches draw you in and invite you to take your time exploring not only the visual information they convey, but the mood and atmosphere they establish.  On the one hand, sure, this is the story of a distinctly uncomfortable road trip out west undertaken by a couple whose relationship is deteriorating before our eyes, but on the other it’s about using the power of art to show the world this couple is moving through (and by that I should be absolutely clear and state that I mean both their external and internal worlds) as a landscape that’s both physical and emotional, with no hard and fast demarcation between the two. It’s an entirely unique reading experience that privileges perception over actuality, the experiential over the objective. It’s about what’s there and what’s happening, absolutely, but even more it’s about how all of that feels.

You want absorbing? This book is so absorbing that you won’t want to let it go — hell, you may even need to devise a strategy for leaving it behind. But you won’t be in any hurry to do so, that’s for sure — “from my cold, dead hands” ain’t just for guns anymore, my friends. Not that this is, in either concept or execution, an “easy” comic to spend time with — the emotions it explores and extrapolates upon are as raw and utterly unmediated as it gets. But they’re so immediate, so intricate, so fragile, and so altogether real that you could be forgiven for feeling like this is all happening to you rather than to a pair of fictitious characters. Probably because, hey, if you’ve ever been in relationship that’s gone through a “rough patch” — one where it’s been unclear whether you were going to make it as a couple or not — then you have, indeed, lived this story. You probably just never figured that everything that was going on in your head at that time could come flooding back to you by means of a primarily visual narrative. I know such a think never occurred to me, that’s for sure, and yet — here we are, and Ramirez has unquestionably managed to achieve precisely that outcome.

Not that precision figures into the equation all that much on a purely conceptual level here — nah, that would be too easy and too calculated in equal measure. This is free-form, improvisational comics at their very best, with shapes and figures and moods and emotions morphing “on the fly,” so to speak, with little regard for anything other than emerging into whatever they are entirely on their own terms. Dreams work that way, absolutely, but I’ll let you in on a little secret : when life is working like it should, be it good or bad — when you’re experiencing periods of profound import and meaning, when everything is charged with fabulous and painful significance — well, that’s when reality itself has an inherently “dreamy” quality to it, as well. Capturing that feeling of everything being too real to possibly be real at all is what this book is all about, and does it ever deliver on that score.

Look, I know it’s only July and there are many months — and many comics — to go before we usher 2020 out the door, but I’m just gonna call it right now : I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t sitting atop my “best of the year” list when all is said and done.

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MOAB is available for $25.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/moab.html

Review wrist check – I was wearing my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53” for this one. This  model is colloquially known as the “Blackout Edition,” and I trust no further extrapolation beyond “just look at the damn thing” is required to explain how it comes by that moniker.

The “Broken Pieces” Of David Tea’s Consciousness Coalesce in “Five Perennial Virtues” #11

After spending the last couple of years mainly re-visiting old material (as opposed to merely re-printing it, given that he’s made changes ranging from the significant to the less so to pretty much all his earlier comics in their new iterations), it’s nice to see that Minneapolis cartoonist David Tea is back to producing original stuff with Five Perennial Virtues #11, the latest issue of his intermittent self-published series that’s been going for, what? Nearly two decades now?

My, how time flies — even if, in Dave’s ‘zines, it seems to either crawl or loop back in on itself. Or both. In any case, the “Broken Pieces” subtitle for this issue is entirely apropos, and while tonally and structurally it’s of a piece (or, if you prefer, of a broken piece) with previous installments, it’s also quite different and fairly unique unto itself. Spoiler alert, then : I think you’re going to want this comic. And this is the part where I tell you why.

For one thing, Dave’s illustration is getting more confident and recognizably his — yes, it retains that “outsider” look and appeal, and there’s still some of those “clip art” cut-outs and patterns that I’ve grown bizarrely fond of, but he’s sharpened and worked out some crucial elements of his technique without resorting to anything so dull as actually refining them. He draws some things (I won’t say what, that would be telling) in this mini that I frankly didn’t think he had the ability to, and since I’d rather be surprised than right, this is a welcome development indeed, and probably goes some way toward explaining the longer-than-usual gap between his last issue and this one. Rest assured that it was time well-spent, and that you’re sure to see maybe not a leap, but at least a solid step forward in the look of his work.

Fortunately, though, that doesn’t mean he’s shedding his overall idiosyncratic approach to making comics. As with all of Dave’s stories, you could make a solid argument that nothing really happens per se in this one, but that’s never the point here  — his stream-of-consciousness “plotting” is a thing of joy to behold even if it still essentially boils down to : Dave walks around lost in thought, then notices something and gets lost in another thought, then some nominal “event” occurs that ties into either the first or second thought he was lost in, and then shit gets downright surreal. Oh, and there’s usually room for one or two long-form digressions on some historical subject or other in there somewhere. I make that all sound more standardized than it probably is, but what of it? On paper it can also be said that Gerald Jablonski’s comics all essentially play out the same way, yet no one would have the temerity to claim they know what the hell to expect from any of them. Ditto for Tea’s stuff.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dave’s stories, though — and never has this been more evident than it is here — is that for what amounts to a series of non-sequiturs strung together with the most threadbare of connective tissue, there’s a remarkable fluidity to them. Tea may only traverse the space of a handful of city blocks in this particular installment, but on a purely conceptual level he goes everywhere, and the obviously intuitive approach he takes to his art (for the life of me, I still can’t explain his choices in terms of inserting strips of typeface text into certain panels — nor why he even puts them in there in the first place), coupled with the more circular than linear nature of his plot “progression,” results in an experience that feels less like “reading” and more like being exposed to unvarnished transmissions from another person’s id. Comics don’t come much more auteur-ish than this, friends.

The irony, though, is that for a ‘zine that seems so free-flowing, I know for a fact that Dave put a lot of precise planning into this one — I think he passed two or three “preliminary versions” or “rough cuts” on to me before finally settling on this final iteration. Near as I can tell, the majority of the changes he made along the way were minor, but that just goes to show the sheer amount of thinking and attention to detail he brings to his art. If you take a look at the cover image for one of his prior efforts pictured above, Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters, you can see the difference from “then” to “now” clear as day, yet you’ll also harbor no doubt that not only are they clearly the work of the same person, they just plain couldn’t have come from anyone else. And that’s David Tea’s comics in a nutshell — always different, sure, but always unmistakably his. If he keeps on doing this for 20 more years, I won’t complain in the least.

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Five Perennial Virtues #11 is available for $6.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/fiveperennial11.html

Review wrist check – I was wearing my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68” in burnt orange while writing this one, and if it seems like this one’s been turning up a lot lately, that’s because it has. Like a bear, this watch tends to hibernate in the winter, and then gets real active in the summer.