Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/11/2018 – 02/17/2018

This has been an eventful week full of tragedy (yet another school shooting), triumph (Black Panther), and everything in between, has it not? And somewhere in between the grieving and the glory, there was even time for comics, so let’s talk about those —

Brian Canini remains as busy as always pursuing his various and sundry idiosyncratic cartooning visions, and recently found time to send me issues three and four of his superb ongoing mini-comics series Plastic People, which so far bears all the hallmarks of being his best work yet. Part dystopian sci-fi, part character study, and as of now — a murder mystery to boot? Clearly Canini’s spinning a lot of plates with this title, but so far pulling it all off perfectly. I don’t know how lengthy a narrative he’s pursuing here, but from all appearances he’s playing a “long game,” and after spending the first couple eight-page installments on “world-building,” the main thrust of his story is starting to come into view. The scene of the discovery of the dead body that comes to take center stage is downright Lynchian in its execution, what with one seemingly important event dovetailing into another, entirely unexpected and more consequential one, and the dialogue at the morgue that follows it a joy to read, equal parts procedural and personal. His art on these issues is equally strong, minimalist angularity that presents a foreign-yet-familiar future Los Angeles with a kind of “street-level” uncomplicated dynamism. About the only thing you could wish for from this comic that you don’t get is more pages, so absorbing and immersive is the tale being told here, but if you buy all four (and at just $1.99 each, why wouldn’t you?) and read them in one sitting, there’s that problem solved. I’m hoping he’s able to stick with a fairly regular production schedule on this one — I know, I know, easier said than done when you’re balancing your small-press publishing with a “real life” — because I’m pretty well hooked here and would love to be able to count on a predictable dose to mainline into my eyeballs. I know I’ve talked this series up in the past, but goddamnit, I’m going to continue to do so until you’re sick of hearing me talk about it. Do not pass this one up.

Also arriving in my package from Canini was the second issue of his full-color mini Blirps, another series of one-pagers starring his anxiety-riddled robot (I think, at any rate) monsters. These are always worth a chuckle and the concept seems like one that might have some commercial “legs” to it, as the set-up for each gag strip is simple yet infinitely applicable to any number of socially-awkward situations. I get a kick out of the deadpan humor here and could see this being a fairly successful Adult Swim-style animated short series — or, hell, maybe even being used as the premise for a line of greeting cards. You never know — but, again, I do know that this is well worth your two bucks and, as with Plastic People, is available from Drunken Cat Comics at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

Rachel Scheer is a full-time schoolteacher/part-time cartoonist based out of Seattle, Washington whose work I confess to being unfamiliar with until an envelope from her containing a couple of her mini-comics arrived in my mailbox the other day. Her drawing style is simple, but expressive, and lends itself equally well to scenes of fluid motion or static, single-panel illustration, and in Cats Of The White House we’re treated to plenty of the latter as she and writing collaborator Danny Noonan provide a series of brief-but-fun bios of some of the felines who have shared 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. along with their more-well-known human servan — sorry, “owners.” This is great little book for kids, cat-lovers, or both, and you may even pick up a tidbit or two of useless trivia along the way. Hell, I never even knew George W. Bush had a cat — or maybe I did, and I was just trying to forget it along with everything else about his presidency? Plenty of story and art on offer here to make it $3.00 smartly-spent.

The Scheer comic that really knocked my socks off, though, was The Hanukkah Fire, 1992, a family history wherein she traces the circuitous path her forebears took from Europe, though the little-known Jewish ghettos of Kobe, Japan and Shanghai, China, and all the way to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Bronx. Her use of old family home videos as a framing device is a simple-but-ingenious springboard for this deeply personal tale that touches on topics ranging from religious/cultural identity (or lack thereof) to the transition into adulthood and an examination of why we keep certain family traditions going while letting others fall by the wayside. Quietly poignant, highly literate cartooning delivered in a disarmingly simplistic style that manages to convey an awful lot of emotion with a minimal amount of fuss and muss, this is one of those comics that I’ll be re-reading again and again over the years. It’s available (along with Cats Of The White House and Scheer’s other self-published comics, which I intend to check out) for $4.00 from the cartoonist’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/RachelComics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

And I think that’ll about do it for this week, but next week’s Reading Round-Up is already pretty well set in stone given that the newest four-pack of minis from our Latvian friends at Kus! Comics just showed up in the mail today, so I’ll hope to see you back here in seven days for a look at what promises to be another superb quartet of books from eastern Europe’s finest publisher.

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