The Good Kind Of Bad Trip : Corinne Halbert’s “Acid Nun”

From the depths of space to the depths of hell to the depths of the mind to the depths of depravity, Annie, the titular Acid Nun of illustrator extraordinaire Corinne Halbert’s new self-published mini, covers a lot of territory — but then, you’d expect nothing less, I would suppose, given that a comic with a dizzyingly lurid name had damn well better serve up the dizzyingly lurid goods to match.

Of course, with an artist of Halbert’s skills, most of that luridness is going to be expressed visually, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front : this is a veritable tableau of sexually explicit violent psychedelia rendered with the care of a true enthusiast, a celebratory paean to the libertine spirit and ethos delivered with a passion that can’t be faked. There’s good and there’s evil, then there’s beyond good and evil, and then somewhere well beyond even that there’s this stuff — value judgments are well out the window here, but if you want to judge a book on the quality of its execution? Halbert’s work is beyond reproach on that front.

Which means, of course, that this is in no way, shape, or form a comic for all tastes, or for those with a weak constitution. A person’s gotta be made of some pretty stern stuff to create work of this nature, to be sure, but one needs to be made of equally stern stuff to enjoy it — fuck “not for the squeamish” disclaimers, this collection of interconnected shorts (one of which I recognize from an issue of Harry Nordlinger’s Vacuum Decay anthology series, the others being new to my eyes) isn’t going to do much for even the nominally “well-adjusted,” apart from providing a generous amount of fuel for their nightmares. What that means to you, dear reader, only you can determine, but for this critic’s part? In case you hadn’t already guessed, I loved it.

Granted, that probably says something about me that any shrink worth his or her salt would have a veritable field day with, but in point of fact I could care less. There’s way too much comforting, “safe” material out there that offers nothing by way of aesthetic or conceptual challenges — Halbert not only pushes all those buttons, she throws down a gauntlet that challenges her readers’ morality, as well, and that takes a hell of a lot of guts. Good thing there are plenty of those to be found in these pages — literally, as you can see.

Still, the casual nonchalance with which Halbert dismisses anything remotely resembling pleasantries as a matter of course is as firm an indication as any I can think of that she’s having a lot of fun here, as well (as is Mike Centeno, who contributes a killer piece of pin-up art) — and why not? With every square sent scrambling for the hills and/or padded cells more or less from page one, she’s playing to a choir of fellow reprobates here, and has no reason to do anything other than, in true acid-head parlance, “let it all hang out.” There’s certainly a gleeful and playful vibe to all this that the subject matter wouldn’t at first seem to line up with all that naturally, but if you think about it — why not? I mean, if we’re all fucked up anyway (and, for the record, we are), there’s no reason not to keep it a secret, nor to try to banish that part of ourselves to some dark corner of the id, where all it will do is fester and grow until it becomes truly dangerous. Art is all about release, after all — or, in this case, perhaps the term exorcism would be more appropriate.

Look, who are we fooling here? You know you want this comic — you wanted it from the minute you laid eyes on the cover. I’m just here to tell you to give in, and that you won’t regret it for a second.

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Acid Nun is available for $10.00 directly from Corinne Halbert’s website at https://corinnehalbert.bigcartel.com/product/acid-nun-no-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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

“Sludgy” #2 : Happy To Be Stuck In The Muck

In the comics game, second issues are almost as tricky a thing to pull off as first issues — sure, debuts have to grab you and all, but the follow-up has to give you a reason to stick around. And in the case of a rather tightly-defined humor strip, that task is amplified to an even greater degree, because it’s incumbent upon a cartoonist to prove that their concept can keep on being funny even though readers already have a pretty good sense of the general gist of things.

That being said, the swamp is one of those locales that’s always offered more sheer storytelling possibilities than most other places — just ask Walt Kelly. Or, if your sensibilities run more toward comic books that strips, ask Alan Moore or Steve Gerber. And while we’re at it, we can add Robb Mirsky’s name to this list of luminaries.

Or it appears we can, at any rate. Granted, the “sample size” offered by his self-published series Sludgy is considerably smaller than the sprawling bodies of work authored by the other creators just mentioned, but with issue #2 having just been released, it would appear that this Harvey Comics-esque take on self-replicating muck monsters may indeed have some actual staying power to it — and may be malleable enough to be a successful vehicle for long(-ish) form narratives. Which I guess shouldn’t come as too great a surprise when we’re talking about characters that can assume any sort of shape or size and apparently can’t be, ya know, killed or anything like that. Could it be, then, that Mirsky has found the perfect character(s) with which to tell just about any sort of tale that pops into his mind?

As of this writing, the answer to that question as far as this critic is concerned is a qualified “yes,” as Mirsky has delivered a second issue that, a couple short and amusing back-up strips notwithstanding, amounts to a full-length story that pits our Sludgies against a hapless crew of developers a la the F.A. Schist (I still get a chuckle out of that) company of Man-Thing renown. It’s not a mentally taxing or aesthetically challenging story by any stretch, but then it’s not meant to be — Mirsky’s aim is to deliver a bizarrely cute, reasonably funny yarn that touches lightly upon largely non-controversial (unless you’re a right-winger, in which case no one here gives a flying fuck what you think) environmental themes and to draw the whole thing really well. Judged by those standards, then, his comic is a rousing success.

He’s certainly hit on a winning formula in terms of matching apropos subject matter with witty timing, fundamentally strong composition, and a frankly inspired color palette, and with this second issue he’s shown that his hermetically-sealed little comic book “reality” can indeed, like his protagonists, bend without breaking. And honestly, with something like this, a winning formula is more or less game, set, and match — provided a cartoonist is clever enough to not only keep it going, but to do things that are legitimately unexpected, or at the very least surprising, with it.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly passe, I’m here to tell you than there’s nothing wrong with making fun comics — nor is there anything wrong with liking them. And they don’t come much more fun than this, so go ahead and enjoy it, just as Mirsky clearly enjoyed making it.

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Sludgy #2 is available for $6.00 from the My Moving Parts website at https://mymovingparts.com/collections/comics/products/sludgy-2-comic

Review wrist check – Formex “Reef” green dial/green bezel model riding Formex’s own black rubber deployant strap.

Patreon Preview Week : “Reckless” By Ed Brubaker And Sean Phillips

I did this last year, so I’m doing it again : in an effort to gin up interest in my Patreon site, I’m posting a selection of reviews that ran on there originally with the brazen goal being to get you, dear reader, to part with a buck (or more, if you wish) per month so that yours truly can find some level of intellectual justification for the sheer amount of time I put into cranking out so much comics criticism. Really, anything helps and is much appreciated. Next up : proof that I don’t ignore the comics mainstream entirely, as I take a look at the first volume in the new graphic novel series from the fan-favorite creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips —

Here’s the deal : the crime comics “dream team” of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been at it for so damn long now — over two decades, in fact — that they’re bound miss on occasion. The problem for me as a reader and as a critic, though, is that they had a pretty long string of misses going before finally hitting again with their most recent run of Criminal (in particular the two-issue yarn collected as Bad Weekend, which featured a clear Gil Kane stand-in up to even more underhanded shit than the real Gil Kane was sometimes known to be) and, especially, the pulp-western-New Deal thriller PULP, which for my money may be the high-water mark of their collaboration to date.  So, after a long dry spell, 2018-2019 saw the pair, in my humble estimation, back on a real roll.

You know what they say, though — nothing lasts forever.  And while eschewing the single-issue rat race in favor of going directly to self-contained-but-interconnected graphic novels with the adventures of their newest character, Ethan Reckless (hey, don’t laugh — the serial-novel heroes he’s loosely based on such as Remo “The Destroyer” Williams and, even more absurdly, Mark “The Penetrator” Hardin, are exponentially more ludicrous) makes pretty good sense in the post-COVID comics marketplace,  unfortunately too much on offer in his debut story, Reckless, simply doesn’t. That’s my queue to tell you that small but crucial “spoilers” follow —

The nuts and bolts of Ethan’s “character Bible” are interesting enough : former ’70s Weather Underground-style radical injured in a bomb blast that gives him amnesia, dulls his pain receptors, and fucks up his overall emotional processing and affect goes even further underground as an off-the-books private dick is a cool enough conceptual framework for these seasoned hands to craft some fun noir-ish stories around, and the early-’80s LA setting is pretty much pitch-perfect for the kinds of things they’re obviously itching to do. The added wrinkle that Ethan was, in actuality, an FBI CONITELPRO cop secretly out to bust his friends works, too — not because it makes him more likeable, but because it makes him decidedly less so : I mean, good pulp protagonists are almost always morally conflicted, right? The problem arises not from the fact that he’s an asshole, but from the fact that he’s a self-pitying one.

I don’t hold it against Brubaker for starting this new series out with the most obvious story choice of all — old flame from Ethan’s radical days comes back, is in trouble, needs protection from a bad dude, etc. — and again, I’m intrigued that lack of normal emotive ability on the part of our erstwhile “hero” is one of his defining traits. What I do hold against our scribe, though, is a running internal monologue on Ethan’s part throughout that is tinged with remorse not so much for the people he fucked over, but for himself. Rainy, his ex, isn’t even a “character” as much as she is a symbol of all that Ethan had and subsequently lost, and inserting himself into her dilemma, while ostensibly a way to make things right, actually isn’t even that for him in any appreciable way, rather it’s a self-administered test to see if he can still feel anything at all — other than, of course, regret that he can’t feel anything. It’s all pretty frustrating because, again, the sort of character they want this guy to be — and that, in fairness, he may still develop into down the road — seems like he might be a pretty memorable one. But he comes off here as the kind of dude you’ll be happy to forget as surely as he forgets parts of himself.
There are some issues with the pacing of the story, as well — Brubaker delivers his biggest shock twist before even the halfway point, then lays off the gas with any others until serving up a rather customary-for-this-sort-of-thing volley of them at the end, but seems to forget that they each successive one should, ideally, be more impactful that the one that preceded it — but all of that pales in comparison with the folly of trying to make a tough-guy action hero out of the most woe-is-me guy in comics since Ditko’s Peter Parker. And he was supposed to be that way. Ethan Reckless, by contrast, is supposed to be flat, unresponsive, uncaring — but instead comes off as self-absorbed to the point that even his more altruistic moves are open to the “what’s in it for him?” question.  Consequently, when he earns a bit of an emotional respite, maybe even some sense of inner peace, in the book’s final pages, it feels entirely unearned.
I definitely give Phillips credit for pulling his weight, though, and ditto for his son/colorist, Jacob. Projects like The Fade Out and Kill Or Be Killed featured art that leaned far too heavily on photo referencing for my tastes, but here, while Phillips has obviously done his requisite period-setting research, he’s doing mainly free-hand drawing again, and injecting everyone with a fair degree of visual personality that I wish the script lived up to, and the overly-saturated color palette drapes everything in a highly appropriate thick, almost oppressive, California haze. Reckless looks great, then — and I’m sure the series pitch read great — but at $25 per volume, Brubaker’s gonna have to come to grips with how to really write this character pretty quickly before it becomes difficult for readers to justify such a large expenditure three or four times in the next year, as their publishing plan calls for. I guess I remain cautiously optimistic — but damn, how about that? I can’t for the life of me remember why.

Want more? Check out my Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Patreon Preview Week : “Gates Of Plasma” By Carlos Gonzalez

I did this last year, so I’m doing it again : in an effort to gin up interest in my Patreon site, I’m posting a selection of reviews that ran on there originally with the brazen goal being to get you, dear reader, to part with a buck (or more, if you wish) per month so that yours truly can find some level of intellectual justification for the sheer amount of time I put into cranking out so much comics criticism. Really, anything helps and is much appreciated. Next up, a fantastic book that Floating World Comics released in 2019 and seems to have largely floated under the radar —

Strictly speaking, there’s no reason that pioneering underground cartoonist, musician, and SOV filmmaker Carlos Gonzales isn’t on the so-called “A list” of contemporary artistic talents. I mean, whatever you’re looking for — fiercely-realized visions, a legitimately singular drawing style, a core set of existential concerns, an absolutely original “voice” — he’s got it. And furthermore, he’s had it for a long time. In fact, this guy’s work has inspired a number of others who have cited him as one of their favorite cartoonists of all time. Hell, no less a top-tier talent than Anya Davidson recently remarked to me that Gonzalez’ work is what convinced her that it would be possible for someone of her sensibilities to even make comics in the first place — and yet, aside from a small but committed cadre of exceptionally loyal fans who will gladly follow wherever he leads, he remains something of an unknown quantity to not just the larger comics-reading public, but even to the considerably smaller indie comics-reading public.

I think that’s largely due to the fact that he’s committed to his own artistic independence to a degree that’s certainly admirable, but not likely to garner him a ton of attention. He’s always been a prolific self-publisher, but only occasionally pops his head above water, so to speak, to make his presence known to the wider world, such as with his strip in Kramers Ergot 6, and that pattern holds true with his other creative endeavors : he distributes the music of his largely one-man project, Russian Tsarlag, via mail-order cassettes, and his “films” are, to my knowledge, only available on homemade VHS tapes. His longest comic to date, the 500-page Slime Freak, is strictly a “good luck if you can find it” item, and the same is true of his newest ongoing series, Everglide. In other words, he’s underground by  both default (there’s nothing remotely “commercial’ about any of this stuff, trust me) and, crucially, by choice.

I was, therefore, somewhat surprised to see that Gonzales agreed to let someone else — namely Floating World — publish his 320-page 2019 opus Gates Of Plasma, a sprawling-yet-conceptually-tight tale of truck drivers, alternate dimensions, asshole tech moguls, mayors-turned-DIY-porn-entrepreneurs, amateur-plastic surgeon UFO cultists, and mystically-powered ear wax — but was pleased to see that they still hewed very much to their auteur’s decidedly lo-fi aesthetic sensibilities with their formatting and presentation. The cover is simple B&W, the paper essentially cheap pulp stock, the entire package emitting distinct “just the way it should be” vibes. And yet —

In Gonzales’ world(s), nothing is really as it should be at all, and discovering and subsequently emerging into a view of life — indeed, of reality itself — as it’s meant to be and always has been is a running theme throughout his body of work, and one that’s expressed with incredible clarity and purpose in this book. Admittedly, the individual characters as I’ve just described them sound like a fairly disparate bunch, and so they are, but Gonzales is such a skilled plotter that from page one onwards one can’t help but feel the fates of these folks are in the hands of some cosmic chess grandmaster. If I were to mention that the core of said plot revolves around a conscripted cast performing a hitherto-unfinished stage play conceived of over a century ago by a woman whose life was altered by an alien visitation, things would probably sound even more confusing still, but I give you my critic’s word of honor that everything here flows with a kind of naturalist rhythm that would make even seasoned creators of comics poetry jealous. And yet at the same time, to draw a comparison to the comics mainstream, this is very much the sort of book that Grant Morrison spent the better part of 30 years trying to get exactly right before saying “fuck it” and going more or less all-in on superheroes instead. Gonzales, however, manages to make it look easy rather than belabored.

Which certainly isn’t the case, of course —  making comics is never easy, but sleight of hand is a  powerful weapon for any cartoonist to employ. For Gonzales, that ethos carries over into his artwork, as well, which gives off all the hallmarks of being “naive” art, maybe even “outsider” art, but underpinning it all is the distinct imprimatur of a guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. His sparse and economic linework, austere backgrounds, privileging of figures in profile, and insertion of frankly inexplicable collage elements all coalesce to form a unique and entirely apropos visual language no one else has ever thought of before or should ever attempt to mimic — this is a  story that really only works with this kind of art, and on the other side of the coin, this is art that just as surely only works for telling this kind of story.

Here’s the really surprising thing, though : I would recommend this book without a moment’s hesitation to any sort of reader. Yes, it’s even farther out than “far out,” and yes, it demands that you meet it on its own terms, but it’s a thoughtful, effective, entirely coherent meditation on losing and finding connection, on navigating one’s way through the universe, and on physical and spiritual transcendence set within an extremely accessible, even welcoming, sci-fi framework that makes even the highest of high weirdness feel more intriguing than threatening, more sincere than stupefying. If Philip K. Dick wasn’t so busy trying to impress you with his outre-ness, this is the kind of thing he might come up with on one of his better days.  I wish I’d read it when it first came out, as it would unquestionably have made my best-of-year-list for 2019, but as it is I’m happy to call it one of the very best comics of the last several years, and hope that the added distinction will more than make up for me bestowing it belatedly. Check it out for yourself at : https://floatingworldcomics.com/shop/comic-books/gates-of-plasma-by-carlos-gonzalez

Want more? Check out my Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Patreon Preview Week : “Future” By Tommi Musturi

I did this last year, so I’m doing it again : in an effort to gin up interest in my Patreon site, I’m posting a selection of reviews that ran on there originally with the brazen goal being to get you, dear reader, to part with a buck (or more, if you wish) per month so that yours truly can find some level of intellectual justification for the sheer amount of time I put into cranking out so much comics criticism. Really, anything helps and is much appreciated. First up, a comic that pretty much everyone has been talking about, and for good reason —

Finnish cartoonist Tommi Musturi has always been something of a stylistic chameleon, a literal “man of a thousand faces” who can conjure any of them up when the need arises. In times past, this has largely meant that you never know what to expect from him from one short-form strip to the next, but in the pages of his current series, Future (self-published under his own Boing Being imprint), he’s raised the stakes considerably in that he’s incorporating any number of points along a wide stylistic continuum in service of telling a singular, unified story over the course of ten issues — I think, at any rate.

First off, Marvel and DC oughtta be ashamed of themselves : for six bucks per issue (five of which are already out) here, we are getting 28 full-color pages on high-quality paper stock between thick, glossy covers from Musturi, while they give us 28 pages on cheap, shitty paper with covers printed on the same stock as the interiors for $3.99 — and they load their books up with ads, to boot So, in addition to giving us a unique, challenging, mind-bending series, Musturi is also showing up the major publishers in a big way. Props to him for that — but hey, no matter how good a physical product might be, it’d ultimately still be worthless if the thought, technique, and execution behind it didn’t earn their fancy presentation. Musturi’s work earns it and then some.

It also presents a challenge to prospective reviewers, such as yours truly, in that the entire scope, and even the nature, of the project are still, even at the halfway point, tantalizingly out of reach :  we know we’re exploring different future eras of the Earth, as the name implies, but whether or not all of them are actual, as opposed to “merely” potential, ones is very much an open question — as is the role of the AI being/device known as IDA, who may be the central organizing force linking all these disparate times and places together, may be a metafictional conceit or contrivance, may be the ultimate Deus Ex Machina, or may be some combination of all of these, if not something else entirely. It’s hard to describe, sure, but please don’t take that to mean it’s not easy enough to intuit, if not to fully as yet understand, what Musturi is doing in most of these brightly-colored, inherently eye-catching pages. Whether he’s  showing us a world where art has literally been driven underground, a lost eco-utopia, a hyper-charged “reality” TV show, or a near-silent dark urban hellscape, he’s clearly and unambiguously building toward something — and it’s something very exciting indeed. He’s approaching it in non-linear fashion, and it feels very organic — think of a spider weaving a web moreso than, say, a ground-up construction project — but it’s not so much confusing as it is actively subversive.

And by that I should be clear : it subverts expectation and preconception every bit as much as it does conventionality. It’s out to blow your mind, and it surely does that, but it’s not out to just blow your mind — it’s out to expand your understanding of both the capabilities of the comics medium and, more generally (and ambitiously), the ways in which human beings (and the constructs they produce) put thought into action. Yes, we go from rough and scratchy to lush and detailed to classically “cartoony” to bold and expressionistic in accordance with scenario and environment, but these aren’t just stylistic transitions, they’re substantive ones that avail readers of the opportunity to not just think about where we’re going, so to speak, but why we’re going there and how each place came to be the way it’s depicted. I know I just said this comic is subversive, but depending on which roads Musturi takes us down, it may prove to be something considerably more than that : it might just be revolutionary.

Of course, much remains to be seen, but seeing it — as in seeing it on the page, yes, but in a larger sense seeing it unfold — is part of the process. Musturi is playing a fiendishly clever game here, engaging the reader on a level of active, rather than passive, observation, and it’s a game that he’s clearly playing for keeps : what we are looking at and reading, as well as how we are doing so, fits into the whole puzzle, in the sense that the fact we’re being narrated to, by one means or another, is never in question. This is a comic made for an audience, sure — they all are — but it’s also one that knows it has an audience and that it is speaking directly to it. Think of a television show where at least some of the actors know you’re watching, and talk back to you, and you’ll be getting a partial idea of what Musturi is doing here. Now, what if those actors on those shows were actively coalescing into a singular narrative from one channel to the next? And what if their unified grand plan had something more in mind than just a giant team-up of your favorite characters — what if they were looking to make a bold and cohesive philosophical statement?

It looks very much like Musturi is, in fact, aiming that high. He has referred to this work as his “weapon against capitalism” — and as we all know, visionary art is indeed the best weapon to confront the cold, uncaring, mechanized, denuded “reality” we’re all subject to. What shape this particular weapon will eventually take has yet to be determined, but you can be certain of two things : seeing it constructed will continue to be an awe-inspiring experience, and it will have AMAZING accuracy upon completion — so leap into the Future now by heading over to Domino Books, where our friend Austin English has all six issues released to date in stock : http://dominobooks.org/store.html

Want more? Then please check out my Patreon site at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Awash In “Blooolight”

Curious items don’t come much more curious than this one — an undated, uncredited, eight-page mini that offers a refreshingly feminist, and decidedly succinct, take on popular sci-fi/fantasy tropes without saying a word. Unless you count “psttt —” as a word, that is.

Still, never doubt that there is a cartoonist behind this self-published exercise in kaleidoscopic anonymity — and a damn good one, at that. The name Maya Durham may be far from a household one for the time being, but if Blooolight is a portent of things to come, it’s one we’ll all be familiar in due course, even if it continues to be conspicuous by its absence on the covers of future publications. After all, visionary talent has a way of making itself known one way or another.

That’s the hope, at any rate, which provides me with a clumsy segue opportunity of sorts — this comic, you see, offers the kind of uncharacteristically hopeful and optimistic take on virtual realities that’s fallen out of fashion in recent years/decades (hell, I’d be lying if I said I bought into the whole “technotopia” idea myself), but is expressed herein with such unforced emotional openness that one can’t help but kinda wish for Durham’s view on things to be the correct one. After all, the idea of a magical kingdom that will happily welcome both you and your cat waiting on the other side of your computer screen is vastly preferable to finding some doughy, basement-dwelling incel plotting the next mass shooting, is it not? Ah, if only —

We live in cynical times, obviously, but in fairness this comic might find itself open to charges of naievete even if we didn’t — however, the celebratory tone and texture of Durham’s vibrant watercolor-infused splash images (every page in this comic is a single panel — and hey, every single panel is a page, too) puts paid to that notion rather quickly, burying trepidation, dystopianism, and even irony under a cascading phantasmagoria of rediscovered innocence. This is a fun little book that has no aspirations — or, worse, pretensions — toward being anything else.

It’s also, as the images attached to this review clearly show, flat-out gorgeous. Granted, it wouldn’t work conceptually if it were anything other than that, but how many times have we seen artists with one path to efficacy somehow get off track? “You had one job” sounds easy enough on paper, but when it comes to sequential visual storytelling, staying true to a singular vision from start to finish is no simple task, and that applies to books and ‘zines of any length. This a hermetic, perfectly-realized work that sets a clear artistic goal and sees it through without so much as a hiccup or glitch.

Do I like Durham’s comic, then? Spoiler alert — of course I do. But it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m downright enamored with it — and hey, that’s an all too rare occurrence for this grizzled veteran of the critics’ trenches. Give it a shot yourself and you’ll be adding a little bit of joy to your life. Who couldn’t do with some more of that?

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Blooolight is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/blooo.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 out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Michael Hill’s “According To Jack Kirby” : Cutting Through The Fog Of Lies With A Scalpel

I’ll be the first to admit that a historical corrective in regards to one of mainstream comics’ longest-simmering controversies is hardly what regular readers of this small press-oriented blog come here on any given day (or night) expecting to find — but give it up for author Michael Hill, who’s proven with his new (though long in the making) surgically-detailed work, According To Jack Kirby, that he’s as independent as it gets, foregoing the arduous process of shopping his labor of love around to publishers in favor of self-publishing via the auspices of Lulu’s print-on-demand platform. And I’ve gotta say it’s a wise choice because this is, by its nature, an uncompromising piece of scholarship.

If Abraham Riesman poked a million tiny holes in the big lie that was Stan Lee’s fraudulent claim of being the Marvel Universe’s “creator” in the pages of his much-ballyhooed True Believer : The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee, Hill lets the (undoubtedly hot) air out of them and sinks the inflatable Titanic — the damn thing is, though, he’s really just letting the historical record speak for itself. It’s neither his fault nor to his credit that the facts are Lee’s greatest enemy, he’s just taken it upon himself to assemble what amounts, by default, to an air-tight prosecutorial presentation. And as a Minneapolis resident, air-tight prosecutions are something I’ve had a front-row seat to of late, so I know one when I see one.

Is there an implicit bias on the part of the author that’s apparent from the outset here? Well, the book is subtitled Insights Drawn From Interviews Of Comics’ Greatest Creator, so no one need wonder whether or not Hill is a dyed-in-the-wool Kirby admirer, but as those of us who have followed the Kirby/Lee drama over the years can tell you — and as Hill catalogues in one blood-pressure-spiking incident after another — some of the sharpest daggers laid into the backs of Kirby, his family, and his legacy have been wielded by those claiming to be “Jack’s biggest fan.” I’d be tempted to say that their words are coming back to haunt them in this work, but that pre-supposes a level of conscience that many of these folks simply and clearly don’t have — for those of us who do, however, one of the more depressing realizations that Hill’s meticulous chronology makes apparent is how few actual defenders and advocates Kirby had all along. Read it and weep, as they say.

And yet righteous indignation — warranted as it is — really is nowhere to be found herein. Hill’s own writing is no more dispassionate or “neutral” than that of Gary Groth in his (in?)famous interview with Kirby for The Comics Journal (or, to flip the coin, Nat Freedland’s atrociously hagiographic “puff piece” on Lee that ran in the New York Herald Tribune and went some way toward alienating Lee not only from Kirby, but from Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko, as well), true, but if you’re searching for vitriol, you’ll be looking for a needle in a very deep and thick haystack. Hill knows that to indulge in such would only leave himself open to even more criticism from the “Lee Legion” than he’s bound to get anyway, and distract from the forensics that are the backbone of his thesis.

Ah ,yes — forensics. That may seem a curious word to use here at first glance, but I assure you it absolutely applies, for it’s not just on-the-record statements that buttress Kirby’s claim to being the creative driving force behind Marvel — hard physical evidence exists that bears it out. The same, however, can’t be said for his former “collaborator,” who — as Hill demonstrates — appears to have even gone so far as to have at least one phony “synopsis” woven from whole cloth (likely, in the best Lee tradition, by somebody other than himself) in order to shore up his own always-shaky grip on auteurship. In fact, so transparently bogus is the edifice of Lee’s entire shtick that by the time one makes it through to the end of this volume, you’re not sure which is the greater mystery — that he got away with it for as long as he did, or that he ever got away with it in the first place.

The one thing Hill does that Lee never could, though, is “show the receipts.” There are literally decades of them. And we should all be grateful indeed that someone has finally taken the time to sift through them all and set the record straight by means of the record itself. The King has posthumously found the champion he always needed and deserved with Michael Hill — but, even more importantly, so has the truth itself.

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According To Jack Kirby is available for $19.99 from Lulu’s website at https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/michael-hill/according-to-jack-kirby/paperback/product-v7dnyy.html?fbclid=IwAR304AV-FZtCnkykeGjYFy0MctX2J6HLHdbioatejx_0zfh_xj7Y65QiOjM&page=1&pageSize=4

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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Eurocomics Spotlight : “Einstein, Eddington And The Eclipse”

There are interesting comics, unique comics, unconventional comics, innovative comics — and then there’s this, something truly singular in, dare I say, the history of the medium.

The “this” in question in 2019’s Einstein, Eddington And The Eclipse (or, in its native Portuguese, Einstein Eddington E O Eclipse), subtitled Travel Impressions (or Impressoes De Viagem), a lavish publication that consists of both a thoughtful, scholarly, long-form essay by Ana Simoes and an equally long-form, but decidedly impressionistic, comic by Ana Matilde Sousa that together provide a holistic and multi-dimensional view of the expeditions to Principe Island undertaken by A.S. (colloquially Arthur) Eddington to observe the total solar eclipse of 1919 and thereby confirm Einstein’s then-controversial theory of relativity. So yeah — when I say this is a singular work, I don’t exaggerate in the least.

It’s also, frankly, a challenging one, but that’s not such a huge surprise when one considers that it was published by Chili Com Carne, one of the most forward-thinking and daring comics publishers around and an outfit for whom the term “radical” is far too confining. As with their later Mishima : Manifesto De Laminas by Tiago Manuel (previously reviewed on this very blog), this project also began life as an exhibition — but at a museum, not a gallery, specifically Portugal’s Museu Nacional de Historia Natural e da Cienca. Don’t take that, however, to mean that there’s anything especially tedious or dry about it, even if you absolutely despise learning (shame on you!) — on the contrary, by the time one has made it through all 248 (!) pages, the word that will probably come to mind more than any other if one is reaching for a descriptive for the book is poetic.

Granted, in the early going that doesn’t seem like the most probable outcome — however, while I confess to having been previously unfamiliar with respected academic Simoes, her essay is a thoroughly absorbing one that goes well beyond establishing particulars and takes readers on a journey that explores the “who” every bit as much as the “how” and the “why.” Rote recitation of fact only takes you so far, after all, and Simoes takes it upon herself to take us a lot further than that — so if you’re prepared to put in the time to read this, expect to be rewarded for that investment. Still, lest we forget, this is a comics blog —

Sousa’s name may not be a terribly familiar one to many readers here, by the nom de plume she frequently works under, Hetamoe, likely is (or at least should be), and her portion of the book, consisting of a rich array of downright sensuous digitally-rendered images thoughtfully and intuitively assembled, laid out, and printed (it’s gotta be said the printing here is absolutely wondrous to behold), and juxtaposed with portions of Eddington’s correspondence with his mother, his sister, and the Lisbon Observatory represents a veritable feast of sensory delights. Yes, it fits the definition of a “travelogue” in both the broadest and strictest sense — but it’s so much more than that, as well, taking in the sights, sounds, feelings and textures of his journey to create a kaleidoscopic whirlwind that explores the very act of exploration itself, as well as its sub rosa “ripple effect” ramifications on people, places, animals, and even inanimate objects. If I said I’d experienced anything quite like it before I’d be lying, and I say that as someone who reads a hell of a lot of comics.

Stated plainly, then, I can’t recommend this book strongly enough — and even that might be selling it short. If I’d been aware of it when it first came out (my bad!), it would have most certainly landed a spot on my “best-of” list for that year — instead, it’ll have to settle for a spot on my “best-of” list of all time. I hope that will serve as some small compensation for my tardiness.

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Einstein, Eddington And The Eclipse is available for 15 Euros directly from Chili Com Carne’s website at https://www.chilicomcarne.com/index.php/shop/lowcccost-61/not-dead-yet-2011-2018-131-detail

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 pleased indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Time For Another Mini Kus! Week : Jooyoung Kim’s “World Ceramic Fair” (Mini Kus! #98)

The cliche about an iron fist in a velvet glove was around long before Dan Clowes tinkered with it to come up with the title for his first long-form serial in Eightball, and it survives to this day because, hey, let’s face : there are certain situations to which it just flat-out perfectly applies. Welcome to one such situation.

Jooyoung Kim is a German-based cartoonist with a real affinity for shrouding the dark aspects of reality — as well as the darkly comic — within the most delicate, even precious, of surroundings and trappings, and in World Ceramic Fair, which is #98 in the Mini Kus! range from Latvia’s Kus! Comics, that delicacy goes beyond the pottery on display in the comic’s titular festival and extends into the artist’s own aesthetic approach. Kim incorporates (what I assume to be, at any rate) digital approximations of colored pencils, colored chalk, ink washes, and watercolor paints to fill in and flesh out the de facto “world” these deliberately minimalist — and miniature — characters inhabit, the end result being a comic that’s beautiful to look at, there’s no question about that, but also one that feels as utterly fragile as the objects (and, in some cases, people) it depicts.

Which, of course, is the whole point, so mission accomplished on that score. Kim’s inventive use of space and panel arrangement is also worthy of note and creates a singularly surreal atmosphere for this comic that plays with elements of what I take to be autobio and transposes them into a “one-step-removed” type of scenario wherein ceramics stand in for comics, but the Asian artist in question still finds herself fighting a decidedly uphill battle when it comes to getting her European audience to appreciate the statements her work in making about racism and prejudice on anything more than the most facile, superficial level. Many people even go so far as to simply flee is quasi-polite terror from her, and as for those who don’t? Well, it might actually be better if they did.

Still, as mentioned earlier, Kim tackles a serious set of issues here by almost disarmingly non-confrontational means, and I’m not sure if that’s sad, smart, or some of both. I mean, who are we fooling? People are, by nature, easier to coax than they are to actually educate, and couching a crucial and frankly righteous point within a narrative tone of gentle whimsicality performs that task quite nicely. It’s a bit depressing, though, to consider the fact that grown-ass adults still require this kind of “kid gloves” approach.

That being said, no one can accuse Kim of missing the mark here. Everything about this comic is decidedly and admirably effective. It also carries with it the weight of added urgency given the frightening uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes across North American and Europe recently. It may not feel urgent, true, but again : who am I to argue with something that works? And more importantly, who am I to judge how an Asian artist chooses to engage with, and express their own personal truth with regards to, issues of import to the community they’re a part of? And who am I to judge how they wish to communicate these things to a broad audience that no doubt includes many non-Asian readers?

So yes — this is both a good comic and an important comic, as well as being one of the strongest Mini Kus! releases to date. And as regular readers of these books are well aware, that’s really saying something.

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World Ceramic Fair is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/38343286/world-ceramic-fair-by-jooyoung

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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Time For Another Mini Kus! Week : Martin Lopez Lam’s “BLINK” (Mini Kus! #97)

I pride myself on always being up for a challenge, but wow — Spanish cartoonist Martin Lopez Lam’s BLINK, which clocks in as #97 in the Mini Kus! series from our friends at Kus! Comics, is something well beyond a curious object and basically throws down a “review this or die trying” gauntlet to any and all prospective critics. It’s not so much that it’s non-narrative in its construction (although it very well could be), nah — I’m an old hand at tackling such things. And it’s not that it’s an intentional sensory overload, either — again, any regular reader of this site can tell you that sort of stuff is par for the course around these parts. What I think broke my brain when it came to assembling any sort of coherent response to this deliriously vibrant work is simply the fact that it demands to be taken entirely on its own terms — and then leaves you to your own devices when it comes to determining what those terms even are.

I’m more than used to finishing a comic and asking myself “where does that leave us, then?,” but Lam ups the ante considerably by dropping you in at the deep end from the outset and not making it clear where you are at any step along the way. The back cover blurb informs “readers” of this wordless comic that “BLINK is a loop world full of lazy and libertine monsters,” but other than that? Your guess is as good as mine.

Perhaps oddly — or perhaps not — none of the above is intended as criticism per se, though critique it most certainly is. More than anything, though, all I’m trying to give you here is a brief precis in terms of the lay of the land — which, as you’ve likely surmised already, is the working definition of an ever-shifting terrain. Lam’s characters and their environs are a mixed-media collage of deliberately disjointed elements and methodologies, a kaleidoscopic catch-all net for every image that entered the artist’s mind when he sat down to draw and assemble the thing. You want raw transmissions from the depths of the id? Congratulations, you’ve come to the right place.

There’s plenty to unpack, then, in this intertwined series of double-page spreads — aesthetically, formally, thematically, even conceptually — and honestly, “what’s happening here?” is probably the least of your worries. A few pages in I opted for the “go with the flow and just see if the whole thing feels right” approach, and that seems to me to have been a wise decision since, viewed through that lens, it’s nearly impossible to view Lam’s little project here as anything other than an unqualified success.

Of course, the question I’d love to be able to answer is why that’s the case, but I think immersing oneself in acts of quantification and qualification runs precisely counter to the admittedly vague intentions behind this comic. Lam just hits you with the contents of his subconscious, again and again, and you’re either going to enjoy the exercise and find value in it, or you’re not. That level of confidence is brazen, to be sure — but it’s also precisely what’s required to make something of this nature work. It’s one thing to have no fucks left to give, quite another to have none to start with.

None of which means that Lam isn’t concerned with transmitting something raw, authentic, powerful, and immediate here, mind you — only that he’s created something the likes of which perhaps only he can judge in its totality. I’m sure it’s patently obvious that I was bewildered by the whole thing, but more in a way that fascinated me than vexed me. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to decipher and decode the inner workings of the comic over the past few days, only to come up empty-handed and decide that, hey, I’m absolutely cool with that.

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BLINK is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/38343277/blink-by-martn-lpez-lam

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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse