It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Man Made Lake” By Aidan Koch (Mini Kus! #94)

While I admit to finding the subject fascinating, I’m by no means on expert on psychotherapy, to say nothing of its more — esoteric offshoots such as hypnotherapy, DBT, so-called “past life regression,” and the like. And while I harbor no doubt that any licensed and educated therapist would be absolutely appalled at me lumping entirely reputable forms of analysis in with stuff that many folks perceive to be sheer quackery, as I just did, for the purpose of discussing the most recent entry (that would be #94, for those keeping score at home) in the Mini Kus! line from our Latvian friends and Kus!, Aidan Koch’s Man Made Lake, it really is necessary to list — or perhaps the right term would be blend — them all together. Rest assured, all will be explained — to the extent I’m capable of doing so.

Which, admittedly, isn’t much, but then that’s the really wonderful thing about both this comic and Koch’s work in general. Always ethereal, mysterious, and just beyond the reach of conscience explanation, her art nevertheless always makes sense — it’s just that it’s a kind of sense that is felt, or even intuited, rather than one that’s arrived at through purely logical means. And it really helps that her evocative, watercolor-style illustration is more than just beautiful, it’s downright enthralling.

Don’t take any of the preceding to mean that there isn’t a story to be found playing itself out here, though — there most certainly is, it’s just a tricky one to summarize. A young man is attending a psychoanalysis session and remembers being a fish, perhaps even more than one kind of fish, and remembers his family members being part of the animal kingdom, as well. Then he — and they — became human, and it all kinda went to shit. Not in any concrete, easy-to-put-your-finger-on way, mind you — but in every single way imaginable, nevertheless.

What out protagonist misses most of all is the feeling, the freedom, the enhanced and no doubt non-hierarchical array of perceptions that the aquatic life afforded him, and who can really blame the guy? This whole primacy of the visual at the expense of the other senses is surely the most insidious tyranny ever devised, and it’s one that not only shapes our reality but necessarily perverts and distorts it — dare I say even cheapens it. And while the evolutionary biologist would no doubt argue that this scenario developed over time as a necessary survival mechanism, we certainly lost a lot of the richness and texture of life along the way. We’ve survived, all right — at the expense of actually living. And the totality of the sensory hierarchy is so all-pervasive now that most people can’t draw a distinction between survival and living, anyway.

Koch, for her past, certainly can — and while she makes any number of other points about the separation between the human and animal worlds, it’s fair to say that they’re all tinged with melancholy, with a sense of having sacrificed much more than we gained when we placed “us” over and above “them.” And the fact that she communicates all of this with an economy of words that is superseded, in a gloriously unforced manner, by a melodic tapestry of gorgeously fluid images? Well, that’s the most impressive thing of all — as well as being thematically appropriate to a degree that’s downright painful in its beauty.

This is a comic to do more than simply “read,” then — let it wash over you and get under your skin in equal measure. You may just find it to be an experience unlike any other — I know I sure did.

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Man Made Lake is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507507/man-made-lake-by-aidan

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

It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Pirate & Parrot” By Lukas Weidinger (Mini Kus! #93)

I’m always hesitant to quote verbatim from a publisher’s promotional copy, but the tag line used by Kus! to describe cartoonist Lukas Weidinger’s Pirate & Parrot, #93 in their Mini Kus! series, is short, sweet, and to the point — as well as being eminently worth responding to. It simply states : “The pirate stands for desire. The parrot stands for opportunity. The fish stands for freedom. What do you stand for?” Very clever. Very cool. And utter hogwash, even if every word of it is true — which it probably is.

Look, I love a good existential brain-buster as much as anyone, but if you’re pondering over symbolism and deep philosophical meaning, you’re missing out on the point of Weidinger’s comic, which is simply this : it’s fun. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, in today’s cluttered comics world, I would even go so far as to argue that a comic that just wants to be fun — and succeeds at being that — is worth more than yet another artistic dissertation on the intractable realities of human existence. Like I said, existential dilemmas are great — but are you always in the mood for one?

I know that I’m not, and if you feel like you could use a break from them yourself, this mini is a great place to come to find relief. Sure, the delicate and frankly lush cover would lead most reasonable people to believe that what we’re in for this one is a subtle and emotive work, but once you flip it open and find an explosion of bright pastels, exaggerated figure drawing, and cornball character designs, you really should be able to get the message that kicking back and enjoying a few laughs is the order of the day here. You can over-think Weidinger’s comic if you wish, sure, but honestly — I wouldn’t recommend it.

For one thing, the fish has more to do with the proceedings than the pirate, who disappears early on and only pops back up at the end — after receiving something of a, shall we say, comeuppance — and he doesn’t even earn a spot in the comic’s title, so if you’re the kind of person who clings to things a bit too tightly (rationality included), you’re going to find yourself flummoxed right out of the gate, and it’ll likely only get worse for you from there. You needn’t completely let go of your standards, please don’t think I’m suggesting that — Weidinger’s cartooning is utterly and weirdly captivating, the pacing of his narrative is solid, his old-school comedic timing more or less impeccable — but you would do well to let go of your preconceptions and your pretense, that’s for sure, because there’s no room for either herein. And thank goodness for that.

I have no doubt that the “rush job” aesthetics of this book are completely deliberate — come on, I’m not naive (or so I think, at any rate) — but just because they’re calculated doesn’t mean they’re not entirely sincere. Weidinger wanted to create a short-form slapstick work, found the best style with which to do so, and proceeded accordingly. As a result, this comic isn’t merely something that “works for what it is,” it works in a general sense : its creator had specific goals in mind, and not only met, but exceeded them — and the largest of those goals was to make something that would have you laughing your ass off without insulting your intelligence. Mission accomplished as far as that all goes, and with aplomb, to boot.

Still, there is that lingering sense that maybe I did miss something here. That in my rush to enjoy something absolutely enjoyable I failed to notice a deep and resonant point that is cleverly hidden in plain sight. But you know what? I could care less. I had a blast with this comic, and if it’s incumbent upon me as a critic to offer a more considered and nuanced view than that, then I’m in the wrong racket.

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Pirate & Parrot is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507503/pirate-parrot-by-lukas-weidinger

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

It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Finnegans Wake” By Nicolas Mahler (Mini Kus! #92)

I don’t know how many of you fine readers ever managed to make it all the way through James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, but if you did, congratulations — you’ve got me beat. It’s not that I found it completely impenetrable, mind you — although it certainly came close enough — it’s more a case that what I could understand about it easily enough didn’t sufficiently interest and/or motivate me to invest the time and effort necessary to figure out the rest. I’m not among those who consider Joyce to be an outright fraud, let me be absolutely clear about that, but I do think that this particular novel is one of his more average works, dressed up to make it seem like a weightier and more substantial tome than it really is.

But what do I know? Again, I never finished the thing.

It’s likely that cartoonist Nicolas Mahler did, though — unless he’s “faking it” himself with the just-released Finnegans Wake, #92 in the Mini Kus! line from our Latvian friends at Kus! His knowledge of the book — or at least of its essence — seems pretty solid from my only partially-informed vantage point, at least, but let’s say he is just someone who’s skimmed it, or read a summary of it on the internet, or even merely glommed onto a few pages and decided to put out a short-form comics “adaptation” of it? If that’s the case (and let me put additional emphasis on that “if”) would that make him any more of a con artist than Joyce may have been himself? Could one even choose to see this, then, as simply carrying on the tradition established by the author of the work? We’ll never know, of course, all we can do is speculate — and if that isn’t pure Finnegans Wake right there, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I am certain of : using a limited palette of black, white, and a kind of drab olive, Mahler has rendered a thick-lined and intentionally slapdash version of a part of the novel that’s filtered through the lens of Mutt & Jeff but looks and reads decidedly more like Krazy Kat. I’m tempted to call that genius, even if it’s just, at the end of the day, a fairly basic conceit played for all its worth and then some — and in that respect, it’s unquestionably a fitting heir to Joyce. It also means this mini transcends irony by being entirely and overtly apropos.

What it may not be is “accessible to everyone,” as the back-cover blurb states was Mahler’s aim. But even there he and his publisher have hedged their bets by appending a “perhaps” at the end — and for that, they’re to be credited for a bit of truth in advertising. Perhaps it really is accessible to everyone — I was able to catch Mahler’s drift without too much problem — and perhaps it isn’t, but what I don’t think can be argued is that this 28-page illustrated excerpt is at least more accessible than is the novel itself — the only question is whether it goes the full distance for its full readership.

I think we can already safely intuit that the answer to that is “no,” but what of it? I think if you were to ask whether or not the folks who read it felt like they’d had anything less than an enjoyable (if partially-confounding) time, you’d get the same answer. That marks this project as a success in my book — and I think it will probably go down as one in yours, as well.

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Finnegans Wake is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507494/finnegans-wake-by-nicolas-mahler

Review wrist check – Squale “1521 Onda’ aqua blue dial model riding a blue camouflage Zodiac caoutchouc rubber NATO-style field strap.

It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Sufficient Lucidity” By Tommi Parrish (Mini Kus! #91)

I assure you, it’s not a contractual obligation — my decision to cover everything that comes out as part of the long-running Mini Kus! series from Latvian art comics publisher Kus! is entirely voluntary. In fact, not to step too far “out of chracter,” but each new foursome of releases is one of the “events” in the comics world that I look forward to most — as a critic, yes, but even more importantly as a reader. I never know what I’ll find between the covers of one of these minis, but I always know it will be something challenging, something unexpected, and something that not only stands up to, but frankly demands multiple close and considered readings.

Their latest “round,” so to speak, exemplifies this standard perhaps more than any other — seriously, there’s not a misfire in the bunch — so if you’ll permit me (and you will, since I run this joint), the next few days around these parts will be devoted to giving each of these new Mini Kus! books a look, beginning with #91, Tommi Parrish’s Sufficient Lucidity.

No cartoonist working today does interpersonal drama as authentically as Parrish, and while we’re anxiously awaiting their follow-up to The Lie And How We Told It, I have to say this short story packs as big an emotional wallop as that long-form graphic novel did, albeit a less subtle one — and that’s not only fine, it’s great, because this is the tale of a combustible individual coming down from a combustible situation and coming to terms with the fact that their own actions have led them to the spot they find themselves in today, to wit : essentially friendless and alone. It’s also a story about balancing forgiveness with the need for emotional self-care. So, yeah, there’s a lot packed into these 28 pages.

That last statement is, I confess, incomplete, because I really do need to say that these are 28 gorgeously-illustrated pages, Parrish’s trademark blending of relatively simple expressionistic linework with extremely lush and complex colors never seeming more confident or assured than it does in this story. Sure, the dialogue is raw, honest, emotive, but most of “the feels” come from the art here, and that’s never more true than on the last page, where the weight of an ending is silently communicated with such force that you really do need to sit there and take it all in for a good little while before either putting the book away for a bit, or flipping back to the start and reading all over again. I did the latter — and then I did it again.

Parrish splits their narrative between two distinct scenes here, the first being protagonist Andy breaking into their former apartment in an attempt to get their cat back after what I took to be a break-up — although the parameters (if any) of the relationship in question are open to interpretation : Andy’s former lover Emma may have found someone new, all three of them may have previously had a polyamorous thing going, or they may have all merely been friends and roommates. The particulars aren’t especially important, but Andy’s B&E (well, okay, really it’s just an “E,” as the window is open) certainly is, as it precipitates a major life change — and probably a necessary one. When next we see Andy, they (one or more of the characters herein are non-binary, and the extent to which this is simply taken as a given and Parrish doesn’t feel the need to address it beyond pronoun usage is both confident and refreshing) have decamped for a new, presumably sober, existence in the sticks, and when Emma pays a visit to check in and receive some long-overdue apologies, it soon becomes clear that what each hopes to get from this meeting is something entirely different. I’ll say no more, apart from confessing that I fear even that short summation may be me saying too much.

Which means, of course, that there is much about this comic best discovered on your own, not least of which will be your personal reaction to it. I made reference to the last page, and it really is one of the most powerful images in comics this year — but I’d expect no less given that this is one of the most impactful, and beautifully-illustrated, comics on the year in general.

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Sufficient Lucidity is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507461/sufficient-lucidity-by-tommi-parrish

Review wrist check – Formex “Essence” brown dial chronometer-certified model riding a Formex blue leather strap.

The Less You Know, The Better : Bryce Martin’s “Shov Show”

I’ve reviewed a couple of Bryce Martin’s minis in recent weeks and, completist that I am, it seemed like I was being remiss in my duties by not offering at least some brief comment on the third of his 2020 self-published wares to come across my radar, Shov Show, but here’s the rub : I came in to this book with no knowledge of the characters involved, no real context within which to judge it properly, no real vantage point from which to evaluate its success or lack thereof — and I came out of it in very much the same position. Oh, what to do, what to do?

I supposed that reading it a few more times wouldn’t be a bad idea, and so I did that. But I’m still as utterly clueless about, and dumbfounded by, its contents as ever. What I do know, though, weird is as it may sound, is that I not only liked it, I was actually and actively impressed by it — I’m just not entirely certain why.

I trust you begin to see the scope of the dilemma I’ve admittedly brought entirely upon myself here, and yet it’s not a dilemma without its own curious merits — I mean, I like to think that I’m always up for a critical challenge, and this comic presents that in spades. The characters it focuses on, and the world it’s set within, stem forth from the pages of another of Martin’s works, Trash Manifesto Zine, which I haven’t read, and so why this particular young lady and this particular robotic head are on the show that this mini takes its title from, going through what appear to be their daily routines for an audience of interchangeable Ultraman-looking characters, well — that’s just something I can’t even pretend to be able to competently answer. What I do know is that Martin’s liberal appropriation of Japanese pop culture tropes, his homages to Garo-esque “neo manga,” his deadpan humor, his efficient linework, his interesting riffs on character design, and his utterly singular point of view all coalesce here into something highly readable, if perhaps more than a bit unknowable, and that this all works for me. Is it at all realistic and/or fair to ask for much more of it than that?

I’m kinda thinking no, at least on a subconscious level, even if the more hopelessly square conscious mind is saying “yes.” I mean, there’s such a thing as not only going with a comic’s flow, but sort of letting it flow into and through you as well — to trust in your sense of perception first and let your brain catch up to it. To take something in without necessarily worrying about what sorts of thoughts in regards to it come out. It’s a strange place to find yourself in if you’re trying to evaluate something critically, at least in my experience, but it’s also an honest one. It forces to you take or leave a work on its merits alone and nothing else, and doing that I came to the inescapable conclusion that if this works devoid of any broader contextualization, then it probably works even better as the spin-off/sidestep that it actually is. All I’m missing is the frame of reference to tell you why that’s the case.

Which, admittedly, is a pretty large piece of the puzzle to be left without. But at the same time, when something gets the job done, it gets the job done, and with his confidently minimalist art tethered to a briskly-dialogued narrative, Martin can really do no wrong. I may deserve a failing grade for not procuring the ‘zine this one builds off/out of, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pass with flying colors.

And so we are where we are, this is what it is, all that good stuff — and this is good stuff. Unlike the recently-reviewed-here Ultra8 (shown above), which was mysterious yet entirely accessible, I found this comic to just be purely mysterious, but hey — I may be in foreign territory, and I may not necessarily speak the language, but I can sure tell that I like the lay of the land.

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Shov Show is available for $6.00 directly from Bryce Martin at https://gumroad.com/forthesakeofzine

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

The Atrocity Exhibition : Henriette Valium’s “Fist Raid”

Popular mythology would have you believe that on the morning of September 12th, 2001, America woke up, pulled its boots up, and got to work. Everyone singing from the same songsheet, unified in our purpose and mission, determined to rebuild from the horrific terrorist attacks of the day before and to once again stand tall, stand proud, and stand for everything that’s right, good, honorable, and just. There’s just one little problem : popular mythology is a load of bullshit.

The day after 9/11 wasn’t the greatest time to be an American, it was the scariest time to be an American — not because of what had happened, but because of what was yet to come. If there’s one thing you don’t want a nuclear-armed superpower to experience, it’s a tidal wave of ugly self-righteous nationalism, and that was precisely what America’s “leaders” proceeded to gin up amongst the populace — and a reeling, traumatized populace in search of easy answers to complex geopolitical problems, at that. Tell us who the bad guys are so we can take ’em out and even the score, dammit! All that hand-wringing and self-examination can wait! Toby Keith’s on the radio and we want our pound of flesh!

How did that all work out? Well, it’s almost 20 years later and the US has killed hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians, the Middle East is as combustible a powder keg as ever, and we’ve spent billions of dollars, and sacrificed way too many of our young men and women, at the altar of two wars we’re still stuck in.

By 2011, the writing was pretty well on the wall — and to “commemorate” the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Montreal-based artist Henriette Valium tapped into the frenzied violence and confusion of the attacks themselves to demonstrate the folly of the response to them with Fist Raid, a folio consisting of 12 silkscreens that are confrontational by design, depicting injuries and grotesqueries amidst cluttered fields of what can only be described as visual “noise.” These are in no way easy on the eyes, as you can see from the images included with this review — but even more crucially, they refuse to take it easy on the conscience.

Valium’s cartooning has always been challenging, of course, providing an experience for which the term “sensory overload” is too light as it takes the occult symbolism of Paul Laffoley, the frenetic creature designs of Kaz, the organic nightmare visions of Stephane Blanquet, the raw fetishistic need of Dave Cooper, and runs them all through a kaleidoscope powered by six tabs of bad acid — but even though the aims of this particular project are more immediately decipherable, the impact is much the same : hallucinogenic, non-linear, harrowing, overpowering. It’s all too much, and all at once, but it somehow always leaves you wanting even more. Whether doing comics or doing “fine” art, Valium has one setting : uncompromising and unmediated. His work is visionary in the truest sense of the word, in that it comes straight from the id and applies no filter. William Blake, Austin Osman Spare, David Lynch, Goya — this is the company he keeps. And maybe that guy taping hand-scrawled flyers outlining his plans for a new world economic system based on transmissions from Mars he received over his ham radio on the walls of the subway station, too.

Still, for a mad prophet, Valium makes a number of cogent points, and lands even more conceptual gut-punches, with this gorgeously-produced work lovingly and meticulously brought to us by Le Dernier Cri. It’s a beautiful collection depicting ugly political realities that will consume your thoughts and haunt your dreams in a way that only hard looks at even harder truths can. You’ve been warned — there is no un-seeing this. Which means, of course, that it’s precisely the type of thing you need to see.

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Even though Fist Raid is an older item, a small number of these folios have recently been made available from Austin English’s Domino Books distro. They retail for $30.00 and can be found at : http://dominobooks.org/fistraid.html

Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas” blue dial model riding a “Vintage Bond” NATO strap from BluShark’s “AlphaPremier” collection.

“Haxan Lane” Proves Philadelphia Is Even Scarier Than You Thought

In between the veritable onslaught of unique and inventive autobio/memoir stuff that cartoonist Thomas Lampion has released over the past year or two, he’s also managed to take a side trip — down a grimy street and into a haunted house, at that — in the pages of his self-published ‘zine Haxan Lane, two issues of which have seen the light of day so far. Although “light of day” is a decidedly poor choice of words on my part —

Why, you ask? Well, this is a humor comic to be sure, but it’s one that goes bump in the night, and has very much a feel of a modern take on the Brothers Grimm to it, complete with “be careful what you wish for” and “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” moralizing — but please don’t take that to mean it’s not a fun little ride, because it surely is. It’s just the kind of fun little ride that includes a 500-year-old cannibal witch.

Where there’s a witch there’s usually a black cat, too, of course — and Lampion’s black cat is a talking one called Werner, who starts as comic relief but ends up becoming the boss of our protagonists, typically broke punk kids Jack and Luci, who find themselves living in the house of horrors on Haxan Lane only because they literally can afford nothing else in the entire city of Philadelphia. Granted, it probably goes without saying that an entire house for $500 a month is going to have some strings attached, and that’s where that cannibal witch I just mentioned comes in — you guessed it, she’s the landlady.

Anyway, Lampion crams a lot of ideas into each of these 12-page minis, and they certainly look great : his thick linework is bold, slashing, and confident, his characters each have a distinctive look of their own, and some of his shading techniques are reminiscent of old school Zip-A-Tone. He’s been drawing a lot lately, and it shows : his technique is improving from project to project. A book like this is by definition entirely unserious, sure, but Lampion nevertheless approaches it with the kind of earnestness and zeal that mark him as being an artist very much committed to craft.

Still, what I think I appreciate most about this series — at least so far — is its refreshing unpretentiousness. At the end of the day, this is a comic that adheres to tropes and formulas that are about as tried-and-true as they come, and Lampion doesn’t try to obfuscate that with either narrative sleight-of-hand or postmodern navel-gazing. There are some nods given to relevant “real-world” issues like income inequality, gentrification, and lack of actual opportunity in urban areas, but they’re dealt with in an admirably blunt “hey, of course this is the way things are” manner that acknowledges reality as the basis of any and all effective fantasy. Props for, as the kids used to say, “keeping it real.”

I’ve always got time for comics that challenge preconceptions and norms, but you know what? Once in awhile it’s nice to just know what you’re getting into and to subsequently get exactly what you figured you were in for. You’re not too cool for this comic, and that’s great — but what’s even better is that it doesn’t think it’s too cool for you.

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Issues one and two of Haxan Lane are available for $5.00 each from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/vendors?q=Thomas%20Lampion

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

Who Needs Vegas Or The Caribbean When You Can “Honeymoon In The Afterlife” ?

Some comics just grab you from the word “go,” and one look at British cartoonist Matt Canning’s Honeymoon In The Afterlife is all it takes for you to know that this is one of them : self-published in newspaper broadsheet format, it’s a sizable thing to behold, no doubt about that, but equally it’s an impressive one, clean and simple black and white linework accentuated by decidedly contemporary shading techniques when and where necessary, with a kind of dusty rose hue deployed as an occasional “spot” color, it’s a triumph as far as production values go. But who are we kidding? While all that is certain to capture your interest, it takes considerably more to retain it.

Which rather sounds like a segue into me cataloging a list of shortcomings, but I promise you it’s not : in fact, if anything, Canning’s ability to keep you glued to the exploits of his assemblage of the newly-deceased (all rendered as variations on the traditional ghost motif) is this comic’s standout feature even over and above its impressive physical formatting. Heck, for a bunch of dead people, they’re all surprisingly — at times even disarmingly — lifelike, but I suppose that stands to reason given that, up until the moment they died, living was all these one-time people knew.

Certainly, as the saying goes, “hijinks ensue” herein, but these are no mere dull comedic run-arounds for their own sake. With a keen eye and a deadpan sense of humor, Canning relates any number of simply-expounded-upon existential dilemmas, and he doesn’t need any language other than the purely visual — or even characters currently enjoying an actual existence — to do so. They say youth is wasted on the young, but in Canning’s afterlife we come to learn that life is wasted on the living — and that maybe, just maybe, it’s never too late to make up for lost time.

Which, for the record, is me letting you know that you should perhaps be prepared to go through some changes with this one; to experience, as the nerdy contingent calls it, “the feels” — and all kinds of feels, at that. Yes, a palpable sense of doom permeates throughout, but it’s unique in that it’s a doom that’s already happened, and Canning’s ghosts are charged with finding ways to move forward within new and utterly alien territory while still finding themselves saddled with the burdens of an all-too-human (and therefore eminently relatable) emotional spectrum. You know : love, loss, longing, loneliness, coming together, drifting apart — all that good stuff. Life may (okay, does) end, but the emotions that inform it? Apparently, not so much.

That being said, conveying all of this without aid of a single word means that you’d better be a master of the purely visual narrative, and Canning unquestionably is. There’s no cause to doubt his sequential storytelling chops for a second, in fact, so fluid is the manner in which these vignettes are not only strung together, but riff off each other and work in concert to propel things forward. The pacing here is organic, unforced, entirely intuitive — and at times almost devilishly clever. One scene gives way to the next by means of smooth and mercifully unironic transitions, and before you even know it, you’ve gone from A to B to C by dint of a flow that you can’t help but surrender to entirely. It’s all pretty goddamn marvelous, if you’ll permit me to be blunt.

When you put this comic down — which you’ll be in no hurry to do — you’ll realize there’s a marvelous trick at the heart of this entire project, and it’s once that this critic has seldom seen pulled off with such aplomb : Canning has disguised a conceptually dense, emotionally complex, philosophically weighty work as a breezy, silent, gentle wisp. Plenty of comics impress me — this one left me quietly, but surely, awestruck.

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Honeymoon In The Afterlife is available for $12.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/honeymoon-in-the-afterlife

Review wrist check – Longines “Legend Diver” riding a single-pass “Chevron” strap from Crown & Buckle in a color combination I dearly wish they didn’t call “royale and harvest,” but they do.

Catching Up With Josh Simmons’ “Ghouls”

Forgive me in advance for broaching the subject, but — is there anything you’re going to miss about the pandemic when it’s over? Go on, act as incensed at the question as you wish, but I’ll bet you it’s something you’ve asked yourself at least once, even if you felt guilty that it even so much as entered your mind. Come on, be honest here : less traffic, quiet neighborhood streets at night, no waiting for tables at restaurants, being able to work from home — all of these things are, well, kinda nice. Not to say that they’re worth hundreds of thousands dead, millions more infected, and probably very nearly the same number of people out of work either temporarily or permanently — just saying, these are things that are not bad, in and of themselves, even if we arrived at them via the most fucked-up means possible. I mean, there were days when it probably felt a little bit fun and exciting for soldiers to be exploring the jungles of Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean the war itself was in any way good or justifiable. Maybe it’s just an acknowledgement that even under the worst of circumstances, there are still things you can point to and say “well, at least this little aspect of it wasn’t so utterly and relentlessly horrible.” I mean, lest we forget, COVID-19 probably played a pretty big part in finally getting Donald Trump the fuck out of office.

One thing I know I’ll miss once life either returns to normal or settles into some permanent “new normal” is the sheer amount of free time so many cartoonists seem to have on their hands, even though I know a lot of them could use the income their days jobs provided (and hopefully will again), simply because a lot of good comics are being produced that otherwise probably wouldn’t have been. Granted, 95% of these are “quarantine diary comics,” but that’s okay : a lot of them have been top-notch “quarantine diary comics.” And then there’s that other 5%, which brings us to Josh Simmons — and, more specifically, to his self-published ‘zine Ghouls.

I reviewed the first issue of this series — even if I didn’t know that’s what it would turn out to be — not too terribly long ago, and now he’s released two new issues that “sandwich” it, a pandemic-themed second issue and an issue #0 (guess he came of age in the ’90s, as well) that collects eight pages of pre-pandemic drawings. Again, there’s something of a grab-bag feel to these — even if #2 has a fairly distinct theme — and that’s their great strength when considered as a whole : you literally never know what’s waiting for you on the next page, and that’s a sure-fire way to make sure you keep turning ’em. Sex gags, fake comic book covers, Bond villain portraits, a couple of short, fully-formed strips — even Willie Nelson and Whitsesnake song lyrics. Anything goes. Who can possibly take issue with that?

Of course, Simmons being Simmons, the horrific is never going to be under-represented, so be on the lookout for mutant families, creepy clowns, raging rednecks, and decrepit old perverts, all drawn in styles ranging from the realistic to the rapid-fire to the deliberately ambiguous to the classically cartoonish — thus ensuring that vagaries and variety in both subject matter and artistic methodology will greet your eager eyes — but here’s the thing that elevates this above many a random-ass mini : for all the shit thrown at the wall, most of it sticks. And when you’re putting together a package like this, you really can’t ask for much more than that.

There are laughs to be had here, too, grim as they may be — but what do you really expect from grim times? When evaluating the two issues side by side, it’s interesting to note that the humor quotient remains roughly proportionate in each, even though one features drawings from before the world went to hell (okay, fair enough, went more completely to hell) and the other, appropriately longer one from after, so it’s fair to say Simmons’ outlook has always been —errrmmm — ghoulish, his sensibilities always leaning toward finding the funny side in the darkest of situations, and while the contemporary state of things may offer him more material at the ready, who are we kidding? There was never any shortage of it in the first place.

In any case, Simmons has his finger on the pulse, and his pen at the ready. He captures the essence of things in a way that’s sometimes a bit too close to home, but never anything less than absolutely truthful. Read it, weep — and yes, have a few chuckles while you’re at it.

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Ghouls #0 and #2 are available together as a package by sending $4.00 via PayPal to joshuahallsimmons@yahoo.com.

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino Wavemaker” green dial model riding a black Ocean Crawler stingray leather strap.

The May Be “No Romance In Hell,” But There Are Plenty Of Laughs

Look, we all know dating is hell, but what’s dating like in hell? And who better to let us know than Hyena Hell?

As it turns out, things aren’t easy for a single demon on the prowl, so for our frustrated protagonist in No Romance In Hell, published at the tail end of 2019 (I know, I know — I’m a little late to the party) by Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, the only place to go is up — as in to Earth. But is that really a step in the right direction? And do you really need me to answer that question? Shake your head “no” to both and we’ll move along —

If you’re familiar with the work of Ms. Hell, you know what to expect here in a general sense : audacious humor, lots of attitude, a decidedly punk sensibility, feminist themes, and no fucks given as to whose toes she steps on. And if you’re not familiar with her work, then I have to say : you couldn’t ask for a better comic with which to get familiar with it, and fast. This is just about as accessible — and smart, and entertaining — as comics get, and she skewers the male of the species (human and demon) with such glee that it’s literally impossible to conceive of anyone not getting a kick out of much of this book. It has a definite point of view, but it’s in no way venomous or even remotely alienating. Some easily-triggered “MRA” or “incel” might take exception to it, but we’re operating from a baseline of “who gives a fuck what they think” here from word go, so — who gives a fuck what they think?

Certainly Hell’s cartooning has never been better — always a force to contend with on that front, she’s continued to refine her inherently comedic style while sacrificing none of the immediacy and DIY vibe that have always been part and parcel of her art. This is stuff that looks and feels in no way belabored, but is nevertheless no mere rush job, either : indeed, her attention to detail is quite impressive and her line is supremely bold and confident. As arrogant as it no doubt might sound, it’s nevertheless true : if you don’t like this stuff, then I don’t think you like cartooning. Full stop.

That being said, what I find most most likable about this particular comic, as alluded to earlier, is its overall tone. Hell has an utterly unique way of making what would seem confrontational in other, less skilled, hands simply come across as a matter of course in her ‘zines, so that leaves you with two options : you can either meet her at her level or take a hike. She’s got the chops to back up her bravado, that’s for sure, so trust me when I say that you pass on this at your peril, because it’s as insightful as it is funny, and two things we could all do with some more of these days (or, for that matter, any other) are insight and fun, so we’re firmly in “what’s not to love” territory with this comic.

And with that, I think I’m pretty well exhausted of superlatives, which really didn’t take too long, did it? This should vault to the top of your “must buy” list, it well and truly is just that fucking good.

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No Romance In Hell is available for $5.00 from Silver Sprocket at https://store.silversprocket.net/collections/comicsandzines/products/no-romance-in-hell-by-hyena-hell

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, movies, 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