“Forever & Everything” #5 Lives Up To Its Name

When you give your autobio comics project an expansive title, you’re either pretty damn confident that elements of the universal are plainly on offer in the everyday routines of your life, or you’re just delusional. New Orleans-based cartoonist Kyle Bravo has been at it for awhile now, so if he’s delusional, he’s doing a damn good job of hiding it, but based on the evidence offered in his latest self-published mini, Forever & Everything #5, that was probably never a serious concern, anyway. Rather, he does a really nice job of finding something borderline-transcendent in the mundane, and the only thing deliberately grandiose is — yup, that name.

Still, if the shoe fits, right? Naturally, one of the first people you think of when you think of “this sort of thing” in a general sense is Jeffrey Brown, and his influence on the way Bravo structures his strips is fairly well undeniable, but there’s a singular sensibility to this, due not only to the unique circumstances of our guy Kyle’s life, but also to his perspective as someone living with mental illness. The art’s got a bit of a Brown vibe to it, as well, but again, the emphasis is different, imbued with a personality of its own that is a little more precious, perhaps, but in no way cloying or overly-sentimental.

How much of that is down to the exaggerated simplicity of Bravo’s facial drawings and how much can be laid at the feet of the interesting blue shades he employs in his color palette I’m not certain — my “sample size” of his work consists of precisely this comic alone, so I need to check out more and see if he’s done straight B&W work or employed other hues in the past — but I will say this much with without much hesitation : what he’s doing here works, and it’s all a hell of a lot more nuanced than it may appear at first glance. It also plays to the strengths of his subject matter — fatherhood, medication adjustments, the compromises and joys of marriage, work and the commute to and from it, and the prospect of having to move. Earth-shattering? Hardly. Honest? Absolutely.

To be sure, the specter of depression looms large of much of the proceedings here, but it’s not a Sword of Damocles, more a constant and uninvited companion requiring management and, yes, therapy. The wise, and frankly welcome,  thing Bravo does is to intersperse the “downers” with the occasional and well-timed happy moment, reminding us as much as himself about the things that not only give life a little bit of balance, but make it worth living. The end result is collection of strips that is subtle and powerful in equal measure, often at the same time. It takes a pretty hard heart not to find that admirable, even when it’s not always successful.

And yeah — not everything in this ‘zine is completely successful. Bravo is clearly more comfortable with self-deprecation than he is with unvarnished self-expression sometimes, and he has a habit of reaching for a “message” in some strips rather than trusting in his readers to find one (or not) on their own. He could stand to have more faith in his instincts — which are pretty damn solid — and quit trying to force things as much as he does, but again : this is the only issue of this series that I’ve read, and I’m more than willing to bet that if I were to go through the previous ones, I’d find some solid progression in this regard.

All of which is to say that I think Bravo’s doing a nice job of balancing art as therapy with just plain solid cartooning. He may not feel it to be true all the time himself, but his future looks pretty bright and I’ll be looking forward to following his work as in the years ahead.


Forever & Everything #5 is available for $5.00 from Kyle Bravo’s buyolympia store at https://buyolympia.com/Item/kyle-bravo-forever-and-everything-5

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 moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Less Is More : Karen Sneider’s “Diary Of A Monster”

When you boil the art of cartooning down to its basic elements, you sometimes end up creating work that reminds people just why they love this medium so much in the first place — provided your sensibilities as an artist are sound to begin with, of course. When it comes to Karen Sneider, that’s something you literally never have to worry about; sensibilities come no more sound than hers.

Sneider’s latest self-published mini, Diary Of A Monster, is as immediately bizarre as it is inarguably recognizable, imbued with a kind of universal populist appeal that guarantees almost anyone will find it funny by doing something simple and timeless throughout : putting weird characters in everyday situations and finding a kernel of humor in all of them that’s easy to relate to and well-timed in its placement. The kind of thing that makes you think to yourself while you’re reading it that you should have seen it coming, while simultaneously recognizing why you didn’t, hiding in plain sight as it was.

The beautiful thing about this series of “gag” vignettes revolving around a simply-delineated “ugly” creature is the naturalistic fluidity that strings them all together, borderless panels intuitively placed in eye-pleasing formations that one can follow with zero mental strain while nevertheless remaining fully engaged. One might try to argue that this isn’t particularly belabored cartooning, it’s true, but from where I’m sitting that’s almost always a good thing — simple doesn’t mean stupid, after all, and in this case it’s actually quite smart; Sneider does no more than is absolutely necessary to hook you, keep you on the line, and then reel you in. Good thing, then, that our protagonist here prefers eating ducks to fish. Ducks that come packaged in a bag, that is.

There are just enough wrinkles to the norm to spice up the standard recipe here, as well — making the “ugly monster” female makes you realize how ubiquitously male characters are used in these roles, the “monster mash” cast takes things like inter-species dating in stride, utilizing minimalism to convey the weird stands out as a stark contrast to the usually over-rendered depictions of the bizarre that we’ve become depressingly used to. Don’t underestimate the sheer inventiveness of what Sneider’s doing with this basic cartooning formula no matter what you do. She’s too confident an artist to hit you over the head with her own cleverness, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t both felt and seen throughout.

Are there flaws worth drawing attention to in this brilliantly unassuming ‘zine? I suppose there must be — somewhere — but I’ll be damned if I can find any worth spending any time calling out. Maybe that’s a case of me taking off my critic’s hat and just playing the role of booster, but you know what? I could care less. If we’re living in a day and age where unapologetically loving something is considered an abdication of responsibility, then we need a lot more books like this one to remind us that chilling the fuck out and having fun is kinda what life’s all about.

If you don’t like this, then you just plain don’t like comics. It’s really that simple.


Diary Of A Monster is available for $6.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro site at http://dominobooks.org/diarymonster.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 indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/16/2020 – 02/22/2020

Once in awhile, you have one of those weeks that reminds you why you love going to the comic shop on Wednesday — assuming, that is, that you actually do go to the comic shop on Wednesday. If you do, here are some things that you may have picked up. If you don’t, here are some things that you may (or may not, your call) want to pick up next time you’re there —

Going back to the Marvel Zombies rip-off well, writer Tom Taylor revisits his breakout hit concept of last year (one of the few to come from DC in recent memory) with DCeased : Unkillables #1, the debut intstallment of a three-part series that shows what the villains got up to while the heroes were all (okay, mostly) getting either wiped out or fucked by Darkseid’s infamous Anti-Life Equation being unleashed on Earth and turning everyone affected by it into shambling corpses. Karl Mostert is on board as artist this time and illustrates the proceedings in a really crisp, lively style — two adjectives that also apply to this book’s minimalist scripting. Deathstroke appears to be the main protagonist here, which is a good choice since pitting the DCU’s biggest bad-ass against the walking undead makes  perfect  sense and, as a premise, lends itself to some killer fight scenes. This was a fun, breezy read that I’m happy to have picked up and intend to stick with, but the book’s $4.99 cover price is maybe a little steep considering you can read the whole thing in about ten minutes.

Also on the DC front, Joe Hill kicks off the latest fiver-part (I think, at any rate) series to come out under his Hill House Comics imprint over at Black Label with Plunge #1, a creepy and unsettling Flying Dutchman-esque story with superb art from Stuart Immonen that centers around a salvage crew that’s hired to look into the mysterious re-appearance of an oil exploration vessel called the Derleth (clever there, as any Lovecraft fan can tell you) that just popped back up out of nowhere after 40 years. I’d never thought of Immonen as being a natural choice for a horror book previously, but it turns out I was dead wrong, as he’s modified his typical style to accentuate the story’s Cthulhu-esque elements in a manner that perfectly complements Hill’s inventive (if extremely wordy) script. Maybe the strongest Hill House debut yet, which is really saying something considering they’ve all been pretty goddamn good.

Kicking off a new series (also slated to run five parts) that looks like it could go either way is writer Mark Sable and artist Maan House’s Godkillers #1 from Aftershock, a rather discombobulated introduction to a cool enough premise that’s focused on an off-the-books paramilitary hit squad tasked with securing and/or destroying artifacts of mystical power on behalf on Uncle Sam. Sable’s bio refers to him as a writer, futurist, and military consultant, which sure sounds to me like an indirect way of saying he’s a spook, and also seems eerily reminiscent to the background of Republican — sorry, nominally Democratic — presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and while the script is a bit of a rolling info dump, odds are that’ll tighten up now that the particulars have been established, and House’s moody and sleek artwork is a great match for the material. I’ll probably give this at least one more issue — but again, a $4.99 cover price is a little bit steep for what you’re getting here.

My favorite pick-up of the week was Dark Horse’s Bang! #1, the opening salvo of yet another five-part mini, this one from the “A-list” creative team of writer Matt Kindt and artist Wilfredo Torres. Combining a basic James Bond premise with Philip K. Dick/ Steve Gerber/ Grant Morrison meta-tinged science fiction, this thing was a ton of fun, loaded as it is with intriguing unanswered questions and solidly expressive genre artwork with a marginally “mod” twist. Obliquely connected with Kindt’s earlier series Revolver, this nevertheless stands on its own just fine and lays out the contours of a highly creative, ambitious, reality-bending premise in appealingly broad strokes by means of snappy, stylish dialogue and just plain cool illustration. I have no idea what’s happening so far, but I can’t wait to find out, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

And with that, we’ll call it a day — or a night, depending on when you’re reading this. Just a reminder that this column is, as always,”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 bast way to support my ongoing 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

Andrew Lorenzi’s “Multo” : We Live Inside A Dream —

Apparently in the works for several years before its debut at CAB late last year (at least if the catalogue number attached to it by its publisher, Retrofit/Big Planet, is to be believed — and why wouldn’t it be?), it’s perhaps easier to define Andrew Lorenzi’s visionary graphic story cycle, Multo, by what it isn’t rather than what it actually is — taken as a whole the work has a distinct rhythm, but not a progression; it’s not strictly a work of comics poetry, but its overall effect is poetic; and while it’s technically a memoir, most of the incidents it depicts have an ethereal, dreamlike quality to them.

Showcasing Lorenzi’s multi-faceted talents along a stylistic continuum nearly as broad as that of cartoonists such as Tommi Musturi or Karl Stevens, this generously (and necessarily) oversized volume relates its autobiographical contents by means of painting, embroidery, and good, old-fashioned drawing, and his facility with each medium adds enormous depth to what are ostensibly simple and straight-forward vignettes that touch upon themes ranging from folklore and tradition (the title itself being the Tagalog word for “ghost”) to the phenomenon of identity to the unknown and ultimately unknowable nature of memory to the effects of sleep disorders upon consciousness and the body. Obviously, there’s no way to tie all this together in a strictly linear fashion, but that’s no cause for concern as I used the term “graphic story cycle” at the outset of this review with precise intent — it is, in fact, a cyclical and self-referential work that serves as a kind of consistently running “feedback loop” in conversation with both readers and, crucially, itself.

If that’s not enough to get you excited, or at least intrigued, then I don’t know what more it could take to do the trick, but assuming that it has, I’ll go a step further by reassuring you that the leap of faith you’re no doubt taking with this comic (unless you’re familiar with Lorenzi’s work going in, which likely puts you in pretty select company) is richly rewarded immediately, as the singular nature of this project  announces itself right from the outset and sustains itself through a staggering, yet amazingly fluid, series of tonal and artistic changes, each standing well enough on its own but really taking on a kind of subtle yet no-less-staggering-for-that-fact power when considered in succession and, finally, together. Absolutely the whole is greater than the sum of its parts here, but those parts all stand as superb achievements in and of themselves, as well.

If forced to answer the question of “what’s it about, then?,” I think the best answer is “life” — but not life as it’s lived so much as it’s perceived and interpreted. Its details, sure, but more than that its rhythms and patterns. Its consequential moments, no doubt, but mainly those whose import isn’t discerned until later. On the one hand, yeah, everything Lorenzi’s doing here can be appreciated and understood on the surface without difficulty, but as soon as you peer beneath that surface — when you take into consideration the construction of the book itself and the bold-but-poignant artistic choices that give its not just its look but its character — then you realize that what you’ve got on your hands here is, no kidding, something with the depth and complexity of a Tolstoy novel, but told with the subtlety of, say, early-period Jim Jarmusch or John Sayles.

Oh, geez, I’m really hyping this thing, aren’t I? But I stand by every word.

Simply put, comics don’t come much more accomplished than this — nor does art in general. Where Lorenzi goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I’ll be following without hesitation. Until that next project — whatever it may be — sees the light of day, though, I feel confident in saying that I’ll be spending a lot more time with this one in the interregnum, and that I’ll be discovering new things that add to my appreciation of it with each subsequent reading.


Multo is available for $14.00 from Retrofit/Big Planet at http://retrofit.storenvy.com/collections/29642-all-products/products/28658546-multo-by-andrew-lorenzi

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


The Truth Behind “The Truth Behind Blood And Drugs”

It’s not every day that a long-form comics project (or, if you like, a “graphic novel”) gets its own separately-published postscript, much less one that takes the form of an eight-page mini comic presented in full color whereas the book it refers back to is in black and white — but we live in unusual times, as evidenced by the fact that I’m even reviewing an eight-page mini in the first place.

That being said, fellow Twin Cities resident Lance Ward has lived through much stranger times than these during his periods of addiction and subsequent recovery, and some of those are chronicled in The Truth Behind Blood And Drugs, the rather quickly-issued “epilogue” of sorts to last year’s celebrated Blood And Drugs that comes our way courtesy of the same publisher, J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books. And while I’m not prepared to go so far as to call it an essential item to read and/or own, it’s nevertheless a fascinating and even rather harrowing one that fleshes out the “real life” stories and scenarios that formed the backbone of its metaphorical “mothership” — and seeing as how that was precisely its remit, you’ve gotta congratulate Ward on a job well done. Or, more accurately, another job well done.

I went into Blood And Drugs figuring it was a work of memoir at the very least, maybe even outright autobio, and came out of it feeling that assumption to be justified — but, as already mentioned, I’m from Ward’s neck of the woods myself, so I recognized most of the haunts in St. Paul’s admirably sketchy (though it’s depressingly and quickly becoming gentrified thanks to the presence of a new sports stadium) Midway neighborhood that were thinly-disguised to protect the, uhhhmmm, entirely innocent? A reader from somewhere — hell, anywhere — else could, and probably would, be left wondering how much of the story was “real” and how much was “made up” to a far greater degree than I was, though, hence this comic. But a funny thing happened as I perused its assemblage of rapid-fire, watercolored single-page strips — I found out that certain of my assumptions made an ass of me, at the very least, while “u” remained unscathed. So much, then, for that old adage.

I guess what I’m easing my ego into accepting is that I sort of “got it wrong” in my initial review of Ward’s equally-initial comic. Not in any highly-appreciable way that would either reverse or outright negate my conclusions about it, but I do feel kind of bad for presenting it as entirely a work of non-fiction when this addendum makes clear that while the general character and tone of the book were real enough, many more of the specific details were tinkered with at the margins than I presumed them to be.

What it also does, though, is elucidate Ward’s reasoning for this, and the end result hatches something of a paradox — you understand why he fictionalized certain things, but end up with an even greater appreciation for the book’s authenticity as a result. I’m still puzzled as to how those two things could occur simultaneously, but what the hell — I’m not gonna argue with it, because anything that makes a damn good work of art seem even better is worth being grateful for, is it not?

And trust me when I say that I am grateful for this mini and for the added layers of understanding it affords readers of both it and, especially, its progenitor. You can — and will — be mightily impressed by Blood And Drugs without reading this, but you’re guaranteed to be even more impressed with it if you do.


The Truth Behind Blood And Drugs is available for $2.00 (or just $1.00 if you buy the book itself) from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/products/the-truth-behind-blood-and-drugs

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 Shape Of Days Gone By : Paula Lawrie’s “My Geometric Family” #2

I was thoroughly transfixed by the first self-published issue of Paula Lawrie’s My Geometric Family and her unique approach to blending the surreal with the real to illustrate the beauty and vagaries of the nature of memory in equal measure, and the promise that more installments were forthcoming was exciting news indeed, but I really have to give her credit for getting #2 out so quickly and for not only maintaining the high standard of quality she’d already established, but broadening and deepening the scope of her project and finding ways to increase its thematic resonance in a manner entirely unforced and organic. Simply put, this is an artist who appears to be getting more confident with her vision as she goes — and she was approaching already it with plenty of confidence from the starting gate.

As Lawrie continues her childhood memoir in this issue, the central event affecting herself and her family is their 1950 relocation to the town of Raven Rock, New Jersey, and the changes both subtle and far less so that both tie directly into, and emanate from, this momentous occurrence. On paper, as the saying goes, there’s nothing explicitly unexpected on offer, but Lawrie’s thoroughly honest examination of the way in which memory functions makes the everyday seem fascinatingly alien, and shines a bright light on the fact that quite often, there is no greater mystery than the chronology of our own lives.

As with the first issue, Lawrie’s highly intuitive choice of shapes when it comes to portraying herself, her family members, and the people coming into, out of, and through their lives is pitch-perfect for reasons that can’t be described linguistically (at least by an author of my perhaps-paltry standards), but is best felt before being explicitly analyzed — and that subsequent analysis is going to vary from reader to reader. What this tells me is that Lawrie is brave enough to trust her audience, for one thing, but also that she’s among that rare breed of artist that is actively engaged in a dialogue, rather than a monologue, with them. Her intention may be entirely different to any given reader’s interpretation of it, and that’s not just “okay,” that’s actually the most integral part of the process and represents, in a very real sense, the beating heart of the project itself. It all sounds a bit grandiose, perhaps, but this is a work of quiet, human-scale grandeur that is as inherently relatable as it is, frankly, breathtaking.

This takes a tremendous amount of skill, on the one hand, but it also takes heart. That’s not necessarily a measurable, or perhaps even quantifiable, trait for a work of art to possess, but it’s either there or not regardless, and I fall back on the old cliche because I think it’s absolutely true — you know it when you see it. And if you don’t see a lot of it here, I’ve gotta say, it’s time to get your eyesight checked.

Once you’ve done that, though, you can literally spend hours poring over, and even luxuriating in, Lawrie’s gorgeous graphite illustrations, replete as they are with delicate expressiveness, expert cross-hatching, lush shading and, of course, those endlessly inventive and physically apropos geometric shapes and designs. The people she draws look like it feels like they should, even if that doesn’t remain constant from one page to the next, but she roots each one in a basic design schematic that remains fairly consistent even as the details change from drawing to drawing, moment to moment, year to year — rather like actual human beings do themselves.

Now, I’m not sure how long Lawrie intends to keep this series going, but the longer the better in my view — this is one of the most singular and inventive comics projects currently being undertaken by anyone, and if you’re not on board with it yet, now is the ideal time to rectify that situation, especially since it’s highly likely that if it ever is collected into a single volume, it won’t be for several years. Don’t wait — that’s strictly for squares.


My Geometric Family #2 is available for $7.00 for Austin English’s Domino Books distro site (he’s got issue #1 in stock as well) at http://dominobooks.org/geofam2.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 indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


I Love It When A Plan Comes Together : Alex Nall’s “Kids With Guns” #2

It’s always a tricky thing, when you want to convince people to not just read, but actually buy a comic — yet you don’t want to give much, if anything, of said comic away. Such is the case with the second issue of Alex Nall’s self-published series Kids With Guns, so I guess the best way to go here is to proceed with caution — just as I probably would if confronted by, say, an armed child.

I gave the first issue of this comic high marks, but I was expecting something of a slow burn — the unusual, but for all intents and purposes reciprocal and healthy, inter-generational friendship between 10-year-old Milo and his eighty-year-old neighbor, Mel, was the focal point of that debut installment, and while there were hints that the provocative title Nall chose for this project was going to come into play at some point, the pacing suggested that character development and the rather subtle, perhaps even accidental, manner in which a generally good kid can end up going down a disastrous and even tragic path were likely to go hand-in-hand as events unfolded — and while he hasn’t necessarily steered things in a direction that completely negates that initial supposition, it’s fair to say (and I’ll say very little else) that he also very nearly completely blows that all up, as well.

That might sound confusing, for all intents and purposes, but trust me when I say reading this comic is anything but — Nall’s storytelling has always been remarkably straightforward, and that remains the case here, but events take on an urgency that is equal parts welcome and entirely unforeseen, so my advice would be to buckle in. Even if answers to the numerous questions that are bound to pop up in your mind are more hinted at than explicitly answered (as it should be at this stage), we’re still dealing with some pretty consequential shit here, although it’s also true to say that how central it is (or isn’t) to the main narrative remains to be seen in many respects. Annnnndddd — I may have given away more than I wanted to already. But hopefully not.

What I certainly can speak freely about is Nall’s cartooning, which just keeps on getting stronger and stronger. Firmly rooted in the “Sunday funnies” tradition, it’s nevertheless entirely unique in today’s wondrously-crowded comics landscape, echoing the linework and somewhat deadpan attitude of Jon Lewis only with people rather than animals, but with an acute awareness of its own strengths that often takes artists years to figure out. Too often emerging talents have a tendency to rush things, to take on more than they’re necessarily ready for, and while ambition is always a welcome trait for any artist to possess, there’s a lot to be said for Nall’s approach, which concerns itself with refining technique and honing in on things done inherently well before working outwards and adding new wrinkles. The end result is something incredibly visually literate and a real joy to look at.

It may, however, be a bit of a reach to call this mini a joy to read, simply because the subject matter might be less than outright disturbing at this juncture, it’s by no means easy to digest. Nall is tackling some troubling but extremely necessary issues, and doing so with the respect, grace, and intelligence they deserve, but things are getting pretty heavy pretty quickly, and I fully expect that trajectory to continue for however many issues it takes for this story to be told.

I’m thinking that may not be as many as I first suspected (my initial guess was that we were looking at something like a 10-or 12-part series, and who knows? Maybe we still are), but one thing’s for certain : Alex Nall is in full control of his own vision here, doing things precisely his way, so whether this turns out to be a long-form project or a short-form one, it’s bound to be a moving and impactful one. In fact, it already is.


Kids With Guns #2 is available for $8.00 from Alex Nall’s Storenvy site at https://alexnallcomics.storenvy.com/products/29607874-kids-with-guns-no-2

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 ongoing 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