Paranoia En Extremis, Plus Laughs : “The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook”

There’s this profoundly goofy, pathetic, and intellectually impotent notion on the political right that Antifa is some grand top-down organization, hell-bent on destroying the so-called “American way of life,” flush with cash from George Soros and other “globalist” (i.e. Jewish) donors, and lurking in the shadows within every institution just waiting for the right moment to pull the string and bring society to its knees on behalf of its “Marxist” overlords.

It’s absurd on its face, of course — but also entirely emblematic of the kind of shared fever-swamp delusion that has become the right’s stock in trade ever since they elevated a six-times-bankrupt, syphilitic, failed game show host/con man to cult leader status. Of course you’d have to be dumber than a festering, putrefying nine-ton sack of pigshit to believe it (hell, Trump’s own FBI director said Antifa was “an ideology, not an organization”), but ya know what? I’m still waiting for any kind of definitive proof that the average American conservative is, in fact, any more intelligent than a festering, putrefying, nine-ton sack of pigshit. To date, none has been forthcoming.

Still, just for shits n’ giggles, why not imagine that the toothless cousin-fucking contingent is right? Such is the premise of cartoonist Matt Lubchansky’s amusing new slim little book from Silver Sprocket, The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook, an admittedly earnest-on-its-face read that takes aim at the low-hanging intellectual fruit of modern-day conservatism in such a jovial manner that even the most permanently-aggrieved far right “culture warrior” might be able to get a kick out of it — if only utter immunity to both self-awareness and hypocrisy weren’t pre-requisites to being a functioning conservative these days. In other words, if you truly believe that a) the police are your friends, and b) straight white Christian men are the most persecuted demographic around in today’s world, then you’re probably better off avoiding this comic. If, however, you’re a rational and well-adjusted human being, then you’ll probably get a solid kick out of it.

The particulars here are as follows : Antifa shit-disturber par excellence Max Marx, having proven his mettle in the never-ending battle against capitalism, gender, suburbia, carnivorousness, and free expression, has been “augmented” and is taking his Captain America-in-a-hoodie act to Earle University, where “central casting” right-wing grifter/social media superstar Adonis Asproulis is all set to open young impressionable minds to the boundless possibilities of freedom and happiness offered by laissez-faire capitalism guided by the wise magnanimity of our corporate betters. Marx’s mission : why, to “deplatform” and “cancel” Asproulis before he can turn a campus full of socialists-in-training into flag-waving defenders of liberty — and hey, if they have to bump off a few members of Big City PD, including Clint Eastwood wannabe Sgt. Paul O’Shea, then so be it. ACAB and all that, amirite?

At this point it probably goes without saying that if you’re looking for subtle, this ain’t the place, but it also goes without saying that these are hardly subtle times we live in. In fact, this book is so decidedly OTT that a QAnon type could very well read it and believe it’s the real thing — although they might wonder where the infant-blood-drinking Democrat pedophiles are. Still, for those of us who don’t buy into the absurd-on-its-face notion that the biggest killjoys are to be found on the left side of the political ledger (last I checked, for instance, no left-winger was seriously proposing that all their ideological enemies be rounded up, shipped off to Gitmo, tortured, and then summarily executed without trial, which is at the core of the Q-crowd’s “belief” system), it’s nice to be able to demonstrate as much with something that wears it’s heart on its sleeve this openly. Let the MAGA asshats decry the “hidden agenda” in popular media all they wish — Lubchansky, to his credit. doesn’t have anything to hide.
In fairness, however, he could stand to refine his cartooning just a bit. There’s nothing here I’d call “substandard,” much less actively “bad,” but his style isn’t necessarily all that distinctive, either. He adheres pretty closely to a (certainly competent) style of “classically funny” illustration that suits his tone and subject matter just fine, but doesn’t do much to separate itself from a lot of what you’ll find on, say, The Nib. It’s effective, but not especially memorable — which is a mild criticism on its face, sure, but who knows? It may be just enough to get me expelled from the Antifa-run revolutionary training academy, and then what will I do? Suck it up and work for “The Man” until I can finally afford a 4,500-square foot McMansion on some soulless cul-de-sac? I guess when that day comes, I can invite you all over on a Saturday (early) evening to cook steaks on the Weber, but not until the “tyrants” in power “liberate” us from these masking and social distancing rules — and if you show up in a hoodie, you can turn your hybrid right around and go back to your commie masters. Tell ’em this is one proud ‘Murcan patriot who don’t welcome no traitors into his home! These colors don’t run!!!!

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The Antif Super-Soldier Cookbook is available for $14.99 from the Silver Sprocket website at https://store.silversprocket.net/products/the-antifa-super-soldier-cookbook-by-matt-lubchansky

Review wrist check – Raven “Trekker 39” yellow dial/black bezel model riding Raven’s factory-issue stainless steel bracelet. Admittedly, I keep this on a NATO most of the time, but every so often I like to mix things up some, and this bracelet actually is as solidly-constructed as it is comfortable.

“There’s No Infrastructure To Support These Artists, And I Want To Do My Best To Remedy That” : Four Color Apocalypse Talks To Sean Knickerbocker About His New Anthology Project, “Rust Belt Review”

Cartoonist Sean Knickerbocker — who, like yours truly, hails from Minneapolis — has long been concerned with narratives that focus on the socially and economically marginalized and dispossessed, telling authentic stories about the forgotten people of “flyover country.” Now, he’s both sharpening and expanding his focus simultaneously with his recently-launched anthology series, Rust Belt Review. Sean was kind enough to answer some of my questions about this new project , and our conversation is presented here along with sample pages from the first issue by, respectively, Caleb Orecchio, Audra Stang, and Knickerbocker himself.

Four Color Apocalypse : What made you decide that now was the time to attempt to launch a new anthology, and what unique editorial sensibilities do you bring to the project that you think aren’t present and accounted for in other anthologies at the moment?

Sean Knickerbocker : The pandemic definitely pushed me in this direction. Since we’re probably not going to be able to safely attend shows for the next year or so, it seemed necessary to find alternative venues for sharing my work. I tried serializing my comics on Instagram for a little bit, but it became apparent that my followers were more interested in process posts, and not so much in reading new work of mine in a piecemeal social media format. I’m not making comics that have a punchline on every page, or some sort of viral insight or something. Not to knock those comics or anything, it’s just not what I’m doing.

So, the next idea I had was to produce a new issue of Rust Belt, but I had some reservations with that. I don’t feel comfortable selling a single issue comic for more than $5, but the economic reality of printing, selling, and shipping printed materials demands a higher price point — at least $10, I would say. Keeping that in mind, I started running the numbers, and it seemed like the costs associated for a 70-100 page book weren’t significantly different than a 20 page book. That was a little disheartening for me. Producing 100 pages takes me a couple years, but I want to regularly release new comics — I like having that back and forth with my audience, plus it gives me more deadlines with smaller goals, and I really need that sort of thing in order to stay productive. So naturally, I began to think about putting together an anthology.

I started to think about what anthologies I’ve found myself revisiting over the years. Things like Rubber BlanketKramers ErgotMome, a select few of those Best American Comics collections. I found myself drawn to anthologies that featured serialized narratives, or longer one-off stories, but I noticed that I didn’t care as much for the anthology filler-type stuff. You know, like the three pages someone submits to their friend’s anthology as a favor or something. I didn’t want that. I wanted to make sure that the venue I was providing wasn’t seen so much as a burden, but as an opportunity for cartoonists to release new work. Of course, there’s other venues for this type of thing — Now comes to mind — but I wanted to focus more on narrative driven work, or visual essays, and Now seems to be more eclectic than that.

My background is in print. I work at a print shop, and I’m a real nerd for that sort of thing. I designed the book to look good with the presses I’ve worked with in the past. I know their strengths and weaknesses, and I hope my knowledge and attention to detail with these presses paid off. I like to think it did.

4CA : You mention that your first issue features work primarily made by friends of yours — what criteria will you be using going forward to determine what you publish?

SK : I’m looking for narrative-driven work. Right now, specifically, folks that can put together a satisfying 8-12 page story that stands alone. I have a solid roster of folks  putting out serialized work, but I want to balance that out with some more one-and-done comics. Because I’m financing this project entirely myself, color isn’t really an option right now, so I’m also trying to look for artists that I think look good in black and white. Maybe one day we can expand to color, who knows? If you’re a cartoonist that fits these criteria, shoot me a pitch along with some samples of your work to therustbeltreview@gmail.com.

4CA : Your own strip that’s running in Rust Belt Review appears to be a complex, long-form work in progress — do you have any idea how long it will run and whether or not you will be publishing a new segment in every issue?

SK : Yeah, so I’m using Rust Belt Review to serialize my next book Best Of ThreeIt’s a story about a burnout that stumbles into an inheritance from his absentee father who was a professional gamer. Every issue will feature a chapter from that at the very least. Ideally I’ll also be writing some articles, but Best Of Three comes first — if I have time and space for additional content, then I’ll add some in. I suspect this story will be about a hundred pages or so, hopefully it will be done sometime in 2022.


4CA : The title of this series would seem to imply a connection of sorts with your earlier solo collection, Rust Belt. Is that connection purely thematic, or is it concrete?

SK : I had a few other names I was throwing around, but nothing really stuck. Rust Belt Review had some good things going for it. I liked that it sounded like a lit journal. I swear, if The Comics Journal wasn’t already a thing, I would call this a comics journal. I also like that the name establishes an expectation for the type of work inside the book. Ultimately, I think the series will have a thematic connection, because my sensibilities for the comics I draw are very similar to my sensibilities for the comics I like to read. That being said, I hope the name doesn’t pigeonhole my contributors. I think everyone is bringing something unique to the series, and I hope over time Rust Belt will simply be seen as a prologue to Rust Belt Review.


4CA : . I detected a pretty specific bent toward the exploration or working-class themes in many of the stories in issue one. Can we expect that to continue?


SK : I think so. Again, I think that’s just my sensibilities at play. I’m drawn to that type of work. I have a real chip on my shoulder for rich people, so it’s harder for me to connect to work written by or about someone who’s probably never cried in a walk-in cooler. Rich people can publish their own work, fuck ’em, lol.

4CA : Are there any past anthology series that you look to as an example of the kind of thing you’re hoping to achieve with this one?


SK : Definitely. I love Rubber Blanket so much, even though it only lasted three issues. It’s such a beautiful little series. Same goes for Mome, I really loved that series and it left a big impression on me as a young cartoonist.

4CA : Is there a fixed “end date” for this comic, or do you plan to continue publishing for as long as it’s sustainable to do so?

SK : I’m going to do this at least until Best Of Three is finished and I’ll do a temperature check around then to decide if I can keep this going, or if I need to move on to something else. I would really like to keep this going indefinitely, I think cartoonists need other venues besides comics festivals and social media. It’s frustrating to see cartoonists disappear in their mid-30’s and then never come back. There’s no infrastructure to support these artists, and I want to do my best to remedy that.


4CA : Any names you can drop as to who we might be seeing in future issues?

SK : I’m tempted to give a long list of names, just to put a little extra pressure on everybody to make their deadlines, but I’m too much of a softy for that. I can say you can expect to see the same contributors for Volume 1 in Volume 2, along with a bunch of new names. Stay tuned!


4CA : Are you looking at selling this comic though various online distribution platforms, or are you going it entirely solo?

SK : I’m selling mostly through my website, but I’m planning on branching out to more retailers as things start  to “open up” more here in the US, heh. Right now, you can also purchase the anthology from Gutter Pop Comics, Copacetic Comics Co., Wig Shop, and The Beguiling. If you’re a retailer, reach out to me at therustbeltreview@gmail.com. Don’t ask me to do consignment though. I spent six weeks trying to collect five buckaroos from some chump in Brooklyn back in 2012 and I’m never doing that shit again, he ruined it for the rest of you!


4CA : Finally, where can readers order a copy from, and are you offering subscriptions?

SK : Hit up my site, seanknickerbocker.com. I’m not doing subscriptions yet, I’m trying to work out the logistics for that sort of thing, but I’m just one doofus doing it all myself.

“Black Clouds Rolling In” : The Weight Of History Hits With The Force Of A Storm

Formatted as a rounded-edges digest with an open spine revealing a visible glued binding, Liesbeth De Stercke’s 2016-published sketchbook collection from Bries, Black Clouds Rolling In, is a curious and instantly-memorable physical object in its own right, as well as being one that quietly but forcefully beckons you to explore its contents in detail — and that word right there, detail, perhaps best sums the project up better than any other.

One glance at the cover tells you that De Stercke is a stickler for it, believes in it, thrives on it — and so she does, not a thing escapes her notice. But this collection of sketches of the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era — produced at a daily clip throughout the course of 2013 — isn’t just concerned with physical and environmental detail. They represent only half of the equation. The other half that De Stercke deftly captures and subsequently communicates is the emotional and psychological gravity of living through what surely were the hardest of hard times.

Certainly, household names such as Steinbeck and Shahn come to mind when looking at these agonizingly authentic illustrations — and comics fans in particular may be reminded of Tim Lane — but the extent to which De Sterkce was able to peel away the extraneous and get to the core of her subject time after time, in relatively quick succession, is I think wholly unique, and lends this work an immediacy that could well fool the casual observer into thinking that it must have been drawn contemporaneously with the period depicted. It looks that real, sure — but it also feels that real, and that makes all the difference.

And, really, what does a gulf of nearly a century between artist and subject matter in the overall scheme of things? If one has a passion for a particular historical epoch, and the requisite ability to translate that passion into expressive pen and ink drawings, then a chronological divide represents nothing so much as a challenge to be met head-on and not an actual “issue,” much less a “problem.” De Stercke may not know what a dinner of thin gruel tastes like or know the pain of looking out over a field devastated crops in the personal sense, but she’s nothing if not inherently empathetic toward those who did experience such things — and she more than honors their ability to withstand devastating hardships and struggles with her efforts.

And that’s a crucial word to bear in mind when examining this work as well — effort. These are frequently gritty scenes, and they certainly happened during some pretty damn gritty years, and De Stercke’s sketches are proof positive that a lot of the grit these folks needed in order to survive flows through her own veins, as well. She really gets in there and works this material — there are no shortcuts taken or easy outs resorted to. She puts everything she has into each image, and consequently wrings everything she can out of them. The results, as the handful of examples included with this review clearly demonstrate, speak for themselves — but there’s also something thematically apropos about physically taxing oneself as an artist in service of conveying the realities of trying times. To gloss over anything would be inherently dishonest; to give it anything less than one’s best efforts an inherent sign of disrespect. And if there’s any one thing that every single page of this book both displays and subsequently earns in its own right, it’s respect.

This work is, then, something over and above a mere series of thematically-linked illustrations, or even a story told visually — it’s a testament to the sheer determination of people for whom the end of the world was no mere abstraction, but a hard and fast reality, yet who somehow found the inner reserves to buck up and deal with it as best they could. They deserve nothing less than De Stercke’s absolute best, and she gives it — and then some.

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Black Clouds Rolling In is available for $24.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/blackclouds.html

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino Wavemaker” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler “Vintage Crazy Horse” leather strap.

If You’re Going Into This One, Rest Easy — The Door Is “Open All The Way”

Picking up somewhere well beyond the farthest limit of what could safely be labeled the “avant garde,” Montreal experimental multi-media artist Billy Mavreas’ latest (I think, at any rate — it’s an undated publication) self-published mini, Open All The Way, represents perhaps the apex of his “studied minimalist” approach to date, leaving behind the oblique links to narrative of prior efforts such as The Realms and The Burden Of Possibilities in favor of a richer, yet paradoxically even more austere, approach to grappling with many of the same themes, chief among them being explorations of creativity in the abstract and the nature of consciousness itself.

You needn’t, however, feel in any way intimidated by the admittedly weighty nature of what’s on offer here — consider the title both an invitation and a case of artistic truth in advertising, given that Mavreas is, by nature, someone who views possibility as equal parts promise and responsibility. His sparse and highly interpretive illustrations are therefore best viewed as a springboard for your own contemplations, then, while the text statements presented next to — and in some cases within — them seem to present not so much a counterpoint as they do a de facto guidepost.

But, hey, who the fuck can say for sure? And the fact that the answer to that question is “no one” — possibly up to and including Mavreas himself — is what makes this project such an inherently and undeniably exciting one. The idea that art is what you make of it is as old as art itself, of course, but that statement is usually in reference to an end result — here, the tables are reversed, and that “it is what you think it is” ethos is baked into the cake from the outset. And while it may only take all of five minutes to peruse the contents of this ‘zine (it’s only eight pages long), who really cares? You can lose yourself in the process of thinking about it for hours.

Is this, then, visual and/or tone poetry? Without a doubt. But it’s also an attempt at mapping a hitherto undefined landscape by means of a symbiotic bond between creator and audience. The nature of that mapping exercise is necessarily going to vary from reader to reader, but that’s okay — the terrain itself does, as well, so not only are you not beholden to any one particular outcome here, you’re not beholden to any one particular viewpoint from jump, either. This is a complex work, make no mistake, but it affords every reader the possibility to make it as simple as their mood and energy level allows for, maybe even dictates.

That being said, images and text herein do invariably relate to one another directly in a manner that doesn’t require too much straining to tease out. Yet the effect of their juxtaposition is always twofold, offering a pair of ways to consider the same idea, one abstract, one concrete — and, in so doing, convergences between both methods of analysis make themselves plainly known on level both liminal and subliminal. One is intellectual, after all, and the other emotive, and if you want to convince folks that either one is nothing without the other, well, there are few better ways to do it than to thrust a copy of this into their hands.

Be prepared, though ; you may not get it back. And even if their fingers do let it go, chances are their minds won’t for quite some time.

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Open All The Way is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/openall.html

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation” in burnt orange.

“This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind” When I Picked Up Another Collection Of Diary Comics

Dare I say there’s something refreshing about reading a ‘zine full of pre-pandemic diary comics, heartless as that no doubt may sound?

Certainly, at this point it’s safe to state that we’ve all been affected by COVID-19 to one degree or another, and many a reader of this review will likely have lost a friend or relative to the disease, so perhaps it’s inherently self-indulgent to yearn for a simpler time, and yet — even the simpler times were often not that simple, and if there’s one thing that Thomas Lampion’s 2019 self-published diary comics mini This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind reminds us of, it’s that the “good old days” had their problems and challenges, as well.

One of them, however, was most assuredly not a world under medically-necessitated lockdown, and as a result the various personal challenges he’s struggling with in and around April of 2019, which is when the comics in this ‘zine were written and drawn, somehow seem — I dunno — surmountable in a way that they likely didn’t at the time. Not that he could have foreseen that while he was making this stuff or anything, mind you.

Still,. many cliches are based on at least a kernel of truth, and “timing is everything” is one of them. Which is not me saying that this collection would have been any less impactful and/or resonant had I read it at the time of its publication, no siree, but what I most assuredly am saying is that it registers differently now — and perhaps even more differently than it would have otherwise simply because readers (myself included) of Lampion’s superb 2020 graphic memoir The Burning Hotels know what a 180 life served up to him following events depicted in this modest little publication. That being said —

This is a work that certainly stands proudly on its own two feet as a document of an earlier, no-less-transitory phase in Lampion’s life — a period marked by the culture shock of a return to his then-home of Philadelphia after spending an extended period abroad in Russia and the breakup of a long-distance relationship with his boyfriend in San Francisco, so there’s definitely an over-arching feeling of rudderlessness and unease and perhaps even confusion to these diary entries, one that is ever-present on a daily basis but that really hits home when they’re all read in succession. Lampion excels, however, at communicating uncertainty, and actually seems more comfortable relating tales of life’s various and sundry crossroads than he does its straight lines, so what we’re getting here isn’t so much a dry recitation of events as they happen as it is an emotional record of how they made him feel — which may seem like a small distinction, admittedly, but trust me when I say it makes all the difference in the world.

Faithful readers of this site will already be familiar with my affection for Lampion’s cartooning, but what took me aback upon seeing this is how little difference there is between stuff he produces quickly and material he’s clearly spent a lot of time on, at least on a purely stylistic level. Yes, these drawings were obviously scrawled out with a minimum of advance planning, but Lampion’s skillful use of cross-hatching, his expressive faces and body language, and his mastery of digital texturing effects are all present and accounted for in these pages — and the daily production schedule affords the strips a level of immediacy that more than compensates for their entirely-understandable lack of “polish.” I’m not trying to tell you that this comic looks “as good ” as, say, The Burning Hotels, but hey — if you liked the art in that book, you’ll find very little by way of “letdown” here.

Also, last but certainly not least, this comic is funny. That may sounds strange given that a lot of the material is quite “heavy” by nature, but Lampion excels at finding a kind of humane and gentle humor in all things, that little nugget of relatability that can make any reader nod their head in agreement and crack a knowing smile. It’s one more added “plus” that elevates his diary comics work above that of most of his contemporaries — and that raises this ‘zine from “sure, may as well check it out” to “must-buy” status.

Sure, it goes without saying that there really is no such thing as the “good old days” — but any day you get a chance to read a Thomas Lampion comic is a very good one indeed.

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This Wasn’t What I Had In Mind is available for $5.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/this-wasnt-what-i-had-in-mind-diary-comics-by-thomas-lampion

Review wrist check – Praesidus “Tom Rice’s Lost Watch Of D-Day” black dial model riding its factory-issue brown canvas strap. “Homage”-style watches are all the rage these days, and I’ve got a few of them myself, but this is the only straight-up replica timepiece in my collection and has quickly become a new favorite everyday “beater” thanks to its simple, clean look and its amazing-for-its-price-point reliability.

The Apex Of Anarcho-Sequentialism? Mike Shea-Wright’s “Beeline For The Crafty”

I live by a simple motto around these parts : if it defies classification, description, and rational analysis, then it’s something I want to see. Other critics can give you the lowdown on stuff that can be categorized, labeled, genre-boxed, and otherwise defined — and hey, I do a fair amount of that myself — but when it comes to the stuff that starts somewhere beyond the point where the ability to articulate a traditional critique of it stops, well, that’s the kind of work that’s always going to catch my eye and always going to be something I want to talk about, if only because the very act of talking about it is such a tricky proposition.

Comics is an art form that I feel lends itself rather well to such efforts, simply because the fourth-dimensional construct of time can be fucked with, or even dispensed with altogether, so easily in sequentially-formatted visual language, and because a series of images is almost always going to have a progression to it — even if it needn’t necessarily be a linear one — that “stand-alone” drawings, paintings, etc. are devoid of by dint of their very nature. Stuff happens in all art, but stuff is happening in comics, and the possibilities for both what that stuff can be, and how it can be communicated, are pretty well endless.

This all sounds haughty, I’m sure — perhaps even up its own ass — but when a cartoonist really gets it and subsequnetly commits themselves to going for it, the results can be pretty spectacular. Such is the case with Mike Shea-Wright’s 2018 self-published mini Beeline For The Crafty, and now it’s my solemn duty to live up to my admittedly boisterous claim issued at the outset here of being “your guy” when it comes to critiquing the ostensible un-critiquable.

Actually, I’m tempted to say “sorry for the new word there,” but new ways of relaying information are Shea-Wright’s stock in trade as an artist, and that fact has never been more obviously on display than in this “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” ‘zine, a kaleidoscopic diaspora of the contents of one person’s conscious and subconscious minds that is part self-generating “feedback loop,” part infinite recursion to its own beginning, part treatise on life’s various stages, and part just plain trippy shit. Shea-Wright borrows liberally from Marc Bell, Brandon Graham, Basil Wolverton, and August Lipp (among others) for his visual vocabulary, but the style here is always and unquestionably his own, as is the purely intuitive placement of — well, shit, everything I guess — within space. Things are cluttered, to be sure, but then so is the jumble inside most anyone’s head, and given that “if it’s in you, then it’s gotta come out” seems to be the closest thing we have to an operating ethos here, I have to say that a traditional layout for this work would ring incredibly false.

Which, I assure you, is not just me making excuses for an inherent sense of inexplicability herein. Indeed, despite appearances this comic really does make perfect “sense.” It’s just that it’s entirely its own kind of sense, which means it’s as fundamentally challenging as it is fundamentally honest. The occasional generational jab aside, there’s little to grab onto here that gives one any sense of a structured theme, but if unstructured themes are more your bag? Then you’ve just hit a gold mine, because this is a comic that is rich in purely interpretive allegory, humor, passion, and even polemic. There’s plenty one could fairly label as gross or weird, maybe even sick or wrong, but anyone that out-and-out fucking square is probably likely to take one look at the cover and say to themselves “not for me, thanks,” — and that’s just as well. Shea-Wright’s not in the business of kow-towing to them — nor, for that matter, to anyone else.

Which could conceivably lead you to conclude that this comic is too arcane to be understood, too hermetically-sealed to be accessible. I can assure, you, however, that nothing could be further from the truth : there’s so damn much going on, and it’s all laid out in such an open and fluid manner, that it’s fair to say there’s a little something for everyone here, and a lot of something for most. And just as one can measure a circle beginning at any given point, you can enter this ‘zine almost anywhere you wish, read it in any “order” you care to, take whatever you want from it, and subsequently exit at any “juncture” — but you’ll be back. And reading it will be a whole new experience all over again.

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Beeline For The Crafty is available for the unconscionably low price of $3.00 from Mike Shea-Wright’s webshop at https://gumroad.com/mikesheaindustries?sort=price_desc

Review wrist check – Monta “Atlas GMT” blue dial model riding a night and forest (that’s dark blue and green for the unpretentious) Chevron strap from Crown & Buckle. I thought the two together might be too much blue, but lo and behold, I think it really works.

Two Of A Kind, But Different (Part Two) : Mike Shea-Wright’s “Beach”

The second of Mike Shea-Wright’s new self-published minis dedicated to celebrating pre-COVID social get-togethers that would now properly be classified as “super-spreader” events, Beach, represents perhaps a greater flight of fancy than its de facto “twin” release, Venue, in that the events depicted in that comic could — indeed, often do — happen pretty much as depicted, while the events depicted in this one really aren’t likely to at all, but hey, what do I know? Maybe Shea-Wright just frequents far more interesting beaches than I do — and maybe you do, as well.

In short, this is a wordless story about an afternoon at a beach that becomes one big naked party and, as such, the goals of the author are perhaps a bit broader here than simply showing the purported “joys” of a large gathering of people : indeed, the “all bodies are beautiful” and “de-stigmatize nudity” messages he’s getting across would be crystal clear even if Shea-Wright didn’t write them out in those exact words on the inside front and back covers, respectively. Which he does. Just, I suppose, in the interest of avoiding confusion or misinterpretation.

All subtlety, then, is out the window in this ‘zine, but that’s okay : this is such an inherently jovial and joyous work that a late-innings rainstorm not only doesn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, it elevates them. As with its companion comic, no words are necessary here to communicate mood, atmosphere, and intent, but unlike that one all activity herein is inherently non-confrontational and in no way tinged with the desperation of people dying to blow off steam or pent-up rage in order to have a good time. Granted, a good number of folks on Shea-Wright’s beach are people you likely wouldn’t be too terribly interested in seeing gettin’ nekkid (although, hey, I guess you never know), but what the fuck? They’ve got the same right to take pride in their bodies as anyone else in theory, they’re only prevented from doing so in practice.

Short, tall, fat, thin, young, old, able-bodied or otherwise, everybody gets in on the good time here — and before you go jumping to conclusions, in the course of events only one couple is seen having a sexual encounter, and it’s about as far from prurient or tawdry as you could conceive of. In fact, it’s as au naturel as anything else going on — so much so that nobody really pays it any mind, and honestly, why should they? As such, then, this provides perhaps the most succinct, if understated, example of the key difference between Shea-Wright’s pair of new comics : if Venue is an idealized version of what life can be, then Beach is an idealized vision of what life should be.

Am I being too grandiose for my own good here? I suppose an argument could be made that I am — and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But I think the distinctions are worth pointing out and examining because they means that while yes, these comics are linked, they each stand on their own as discrete, self-contained works, as well — which is why I resisted the perfectly natural urge to just write about both of them in one review. They’ve eared the right, in my opinion, to be considered both together and separately.

That being said, I’ll be absolutely blunt and tell you that I think you’d be making a huge mistake if you didn’t buy both. But you certainly needn’t necessarily read them together in one sitting!

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Beach is available for $5.00 from Mike Shea-Wright’s webshop at https://gumroad.com/mikesheaindustries?sort=price_desc

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

Two Of A Kind, But Different (Part One) : Mike Shea-Wright’s “Venue”

Chances are that you’re as tired of being cooped up as I am, but I’ll say this much : one of the “net pluses” of the pandemic (sorry, there really has to be a better way of phrasing that, but I’ll be damned if I can think of what that would be right now) has been a creativity and productivity boom among self-publishing and otherwise-independent cartoonists. Most of us are well-familiar with the justly-lauded strips being shared daily on instagram by Alex Graham, Simon Hanselmann, and others, but it’s not like the printed page has been abandoned completely in this “brave” new world, either (indeed, Graham has just collected her Dog Biscuits series in a massive 400-plus-page volume she’s selling through Lulu and the entirety of Hanselmann’s “Crisis Zone” will be released in a single volume in fairly short order from Fantagraphics) — which brings us to Mike Shea-Wright and a pair of thematically-interconnected minis he’s recently finished up (as in, within the last couple of months as I write this) centered around the kind of mass social gatherings that COVID has made unwise at best, illegal at worst.

The first of these, entitled Venue, is about exactly what you think it is (as is true for the second, Beach, but we’ll deal with that in our next review) — a jam-packed rock show at a no-doubt-noisy club. In the interests of full disclosure I should make it absolutely clear that this is the sort of event I stopped having any interest in attending long before life under lockdown (like, two decades before), but hey — I was young once, and still remember (vaguely) both what this kid of shit is like and the admittedly dubious sense of excitement that comes part and parcel with it. I needn’t necessarily have much particular emotional attachment to the subject matter Shea-Wright is delineating, then, in order to appreciate whether or not he captures, and subsequently communicates, the energy and ethos of a live music show.

Cutting right to the chase : he absolutely does. There’s a raw intensity to this ‘zine that is born, I suspect, of both experience and longing — you get a definite sense that he’s been to hundreds of shows like this one, and that he misses them terribly. In fact, what he’s put together here is a celebration of everything about them : the ear-splitting decibels, the sweaty bodies crammed together, the casual violence of the so-called “mosh pit,” the clumsy bathroom hook-ups — it’s all here, it’s all happening, and it’s all as brash and boisterous as you remember.

And that, right there, is the key word : remember. Because this is very much a remembrance of the way things were, back when this kind of insanity made perfect sense. The drawings may be “messy” in the conventional definition of that term, but then so are live music shows, and celebrating the (admittedly subjective) beauty of such messiness is what Shea-Wright excels at. He doesn’t need words for that — indeed, language really can’t capture the feeling he’s going for here, so it’s just as well he doesn’t distract us with any — he just needs passion, and there’s plenty of that to spare in every panel on every page.

Obviously, this is an idealized vision of what Shea-Wright thinks a night out could — hell, probably should — be like, but he gets that across so clearly from the outset that by the time our nameless protagonist (an authorial stand-in, perhaps?) emerges from the show beaten, bruised, and bloody, there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s had the time of his life, to which all I can say is : hey, to each their own, right? Personally, I was reminded more than anything of why I don’t do this kind of thing anymore myself, but the simple fact is that this comic comes as close as I care to come to experiencing a punk or hardcore show in the flesh one more time, and that means that Shea-Wright has crafted something tactile and true and probably even timeless here.

No, I absolutely won’t go see your band — but hey, I’ll happily check out this comic again anytime.

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Venue is available for $5.00 from Mike She-Wright’s webshop at https://gumroad.com/mikesheaindustries?sort=price_desc

Review wrist check – Seaborne Trading Co. “Sea Venture.” This is the “sunset bezel” model riding its factory-issued aqua blue NATO strap.

A View Of A Life Gathering “Dust”

Occasionally I’ll get a comic submitted for review that’s a couple years old but still in need of more publicity than it’s received to date, and such is the case with John Carvajal’s self-published mini Dust, a precisely-crafted and insightful little number that, for whatever reason, appears to have flown beneath almost everybody’s radar. Yeah, I know, the small-press landscape is a crowded one, but trust me when I say : Carvajal’s work pretty much always stands out from the crowd, and this is no exception.

There are some sci-fi tropes and trappings on offer here — robots, for example, seem to be a ubiquitous feature in folks’ homes — but at its core this is a story about coping with loss and grieving, about how we channel our energy into strange and bizarre outlets as a form of release, only to have said outlets become obsessions — the obsession, in this case, being a recent widower’s striving to achieve the impossible : a completely dust-free home. It’s as crazy as it sounds, but also as entirely logical : I mean, people who have been married for a long time and have their spouse die do frequently find themselves with a lot of free time and no idea what to do with it.

There’s another layer to this narrative that’s equally intriguing, and frankly equally harrowing, as well, though, and that’s how this man’s adult daughter copes with watching her remaining parent losing his marbles. She’s sympathetic on the one hand, but understandably worried as can be on the other, and Carvajal manages to navigate this emotionally complex terrain with an admirably deft touch, which is precisely what material of this nature requires. There’s some gentle humor liberally interspersed throughout, too, which keeps things from becoming as morose as they may end up being in less skilled hands, but on the whole this is a comic with a very definite air of mourning about it — for both the dead and the living.

As far as the art goes, this is a noticeably more stripped-down brand of cartooning than seen in Carvajal’s other works such as Scraps and his recently-published graphic memoir Sunshine State, and the bare-bones aprooach matches the emotionally raw tone perfectly — in fact, getting “too fancy” with things would, in my view, ring both false and hollow. Solid figure drawing, expressive faces, and subtle body language are what’s called for here, and this comic delivers on all three fronts. Just as there’s not a false of extraneous line of dialogue to be found anywhere in these pages, there’s not a false or extraneous line to be found anywhere in the drawings, either. That’s a sure sign of a cartoonist both confident in their abilities and perfectly in tune with their own subject matter.

At first I had some minor quips with moments that seemed “out of character,” but the more I thought it about the more I realized that, hey, we’re talking about grieving here, and what does being “in character” even have to do with it? In fact, drifting away from the person your loved ones thought you were — and that you may have even considered yourself to be — and becoming someone almost unrecognizable is so often part and parcel of coping that consistency of characterization would run counter to how things actually are, so points again to Carvajal for “keeping it real” by showing us how unreal it can be to try and come to terms with personal tragedy. And while the purple “spot color” that occasionally makes an appearance may seem curious, its placement almost always makes a sort of intuitive sense, so — what can I say? I don’t have any real gripes to regale you with here, even when it comes to things I initially thought I might gripe about.

So, yeah — this is a very special little comic indeed, one nearly flawless in both presentation and execution, and instantly memorable upon reading. It’s a shame it didn’t garner a ton of accolades when it first came out, but seriously — better late than never, am I right?

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Dust is available for $5.00 from Neil Brideau’s Radiator Comics distro at https://www.radiatorcomics.com/shop/minicomics/dust/

Review wrist check – Raven “Trekker 39” yellow dial/black bezel model riding a Chevron strap from Crown & Buckle in black.

Two From Ryan Alves : “Bubblegum Maelstrom” #1

I’ve long been of the opinion that single-creator anthologies are something that’s in far too short a supply these days, but I’m pleased as can be to see Ryan Alves has thrown his hat into the ring with Bubblegum Maelstrom #1 from Awe Comics, a solid collection of six short strips, most boasting full painted color, that pleasingly concludes on a “Continued Next Issue” note. Which means, of course, that this is a good enough comic that you’ll be hankering for more.

Still, it’s bad form in the extreme to begin at the end, so let’s back up a bit here : it starts as life itself does, with fucking, and continues apace through a particularly grotesque birth, followed by an equally grotesque bio-dystopia, then on into a Bat-spoof, and from there makes its way through mutant plant growth, just plain mutants doing battle across a canyon, and fire-farting birds in conflict with man and, well, mutants again. There’s beauty in all this ugliness and squalor and devastation and natural austerity, to be sure, but sometimes you really do have to work damn hard to find it.

Still, who isn’t up for a challenge every now and then? And while revisionist takes on The Book Of Genesis and on Bruce Wayne and Alfred and on the post-apocalyptic genre in more or less its entirety may seem to only fit together in the most vague of conceptual terms, in point of fact one story flows into the next here quite nicely, albeit surprisingly. Most are self-contained — barring the Bat-thing, which is an except from Alves’ daring Moustache newspaper broadsheet, previously reviewed on this very site and which I expect to see further serialized in subsequent issues — but the linkages between them range from the oblique to the far less so, the end result being that the entire package has a definite holistic bent to it. I can’t say whether this is by accident, design or, more than likely, a bit of both, but it’s there plain as day and that sense of cohesion is part of what makes this, as the kids say, “next level stuff,” indeed.

The other major contributing factor to that makeshift designation is, of course, the art — Alves has never, in my experience as a reader, been one to fuck around, but here he imbues everything with an expertly-achieved blend of the lush and the ominous, the delicate and the foreboding, the sacred and the profane. Horrific monstrosities juxtaposed perfectly in space against rich landscapes, with no shortcuts taken and no detail spared. He’s playing for keeps in every panel on every page, a palpable effort to make each image genuinely memorable on clear display throughout.

And yet, there is a real sense here that we may just be scratching the surface — which, as far as opening salvos go, is in no way a bad thing. Alves brings a cinematic approach to his pages, his eye — and, consequently, that of the reader — alighting on elements that enhance mood as much as they advance narrative, and while some of the choices he makes in that regard are perhaps bizarre on a liminal level, on a sublininal one they all make a kind of intuitive “sense.” As easy as these strips are to follow along with, then, don’t rush them — you’ll be missing out on a lot of the fun if you do.

Yes, I did say fun — there’s plenty of it to be had amid the parade of degradation and depravity here. Alves is dead serious about his craft, to be certain, but there is a playful tone to much of this comic that makes it perhaps all the more disconcerting for that fact. There are shocks and stomach-churns in more than generous supply, but how seriously you decide to take them all? That’s entirely up to you. For my own part, I was horrified at how much fun I was having, but also had fun with the sheer depths to which I was horrified. If that seems inherently contradictory, all I can say is — read the comic. I think you’ll feel the exact same way.

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Bubblegum Maelstrom #1 is available for $12.00 from the Awe Comics Storenvy site at https://www.storenvy.com/products/31352110-bubblegum-maelstrom

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