Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/04/2019 – 08/10/2019, Julia Gfrorer

Densely atmospheric, detailed yet scratchy, erotically charged, Gothic in the truest sense of the word, and falling along a stylistic continuum somewhere between Edgar Allen Poe and Dame Darcy, cartoonist Julia Gfrorer (perhaps best known for her Fantagraphics-published Laid Waste and Black Is The Color) is a true autuer, someone whose vision, and well as its means of expression, are entirely and uniquely her own — even, perhaps paradoxically, when she’s not working alone, as is the case with her occasional collaborations with writer Sean T. Collins. For purposes of this week’s Round-Up, though, we’ll be concentrating on some examples of her solo work, specifically four extraordinary minis she self-published under her Thuban Press imprint —

I can sum up To Dark To See best, I think, with the words “haunting as fuck” because, whaddya know, it’s about fucking and haunting. And mistrust. And psychologically abusive relationships. And the distance that grows between people who used to, and by all rights should still, be intimate. And maybe, in a pinch, it’s even about STDs. What it’s not is forgettable. This ‘zine, in fact, will cling to you like a damn ghost.

Ditto for the poetically anthropological  Dark Age, an exploration of youthful sexual awakening, trust and its absence, getting in too deep in every sense, and the early origins of ritual and magick. As “dark” as its title states, there’s nevertheless a wicked sense of humor undercutting this work, as when every line spoken by our protagonists upon entering a cavernous tunnel is quite literally a double-entendre. Another one that burrows its way into your consciousness and absolutely refuses to let go.

Subtitled “A Frasier ‘Zine,” the whimsical Good Night Seattle places TV’s Dr. Crane, his brother Niles, their dad, housekeeper Daphne, and tough-but-with-a-heart-of-gold producer Roz in precisely the last place any of them have the skills to navigate their way through : a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Short, punchy, on-target absurdist humor with some cringe-worthy moments that will make you feel appropriately guilty for chuckling along with them, like the show it’s extrapolated from, this one will live on in re-runs — or, as the case may be, re-reads.

Finally, Gfrorer’s most recent mini, Vision, is part one of a two-chapter story, detailing the harrowing daily realities of a hapless young Victorian woman, constantly put upon by a haranguing and needy sister-in-law, who finds sexual and emotional solace in a — haunted mirror? You read that right. All is probably not well with that relationship, either, but I guess we’ll see. If you’re down for a “sex comic” like no other — and, really, who isn’t? — congratulations, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Needless to say, if you haven’t had the pleasure already, you absolutely need to check out Gfrorer’s work : it will transport you to places of awe, wonder, beauty, and terror. She balances everything on a delicate razor’s edge between the familiar and the far less than, and her art is an entirely new definition of the word “exquisite” that simply has to be seen, more importantly to be experienced, to believe. Give her wares a look over at her Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/thorazos

And with that, we reach the end of another week, and our customary reminder than 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 out of your pocket. At that price, seriously — what have you got to lose? Your support would be greatly appreciated, of course, and also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Throw a guy a bone, will ya?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Getting Down With “Funky Dianetics”

Sometimes a comic’s format is so utterly unique that it’s worth commenting on in and of itself — and may even raise it a notch or two in any given critic’s estimation. It shouldn’t, I suppose, be that way — the quality of the story and art really ought to be all that matters, in theory — but what if the publication in question is so innovative in terms of its physical presentation that said presentation becomes an integral aspect of the art itself?

This is particularly true in the case of a mini, where a limited number of pages necessarily makes the manner in which those pages are delivered to readers really stand out, for good or ill. Which brings us, an unforgivable two paragraphs in, to Max Huffman’s latest self-published mini, the intriguingly-titled Funky Dianetics.

This attractive riso-printed number that rolled off the presses in November of 2018 features two short “collections” of Huffman’s popular “I’m Good” gag strip — primarily concerned with mundane day-to-day activities such as work and commuting to and from it filtered through a pleasingly absurdist lens — sandwiched around a Jack T. Chick-style tract entitled “Big Drink” that adopts a strikingly different tone as it spins its yarn about alienation and isolation in small-town America, the end result being a very deliberate study in contrasts on just about every level from the narrative to the artistic to the thematic.

All of which means that we’re talking about a comic that punches well above its weight class, a sum total of 20 pages leaving a far more distinctive imprint upon a reader’s memory than its brevity would, at least at first glance, seem to allow for. That’s ingenious, to be sure, but it also means that the content itself needs to match the ingenuity of its format.

Fortunately, of course, we’re talking about Max Huffman here — a guy who’s comfortable adopting just about any style in service of his aesthetic and storytelling goals. The remarkable thing about his approach, though, is how undeniably intuitive his choices are, how pitch-perfect yet free of any sort of calculation, much less any inherent cynicism. A strong presentation backed up by strong cartooning in a couple of different styles? That’s worth paying attention to, at the very least, and for emerging cartoonists looking to “make their mark” it’s probably well worth emulating — although I’d caution, as always, against direct imitation and/or appropriation. Save that whole “sincerest form of flattery” thing and find your own voice and your own method of communicating your message — but don’t be afraid to use a mini like Funky Dianetics (the title of which makes a kind of sense once you read it, trust me) as a blueprint, but not a strict template.

Does that make sense? I dearly hope so, although I understand that the distinction I’m attempting to throw into at least semi-sharp relief is a slender one. Still, it’s innovation that makes this mini stand out (in addition to some gut-busting humor), and that spirit of innovation is what I hope prospective future artists cleave to as the most important de facto “lesson” Huffman delivers herein. For my own part, all  I can say is that while I like a whole lot of comics, very few rise to the level of actually impressing me for both what they are as well as how they are. This is definitely one of them.

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Funky Dianetics is available for the more than fair price of $5.00 from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/funkydianetics.html.

And while you’re out and about with an open wallet online, please consider helping me keep on keeping on by supporting 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. At that price, seriously — what do you have to lose? If you’d care to have a look, please head over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

I Think I Get “I Think Our Friend Dan Might Be A Dolphin”

Ostensibly billed as a “mystery” by its publisher, Silver Sprocket, Gnartoons creator James The Stanton’s latest mini, I Think Our Friend Dan Might Be A Dolphin is, I suppose, just that — if only because you’ll be mystified as to why it’s labeled as such.

“Spoiler” alert, if such a thing is necessary : Dan is a dolphin. And a particularly randy and gluttonous one, it would seem, although for all I know maybe all dolphins are. Never having known one personally myself, I couldn’t say for sure. But there’s definitely something about Dan’s behavior that seems a bit — I dunno — over the top?

Maybe we’re just pre-disposed to think of dolphins as nature’s “good guys.” We’re told that they’re damn near as smart as we are — hell, we’re told by Douglas Adams that they’re even smarter. Which, given the recent course of human history, isn’t really all that hard to believe. But whatever romantic notions I may have subconsciously held about a dolphin-run world being better than one with humans in the metaphorical drivers’ seat are pretty much out the window thanks to Stanton. And to Dan.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy this mini. It’s the kind of outrageously loopy fun readers have come to expect from Stanton — the sort that makes us feel just a trifle uneasy, in fact, which is usually a more rewarding kind of “fun” than just standard, ya know, fun. Plus, Dan seems to have a thing for Buffalo wings. So points to him for that.

Printed in what I guess we’ll call, for lack of a better term, “dolphin blue,” the cartooning in this one is solid and subversive — a modern-ish twist on classical “funny animal” illustration that makes some of the unfunny shit stand out (hell, lash out) by default. It’s not ridiculously distinctive stuff, but it doesn’t really need to be — for a “mystery,” this story’s actually pretty simple, and an equally simple art style fits the narrative like a glove. Not that you can get a glove around a flipper, mind you — but you can’t get a flipper around a chicken wing, either.

Which doesn’t prevent Dan from trying, of course. If anything, he’s almost annoyingly persistent — another “quality” about him you’ll love and loathe in equal measure. Which means, I suppose, that dolphin or not (and, again and for the record, he is) Dan’s an awful lot like any of your friends or mine. Their flaws are glaringly obvious, and become even more so when they pathetically attempt to obscure or conceal them, but we can’t help but like ’em even if they make it pretty tough to do so sometimes. They’re far from perfect, but we can count on ’em to deliver as promised — or at least try really goddamn hard to — and we’ll forgive ’em if they come up a little short because, hey, they’re not so bad once you get to know ’em, and they’re pretty good at making us laugh. The same is true of this comic.

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I Think Our Friend Dan Might Be A Dolphin is available for $5.00 directly from Silver Sprocket at https://store.silversprocket.net/products/i-think-our-friend-dan-might-be-a-dolphin-james-the-stanton-gnartoons

And while you’re “out” spending money, please consider supporting my work by subscribing to 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. Here’s a link for that :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Catching A Ride With “The Bus Driver”

We’ve all had ’em — those days when you go in to work and just feel like high-tailing it in the other direction for reasons that are difficult to quantify as they are to ignore.

Work — who the hell came up with this idea? Does anyone, on their deathbed, lament not putting in enough hours on the job? Is selling away time you can’t get back in exchange for money you can’t take with you when you’re gone a fair deal no matter how much (or, is far more common in this day and age, how little) you’re being paid?

We all know the answer to these questions, of course. And yet most of us turn up at 9:00 AM (or whenever), clock in, and get down to business — and more often than not, it’s someone else’s business we’re getting down to. But if you’re in the right position, whether you realize it consciously most days or not, creative re-appropriation of the tools available to you at your job can also provide, should you finally break in that direction, your liberation from it. Which brings us — finally, I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself — to writer Anthony Perillo and artist Pat Aulisio’s new mini (self-published under Aulisio’s Yeah Dude Comics imprint),  The Bus Driver.

The protagonist in this one doesn’t have a blinding “Road To Damascus” moment or anything — he just does what almost every one of us has the urge to do at some point. He says “fuck it” (as seen above) and splits. In the city bus that he drives for a “living.”

I’m actually shocked this hasn’t, to my knowledge, happened in real life yet. The practicalities of the occupation make it an easy enough one to ditch out on. You can probably make it a pretty fair distance before the bus company would even know what the fuck was going on. There’s honestly just as much reason for a driver to go for it as there is for him or her not to. And when you factor in a complex situation on the home front (again, the page shown above provides a good clue), our titular driver finally has reason to stop ignoring his “inner voice” and hit freedom road.

Where it goes from there I’ll leave it for you to discover, suffice to say Perillo’s story is a mix of the expected and the far less so, of big moments and smaller, more intimate ones. It all makes for a solid enough narrative (sorry for this, but) ride, and Aulisio’s art, while somewhat restrained (relatively speaking) here in comparison to his trademark “gonzo” sci-fi fare, matches the subject matter perfectly and puts the emphasis right where it should be : on the grit, the grime, the ugliness of a world where everybody has to effing work.

Unless and until they realize they don’t need or want to anymore. You might guess this whole thing is pre-destined to end in tears — and maybe it is (again, I won’t give it away), but let’s say, purely for the sake or argument, that it does : wouldn’t it still be worth it? Isn’t a short period of autonomy and self-determination in your life better than none at all?

For a comic that extols the virtues of taking this job and shoving it, The Bus Driver puts in overtime by asking some very profound questions.

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You really need to check out this mini, so order it up for five bucks from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcage-bottom-books.myshopify.com/products/the-bus-driver

Also, please consider supporting my work by joining 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. Here’s a link for that :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

“What The Actual” Is Happening With This Comic?

Not so long ago, I was pretty rough on the first issue of cartoonist Jai Granofsky’s self-published “solo anthology” series, What The Actual. I found it unfocused, uninspired, unfunny, and uninteresting. I took no pleasure in raking the book over the coals — I never do, particularly when it comes to “labors of love” — but I think (or at least I hope) that I avoided laying a “give it up and stick with the day job” type of trip on the artist himself. Certainly his solid “classical cartooning” style provides evidence enough that Granofsky has some talent, but my feeling was that his entire project was in need of a good, solid “re-think” from top to bottom.

Enter the just-released What The Actual #2, which isn’t exactly a complete re-tooling, but at least represents a kind of promising, albeit tentative, step in the right direction — and may in fact demonstrate that Granofsky himself was aware of the weaknesses on painful display in his series’ debut installment and was more than willing to take active steps to improve upon them. So, props to him for that. Seriously.

Now for the bad news, I guess — Granofsky is, by his own admission, going for a “grindhouse” vibe with this one, but his breadth of knowledge on the subject seems to extend no further than Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and maybe a handful of “B” horror flicks, his largely-interconnected strips here betraying not much more than a surface-level understanding of the entire exploitation ethos, he end result making for a pleasant enough initial pass-through but nothing that stands up to anything like a considered analysis.

Not that a comic necessarily has to, mind you — again, the main narratives here that see a motorcycle stuntman and a group of teenagers fleeing a shadowy demonic entity are a smooth enough read and the art’s easy on the eyes. But it’s still fundamentally an exercise in style over substance, a necessarily reductive invocation of a largely-moribund aesthetic that doesn’t elicit much beyond a “hey, I guess that was kind of fun” reaction.

Which, I suppose, makes it sound like a don’t really care much for “fun” comics — and I really don’t want to give that impression. We all need “throwaway” entertainment sometimes, and if you’re in the mood for that, you could do a hell of a lot worse than What The Actual #2. But I get the distinct impression that Granofsky wants to make something — if not profound, at least of significance. After all, he ‘s sinking his own hard-earned money into putting this book out into the world, and anyone who does that would probably, I hope, believe they had something worth saying. In fact, something worth people paying to experience. This comic is inching into that territory, but it’s not quite there — yet.

Still, I’ve got a lot more faith now that he’ll get there at some point. He seemed a million miles away from producing worthwhile work with What The Actual #1, but this follow-up has me thinking that maybe his first genuinely solid comic is just around the corner. I’m more than willing to hang out for another issue or two in hopes of seeing him get there.

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What The Actual #2 is available for $6 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/what-the-actual-2

While you’re following links around, please take a moment to check out 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 buck a month. Your support — in addition to being greatly appreciated, of course — also helps keep a steady supply of free content coming both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so when you look at is that way? You’re really getting a hell of a lot for your money. It can be found by pointing your browser in the direction of https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/28/2019 – 08/03/2019

Sometimes, as a writer, you like to throw little challenges at yourself, just to make things more interesting — especially when it comes to long-running columns such as this. My self-appointed challenge this week : to see if I can crank out one of these Round-Ups in 30 minutes or less. Let’s see how that goes —

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang ride off into the sunset with Paper Girls #30, the conclusion to their long-running Spielbergian fan-favorite series from Image, and as far as finales go, this one’s a clinic : we start with a dream sequence, we then return to the “real world” much as our memory-wiped protagonists have, and how much they will or might remember is sorta the theme here. Lots of gorgeous double-page spreads give this extra-length issue a little extra “breathing room” to say a proper good-bye to the girls, and all in all these creators hit all the right notes on the way out the door. Oh, and I defy you to keep both eyes dry as you read it. This is calculated stuff, sure — it’s also pretty goddamn wonderful.

Once you get past Jason T, Miles’ amazingly bizarro cover for Floating World Comics’ All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #2, what awaits within is one of  the most bizarro issues to date of this always-unpredictable project. Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons introduce an utterly inexplicable villain in their script who’s a bit like McDonalds’ Grimace with a nihilistic philosophical bent, there are some truly eyeball-gouging battle scenes, and the “heroes” of this ostensible “universe” seem less heroic than ever. Benjamin Marra and Ken Landgraf kick things off with the first five pages of art, but it’s the main chunk of the book, as illustrated by the great Trevor Von Eeden, that’s the real draw here, and worth the price of admission. “Dynamic insanity” is, I believe, the term I’m straining for here — and now that I’ve found it, I need not say much else about this comic other than “buy it.”

Cullen Bunn and his fellow Sixth Gunn creator Brian Hurtt team up on writing duties for Manor Black #1 from Dark Horse, illustrated by Bunn’s creative partner on Harrow County, the magnificent Tyler Crook, and while the story’s a bit of a confused introduction to this world of magic and legacy, the whole “old-meets-new” dynamic works, and the art’s just straight-up gorgeous. This concept seems like it should have some legs, and even if the story doesn’t improve significantly, Crook is reason enough to hang around month-in and month-out — at least to see how this comic looks, if not where it goes.

Bunn’s got another debut to his credit this week with Aftershock’s Knights Temporal #1, a time-travel-meets-mystic-secret-society thing stunningly delineated by Fran Galan, who gives things a decidedly Eurocomics feel with his lush illustration. Again, the story’s a bit of a head-scratcher, certainly by intention I’d assume (although we all know what happens when you do that), but it’s reasonably intriguing, and the art hooks you quick and reels you into this world. I’m definitely planning on sticking around for more, even if how much more is a bit of an open question.

Okay, so 45 minutes. Not so bad, and just enough time before my day gets rolling to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week 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 the low price of as little as a dollar a month. Your support would be greatly appreciated, needless to say, so if you’d be so kind please give it a look (and hopefully a join) by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Spend Your Day In “Desolation Bay”

I’ve got something of a love/hate relationship with Robert Sergel — most of Eschew missed the mark in my estimation, ditto for September 12th — but when he hits, goddamn does he hit. Bald Knobber is the kind of comic Charles Forsman has always been desperately trying to make, and Joe Bonaparte is quietly, darkly sublime stuff. His latest Kilgore mini, Desolation Bay, looked intriguing to me simply because it seems a step well outside his wheelhouse, being set in 1831 Patagonia, and because the green-yellow color palette marks an abrupt and exciting change from his usual (very) black-and-white artwork. I always appreciate steps into the unknown, even if/when they come up short, just because a comfortable cartoonist is a dull cartoonist, and I give Sergel props — even when his stuff doesn’t “click” with me, it’s never dull.

This ambitious little number is no exception, focused as it is on the male initiation rituals of the now-extinct Selk’nam tribe (specifically one known as Hain), and while Sergel’s approach to the subject is legit deadpan, it’s by no means dispassionate or overly-anthropological. Coming of age is always an inherently ridiculous thing, and this comic’s “well, here you have it” tone suits the entire biological and social reality of “emerging manhood” to the proverbial “T” — yet hidden in plain sight there is an undercurrent of respect for traditions lost and their quasi-mystical meaning that both elevates this work well above what it appears to be at first glance, and causes the story to pleasantly and intriguingly linger in one’s mind well after reading it.

That having been said, Sergel’s ultra-clean line and heavy emphasis on/utilization of negative space may feel somewhat antiseptic to some, and not without good reason — again, matter-of-fact is the order of the day here, and it’s a bit disarming to see a culture so intrinsically different to our own being presented with scant context and little to nothing by way of what we’ll call, for lack of a better term, “character backstory.” Shit happens, sure — but the whys and wherefores compelling it to do so are largely something Sergel leaves his audience to intuit.

Frustrating? Maybe so, but it’s also inherently exciting, as “heavy lifting” on the part of any reader almost always results in a more intimate relationship with a text — or, in this case, an illustrated text. Don’t be miffed with Sergel for refusing to hold your hand, in other words — you’re a grown-ass adult and shouldn’t expect guided tours from points “A” to “B” after you’ve reached a “functional adult” reading level.

To that end, matriarchal/patriarchal themes are presented more than they’re well and truly explored in this comic, and while Sergel’s point of view is easy enough to discern, it’s not like you’re being preached to/at. This is only a five-minute reading experience if that’s what you want it to be, and if you go that pure “surface level” route, you’re going to be missing out on a hell of a lot. Six bucks is still six bucks, after all, and a more thoughtful and considered analysis of this work is literally right there for the taking — my recommendation is to get value for your dollar by being prepared to go in all of the various and sundry directions the author points you toward.

So, did I actively like this book, or merely respect it? The answer to that is “a little bit of both” — and I think that’s the happy medium Sergel’s aiming for here, so if he feels like it, I wouldn’t object if he took a “selfie” posed in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

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This review, as well as 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 comic, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as $1 per month. You think you can find a better deal than that? Of course you don’t, because you can’t. And needless to say, your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so if you’d be so kind as to give it a look and, even more important, a “join,” I’d be very grateful indeed.

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