The Devil Is In The Details — But God Might Be, Too : David Tea’s “Five Perennial Virtues” #12 : “Pearl”

Something tells me that if the late, great Steve Ditko didn’t harbor a sense of utter disdain for mysticism (I know, I know, weird considering he created the character of Dr. Strange) that he’d like David Tea’s comics : intricate bordering on the obsessive, singular in their approach, making little to no allowances for popular taste, and more than a trifle inflicted with/influenced by (depending upon one’s point of view) a kind of esoterically-flavored cultural and even political conservatism that probably doesn’t have much of a place in the MAGA clown car even though it shares at least a few of its goals, Tea strikes me as Ditko’s heir apparent and antithesis in almost equal measure, a “fellow traveler” who set out on a separate path. One that, crucially, doesn’t preclude the direct involvement of the supernatural in everyday life.

And, really, everyday life has always been — and remains — Tea’s focus, but he has a way of making even its most mundane minutiae seem interesting, alien, and altogether new. In the same way that a cat can be utterly enthralled with going after the same piece of string for the 10,000th time (and Tea has actually made a comic about that very subject), the unfolding episodic narrative that is Five Perennial Virtues can follow the same basic formula with entirely different results each issue.

Although, in absolute fairness, “results” may not be what this comic is even after — as cliched as it is to say something is “all about the journey,” in this case it’s nevertheless absolutely true. Issue number twelve of Tea’s irregularly self-published series, subtitled “Pearl,” has just been released and is laden with explication, extrapolation, and explanation — some pages are quite literally a “wall of text” — and yet, as is the case with life itself, we’re no “further along” in many key respects at the end than we were at the start. Hell, it remains an open question how much of this narrative is “real” and how much is a “dream,” but the damned thing is : at some point you stop caring about such trivialities and just accept what’s unfolding on the page for what it is — whatever that may be.

For my own part, I’ve long since stopped trying to define what I term, in wholly unoriginal fashion, the “David Tea comics experience,” and just kind of surrendered to it. This isn’t work that takes a page from any particular playbook or stylistic tradition, but likewise it’s too well-versed in the tropes and trappings of sequential storytelling for me to feel comfortable labeling it as “outsider art.” Tea is clearly schooled in how comics have been made — in how, the narrow-minded would argue, they “should” be made — but either through conscious disregard of said strictures or distinct lack of interest in maintaining/perpetuating them, his work has achieved, and continues to build upon, a loose visual and narrative language entirely its own.

There is no mistaking a comic by this dude for a comic by anyone else.

It is, therefore, wholly accurate to say that the nuts and bolts of what’s happening in Five Perennial Virtues #12 can be summed up as : “disheveled (possibly homeless?) Dave meets an attractive and interesting young lady, behaves oddly, and weird things happen — plus fourth-wall-busting philosophical asides,” but the thing about truth and accuracy that makes it such a pain in the ass is that it’s far too confining to apply to art. And so, as with the set-up of one of Tea’s plots, I look at the entirety of these comics as a springboard to something else, some other way of observing life on the one hand but also experiencing it on the other. I don’t know if that’s the intention, but then I don’t know that Tea can be accused of even having something as pedestrian as an “intention” in the first place. I recall, for instance, asking him a few years back when I interviewed him what his titular five perennial virtues were, and he told me that he was still figuring that out — but that he was pretty sure that, yes, there were five of them.

Take a moment and let that sink in : with nearly two decades of cartooning under his belt — a point at which most of his “peers” think they’ve got more or less everything figured out — David Tea is still feeling his way forward, learning on the job, deciding both what the hell he wants to do with his art and how he wants to do it. And that, right there, is what makes his comics not only interesting, but vital. Time will tell if the repeating symbolism and Biblical asides of “Pearl” are things he returns to or discards in future issues — if this is a taste of things to come or a one-off aside — but we needn’t worry either way : Tea will do what feels right on the page at the time, just as he’s done here.

Just as he always has. After all, I don’t think it’s ever been about creating the so-called “perfect” comic with this guy : it’s about creating a comic that is perfectly itself. His always are.


Five Perennial Virtues #12 : “Pearl” is available for $7.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

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

Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Single Issues

Is it that time of year again? Why yes, indeed, it is that time of year again — specifically, the end of the year, and with it my end-of-year “Top 10” lists. As usual, things are divvied up into six categories : Top 10 Single Issues (stand-alone comics or comics that are part of an ongoing series that saw only one issue published this year), Top 10 Ongoing Series (serialized comics that saw two or more issues published in the past year), Top 10 Special Mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books on comics history, art books or sketchbooks, or books that utilize words and pictures but don’t adhere to traditional rules of sequential storytelling), Top 10 Vintage Collections (books that reprint work originally published prior to the year 2000), Top 10 Contemporary Collections (books that reprint work originally published, physically or digitally, after the year 2000 and going right up to the present day), and Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (all-new books specifically constructed as graphic novels and were never serialized in installments). And with those ground rules out of the way, we’ll begin where we always do, with my choices for the year’s Top 10 single-issue or stand-alone comics :

10. Goiter #5 By Josh Pettinger (Tinto Press) – After four issues, Pettinger exits the self-publishing ranks and the extra time devoted purely to craft pays off with one of his most surreal and absorbing character studies yet, as an underemployed teen become an unemployed teen and sees his life spiral out of control after being roped into an extra-legal murder investigation. The spirit of Clowes and Ware lives on in this series, but Pettinger’s authorial concerns and cartooning are now well and truly entirely his own.

9. The Garden By Lane Yates And Garrett Young (Self-Published) – A mysterious and ethereal love/horror story that reveals new depths with each reading, this is the most alluring narrative puzzlebox in quite some time. For all the wonderful qualities Yates’ story possesses though, it may just be Young’s art that steals the show/seals the deal/pick your cliche, as it transports readers to a truly alien world populated with achingly human characters rendered in exquisitely moody detail.

8. Flop Sweat #1 By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – The first installment in what promises to be a gripping childhood memoir from Ward, exploring the roots of alienation and “otherness” with sensitivity, honesty, and even a bit of humor. Ward is well and truly coming into his own as memoirist, and you’d be well-advised to get in on the ground floor with this book before everybody’s all over it. That way you can say you’re a cool and astute reader, ya know?

7. Five Perennial Virtues #11 – Broken Pieces By David Tea (Self-Published) – Perhaps the greatest iconoclast in all of comics produces the strongest issue of his long-running series to date — as well as the most accessible. Part history lecture, part absurdist fantasy, and all Dave Tea, this feels very much like “outsider art” until you realize the author actually understands the comics form implicitly — he just refuses to play by many of its established rules.

6. Mini Kus! #91 – Sufficient Lucidity By Tommi Parrish (Kus!) – The modern master of navigating the complexities of interpersonal relationships via the comics medium, here Parrish takes us on a journey by dropping us off very nearly at the end of it. Lavishly illustrated and economically scripted, this is pure emotion on the page, and will haunt your dreams long after reading it.

5. Rotten By M.S. Harkness (Self-Published) – Another painfully embarrassing, to say nothing of painfully funny, slice-of-life comic from Harkness, this one hitting home with extra wallop due to its chronological setting : right around the 2016 election. Still, it’s Harkness’ consistently-fearless portrayal of herself that stands out as the book’s most memorable, if occasionally disconcerting, feature. If you haven’t tried one of her long-form graphic novels yet, this is the perfect smaller “sample size” to dip your toes in, and trust me when I say you’ll immediately want more.

4. Tad Martin #8 – Tears Of The Leather-Bound Saints By Casanova Frankenstein (Fantagraphics Underground) -Encompassing everything from dystopian industrial hellscapes to childhood memoir and all points in between, Frankenstein’s latest outing featuring his constantly-evolving authorial stand-in takes the form of a deliberately disjointed “tone poem,” a one-man anthology focused on various stages of personal apocalypse. Shot through with grotesque “gallows humor” and caustically accurate social commentary, this is another tour-de-force from arguably our most uncompromising contemporary cartoonist.

3. Malarkey #5 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Garcia closes out her masterful autobio series on a very high note amidst relentlessly dark times as she explores mortality from all sides, offering readers stories about life’s end in equal proportion to those centered around the little things that make life worth living. The pandemic looms large here but is, uncannily, never specifically referenced. Don’t ask me how she managed that — I’m just grateful that she did. No other comic captures the essence of life in 2020 like this one.

2. Theater Of Cruelty By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – A sprawling yet agonizingly insular look at the vagaries of life that haunt its author and frankly haunt us all, this is “solo anthology” comics at their finest, weaving a dense tapestry of darkness from threads of fable, poetry, ancestral memory, and autobio. As surely beyond classification as it is beyond good and evil, Oshima’s magnum opus leaves you reeling in silence.

1. Constantly By G.G. (Koyama Press) – A bit of a cheat as this was packaged as a slim book, but slim is the key word — as in, 48 pages. That puts it firmly in the “single issue” camp by my admittedly subjective standards, but it nevertheless leaves an indelible mark with its austere art and minimalist language combining to explore both the roots and manifestations of doubt and anxiety, portraying a world where all tasks are monumental and likely pointless. Haunted within and haunting without, this is comics poetry at its apex as a medium and a bona fide masterpiece for the ages.

I’ll let you all absorb this list for a few days before returning with my picks for the the Top 10 Ongoing Series of the year!


Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “George” leather strap in brown from their “Performance” series.

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

The “Broken Pieces” Of David Tea’s Consciousness Coalesce in “Five Perennial Virtues” #11

After spending the last couple of years mainly re-visiting old material (as opposed to merely re-printing it, given that he’s made changes ranging from the significant to the less so to pretty much all his earlier comics in their new iterations), it’s nice to see that Minneapolis cartoonist David Tea is back to producing original stuff with Five Perennial Virtues #11, the latest issue of his intermittent self-published series that’s been going for, what? Nearly two decades now?

My, how time flies — even if, in Dave’s ‘zines, it seems to either crawl or loop back in on itself. Or both. In any case, the “Broken Pieces” subtitle for this issue is entirely apropos, and while tonally and structurally it’s of a piece (or, if you prefer, of a broken piece) with previous installments, it’s also quite different and fairly unique unto itself. Spoiler alert, then : I think you’re going to want this comic. And this is the part where I tell you why.

For one thing, Dave’s illustration is getting more confident and recognizably his — yes, it retains that “outsider” look and appeal, and there’s still some of those “clip art” cut-outs and patterns that I’ve grown bizarrely fond of, but he’s sharpened and worked out some crucial elements of his technique without resorting to anything so dull as actually refining them. He draws some things (I won’t say what, that would be telling) in this mini that I frankly didn’t think he had the ability to, and since I’d rather be surprised than right, this is a welcome development indeed, and probably goes some way toward explaining the longer-than-usual gap between his last issue and this one. Rest assured that it was time well-spent, and that you’re sure to see maybe not a leap, but at least a solid step forward in the look of his work.

Fortunately, though, that doesn’t mean he’s shedding his overall idiosyncratic approach to making comics. As with all of Dave’s stories, you could make a solid argument that nothing really happens per se in this one, but that’s never the point here  — his stream-of-consciousness “plotting” is a thing of joy to behold even if it still essentially boils down to : Dave walks around lost in thought, then notices something and gets lost in another thought, then some nominal “event” occurs that ties into either the first or second thought he was lost in, and then shit gets downright surreal. Oh, and there’s usually room for one or two long-form digressions on some historical subject or other in there somewhere. I make that all sound more standardized than it probably is, but what of it? On paper it can also be said that Gerald Jablonski’s comics all essentially play out the same way, yet no one would have the temerity to claim they know what the hell to expect from any of them. Ditto for Tea’s stuff.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dave’s stories, though — and never has this been more evident than it is here — is that for what amounts to a series of non-sequiturs strung together with the most threadbare of connective tissue, there’s a remarkable fluidity to them. Tea may only traverse the space of a handful of city blocks in this particular installment, but on a purely conceptual level he goes everywhere, and the obviously intuitive approach he takes to his art (for the life of me, I still can’t explain his choices in terms of inserting strips of typeface text into certain panels — nor why he even puts them in there in the first place), coupled with the more circular than linear nature of his plot “progression,” results in an experience that feels less like “reading” and more like being exposed to unvarnished transmissions from another person’s id. Comics don’t come much more auteur-ish than this, friends.

The irony, though, is that for a ‘zine that seems so free-flowing, I know for a fact that Dave put a lot of precise planning into this one — I think he passed two or three “preliminary versions” or “rough cuts” on to me before finally settling on this final iteration. Near as I can tell, the majority of the changes he made along the way were minor, but that just goes to show the sheer amount of thinking and attention to detail he brings to his art. If you take a look at the cover image for one of his prior efforts pictured above, Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters, you can see the difference from “then” to “now” clear as day, yet you’ll also harbor no doubt that not only are they clearly the work of the same person, they just plain couldn’t have come from anyone else. And that’s David Tea’s comics in a nutshell — always different, sure, but always unmistakably his. If he keeps on doing this for 20 more years, I won’t complain in the least.


Five Perennial Virtues #11 is available for $6.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

Review wrist check – I was wearing my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68” in burnt orange while writing this one, and if it seems like this one’s been turning up a lot lately, that’s because it has. Like a bear, this watch tends to hibernate in the winter, and then gets real active in the summer.

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

We’re inching closer to being done with our monstrous year-end wrap, and with this, our next-to-last list, we’ll be taking a look at my top ten “special mentions” — that is, projects that have to do with comics, or are by cartoonists, but aren’t precisely comics per se in and of themselves. The term I settled on some time back was “comics-adjacent” works, and until something better comes to mind, I’m sticking with it. And so —

10. Folrath #3 By Zak Sally (La Mano 21) – The third and final “volume” of Sally’s riso-printed prose memoir of his life on the social, economic, and cultural margins in the early 1990s ably demonstrates that he’s every bit as gifted a writer as he is a cartoonist. I hated to see this end, but loved every page of it.

9. Bubbles #4 Edited By Brian Baynes (Self-Published) – Baynes came out of nowhere this year and started cranking out the best solo old-school ‘zine in recent memory, but with number four he brought in a small handful of contributors who all turned in exemplary work, and his interview subjects included one of my favorite of the “new crop” of indie cartoonists, Josh Pettinger, and long-time favorite Archer Prewitt, so this gets the nod as the best issue to date. Long may this project continue.

8. 2016-1960 By Jeff Zenick (Self-Published) – The ever-idiosyncratic Zenick’s latest illustration ‘zine presents a fascinating visual case study of changing social trends and customs via hand-rendered interpretations of high school and college yearbook portrait photos. Compelling and engrossing and maybe even a little bit wistful at the margins, this tells a strong story without resorting to so much as a single line of dialogue.

7. But Is It — Comic Aht? #2 Edited By Austin English And August Lipp (Domino Books) English and Lipp follow up a terrific debut issue issue with an even better sophomore effort, covering everything from EC to Anna Haifisch to weird 1990s kids’ comics to David Tea. Full disclosure : I’ve got a piece in this ‘zine, but it would have earned this spot easily regardless.

6. Crows By Jenny Zervakis (Self-Published) – A gorgeous but harrowing mix of prose and illustration that limns the collapse of a twenty-year marriage and the complete re-think of one’s life that goes along with it. As always, Zervakis finds a reason to go on via her love for nature — and nobody draws it better than she does.

5. Steve Gerber : Conversations Edited By Jason Sacks, Eric Hoffman, And Dominick Grace (University Press Of Mississippi) – The latest book in the long-running “Conversations With Comic Artists” series is also one of the best, presenting a career-spanning retrospective series of interviews with one of the most gifted writers and “far-out” thinkers in the history of the medium. If we see a “Gerber revival” of sorts in the future — and we damn well should — we can all point back to this as its starting point.

4. Bill Warren : Empire Of Monsters By Bill Schelly (Fantagraphics) – What turned out, sadly, to be the final project authored by noted comics and fandom historian Schelly was also one of his best, chronicling the life and times of the visionary publisher who brought the world everything from Famous Monsters to Blazing Combat. You hear the term “impossible to put down” a lot — this book really is just that.

3. Forlorn Toreador By E.A. Bethea (Self-Published) – The latest (and likely greatest, but hey — they’re all good) ‘zine from the endlessly creative Bethea is a poetic exploration of times, places, and people gone that utilizes an intuitively- assembled mixture of comics, prose, and portrait illustration to paint a picture of the world as it both was and is. You’ll miss reading it before it’s even over.

2. Brain Bats Of Venus : The Life And Comics Of Basil Wolverton Volume Two, 1942-1952 By Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics) – The second entry in Sadowski’s exhaustive biography of one of comics’ most legendary iconoclasts is painstakingly researched, engagingly written, and loaded with archival documents and well over a dozen fully-restored Wolverton stories that have never looked better. Somebody’s looking down on this “labor of love” project and smiling.

1. Loop Of The Sun By Daria Tessler (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – An ancient Egyptian myth of creation is brought to kaleidoscopic, phantasmagoric life in Tessler’s mixed-media masterpiece, a culmination of everything this visionary artist has been building up to in recent years. The most visually ambitious work to ever come out of a riso printer — and the most gorgeous book you’ll purchase this year.

Next up, we’ll wrap up our year-end review with a look at my choices for the top ten original graphic novels of 2019, but until then please consider supporting my ongoing 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. I make sure you get great value for your money, have no fear on that score, so do give it a look by directing your kind attention to


Everything Old Is New Again : David Tea’s “Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters” (A.K.A. “Five Perennial Virtues” #6)

In 2007, to the notice of probably no one apart from a few of his local Minneapolis-area friends, “outsider” cartoonist David Tea released issue number six of his sporadically self-published Five Perennial Virtues digest-sized series. In 2017, for reasons known only to himself, he’s re-releasing it, plus a bunch of old sketches, under the title of Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters. This is something we should all be very happy about.

The reasons why we ought to be so are hard to quantify, of course, but then so is Tea’s work — eschewing basically every established rule of cartooning more, it seems, out of necessity than any sort of deliberate design, one could fairly argue that nothing happens in this comic, but then it really doesn’t need to in order for it to be interesting, simply because its aesthetic, its construction, its very reason for being is almost impenetrable; it is what it is and it harbors no pretenses toward being anything else. It’s a pure transmission of artistic intent on the part of the person who made it, and he made it because he could, full stop.

I’m not tremendously enamored of detailed plot synopses in my reviews, even for comics that are easily-discernible straight lines from A to B, but details are almost inconsequential when it comes to Tea: if you absolutely must know, the “story” here revolves around our protagonist/author meeting up with two “friends”— one of them being an Octopus, the other a cactus —  at a coffee shop, where he proceeds to regale them with a brief historical harangue about the Spartans, declare their table to be the “Bronze” one of the title, and then lead them into adventures we never see and probably don’t matter. So there’s your recap, but it’s not like much of what makes this book so genuinely intriguing stems from the story itself — all of that is to be found in how the story is presented.

Book-ended with new intro and outro pages “delivered” by the trademark FPV symbol, and interrupted at seemingly utterly random points with several pages of slap-dashed sketchbook work, there is an intuitive rhythm to these proceedings that makes no particular logical sense but nonetheless feels right, perhaps in spite of itself — in a world where rules don’t apply, newly-imposed ones will suffice in their place, but it’s not like Tea even bothers coming up with any; his “clip-art” style backgrounds, his entirely-expository dialogue, his curious repeated use of dice as a motif, it’s all just there. And yet, taken as a whole, you can’t envision this work as being anything other than what it is, reasons why be damned.

I can’t claim any special insight into Tea’s creative process, nor do I feel particularly compelled to divine one based on the evidence he may or may not provide in his finished product — I accept this comic, and all of his others, on their own terms, and stand in a kind of quiet awe at the way in which he frankly allows no other choice; the nature of his creativity is such that it arrives to audiences entirely unfiltered and unmediated, necessarily raw, and yet sophisticated in a way that mere technical prowess can never begin to approximate. You hear the word auteur a lot — here is its working definition writ large.

But please, whatever you do, I implore you not to take my word for it (how weird is it for a critic to say that?) — experience this comic for yourself, as unlike most of Tea’s work it’s available outside the Twin Cities (as is the book pictured above, his expanded reprint version of Five Perennial Virtues #2), and should really be filtered through your own individual lens and processed and interpreted by means of your unique sensibilities. You may love this stuff as I do, you may hate it, but either way it’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything else like it.


Bronze Table Of The Blade Masters sells for $6 from — where else? — Domino Books. Order it directly at

And while we’re tossing out links, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there not only enables me to keep it going, it also ensures a steady stream of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to check it out and consider joining up by pointing your trusty browser to



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/12/2018 – 08/18/2018, More From David Tea

This week’s Round-Up is going up early because this weekend, which is when I usually writing these things, is all about Autoptic 2018, the latest iteration of the Twin Cities’ premier bi-annual small press comics/indie publications show, and so I’m going to be too damn busy buying and reading a whole bunch of new comics to have any time to write about them. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of good stuff to talk about already this week thanks to Minneapolis’ own David Tea, who was very appreciative of my review of his Five Perennial Virtues #2 — so appreciative, in fact, that he hooked me up with some more of his comics, and I supplemented his generous “donation to the cause” by reading a couple others that he has available via Amazon. Let’s have a look :

Magic Horses is a bumper-sized reprint volume of issues five and seven of Five Perennial Virtues, and while the hows, whys, and wherefores of Tea’s re-packaging “strategy” are as utterly indecipherable and impenetrable as much of his work , that’s quite alright with me — in fact, I hope that both he and you realize that I mean that as a compliment. The contents of issue five revolve around Dave’s fictitious gig as a “professional gardener,” his struggles to repair a trellis (complete with a history of, and rumination upon the subject of, trellises in general), his battles with his own lethargy/laziness (he becomes very weak out of nowhere working on a trellis and is magically healed by an inter-dimensional “cosmic portal” of some sort), and his walks around town to buy coffee. Weird interruptions in the story for blocks of hand-written text, “clip art”-style patterns, double-page spreads of immaculately manicured lawns and, you guessed it, illustrations of trellises give the proceedings an otherworldly vibe that you’re either going to appreciate or not (I do, but I also realize that Tea’s are the very definition of “your mileage may vary” comics), and those same “ground rules” also apply to issue seven, which sees Dave pondering the “red eye” on the planet Jupiter and the shape of clouds before hitching a ride on a magical winged horse to a Japanese-style cloud palace, only to find an 1898-issued penny on his possibly-imaginary journey before returning to Earth. The art style varies from sketchy to intricate, with some bizarre photos of the cartoonist himself (one with his head super-imposed on the body of an ant) thrown in for good measure. Weird, inexplicable, deeply personal stuff that seems to be produced for the author’s own personal edification and little else. In other words, pretty much a perfect comic.

Old Stones, Old Shrubs is another thick reprint collection, this one showcasing Five Perennial Virtues numbers four and three (yes, in that order), and four may just be the most utterly bizarre Tea story of ’em all, as his reverie on stepping stones segues into one about skipping stones segues into an encounter with a friend who has a (non-sexual) fantasy encounter with a couple of teenage girls segues into a Zen Buddhist monk who takes Dave and his buddy on a cosmic journey that apparently was too tough to draw, because the last five or six pages are hand-scrawled text. The usual jarring, interrupted pacing, double-page lawn spreads, etc. are all present and accounted for — as is also the case with issue three, but this time the visual sidebars make a bit more sense given that the “plot” revolves, once again, around Dave’s job as a gardener, and he spends most of his time trimming and shaping shrubs located on the grounds of an expensive apartment complex. In addition to shrubs, the author also has “deep thoughts” on cowboy hats, “hole cards,” the weather, the so-called “butterfly effect,” those “helicopters” that fall off maple trees, and even Paul Gulacy. Dave has always liked Gulacy’s art, and guess what? So have I. Some of the pages in this installment are the most detailed and quasi-“professional” I’ve seen Tea do, others look like they were composed by means of some cheap “dot-matrix” computer program, and a couple even feature nothing more than stick figures. Fucking brilliant stuff that “flows” only with respect to itself. Which is, of course, a logical impossibility — but it’s true nevertheless.

Nature Trail dates all the way back to 2001 and features Tea’s most overt attempt at a traditional narrative, focusing on a walk along a — you guessed it — nature trail undertaken by protagonists Luther (an obvious stand-in for the cartoonist) and Olive, who are something more than friends, less than lovers, you know the drill. Rather than going the obvious route of riding the potentially-raw nerve of their ill-defined relationship and exploring the inner lives of either character in any detail, though, Dave has both of them spend most of their time engaged in the sort of out-of-left-field historical and philosophical ruminations that would go on to become a defining trait of his later work. The glaciers, the “Gaia Theory,” environmentalism, the Ice Ages — I guess they’d rather talk about all this than how they feel about each other, and you know what? That’s cool with me. A not-quite-love story for the socially awkward illustrated in a style best described as “sketchy” and “ill-defined” even by Tea standards, this is thoroughly engaging stuff almost entirely in spite of itself.

Coffee Shop Table Of The Stars is a 2017-issued sequel to Nature Trail that sees Luther and Olive reunited by sheer chance for the first time in many years, and fall right back into their old conversational habit, only this time out politics is the major topic of discourse, with Dave — sorry, Luther — coming off as being a lot more conservative that I would have guessed. Not to worry, though, shit gets reasonably theoretical after awhile, and once again, both characters reveal more about themselves when they talk about anything but themselves. Tea returns to his “neo-primitive” roots with the art for this one, and hews closer to the rules of standard narrative, as well. Not as “trippy” as any of his Five Perennial Virtues material (and, by the way, I still don’t know what the virtues are — and at this point, I think it would kill the mystery somewhat if I were to find out), but more accessible by a wide margin. I enjoyed it quite a bit in its proper context as companion piece to an earlier work, but I’m not sure how well it’d function as a “stand-alone” work. It’s nice to see Tea display a stronger grasp on subtleties — of dialogue, atmosphere, setting, etc. — than I would have probably guessed, though, and that alone makes this one worth your investment of time and money.

And so concludes another Round-Up column. Next time, as you’ve doubtless already surmised, I expect to have some books picked up at Autoptic to opine on, but until then, if you want to find some or all of these David Tea comics, they’re not nearly as difficult to get ahold of as you might think, at least not if you have a Kindle. Dave doesn’t have an Amazon “author page,” but if you follow this link you’ll find all of these books, plus one or two others :


Everyday Mysticism : David Tea’s “Five Perennial Virutes” #2

Several years ago, Minneapolis-based cartoonist David Tea worked at the comic shop nearest my home, where I am something of a “regular,” and to the best of my knowledge that was the only place that he sold his beyond-lo-fi comics, neatly stacked at the counter, each of them looking like they were run off a printer at Kinko’s, then cut and stapled by hand — which I’m fairly sure is exactly how they were made. Then, one day, he wasn’t working there anymore, and how one was supposed to obtain these utterly baffling little ‘zines became as mysterious a proposition as their contents, given that the only “distribution network” Tea seemed to employ was hustling them in person.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw that an apparently-randomly-selected work from Tea’s oeuvre, the 2005-produced Five Perennial Virtues #2, had been reprinted in the here and now of 2018, and made available for purchase through Austin English’s Domino Books website. Furthermore, this is no “ordinary” re-issue — our guy Dave has padded things out by including another older story, “Raking Leaves” (originally released as a stand-alone mini), as well as some new material. I subsequently discovered that Mr. Tea (sorry, I couldn’t resist) also has a smattering of more recent comics for sale on Amazon as Kindle downloads (or whatever the term is), but that’s another matter for another time. Suffice to say, Dave is branching out, or at least trying to, and it’s long overdue, because people outside the Twin Cities deserve access to this guy’s absolutely singular creative output, as well.

As regards Five Perennial Virtues #2 in particular, what the hell — it’s as good an introduction to “The World According To Tea” as anything, but be warned : these comics don’t just eschew the principles of what makes for “good” cartooning, they very much appear to the the product of someone who either doesn’t know what those principle are, or simply doesn’t give a flying fuck about them. In other words, this is awesome work, in the truest, dictionary-definition sense of the term. All I can do is try my best to prepare you for it.

Dave begins his day by walking the streets of Dinkytown, the neighborhood centered around the University of Minnesota campus (which is now nothing like it’s pictured here and has been homogenized into a disgusting edifice of hyper-capitalism, all chain businesses and overpriced high-rise rental housing), looking around intently for lost/discarded pennies as he makes his way to his favorite coffee shop to meet a “friend.” Along the way, he gives us a lecture/harangue on the history and metallic composition of pennies, finds a five dollar bill (considerably more than he was bargaining for), goes off on a tangent about people growing lawns on their roofs, and warns us about his pal’s sour temperament before we meet — uhhmmm — “him.”

I put that last word in quotation marks because his coffee shop “date” is, in fact, a plant — one with whom he communicates by means of “mental telepathy.” Their “conversation” is short, though, because Dave has to go help his elderly neighbor — lay out a lawn on her roof. This shit is positively getting circular at this point. His cousin helps him out because he’s got a truck and can haul the turf over there from the gardening store, and after the job is complete, neighbor lady pays them in root beer. If this all sounds inexplicable enough (which it is), rest assured that it actually plays out in even weirder fashion, since Tea has a habit of “pausing” in the midst of his threadbare “narrative” to regale us with double-page spreads that seem to have only the most tangential (if any) relation to the proceedings, and often appear to have backgrounds cobbled together from old-school “clip art” catalogues, all diagonal lines/bars and simple diagrammatic designs. The reasons for this are known only to the cartoonist himself — but the same is probably true of everything else on offer here, so it really does all seem of a piece, even if it doesn’t exactly flow.

This conceit reaches its dizzying apotheosis in “Raking Leaves,” wherein Tea heads out to his backyard to perform the titular task, only to have the “story” just plain stop and be replaced by painstakingly-rendered illustrations of various leaves superimposed over one of those “clip art” patterns I was just droning on about. This really only works in this “bumper volume” presentation because the first two strips (the one detailed previously as well as a brand new one, which features a visibly older and more haggard Tea conversing at a bar with the unusual symbol that you can see in the upper-left portion of the cover shown at the top of this review) pretty well prepare you for just about anything, but folks who bought the story in its original “single-issue” iteration probably still wonder both what they forked over their cash for and, crucially, why.

But you know what? Tea doesn’t owe them — or you, or me — a damn thing. This is a guy who seems to be making comics maybe not so much for an audience of one, but for an audience of whoever. He commits this stuff to paper (and draws it pretty well, it must be said) for the most un-pretentious, dare I say noble, reason of all : simply because it’s in his head and he wants to get it out there. If somebody else is interested enough to check it out, fair enough, but if not, that doesn’t seem to bother him, either. His part in the process is done with its creation, and what anybody makes of it is on them.

For my part, I found a lot of unassuming, dare I say it, magic hiding in plain sight in Five Perennial Virtues #2, and Tea’s deadpan-but-askew look at the smallest aspects of daily life has gone some way toward convincing me that, despite what most probably say and believe, there is still a potentially- limitless amount of wonder to be mined from even the most mundane aspects of existence. If you think that you’re ready and willing to experience reality through the eyes of somebody who isn’t jaded by ideas of what comics should or shouldn’t do or be, who simply does things the way he wants to do them because it never occurred to him to do them any other way, then I highly recommend you get a five dollar bill out of your wallet (or, better yet, find one laying around on the sidewalk) and send it to