Creativity While “Isolated”

When we look on things a few years from now (assuming we make it that far), there’s a damn good chance that 2020 will be seen as a turning point for small press, self-published, and otherwise independent comics. Not only did we have the “heavy hitters” like Simon Hanselmann’s Crisis Zone and Alex Graham’s Dog Biscuits, we had diary comics galore from any number of cartoonists, as well as a smattering of “lockdown”-themed anthologies — artists, like the rest of us, were looking for anything to keep them sane while they were (by and large) stuck indoors, and new (predominantly digital) distribution methods were utilized, both by choice and necessity, to get their work out there. In many ways, sure, it seems like only yesterday, but in others it seems like a lifetime ago, so completely has the landscape shifted. And the changes to production and distribution that the pandemic engendered have proven to be every bit as resilient as has COVID-19 itself, really — I mean, how many comics are you reading on Instagram these days? I bet it’s more than you were in 2019.

I was somewhat surprised, then, to receive in the mail recently a handsomely-produced little anthology called Isolated, edited and published by Tana Oshima and featuring work produced primarily (with some exceptions) during the “height” of the lockdowns, that is available only in printed form. This is not a complaint, mind you — I made mention of Instagram comics a moment ago, but the truth is I don’t even have an Instagram account myself and prefer to keep things as “old school” as is humanly possible. I’m well aware, however, of what’s happening in the digital comics realm in a general sense, and so the idea of a a collection of pandemic-themed strips that bucks the trends and stays with the tried-and-true is inherently appealing to a stick in the mud such as myself — and even more importantly, so are the comics that Oshima is presenting here.

Of course, how could they not be given the veritable “murder’s row” of international talent she’s managed to put together? Roll call, in order of appearance : Celine Hudreaux on covers, with interior stories by Pedro Pablo Bacallao, E.A. Bethea, Angela Fanche, Ana Galvan, Jessica Garcia, November Garcia, Ness Ilene Garza, Marie Gilot, Kim Lam, Drew Lerman, Lui Mort, Roman Muradov, Hue Nguyen, Weng Pixin, Areeba Siddique, and Lane Yates. Veteran readers of my blathering will no doubt recognize many a cartoonist I’ve sung the praises of included in this list of luminaries, but there are a handful of names that I admit were new to me here as well, and lo and behold, they contribute some of the strongest entries in the book, so that admittedly shop-worn “something old, something new” axiom with regards to putting together a successful anthology? It absolutely rings true in this case.

Everyone is given four pages to work with (apart from Galvan, who only uses two), and as one would expect, pretty much all these strips are autobiographical in nature, but even the ones that aren’t in form are in spirit, given the same thing was resting heavy on everybody’s shoulders all over the world at the time — which rather brings me to my main point here : expect a uniquely unpleasant and harrowing reading experience with this as you look back on a time that absolutely no one is nostalgic for. These are all cartoonists operating at the full height of their considerable powers, so that semi-apocalyptic sense of dread we all felt in 2020? You’re gonna feel it all over again. It hangs over all in Sword of Damocles fashion, even in the strips with a nominally “lighter” tone. So if you’re understandably not yet ready to go down that road, while I’d still strongly urge you to get this book — after all, who knows how many copies are even out there — I’d likewise advise that you put it aside until you really feel up to it. Please. For your own sake.

Speaking for myself (because that’s the only person I’m remotely qualified to speak for in the first place), the predominant sensation this collection evoked in me was the strange dichotomy of those times — we were all going through the same thing, but since we were separated, we all experienced and processed it in highly personal ways. It didn’t help, I suppose, that politics did its level best to wrest control of the situation from science — and I’ll always find it as tragic as it was predictable that the same assholes who lectured us about “coming together” in the wake of 9/11 so they could pursue bloodthirsty and profit-driven wars of conquest abroad were the ones telling us to piss in the face of unity during the lockdowns — but by and large the very nature of isolation itself gave rise to myriad interpretations of both what the lockdowns meant and how best to navigate them. This book, by dint of the wide range of distinctive voices it presents, captures the essence of what it means to individually experience a collective nightmare.

Also worth noting : thanks to the efforts of Oshima and her predecessor on the project Andrew Losowsky, grant funding was secured so that all of the contributors were paid for their efforts — and we all remember how vital that was at the time. You can feel good about buying this comic, then, even if it’s not a “feel-good” collection per se — it is, however, a vital and necessary one, as well as a testament to art’s ability to help us get through the roughest of rough times.


Isolated is available for $12.00 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

Back In The Saddle, Part Three : Ryan Alves, Chaia Startz, Drew Lerman, And More

I dunno if I’ve got miles to go before I sleep (let’s fucking hope not), but I’ve got miles to go before I’m caught up, so let’s keep on keeping on with the single steps that make up the journey of a thousand — you know what? Enough with the cliches already.

Spiny Orb Weaver #2, Edited By Neil Brideau – Starting things off with a shameless plug for my Patreon, I’ve been talking a lot recently about the new trend in comics toward more locally-focused anthologies over on that site, and Brideau/Radiator are taking things a step further by funding this Miami-centric ‘zine with a South Florid arts grant. The format of each issue is tight and disciplined, to be sure, but there’s room within it to tell just about any story a person could want to : the lead feature is done by a South Florida-based artist, followed by an interview with them, then there’s a secondary strip by someone who used to call the area home about their time there, and then we get a text piece on the comic arts in South Florida wraps things up. This time out, the “headliner” is Drew Lerman, who’s never made anything less than a nearly-perfect comic, and that trend continues here with a sublime strip set in his Snake Creek “universe,” so this is a “must-buy” item already. The back-up is by Chris Lopez, a name new to me who contributes an evocative bit of reminiscence, and the text piece comes courtesy of my friend and SOLRAD cohort Rob Clough, so — yeah. Plenty for your money here, and projects worthy of your support don’t come a whole lot worthier than this one.

All this can be yours for ten bucks by going over to

The Adventures Of Nib And Borba By Chaia Startz – Making a strong case for the year’s best mini, we have this compact legitimately auteur vision from Startz, perhaps best known as part of the Bay Area’s Dead Crow de facto collective (sorry, don’t know what else to call it), who packs more sheer cartooning energy onto the page than a reasonable person would ever assume possible. And speaking of assumptions, I think our title characters are cats dressed as hearts, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter : they’re an outlet for Startz to make hilariously well-considered points about our media-saturated culture that never miss the mark and, just as crucially, never come off as heavy-handed or overly obvious. If you wear reading glasses like I do, you’ll need to break ’em out for this comic as the panels are incredibly small, but every last one of them is just plain incredible, as well. This reads and feels like the future of comics as you hold it in your hands, and if we’re lucky enough, who knows? Maybe it will be.

On the downside, it appears to be sold out everywhere, but if you want to start the process of hunting one down — and trust me, you do — you could do worse than asking around at

Bubblegum Maelstrom #2 By Ryan Alves – If the first issue of Alves’ solo anthology brught the heat, the second brings pure fire, as this represents what personal, idiosyncratic works of art are all about : wordless barring the continuing Bat-parody/reluctant tribute “Moustache,” this is a (damn I hate this word, but) cornucopia of styles and methods in service of stories loosely linked by themes of metamorphosis, inconsistency, and “change being the only constant.” But it’s not just physical change Alves is playing with here, nosiree — by the end of his strips one usually finds their perception of everything that’s happened going back to the beginning has changed, as well, each story therefore being an internalized, self-referential interrogation of form, function, and the very concept of finality. “Nothing ends, Adrian — nothing ever ends.”

In theory I’d recommend you get this from Alves’ own Awe Comics, but for reasons I’ll get to in a moment I’m going to direct you to the Strangers website to score it :

Bubblegum Maelstrom #3 By Ryan Alves – Okay, I stand corrected : nothing ends except when it does, and with the oversized, squarebound, third issue of his series, Alves is calling it a day. There’s something to be said for going out on top, though, and as our three continuing narratives wrap up alongside a smatterinig of stand-alone strips, you get that entirely pleasant feeling of an artist having done everything they want to do with a particular project and moving on to the next challenge, whatever it may be. Not everyone can hit with every story, of course, and there’s a “buddy cops vs. mutants” yarn in here that didn’t do a ton for me and seems conceptually slight in comparison with everything else, but that “everything else” is grade-A comics all the way. Once again, we run a stylistic gamut here, but everything (except that one thing) makes for a cohesive whole from dizzyingly disparate parts. Remember how freaking amazing comics can be? Read this, and you will. Problem is —

I don’t know where the hell you’re supposed to find it. Strangers has the first two issues, but not this one. The Awe Comics Storenvy site is likewise bereft of it. My recommendation would be to go to Alves’ personal website and bug him to sell you a copy. Hit the contact “button” at this link :

And with that, I’m calling it a night. Be a mensch and help a jobbing critic out by signing up for that Patreon I mentioned earlier, where you get a lot more of this kind of thing for as little as a dollar a month :

Drew Lerman’s Got A Great “Schtick” Going

There are few cartoonists working today funnier than Drew Lerman, and while it would be a reach to say that his Snake Creek strip owes more to Henny Yougman than it does to Walt Kelly, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes-level detective skills to see a subtle-but-rich vein of Yiddish humor running under much of it. So why not acknowledge one’s influences, eh boychik?

And that’s what Lerman’s newest self-published mini, Schtick, is all about — a short form “deep dive” into the rapid-fire exchanges and caustic banter that inform so much of traditional Jewish comedy. It’s a lean and lovingly mean number, clocking in at 12 full-color pages, and that’s just about right to provide a nicely representative sample size of “double act” gag strips largely focused on the kind of aggravating-yet-hilarious misunderstandings that arise when two people can’t seem to help but to talk over (and around) each other from start to finish. Is it any wonder, then, that they find themselves in much the same place at the end as they were at the beginning?

The focus here might be quite specific, but Lerman’s cartooning style remains much the same, and that’s a good thing : minimalist linework that privileges physicality and motion above all lends itself exceedingly well to slapstick comedy, specifically to multi-panel slapstick comedy that plays out in front of largely static background imagery, so as far as marriages of form and function go, they don’t come much more made in heaven than what we’re treated to here. The watercolor-esque hues add a new wrinkle, it’s true, but it’s mostly a welcome one — I may quibble over a few choices here and there, but they’re largely effective and aesthetically “of a piece” with the overall tone and tempo of the proceedings as a whole. Perfect they are not, but oy! Whadda youse expect from a guy who normally works in black and white, I ask youse?

What’s surprising above all here, though, isn’t the comic’s visuals so much as its admirably loving (a term I honestly feel no one should invoke lightly) approach to its mission — Lerman’s got a natural and entirely unforced affinity for his subject matter that, unlike my own half-assed attempts at appropriation, simply cannot be faked and, consequently, demands to be respected. It’s not that you won’t see the gags coming, anything but — it’s that you know from the outset precisely what he’s got up his sleeve with these strips, and yet can’t help but laugh along with them anyway simply because he executes them all so damned well.

In its own way, then, this is very nearly a perfect little comic — Lerman gives himself a narrow remit, zeroes in on it like a laser, and hits the mark over and over again, with unwaveringly pleasing results. That takes skill, of course, but skill is only half of what’s necessary to make this work. The other ingredient, just as important, is dedication, and it’s that dedication — to concept, to craft, and (at the risk of sounding dismissive when I mean anything but) to formula — that holds the key to this project’s success. If you’re gonna do something, as the saying goes, do it right — and Lerman does what he’s doing here more or less exactly right.

Look, I’m not going to fool you — it’ll only take you all of about ten minutes to read this comic. But they’ll be ten of the most enjoyable minutes in your calendar year. Pass on it and you mebbe oughta get your head examined.


Schtick is available for $5.00 from Neil Brideau’s Radiator Comics 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 Contemporary Collections

Moving right along with our next-to-last “best of” list, we come to the Top 10 Contemporary Collections of 2020. Simply put, this category is devoted to collected editions of work originally published, either physically or digitally, since the year 2000, including Manga, webcomics, and Eurocomics. In practice, though, I’ll be honest and admit it’s all fairly recent stuff. Read on and you’ll see what I mean —

10. Inappropriate By Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized) – How the hell spoiled are we these days, anyway? The modern master of disarmingly frank autobio released one of her strongest collections to date and it seemed as though it hardly got a mention in critical circles. Like the Hernandez brothers, Bell’s work is so consistently good that I fear we as readers take it for granted. We shouldn’t — this is a book to be downright thankful for.

9. Snake Creek By Drew Lerman (Self-Published) – Lerman’s first collection of his charming, idiosyncratic strip firmly establishes him as the closest thing we have to a successor to the likes of Charles Schulz and George Herriman. Rest assured I invoke neither name lightly, and that this book backs up the comparison.

8. Goblin Girl By Moa Romanova, Translated By Melissa Bowers (Fantagraphics) – It was a breakout year for Sweden’s Romanova, who cemented her status as a “talent to watch” with the first English-language publication of this unique memoir focused on mental health, self-image and, of course, relationships. If she continues to build on the strength of this astounding book, then the future of this art from we love is in very good hands, indeed.

7. Ghostwriter By Rayco Pulido, Translated By Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics) – A classic Eurocomics mystery thriller set in 1943 Barcelona and featuring a frisson of both political tension and identity confusion, the English-language debut of Spain’s Pulido is a bona fide clinic on how to keep readers off-balance. You’ll be guessing right up to the very end — and left guessing even more afterwards as to how this book didn’t get about ten times more attention and recognition than it did.

6. The Winter Of The Cartoonist By Paco Roca, Translated By Erica Mena (Fantagraphics) – Damn if Fanta doesn’t keep putting out one more Roca masterwork after another, year after year, and this gripping drama about five cartoonists striking out on their own against the big publishing houses in 1957 fascist Spain is more than just a page-turner, it’s possibly the best creators’ rights treatise authored by anyone to date. Another essential read from one of the great auteurs of the medium.

5. J&K By John Pham (Fantagraphics) – A comprehensive collection of the misadventures of Pham’s lovable losers was long overdue, but it was also worth the wait, as this hardback compendium comes complete with more “extras” than you can shake a stick at, including posters, stickers, and a vinyl record! Nobody understands the relationship between printing, packaging, production, and content better than Pham, and this is the most seamlessly-integrated realization of his vision to date.

4. Grip By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – Westvind’s phantasmagoric, whirlwind paen to the strength and resolve of women working in the trades was a revelation in two parts, but reads even more seamlessly collected as a complete epic. It’s also arguably the best use of Riso printing to date in comics. A book of the ages and, even more importantly, for the ages.

3. The Contradictions By Sophie Yanow (Drawn+Quarterly) – Already celebrated as one of the best comics memoirs in recent memory, Yanow’s Eisner Award-winning webcomic gains added depth and emotion in this collected print volume. In fact, it looks and feels like something you’d bring with you on the very sort of European road trip that it documents with such frank and emotive sincerity.

2. Nineteen By Ancco, Translated By Janet Hong (Drawn+Quarterly) – A unique and heady mix of autobio and fiction, Korean cartoonist Ancco’s second book to be translated into English is a showcase for both her artistic versatility and her singular ability to transmute the angst and trauma of youth into truly unforgettable comics stories. If this one doesn’t rip your heart out at least a dozen times over, then you probably don’t have one.

1. Vision By Julia Gfrorer (Fantagraphics) – Originally self-published as a series of minis, Gfroer’s latest work, read in collected form, offers the most succinct and assured crystallization of her singular combination of concerns to date, blending historical “period-piece” storytelling with body horror with feminist theory with supernatural mystery with richly understated social commentary to remind us that what we fear most and what we desire most are often one and the same thing. Intimacy is a double-edged sword throughout Gfrorer’s remarkable body of work, and never more true than it is here, in what is surely the defining statement of her artistic career — so far.

Only one list to go — tomorrow we do the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels of 2020, and then it’s full steam ahead into the new year!


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 gratified indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :

Double Your Reading Pleasure With “Detective! Double Digest”

The old saying goes that “you’re either on something, or you’re onto something” — and it seems as if Minneapolis cartoonist Peter Faecke might just be onto something with these “flip-book” split releases that he’s been doing, so after sharing the workload and cover space with A. T. Pratt for last year’s Wacky Western Double Digest, he’s back with a new dual release with one of my absolute favorite emerging cartoonists, Drew Lerman, this one focused on a detective story theme and bearing the admittedly unimaginative, but nevertheless apropos, title of Detective! Double Digest. So, yeah, it’s exactly what you think it is.

Especially if you think it’s going to be good, because this top-notch mini in certainly that. The two-color riso printing scheme employed by publishing imprint Really Easy Press is spot-on, the black/gray and pink gradations bringing the whimsical tone of both the stories and the art right to the surface, while the cardstock covers and high-quality paper are nice touches that give good value for money — but it’s the cartooning on display in these 24 pages that matters most, and if you know either of these artists, you know they’re not likely to disappoint.

And, of course, they don’t — Faecke’s prior work ably demonstrated his skill at what I would call in a pinch “reverential pastiche,” playing up the absurdities of genres ranging from the western to the superhero to the paramilitary vigilante yarn to the sex comic while showing a level of respect for them that’s far from the ironic and begrudging tone that too many lazily fall back on too often, and that pattern holds here in this tale of world-weary gumshoe Ira Hurt taking on a missing persons case that absurdly but entirely expertly morphs into the “Love Triangle” of the strip’s title. There’s little by way of thematic depth to be found, it’s true, but what of it? Faecke’s intentions are clear on their face and the more classical cartooning style that he adopts for this project isn’t just pitch-perfect, it also showcases his skills as a pure illustrator to a greater degree than any of his previous ‘zines barring, perhaps, his “Bronze Age” comics send-up Hand Of Misery. His humor here is also well-timed, and he gets the balance just right in terms of using it to accentuate, rather than overwhelm, his narrative. Yes, the whole thing has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but that doesn’t mean he’s shitting on old-school detective fiction — rather, he’s just reverent enough to show he understands the genre’s ins and outs, but just irreverent enough to adopt a slightly askew take on it. This is a comic by someone who obviously digs comics — not just making them, but reading them — and something like that is always a joy to spend some time with.

Flipping things over to Lerman’s “B” side (or maybe it’s the “A” side, take your pick — not that it particularly matters either way), we find him spinning a tale centered around Dav and Roy, the hapless protagonists of his superb Snake Creek strip, who here adopt the trappings of, and set up shop as, a pair of amateur sleuths and quickly find themselves hired by a “femme fatale” of sorts whose daddy is a billionaire. And a nutcase. Funny how the two usually go hand in hand. But there’s even more going on with him than first appearances would indicate, which means you get a lot of story crammed into these 12 pages, even if it’s delivered at Lerman’s trademark laconically dense (I promise, that only sounds crazy) pace.

Honestly, both of these strips are so damn enjoyable — and so damn well-drawn — that picking a favorite is a pointless exercise, and so I shan’t. What I will say is that both do exactly what they set out to do, and you’ll find plenty of value in contrasting the work of both cartoonists for their similarities and their differences — and that study in contrasts will leave you with a greater appreciation for how each approaches and executes their craft.

To put it as mildly as possible, then, it’s safe to say you really want to get your hands on this comic. You’ll read stuff this year that’s better, and plenty that’s worse, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that’s more sheer fun.


Detective! Double Digest is available for $10.00 from The Stink Hole at

Review wrist check – dressing things up today with my Zodiac “Olympos” gold dial model riding a Hirsch “Genuine Croco” strap in green. This watch looks plenty sharp on its black factory-provided strap, but hey — I think the green really kicks it up a notch. I don’t see myself needing to put on a suit anytime soon (at least I hope not), but if I had to, this is the combo I’d wear with it.


Up “Snake Creek” — But With A Very Steady Paddle

What I think : Dav and Roy, the two protagonists in cartoonist Drew Lerman’s Snake Creek, might be a stand-in for the author himself and a walking potato, respectively. What I know : Lerman wrote and drew one of these strips per day throughout 2018 and 2019, and now they’re all collected in a single — and singularly impressive — paperback that he’s having printed, and offering for sale, via Lulu. I also know that you should buy it. And now I’m going to tell you why.

In a very real sense, these strips follow a direct through-line that you can trace all the way back to George Herriman, but they’re also undoubtedly — as well as unclassifiably (not a real word, I know) — contemporary, despite largely dealing with timeless physical and metaphysical themes. There’s a simple and understated elegance to Lerman’s cartooning that is, above all, smart — and is reflected in his charming wit and masterful sense of comic timing. He’s clearly done his homework, then, but this is in no way an academic exercise, since the most important lesson he’s taken to heart is that the best “gag”-style cartoons have a hell of a lot of heart themselves. As do these.

Avoiding over-thinking things is a tricky wicket when one is working within the strictures of a set format and formula, but Lerman’s four-panel grids feel expansive and rife with possibility — part of that’s down to his expert illustration, sure, which abides by its own kind of internal logic and privileges physicality and motion above all else, but a bigger part of it is down to his eye and ear for commonality and universality, his sheer facility at imbuing the outrageous with elements we can all relate to and draw a pleasing grin from. I mentioned Herriman before, but Charles Schulz, Frank King, and Walt Kelly were all masters of this, as well — and trust me when I say it only sounds absurd to mention Lerman’s name in the same breath as these greats. Within just a handful of this book’s 152 pages, he earns that distinction absolutely.

Which isn’t to say that there’s not room for improvement — there is. Lerman’s imagination is so fluid and amorphous that he sometimes seems to lose interest in plot threads that he was “all in” on just days prior (a fascinating nameless dog turns up for a time, only to make an abrupt exit), but I can forgive that because along the way he lands on inventive uses for pretty much all of his ideas, even those that are ultimately discarded, and watching a cartoonist “feel their way” through their own material is usually a fairly fascinating process in and of itself. Besides, the line between “anything can happen” and “hey, shit happens” is such a fine one that demarcating it is often an exercise in futility — and don’t we all appreciate it when comics have an element of the genuinely anarchic to them?

I know I do, at any rate — and if you do, as well, then I defy you to be anything but utterly captivated and frequently even transfixed by this work. I sincerely hope that the newspaper syndicates are paying attention to Lerman, because this is visionary, iconoclastic stuff that is nevertheless absolutely and immediately accessible to readers of all stripes, and from all walks of life.

In these fractured and harrowing times, gentle but assured musings and observations on everyday absurdities are both hard to come by, and exactly the sort of tonic we can all benefit from on occasion. Drew Lerman has a unique perspective that’s as invaluable as it is funny and intelligent, and with this book he makes a strong case that he might very well be our next great cartoonist.


Snake Creek is available for $13.00 from the Lulu website 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 do please take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to