No Sophomore Slump : Evan Salazar’s “Rodeo Comics” #2

Back when albums were a thing, many a band or artist struggled with the so-called “difficult second album,” but such a concept applies to other mediums, as well — including, of course, comics. It’s much harder to make an impactful “splash” when people see you coming and when they, to one degree or another, sort of know what to expect. Deliver on that expectation, and you’re accused of playing it safe; deviate from it, and you’re accused of getting too big for your britches too quickly and abandoning whatever it was that made you successful in the first place. You just can’t win.

Evan Salazar, for his part, has chosen the “more of the same” route for Rodeo Comics #2, but not necessarily done in the same way : for one thing, the MICE Mini-Grant he received has gone into upping the production values of his self-published comic considerably, the old mini-comics format giving way this time out for a full-sized comic with heavy cardstock covers and a mini insert mocked up to look like the check-out card of a library book; and for another, he’s chosen to zero in on what worked so well in issue #1 and ride that for all it’s worth — which, as it turns out, is quite a bit. Yes, the excitement of the new is gone here — Salazar isn’t coming at us from out of left field anymore — but he’s certainly not resting on his laurels, either, and that’s precisely what makes for a good second issue.

And so, while she was forced to split time in #1, this book (barring a charming enough but frankly insubstantial two-page backup strip) is essentially the Abigail Knox show all the way, with the precocious college student chasing down a mystery in her family tree that may be a foundational root, or may just be a dead limb. Salazar plays his answers close to the vest — in fact, depending on how and where things go from here, it’s entirely possible there could be a few other twists and turns in store down the road — in “The Smoky Noon,” and while the drama is externalized outside Abigail’s parents’ home in contrast to the internalized one that played out in the debut issue, it’s no less compelling for that fact, and giving our admirably intrepid young Ms. Knox a few more pages allows her story to breathe a bit more and play out at an unforced clip. A lot still happens, that’s for sure, but the pacing here is conducive to the task of imparting just enough information in well-timed snippets to keep the reader’s attention thoroughly fixated upon the proceedings throughout. All of which, I suppose, is an overly-pretentious way of saying that this comic? It’s a real page-turner.

The larger physical dimensions of the book likewise give Salazar’s cartooning a bit more real estate to spread out in, and the results are impressive : it’s not a stylistic quantum leap forward from #1, but there is some refinement on display here is the form of tighter and more defined figure drawings that still evoke a classical “cartoonish” sensibility, a bit more attention paid to well-placed backgrounds, and some nifty shading techniques that even include, if I’m not very much mistaken, a couple of washes here and there. It’s a good-looking comic, with the space to strut its stuff that it needs while still eschewing overt flashiness or forced stylization. Focus on what you do well, and continue to do better at it — that’s the philosophy at work here.

All of which, while complimentary, may nonetheless give the impression that this isn’t a particularly adventurous comic, narratively or aesthetically. The strange thig is, I certainly didn’t get that feeling reading it, and if the proof is in the pudding, then that’s really all the proof I need right there. Salazar is building a long-form story here, and doing so in a manner that entrenches the idea of what sort of comic he likes to make (and, crucially, is damn good at making) without sacrificing the all-important element of surprise. It’s one thing to surpass expectations as a newbie, quite another to manage to still do so an an established talent. Both are challenging enough in and of themselves in different respects, and both are challenges Salazar has passed with flying colors.

If Rodeo #1 served as the announcement of a major new creative force on the comics scene, then Rodeo #2 announces that said major new creative force is in it for the long haul. To warp the comic’s title into a pained metaphor, Salazar roped us by the horns last time out, and now he’s pulling us in.


Rodeo Comics #2 is available for $6.00 directly from Evan Salazar 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 check it out by directing your kind attention to

A Pretty Strong “Wimp Digest”

To address the elephant in the room right at the outset, yes — Josh Pettinger and Evan Salazar’s new eight-page mini, Wimp Digest, is a “gimmick” comic, the stunt in question being that Salazar is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Pettinger’s childhood, and Pettinger is writing and drawing a mildly embarrassing anecdote about Salazar’s childhood. Got that?

I’m sure you do, as the idea of one cartoonist telling the other a story for them to commit to paper, and the other doing the same, isn’t a terribly difficult conceit to grasp — nor is this comic itself a difficult one to kick back and spend about 15 minutes with. It’s a fun, kinda heartwarming, and certainly well-illustrated little number by two of the more promising new (-ish, at any rate) talents in the “indie”/self-publishing scene (although, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover, the publication of this is every bit the “joint venture” that its creation was). Here’s the thing, though — you’re also more than likely to see some actual value in it, and by that I mean value beyond its inherent cleverness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being clever, mind you — in this cynical day and age, it gets kind of a bad rap, but when done right it still makes for an enjoyable reading experience, which this ‘zine certainly is. But I think Pettinger and Salazar are reaching for something a little more here — something maybe, dare I say it, at least nominally approaching understanding. And not just of each other.

Rather, what I see in the essential character of these admittedly quick little vignettes — the subjects of which you can pretty well glean from the titles of the strips as presented in the image above — is an effort to understand their own artistic processes, and where the line between subjectivity and objectivity (always murky at best, true) lies by applying their own creative practices to the task of playing biographer for someone else. And who better to try something like that on than a friend, right?

Please don’t take this to mean that we’re playing around in “where does the end of me become the start of you?” territory here or anything, though, as we’re most assuredly not. Rather, what these guys are doing is seeing what, if anything, of their own unique cartooning “voice” carries over into someone else’s story, and how that “voice” informs said story. And when you’re talking about two people whose approaches and concerns are pretty singular unto themselves, that’s likely to prove to be a very interesting exercise, indeed — and so it is.

I guess I’d be lying if I said this was anything like an essential purchase — -after all, if you want straight-no-chaser Salazar you’re better off picking up Rodeo, and if you want straight-no-chaser Pettinger you’re better off picking up Goiter (and I should state for the record that you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you’re not already reading both) — but it’s definitely an intriguing and worthwhile one all the same. Plus, it’s cheap, and in times such as these that’s always a plus — but don’t take that to mean it’s inherently disposable or purely a vanity project. This might be a gimmick, sure, but it’s nevertheless a substantive one that allows each cartoonist to discover something about the other — and, more importantly, about themselves.


Wimp Digest is available for $4.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

Review wrist check — I was wearing my Farer Universal “Stanhope” mechanical hand-winder when I wrote this one, the only non-automatic watch in my modest little collection. It’s riding a Hirsch “Paul” alligator-pattern leather strap from their “Performance” series for a dressy look but a comfortable, sporty feel.

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

It’s that time of the year — specifically, the end of it. Or near enough, at any rate, for my purposes — those “purposes” being to survey the comics landscape and pick my favorites from 2019’s slate of offerings. As per the norm, I’ll be dividing things up into a veritable boat-load of different categories — top ten single issues (stand-alone comics, or ongoing projects that saw only one installment published in the last calendar year), top ten ongoing series (any comic series or “limited” series that saw two or more issues come out in 2019), top ten vintage collections (books presenting material originally published prior to the year 2000), top ten contemporary collections (books presenting material originally published after the year 2000), top ten special mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books about comics, art books, prose and/or visual works by cartoonists that aren’t exactly “comics” per se, etc.), and top ten original graphic novels (long-form original works never serialized in single issues) — and again, as per usual, we’ll kick things off with the top ten single issues list, with the others following in the coming days. Now, let’s stop dawdling and get down to business, shall we?

10. Kids With Guns #1 By Alex Nall (Self-Published) – The opening salvo of Nall’s first-ever ongoing serial instantly captured my attention with its strong characterization, sublime grasp on inter-generational relations, and oblique-but-effective social commentary, all rendered in his signature updated take on traditional “Sunday Funnies” cartooning. This project could go in any number of fascinating directions, and may or may not be about what its title implies. I’m looking forward to finding out.

9. Expelling My Truth By Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books) – Nobody employs exaggeration and absurdity to tell the “truth” about both modern life and themselves quite like Van Deusen, and in his latest, his trademark satirical wit has never been sharper while his line art has never been smoother. Always a study in contrasts, this guy, but he’s found an inimitable way to make his work’s deliberate and inherent contradictions become its raison d’etre.

8. Rodeo #1 By Evan Salazar (Self-Published) – Debuts don’t come much stronger than this one, as Salazar immediately establishes himself as a cartoonist with a unique perspective and a natural gift for storytelling, his tale of a temporary family break-up as seen through a particularly precocious child’s eyes revealing much more about what’s happening than a straight re-telling of the “facts” of the situation ever could. Emotionally and intellectually arresting in equal measure, and drawn in a confident, non-flashy style, this is one of the best single-creator anthology titles to come down the pipeline in many a year.

7. Stunt By Michael DeForge (Koyama Press) – I struggled with which category to put this one in, but eventually settled on single issues simply because it’s formatted like a Jack T. Chick tract even if it’s priced like a book — it’s also, in true DeForge fashion, imbued with a hell of a lot more philosophical depth than its page count would lead you to believe. A rumination on identity and its voluntary, even necessary, abandonment filtered through his usual lens of homoeroticism and gooey body horror, this short-form offering ranks right up there with the cartoonist’s most confidently-realized works.

6. Nabokova By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – It was such a strong and prolific year for Oshima that choosing a favorite among her works was tough, but in point of fact this is the one where she really “puts it all together” and delivers a treatise on alienation, self-absorption and the fine line between the two that’s every bit as dense as the Russian literature its title invokes — but it won’t, fortunately, take you all winter to to read it. Spellbinding stuff that will leave your head spinning with questions.

5. Castle Of The Beast By Ariel Cooper (Self-Published) – Fear of intimacy has never been delineated as beautifully or as sympathetically as it is in Cooper’s lush, breathtaking visual tone-poem that masterfully blends the concrete and the abstract into a comics experience quite unlike any other. Within a couple of years, this will be the cartoonist everyone is talking about

4. Tulpa By Grace Kroll (Self-Published) – It’s astonishing to see anyone bare their soul and their struggles as frankly as Kroll does in this, her first ever comic, but do so in a manner that brings forth genuine understanding rather than simply playing for sympathy? There are cartoonists that spend their whole careers struggling with what she achieves on her very first go-’round, and her singular art style is as smart as it is innovative.

3. For Real By James Romberger (Uncivilized Books) – The only thing more heroic than Jack Kirby’s characters was the man himself, and in this heartfelt tribute, master artist Romberger relates two harrowing life-and-death challenges The King faced in a manner than honors his style yet is in no way beholden to it. Another unforgettable comics experience by a cartoonist who never produces anything less.

2. Malarkey #4 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Long the champion of neurotic self-deprecation, by tracing the roots of both to her Catholic upbringing, Garcia ups the stakes — and the results — considerably and establishes herself as precisely what previous issues of this comic hinted she might become : the best autobio cartoonist in the business. And maybe even the heir apparent to the great Justin Green? In any case, her moment has well and truly arrived. Now, will somebody get busy collecting all her stuff into a book, please?

1. Tad Martin #7 By Casanova Frankenstein (Domino Books)  – I could say that seeing Frankenstein and his nominally stand-in protagonist matched up with the production values they so richly deserve is a “dream come true,” but this gorgeous, full-color, oversized comic is actually a nightmare come to life — and harrowing, soul-searing life at that. Always an exercise in re-invention, this issue of Tad combines elements of all the previous entries in this sporadic series into a comprehensive vision of nihilism as the only thing worth living for. Other cartoonists will have to fight for a place edging toward the middle — the margins of the medium are already spoken for.

And so we’re off to the races with “Top Ten” week. I’ll be tackling the best ongoing series next, but in the meantime do 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. Please do yourself — and, who are we kidding, me — a favor by checking it out at


My First Time At This “Rodeo”

Most debuts, let’s face it, disappoint. Others show promise. A select few thoroughly satisfy. And then, every once in awhile, one comes along that literally demands you take notice.

“Spoiler” alert for lazy readers : cartoonist Evan Salazar’s new self-published mini, Rodeo #1, is definitely the latter. You need to buy it immediately. And that’s my cue to cut to the chase and tell non – lazy readers why

Following in the tradition of the finest solo anthology titles such as Eightball and Yummy Fur, yet blazing a trail entirely its own, this comic arrives like a bolt out of the blue and announces the arrival of a talent  already tantalizingly close to attaining that elusive title of being “fully formed.” There’s a back cover “gag” strip that rather misses the mark, it’s true, but apart from that what we’ve got here is some seriously polished — though in no way devoid of personality — cartooning that uses strong blacks, clean lines, crisp-if-basic layouts, and a plethora of influences ranging from the likes of Michael DeForge to early-days (as in, when he was still good) Adrian Tomine to tell three wonderfully distinct stories that are nonetheless tonally and thematically cohesive, and reflect an authorial sensibility informed chiefly by “big-picture” concerns such as alienation, longing, and emotional and physical upheaval, but nearly as committed to drawing out the “little” things that actually make live worth living : dreams, quiet moments of deep poignancy, innocence, and emotional connection.

A vaguely Herriman-esque short about a cat that accidentally burns its house down and finds that freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose sets the table at the outset and from there we go into the comic’s longest — and strongest — strip, a mystery story (of sorts) about a young girl named Abigail Knox whose mother disappears out of the blue one day and has her spot in the home assumed by one of her college professor father’s male students. To any adult reader it’s plainly obvious what’s going on here — as are the reasons for mom’s return later — but seen and told through the eyes of a bright, precocious, but in no way worldly kid, this simple premise becomes something equal parts unknown and unknowable, a makeshift canvas upon which a child’s imagination goes to work filling in the picture. Don’t let the youth of the protagonist fool you in any way, though : this is smart, sophisticated, emotionally resonant storytelling that honors its characters and gracefully eschews the numerous traps of easy irony available to it that lesser cartoonists would no doubt succumb to. Stunning, I believe, is the word I’m looking for.

Following on from this we meet night-shift maintenance man/janitor Rodolfo, a more practical modern iteration of Walter Mitty, who creatively filters his monotonous work duties through a literary lens and proves, at least to himself, that he has a future as a writer — or an editor. Again, at least. A more expert encapsulation of the gulf between fantasy and reality, and the power of what the hopelessly square dismissively refer to as “flights of fancy” to get us through the day (okay, night) I can scarcely conceive of, and it’s all delivered in a manner that’s entirely understated yet in no way impressed with its own admirable restraint. Short, sweet, and brilliant.

And then it’s all over with far too quickly, which is a great sign. I want more Evan Salazar work, and I wanted it before I was even through  reading this. What he’s crafted with Rodeo #1 isn’t simply one of the finest debuts of the year — it’s one of the finest comics of the year, period.


You’d be utterly insane to take a pass on this book. Order it for the entirely reasonable price of $5.00 directly from Evan Salazar at

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