A Lot Goes Right In “Things Go Wrong” #3

As a trilogy that concerns itself with a “from the inside” look at the clinical depression and mental and physical breakdown of its protagonist, Jason Bradshaw’s Paper Rocket Mini Comics-published Things Go Wrong has been about the farthest thing from an “easy read” one can imagine — but it’s certainly been admirably honest, impeccably drawn, and absorbing in the extreme. Hope has been in short supply, but artistic integrity? That’s present and accounted for throughout, and if honest explorations of tough topics are your sort of thing, then the plain truth is that they simply don’t come much better than this. Now that the final issue, #3, is upon us, then, the questions that hang over it are — what sort of ending does Bradshaw have in store, and what sort do we want?

I mean, certainly our ostensible “hero,” James, deserves a break — but how “legit” would it feel for him to get one? Now that he’s shaken off his creative doldrums by “opting out” of taking his medication, he seems to have decided that living for a short time, but expressing a lot in that time is more important to him than living a long and uninspired life drugged to the gills and sick all the time, and really — I’m not prepared to argue with that logic, even if it borders on a “zero-sum” situation.  Now, though, he’s determined to follow this course of action and inaction to what he sees as its inevitable outcome — the complete negation of his self, a dark “Saturn Return” to a state of non-being. A literal blank canvas.

The “feel-good comic of 2020” has arrived ! — somewhere else. This is as rough a slog as ever and no, by stating that plainly I’m not giving away a damn thing. You might think the title to this review actually does just that, but I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to be pleased with my own (self-declared) cleverness, so let me just state for the record : when I say that “a lot goes right” I could could just as easily be referring to Bradshaw’s technical execution and how well he achieves his artistic objectives as I may (or may not) be hinting at anything to do with the comic’s narrative events. What I will say is — oh, hell, I’d better be really careful here. Check out a sample page while I take a moment to think :

Okay, here’s what I know for sure — the ending of this comic feels true and honest. Bradshaw has followed his “through-line” as an artist to where it was going, and furthermore has done so with tremendous bravery and near-flawless technique. The sparse scripting has been razor-sharp and intensely communicative, the art has followed suit in both regards, and the seamlessness of this project has been breathtaking from start to, yes, finish. Whether or not Bradshaw and publisher Robyn Chapman intend to collect this in a single volume I have no idea, but if they do, it should be both a taxing and rewarding experience in equal measure.

Still, I’m kinda glad I read this in “singles,” with each appearing about a year apart. Doing it all at once might be a bit much. Not that actually living this wouldn’t be far worse — as Bradshaw makes clear in his from-the-heart afterword, he created this series for very specific reasons and hoped to express very specific things with it, and I can state without a shadow of a doubt that he has succeeded in doing precisely that. Few comics have relayed the process of physical and mental deterioration as thoroughly as this one — Gabby Schulz’ Sick comes immediately to mind, but that’s about it — and so with that in mind, it’s fair to say that Bradshaw has placed himself in damn select company here.

And so a remarkable series has reached a remarkable end — and one that echoes with absolute authenticity. If you’ve been following it thus far, you already know you don’t want to miss this issue, and if you haven’t, now is the perfect time to pick all three up. As should be crystal clear by now, it won’t be an pleasant reading experience — but I can promise you it’s a profound, perhaps even a necessary, one.


Things Go Wrong  #3 is available for $4.00 from Paper Rocket Mini Comics at http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/29290291-things-go-wrong-3

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 https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/16/2019 – 06/22/2019, (Mostly) New Stuff From Paper Rocket Mini Comics

Your humble (I hope, at any rate) host was the happy recipient of a new package in the mail from Robyn Chapman’s Paper Rocket Mini Comics this week, containing her three 2019 releases to date, as well as the unexpected (and welcome) inclusion of an older item from “way” back in 2014. Let’s have a look at — errrmmm — what I had a look at , all of which is available for purchase from the Paper Rocket storenvy site at http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/ .

Toronto’s Jason Bradshaw is back with Things Go Wrong #2 (there’s one more to go), and this one serves up a real 180 at right about the halfway point, as our absolutely hapless artist protagonist finds inspiration in hitting absolute rock bottom physically, mentally, emotionally, financially — hell, probably even spiritually. Where it goes from here who can say, but Bradshaw proves beyond doubt that his wide-figured, smart cartooning is just as effective in delineating life’s “ups” (however accidentally arrived at) as its “downs,” and after the brilliantly-delineated, if harrowing, drain-circling of issue one, the abrupt-yet-smooth (go figure that one out) shift in tone and outlook comes at just the right time. The four dollars you spend on this one are a wise investment in a genuinely superb mini.

Katie Fricas promises “essays, interviews, oddities” in the pages of Texas Chainsaw Sculptor, and that’s genuine truth in advertising right there. Featuring graphic reportage from the Texas State Fair, the “Mr. Coney Island” competition, and the 2016 Republican national convention in Cleveland, this is a heady mix of weirdos likable (our titular sculptor, unorthodox pageant contestants) and decidedly less so (alt-right MAGA shitheads). Simply and expressively written and illustrated, these are all stories you wish were longer — for good or ill — and offer fascinating glimpses into some of contemporary life’s most quirky, and disquieting, corners. Eight bucks is a little steep for a mini, but this one’s well worth it.

Carlo Quispe’s autobiographical Carlito is a legit joy, as we follow the coming-of-age trials and tribulations of his ten-year-old self who moves from Spain to Peru to US, navigating his parents’ divorce and emerging sexuality along the way. Illustrated with an economy of lines but a surplus of passion, this is everything you used to love about autobio but thought long lost in this age of clinically dispassionate memoir, and represents one of the best five dollar expenditures you’ll make this year.

Our blast from the recent past is Limp Wrist, another stellar short-form memoir written by Scout Wolfcave and adapated/illustrated with compassionate simplicity by Penina Gal. The bullying and abuse inflicted upon our protagonist, a mis-gendered young woman with more questions about herself than answers, is tough to stomach, but ultimately this is a story about the dignity inherent in physical and emotional survival in the face of daunting odds and is a vital and necessary read not just for trans youth and adults, but anyone who wants to understand what it means to be a real ally. It costs four dollars, but is a genuinely priceless comic.

And with that, we close out with the usual reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where you get three exclusive rants, ramblings, and/or reviews from yours truly on a weekly basis for as little as a buck a month. The beatings will continue until you join up, so head over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse



“Things Go Wrong” #1 Gets Plenty Right

This was a tough one — and I mean that in the best, most complimentary sense possible. But first the basics :

Toronto-based cartoonist Jason Bradshaw has garnered something of a small but dedicated following for his self-published ‘zine Bore, but it’s been damn tough to get ahold of copies of it on this side of the border — so in order to ameliorate this dearth of all things Bradshaw in the US, Robyn Chapman of The Tiny Report renown has taken it upon herself to publish a trilogy of his previously-issued minis under the new title of Things Go Wrong, the first issue of which was recently released under the auspices of her Paper Rocket Minicomics imprint. That’s the background. That’s easy. Now for the hard part.

And yeah, Things Go Wrong isn’t just a hard comic to get through, it’s a very hard comic to get through — as it damn well should be. It’s about chronic depression, after all, and despite Bradshaw’s loose, somewhat-traditionally-“cartoony” illustration style, a deep and impenetrable pall of doom hangs over every page of this book.

Some of that is down to the “cool blue” color tone, reminiscent of the one used by Daniel Clowes for most of Ghost World, which bathes the proceedings in a hue traditionally associated with emotional difficulty (“feeling the blues,” and what have you), but most of it is due to the harrowing POV Bradshaw’s narrative employs, which communicates the story in a manner that feels decidedly first-person despite the fact that omniscient, third-person narration is present throughout. I’m not sure if Bradshaw utilizes this “distancing” step in order to make it (hopefully) clear that his protagonist, a creatively-stunted painter named James who falls ill (and violently so) courtesy of a mysterious gastro-intestinal parasite and subsequently either finds his sickness to amplify his already-present sense of lethargy or, if you take a darker view of things, decides to literally use it as an excuse to “go all the way” in terms of giving up on life, but in any case it sure as hell seems like he understands this mindset deeply, personally, and is pouring it all out on the page either as a method of working his way through it in the present, or as a means of burying a painful chapter of his past once and for all.

Artists have related their mental health struggles for both of these reasons as well as others in the past, of course, and something tells me that subsequent installments in this series will make Bradshaw’s intentions and motivations more clear, but for the time being all I know is that this is as deep into the metaphorical quicksand of depression than just about any other cartoonist has been willing to go this side of Gabby Schulz’ Sick — and, like that justly-celebrated work, this one also utilizes physical illness as a pretext to explore its other, equally (at least) devastating, non-physical counterpart.

Unlike it, however, Bradshaw doesn’t use mental and physical anguish as a springboard to launch a thorough-going and entirely sensible broadside against the American health care system (he doesn’t need to, being Canadian), and instead he keeps the focus tight. Intimate. Maybe even claustrophobic. And it works — by God, it really works. The creative “dry spell” feeds the depression feeds the stomach and intestinal ailments feeds the creative “dry spell” feeds the — ah, shit, you get, the whole thing is a self-destructive “feedback loop” with precisely zero hope of relief. Of respite. Of anything.

Which is all well and good (okay, “good” probably isn’t the best choice of words there — or even a “good” one), but it also means that this comic, entirely understandably, is simply going to be too intense for many readers. James’ dual-track deterioration is reflected in his surroundings, his attitudes, his outlook. As a chronicle of a guy who’s given up, this is all too real. All too authentic. All too brave, as well, absolutely — but it may also be, in the view of some, all too much to take, and I certainly have sympathy for anyone who might feel that way.

That being said, I’m absolutely in awe of what’s been accomplished here, and not only do I feel that reading Things Go Wrong #1 was an enlightening-bordering-on-essential experience, I fully intend to stick it out and read the next two chapters when they come out. I surely feel that prospective readers should be fully aware of what they’re in for here — and I’m confident I’ve done my part in terms of facilitating that “forewarned-is-forearmed” understanding — but if this sounds like the kind of thing that you’d glean some valuable insight from, trust me when I say you undoubtedly will, and that you should immediately order this up from Robyn Chapman for the entirely reasonable price of $4 at http://thetinyreport.storenvy.com/products/25106160-things-go-wrong-1