Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/23/2018 – 09/29/2018, Cole Johnson

On deck for this week’s Round-Up column we’ve got a quartet of self-published minis from astonishingly literate cartoonist Cole Johnson, who has staked out his own unique metaphorical patch of turf quickly and is plowing it for all it’s worth. As is the case with John Porcellino, the deceptively minimalist style Johnson utilizes conveys a tremendous amount of information and, more importantly, feeling with as little fuss and muss as possible, consequently allowing his lean illustrations to pack more emotional “wallop” per line than he should, by all rights, be able to convey. Each of these books (three of which are in full color, and it’s gotta be said that Johnson is also a superb colorist) collects a series of thematically-similar short strips which seep into the consciousness of the reader with a heady mix of subtlety and inevitability, and reading all four at once, as I did, definitely has the power to “set the tone” for the rest of your day — or at least the next several hours of it, depending on what you’ve got going on.

Keeping all that in mind, then, I’m going to dispense with the plot recaps for each strip entirely and try something entirely different — what follows is not so much a traditional “capsule review” for these comics, but a cataloguing of the feelings that they stirred up in me as I read them. You’ll no doubt notice a very distinct  pattern emerge, and will walk away with a solid grasp of whether or not these comics are your “sort of thing.” I’ll state right now, and for the record, that they’re absolutely and unequivocally my “sort of thing,” and that I can’t wait to see what Johnson does next.

Forgotten Melody At The Edge Of Memory – Loneliness. Contemplation. Melancholy. Yearning. Alienation. Dissociation. Nostalgia. Despair. Restlessness. Ennui. Nihilsim. Resignation.

Never In A Million Years – Isolation. Failure. Longing. Yearning. Alienation. Dislocation. Apathy. Contemplation. Fear. Reverie. Resignation. Wistfulness.

Of Course – Lamentation. Heartbreak. Resignation. Tragedy. Wistfulness. Alienation. Vexation. Morbidity. Uselessness. Pity. Stoicism. Turmoil.

Ellipsis #1 – Anxiety. Contemplation. Dreariness. Inevitability. Depression. Weariness. Alienation. Wistfulness. Apathy. Isolation. Yearning. Apprehensiveness.

As you can see, Johnson is a cartoonist who knows what his particular skill-set and outlook is particularly good at conveying, and his work can very fairly be said to all be “of a piece.” And yet each story finds a method or two by which to express similar sentiments in new and, dare I say it, even clever ways. At some point it might be interesting to see our guy Cole move outside his “comfort zone” and try something entirely unexpected, sure, but for now — I’ll be damned if there’s anyone else out there doing what he does anywhere near as well as he does it. This is deeply felt, deeply humane, deeply personal work that is sure to make even the most hardened of hearts bleed a few drops — albeit in a muted, understated way that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself or its turmoil. If you’re feeling down none of these comics are going to pick you up, that’s for sure — and with Ellipsis slated to be a quarterly ongoing series it’s a safe bet that Johnson’s got a lot more to say on the particular set of concerns he seems downright consumed by — but they will let you know, in no uncertain terms, that there’s somebody else out there who knows pretty much exactly what you’re going through and has channeled those feelings through his conscious and subconscious mind in order to create some truly poignant art.

So, ya know, maybe all is not lost after all. Next week we’ll venture into far more uplifting territory, I promise, but until then, the following links may come in handy —

Forgotten Melody At The Edge Of MemoryNever In A Million Years, and Of Course all carry a $6.00 price tag and are available directly from the cartoonist via his bigcartel online store at https://colejohnson.bigcartel.com/products

John Porcellino (hey, there’s that name again!) also has all three of these titles available at his Spit And A Half distro site, and he also seems to be the only person offering Ellipsis #1 for sale at this point in time, so if you want to give that a go (and I really think you do), you can order that up for five bucks here :http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/ellipsis-1-by-cole-johnson/

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/03/2017 – 12/09/2017

Great stuff to tell you about this week, friends, so let’s eschew the time-wasting in favor of getting right the fuck down to business —

Twilight Of The Bat is Josh Simmons’ second “unauthorized” take on DC’s most bankable property, following on from his 2007 mini-comic simply titled “Batman” (later re-christened, no doubt for legal reasons, “Mark Of The Bat”), and this time out he’s joined by artist Patrick Keck for a 20-page ‘zine boasting high-quality Risograph printing and an $8.00 price tag set in a post-apocalyptic G _____ City where “The Bat” and his mortal enemy “Joke-Man” are the only survivors. The true nature of the most psychologically complex hero/villain relationship in comics is laid bare in frank and stark terms here, Kek’s rich and no-doubt-time-consuming linework is exceptional, and damn if this story won’t even make you laugh a couple times in spite of yourself. Yeah, okay, the Killing Joke influence is too obvious to miss, but this is, if anything, even more harrowing and tragic, even if does posit the same (and only)  inevitable outcome for this pair of star-crossed haters/lovers that Moore and Bolland did thirty years ago.

Damn! Now that I feel positively ancient, I’ll just mention that the inside covers feature pin-up art by Tara Booth and Anders Nilsen, who both contribute outstanding work — even if I can’t begin to decipher what Nilsen’s illustration has to do with the book at all. Well worth a buy, and damn, do these guys ship fast — I got mine in two days. Order yours at http://www.coldcubepress.com/shop/twilight-of-the-bat-josh-simmons-pat-keck

Uncivilized Books wants six of your hard-won dollars for John Porcellino’s South Beloit Journal, and you know what? You should give it to ’em. This is an engaging little collection of diary strips drawn at the low point of Porcellino’s life in the winter/spring of 2011, and if we’re going to measure it on a “diary comics bleakness/hopefulness scale” that has Gabby Schultz toiling away in the doldrums and Brian Canini serving up sunshine and rainbows at the other end, I’d have to say that it falls firmly in the middle. Certainly there is depression, anxiety, and even nihilism to spare, but by the end, things are looking up for Mr. King-Cat, and his shot at potential happiness feels well-eared, if almost nonchalantly arrived at. But then, that’s kinda how life works, isn’t it? Things suck until, slowly but surely, they don’t anymore. Chicken-scratch minimalism doesn’t get much more honest and engaging than this. Get it direct from the publisher at http://www.uncivilizedbooks.com/comics/south_beloit_journal.html or the author at http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/south-beloit-journal-by-john-porcellino/

Eric Haven is a cartoonist whose work first caught my attention when I was a teenager and he was putting out a three-issue series called Angryman for Caliber’s short-lived Iconografix imprint (anyone else remember that one?), and while his Hollywood gig as a producer on Myth Busters has kept him away from the drawing board more than I’d like, on those rare occasions when he does produce some new stuff, it’s always worth checking out — and his latest, the Fantagraphics-published hardback Vague Tales, is certainly no exception. A nearly-wordless collection of interlocked stories featuring super-heroes, super-villains, super-barbarians, and super-sorceresses that’s part Winsor McKay, part Jack Kirby, part Fletcher Hanks, part Charles Burns, and part something else entirely, this one seeps into your brain as you read it and simmers there for days as you try to piece together exactly what it’s all about/in aid of. Big, bold, brash — and yet profoundly subtle at the same time. Seventeen bucks is a bit much, true, but I don’t feel cheated in the least as this is one to re-visit over and over again. Porcellino’s got it at http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/vague-tales-by-eric-haven/

Fantagraphics also serves up our final offering of the week, Michel Fiffe’s Zegas, and this is the point where the spirit of full disclosure compels me to admit that I’ve never quite loved Copra as much as my fellow arbiters of taste breathlessly assure me that I need to. Mind you, I don’t dislike it in the least, I just fail to see what all the fuss is about.

This, though? Yeah, this one’s worth fussing about. Fiffe actually self-published this vibrantly-colored, assuredly-drawn story in serialized form before his more -celebrated (and still ongoing) super-hero homage, and for me this tale of two siblings with vastly different, but equally-compelling, problems trying to make their way toward vastly different, but equally-compelling, goals in a recognizable-but-not-quite city of the future, collected here in one volume for the first time, is supremely confident, visually literate stuff of the highest order. The sci-fi landscape is a tricky one to navigate, but in Emily and Boston, we have two fascinating guides, albeit for distinct — even disparate — reasons. Can’t recommend this one highly enough — well worth the $19.99 cover price, but easy enough to find for less even without resorting to Amazon. So don’t.

Alright, that ought to be enough to empty your wallet for one week — it was for me! — see you back here in seven days for another round!