Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/29/2019 – 10/05/2019

And we’re back! After taking a month (-ish) off to finish some other writing projects (including my first-ever comic book story!) while still keeping my “regular” review schedule on track, the Round-Up is ready to get off the mat, dust itself off, and step back into the ring! As is Michel Fiffe, so let’s get to that first —

Copra (Vol. 2) #1 is the 32nd issue of the formerly-self-published series, as the cover signature makes clear, but what could be a lot more clear is just what the fuck is happening — for new readers, at any rate. And there should be plenty of those given that new publisher Image Comics has a much greater “reach” than a Brooklyn cartoonist toiling away on his own. Which isn’t to say that there’s not a nice recap of all that’s come before on offer in this 36-page debut issue (a real bargain at $3.99, especially given that it features a heavy cardstock cover), but it’s at the back of the book and late arrivals would probably be better served if it were at the front. That concern aside, though, this is another strong installment of this post-modern take on John Ostrander-era Suicide Squad comics, the characters are introduced/re-introduced on the fly so as not to slow down the pace, and one trademark ingenious Fiffe fight sequence should be all it takes to hook most newbies. A fun, smart, exceptionally fluid series that’s finally getting itself in front of as many pairs of eyes as it deserves? I can’t see any negatives to that new paradigm.

Also coming out of mothballs is Matt Wagner’s classic sorta-antihero in Dark Horse’s Grendel : Devil’s Odyssey  #1. The stoic Grendel Prime is our protagonist this time out, tasked with the old canard of finding a “replacement planet” for an Earth that’s headed down the tubes, and while Wagner’s art certainly is as crisp and distinctive as ever — much aided by his son Brennan’s fantastic color choices — the story might need an issue or two before the training wheels come back off. I’m not opposed to giving it that — few Grendel stories have ultimately let me down — however, eventually we’re gonna need more than just nostalgia value here. I dig the new and more obvious pulp influence, so that’s another plus, but the whole thing just isn’t quite clicking into place — yet.

One book that clicks into place right off the bat, though, is Ruby Falls #1, the latest debut offering from Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. A taut little mystery written by Karen Berger mainstay Ann Nocenti (by the way, aren’t there supposed to be two more issues of The Seeds — at some point?), this is a distinctively-scripted series featuring a distinctively-developed protagonist set against the backdrop of a distinctively-realized town. Oh, and Flavia Bondi’s art? That’s pretty darn distinctive, too — Eurocomics style meets the pragmatic storytelling concerns of the North American market, both elements accentuating rather than negating each other. After a shaky start to the imprint, Berger seems to have found her editorial footing again overseeing these four-part minis that have become her new mainstay, and this bears all the hallmarks of being the best one yet.

All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #4 lures you in with a terrific gouache painting by the always-astonishing Tara Booth featuring a generously-proportioned version of Bullwhip teeing off on arch-foe The Misogynist on the cover, and a chase-and-fight between the two penciled by Julia Gfrorer and inked by series co-writer Josh Simmons kicks things off before the other Josh — that being Bayer — and Simmons take us back into the story “proper” as illustrated by the still-super-after-all-these-years Trevor Von Eeden. I’m digging this pattern of having “alternative” cartoonists drawing the intro sequences, I’m digging the “gonzo” tone of the series as a whole, I’m digging the first new Von Eeden work in way too long — seriously, just jump on this book if you haven’t already. All the promise and potential hinted at (but only sporadically realized, it’s true) in the first ATC run is bearing fruit since making the jump over to Floating World Comics and Bayer bringing on all his new collaborators. Probably the most genuinely fun thing on your LCS new release racks these days.

And that’s our first week back on the books, in the books. Which just leaves the rote task of reminding you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week (again, promise!) 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. You can’t beat that deal, so please take a moment to give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

A Josh Bayer Two-Fer : “Black Star”

The task facing Josh Bayer’s new Tinto Press comic, Black Star, is both twofold and daunting : to add depth, texture, and significance to the “main work” it refers back to and, in a very real sense, occurs within — that being the just-reviewed Theth : Tomorrow Forever  — and to justify its own existence as an individual, self-contained work.

Which, for the record, it isn’t — but that needn’t necessarily prevent it from functioning as one. If you’re confused by this review right about now, that’s okay — if you’re confused by the comic itself, considerably less so.

Adapted from the classic Dick Briefer Frankenstein story “The Faceless Monster,” this richly-drawn (and even more richly-colored) book is also a “book-within-a-book,” a meta-textual narrative sprung from the mind of Theth “himself” metaphorically, his creator literally — and one that calls into question to an even greater degree the separation, if any actually exists, between the two. But that question is best considered with the fullness of Bayer’s artistic ouevre in mind.

After all, this is the same guy who’s made re-purposed and re-imagined versions of old Bill Mantlo-scripted Rom comics a staple of his career, and to his considerable credit has managed to make something reasonably new out of such largely-forgotten material, thereby showing the intrinsic value that even the most disposable of pop-cultural artifacts can, and often do, contain. Making something that somebody else made first well and truly your own is a tough gig, but Bayer’s done it before — and, to give away the “plot” of this review probably too early, he does the same here. But that’s only half the battle.

The greater challenge is, of course, fashioning at least a borderline-necessary supplement to Theth’s story. To imbue enough of “him” into it that readers of the longer, admittedly more broad-scoped book can take real value from this side-step. Your mileage on that is really going to vary — it’s not like you need this to enjoy and appreciate that — but between the main story, the five-page backup strip, the Jeff Test cover and the Matthew Thurber and Jason T. Miles “pin-up” illustration pages, the job of fleshing out Theth : Tomorrow Forever is more than successfully accomplished.

What’s perhaps less clear is how much actual utility this comic has when considered entirely on its own, cut loose from its “parental” moorings. It’s a joy to look and read, to be sure, and that’s enough in and of itself, but readers of this comic only really are missing out on so much, on levels both liminal and subliminal, that it’s fair to say they’re cheating themselves out of the “full experience” of all this work has to offer. That’s not to say it doesn’t stand tall and proud individually — how many cartoonists would sacrifice at least their non-drawing arm to produce something this technically and creatively proficient? — but it is to say that the exact same material means considerably more when taken in conjunction with the “mothership” from which it was “launched.” I definitely recommend picking it up — but I recommend picking up Tomorrow Forever along with it to get a complete understanding not so much of what you’re reading here, but why you’re reading it and how to best understand and appreciate it in its totality.

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Black Star is available for $6.00 directly from Josh Bayer at http://joshbayer.storenvy.com/products/28425626-black-star

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. Your support there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please take a moment to check it out over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

A Josh Bayer Two-Fer : “Theth : Tomorrow Forever”

A tidal wave of memories real and imagined, meticulously haphazard (here we go with the contradictions) pencil, pen, and brush strokes, kaleidoscopic colors, steam-of-consciousness observations, mixed genre tropes, and weighty foreboding, Josh Bayer’s latest Tinto Press-published comic/”graphic novel,”  Theth : Tomorrow Forever, may be a sequel to its shorter-titled 2014 predecessor literally and thematically, but it’s also very much a “stand-alone” work — and one that leaves a pretty damn indelible mark upon the reader, at that.

Most of us have been where protagonist/authorial stand-in (to one degree or another) Theth finds himself in Columbus, Ohio circa 1990 : 20 years old, at loose ends, burning to make a mark upon the world, unsure of what form that mark should — or even could — take, the future appearing equal parts formless void and open wound. It’s probably trickier for those with an artistic inclination to navigate this period in life than it is for others, I’d imagine — if you’re buckling down at your studies in hopes of being, I dunno, a lawyer or a dentist or something your path is pretty clear, after all. If you’re hoping to be a cartoonist or illustrator or poet or playwright, decidedly less so. Spoiler alert : law or med school ain’t in Theth’s plans.

Meaning is there to be found wherever we look for it, the purveyors of received “wisdom” inform us, but tell that to a kid who’s hunting for it in every nook and cranny and coming up empty. How, then, does one invent it in the face of a random and uncaring universe that will continue to go on just fine, with or without your (or, hell, even my) presence? It’s a big question — maybe the big question — and one that philosophies, religions, and belief systems all seek to provide the answer to. If you’re of a mind — wisely, might I add — to reject all that in favor of something more unique to your own self, the metaphorical mountain you’re climbing invariably becomes more steep, it’s true, but on the plus side, when you’ve scaled it (or even made something akin to progress toward doing so), that’s a legit achievement. Maps are easy — cutting your own way through a dense fog of the unknown and the unknowable is some tough shit.

Which is probably why so many people opt for rulebooks, holy or academic or otherwise (well, that and fear of death). And while Theth doesn’t grapple with anything in a traditional manner, his internal — and, crucially, interalized — struggles are sure as shit near to universal as anyone else’s. Where we are, who we are, how the heck we got here — those are tricky wickets to wrap your head around even as you’re living, or have already lived, through them. But what we’re headed for doesn’t even offer the crutch of experiential knowledge to lean on; it’s all just out there, waiting.

But is it waiting to happen — or waiting to be made?

Fuck yes, this comic made me think. A lot. And while its structure is a thing unto itself, a phantasmagoric blend of the actual, the fantastic, and the actually fantastic, Bayer himself is so grounded as an artist that his story has no real need to be. He knows when and where to back off and let his readers intuit the parameters of what he’s putting on the page, and furthermore understands how the world of dreams and imagination necessarily informs day-to-day, consensus reality. A gap between the two always remains, of course — and maybe bridging that gap really is the project of a lifetime.

The word “visionary” gets tossed around far too freely these days, but it’s my contention that no matter how commercialized and cheapened a form the term has been forcibly devolved to fit, just about anyone can still recognize actual visionary work when they see it. Read it. Experience it. You’ll never question, from page one onward, whether or not Theth : Tomorrow Forever is such a work.

Liana Finck provides an introduction and a page of “pin-up” art, with more of the latter offered up courtesy of Sam Spina, Janelle Hessig, and Jeff Test, but this is Bayer’s show all the way — and while you’ve never seen anything quite like it, odds are pretty good that you’ve lived your own version of it, and may still be doing so now.

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Theth : Tomorrow Forever is available for $25 directly from the cartoonist at https://joshbayer.storenvy.com/products/26476950-theth-tomorrow-forever

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  dollar a month. Your support helps keep things going there, sure, bit it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please give it a look by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/28/2019 – 08/03/2019

Sometimes, as a writer, you like to throw little challenges at yourself, just to make things more interesting — especially when it comes to long-running columns such as this. My self-appointed challenge this week : to see if I can crank out one of these Round-Ups in 30 minutes or less. Let’s see how that goes —

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang ride off into the sunset with Paper Girls #30, the conclusion to their long-running Spielbergian fan-favorite series from Image, and as far as finales go, this one’s a clinic : we start with a dream sequence, we then return to the “real world” much as our memory-wiped protagonists have, and how much they will or might remember is sorta the theme here. Lots of gorgeous double-page spreads give this extra-length issue a little extra “breathing room” to say a proper good-bye to the girls, and all in all these creators hit all the right notes on the way out the door. Oh, and I defy you to keep both eyes dry as you read it. This is calculated stuff, sure — it’s also pretty goddamn wonderful.

Once you get past Jason T, Miles’ amazingly bizarro cover for Floating World Comics’ All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #2, what awaits within is one of  the most bizarro issues to date of this always-unpredictable project. Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons introduce an utterly inexplicable villain in their script who’s a bit like McDonalds’ Grimace with a nihilistic philosophical bent, there are some truly eyeball-gouging battle scenes, and the “heroes” of this ostensible “universe” seem less heroic than ever. Benjamin Marra and Ken Landgraf kick things off with the first five pages of art, but it’s the main chunk of the book, as illustrated by the great Trevor Von Eeden, that’s the real draw here, and worth the price of admission. “Dynamic insanity” is, I believe, the term I’m straining for here — and now that I’ve found it, I need not say much else about this comic other than “buy it.”

Cullen Bunn and his fellow Sixth Gunn creator Brian Hurtt team up on writing duties for Manor Black #1 from Dark Horse, illustrated by Bunn’s creative partner on Harrow County, the magnificent Tyler Crook, and while the story’s a bit of a confused introduction to this world of magic and legacy, the whole “old-meets-new” dynamic works, and the art’s just straight-up gorgeous. This concept seems like it should have some legs, and even if the story doesn’t improve significantly, Crook is reason enough to hang around month-in and month-out — at least to see how this comic looks, if not where it goes.

Bunn’s got another debut to his credit this week with Aftershock’s Knights Temporal #1, a time-travel-meets-mystic-secret-society thing stunningly delineated by Fran Galan, who gives things a decidedly Eurocomics feel with his lush illustration. Again, the story’s a bit of a head-scratcher, certainly by intention I’d assume (although we all know what happens when you do that), but it’s reasonably intriguing, and the art hooks you quick and reels you into this world. I’m definitely planning on sticking around for more, even if how much more is a bit of an open question.

Okay, so 45 minutes. Not so bad, and just enough time before my day gets rolling to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week 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 the low price of as little as a dollar a month. Your support would be greatly appreciated, needless to say, so if you’d be so kind please give it a look (and hopefully a join) by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

“All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape” #1 : I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

We’ve certainly spent a lot of time dissecting Josh and Samuel Bayer’s All-Time Comics series on this site lately, and while I’m tempted to say something along the lines of “the beatings will continue until you buy this shit,” in truth I was doing some catch-up work in order to set the stage for the second “season” of this ever-evolving concept. The “zero issue” put out last month by Floating World Comics set the table, but now that All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1 has arrived, it’s time for the main course. So — just how tasty is it?

The first few pages — a flashback sequence illustrated by the always-sublime Gabrielle Bell that ties the events of the “prequel” comic in with the series “proper” — are one visually-delicious appetizer, that’s for sure, but for old-time readers, it’s the main 1980s-set portion of the story, drawn by trailblazing “Big Two” veteran Trevor Von Eeden, that’s going to be the main draw, and to say ol’ Trev hasn’t lost a step would be an understatement : his page layouts are as inventive as ever, his sense of dynamic flow remains unfettered, his Krigstein-esque “fine art” sensibilities still razor-sharp and employed for maximum effect.

Rising to meet the challenge thrown down by their artists, co-scripters Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons, both terrific cartoonists in their own right, go right for the jugular, imbuing this homage to the post-“Bronze Age” crossover “event” comic with deliriously OTT ultra-violence, strong broad-stroke characterization, plenty of laugh-out-loud “gallows humor,” and even a bit of logical consistency. Having introduced each of these heroes by means of their individual exploits in “season one,” here they bring them all together to take on a trio of disparate threats, and while it would be a stretch to say that the three-headed “rogues’ gallery” of The Beggar, the wonderfully-named Daylight Savings Time Killer, and the meddlesome Time Vampire Scientist represent a “unified front,” wondering just how they’ll all come together to challenge Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer is a big part of the fun here, and speaking of speculation — just where the hell is the mightiest hero in this makeshift “universe,” Atlas?

Das Pastoras’ brutally beautiful cover reflects the “grim and gritty” tone of the era in comics history this series takes place in, but don’t take that to mean there’s no contemporary sensibility at work here — blending the old and the new has been one of the project’s main goals since its inception, but there were many instances in the first six-issue run where the balance was just a bit off, resulting in a tongue-in-cheek tone that couldn’t decide if it was a tribute or a pastiche. That’s hardly an issue with this — errrmmm — issue, though, as the Joshes and their artists nail it from the outset, each individual creator lending their talents to a highly synergistic and energetic whole. These folks, in other words, are cooking with gas.

Arrrggh, again with the food metaphors. I should probably cut this short and eat dinner. But if you’re hungry for a smart, “retro”-flavored comic that knows what it’s doing — one that tips its hat to its influences without being overly beholden to them — then you’re seriously going to dig All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #1.

Give it a read while I fire up the grill.

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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. It’s a great— and most welcome — way to help support my work, and given you can join up for as little as a dollar month, I believe invoking the term “what have you got to lose?” is in order here.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

ATC Week Epilogue : “All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape” #0

After giving you, dear readers — and myself! — a bit of a breather from all things “All-Time,” we’re back for one more round, this time putting the not-quite-first installment of “Season Two” of Josh and Samuel Bayer’s ongoing post-modern take on super-heroics under our metaphorical microscope, that being All -Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0.

Direct “Bronze Age” call-backs are still here to be found, but you’ve gotta do a lot more digging for them as the brothers Bayer, along with new collaborator Josh Simmons and returning “usual suspects” Ken Landgraf and cover artist Das Patoras, have widened the scope of the project considerably, with the art and story this time most clearly hearkening back to the EC “hosted” horror comics of the 1950s, while the “zero issue” hustle is something straight outta the 1990s “speculator bubble” playbook.

The question, of course, is — are all of these changes for the best?

The project’s new publishing home, Floating World Comics, seems to think so, and while the complete tonal and stylistic 180 took me more than a moment to adjust to as a reader, truth be told I’m all for shattering expectations just as a matter of course. The scripting by the pair of Joshes is uneven, but keeps readers off-guard in just the right way, as narrator Time Vampire Scientist relates a story from the misty dawn of history that dovetails into what I presume to be a modern-day yarn (although the aesthetics and dialogue have a distinct Great Depression vibe to them) about a young lad who’s very nearly the victim of a shocking and harrowing crime, until he’s saved at the last moment when the scumbags who’ve set upon him are thwarted by a new (to us readers, at any rate) hero who calls himself The Red Maniac — and who’s decidedly un-heroic even by ATC  standards given that he’s middle-aged, out of shape, and barely able to hold his own in a fight.

How all this fits in with the reality-shattering dawn of something called the “Zeroverse” remains anyone’s guess, at this point, but I’m game to find out not just based on evidence offered in this “zero” issue, but because I’m damn excited about what’s coming next.

Or should that be who’s coming next? No offense intended to the art of misters Simmons and Landgraf — which is actually solid “retro” stuff that’s rich in detail and imaginatively laid out and presented — but the first issue proper sees the arrival of Trevor Von Eeden, one of the most groundbreaking and radical artists in DC’s 1980s stable, and someone who’s been absent from the comics scene for far too long. I’m absolutely fascinated to see how his style has changed and evolved over the decades, and to see how his always-remarkable visual storytelling skills play out in a contemporary comic (albeit one with a self-consciously nostalgic ethos).

I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in Simmons, who’s certainly one of the most distinctive voices in latter-day horror comics. The sample size we’re offered here is a small one — in fact, there are nearly as many pages of backmatter in this comic as there are of story and art — but it’s enough to hook you, even if it’s not enough to give a clear idea of why. I still read enough single-issue “floppies” to accept this as par for the course in the opening salvos of any and almost every given series, so what the hell — I can go with it here, too, and know from experience that Bayer and Simmons are skilled and smart enough to pull disparate narrative threads together in fascinating and unexpected ways.

All of which is to say — All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape  #0 fulfills the tasks laid out in its unwritten (and decidedly narrow) remit nicely, and does so with enough scattershot imagination to convince you that we’re probably in quite good hands here. Whether that faith is wisely placed or not is something that’ll be determined over the course of the next six issues.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics — and hopefully go some way toward mapping out where and how all of these things intersect, and to what effect. I recently lowered the minimum tier price to a dollar a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support, so do please give it a look.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Blind Justice” #2

And so here, at the end, it all comes together : everything Josh and Samuel Bayer have been aiming for throughout the course of the first “season” of their sprawling, multi-faceted project “clicks” into place with All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2. Is it flawless? No. The highs and lows aren’t so much smoothed out as they are — assigned to their proper positions. And the end result is, finally, a comic that filters “Bronze Age” sensibilities through a modern “alt-comics” lens, and vice-versa — simultaneously.

It’s a tough balancing act, to be sure, but Josh B. has a much more firm handle on his character (who I still don’t think is blind) this time out, and so when he sends him out of Optic City and into the hills to track down his villainous prey, readers feel as our protagonist does : a stranger in an even stranger land, pursuing a foe who might just be able to beat him.

You want “old meets new” done right? How about Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgom? Distinctive cartooning meets workmanlike finishes that in no way negate the personality of the art, with colorist Matt Rota applying superb finishing touches by means of a broader-than-“Bronze Age” palette applied within distinct “Bronze Age” parameters. This comic is a legit treat for the eyes, and the stripped-down wilderness survival storyline reads as smooth as the pictures look. As a final “kicker,” Rick Parker’s letters complete the holistic aesthetic package, modified from his usual fonts just enough to straddle the line between then and now without either coming into conflict with the other.

It took some doing, but in the bottom of the ninth, everybody comes through here and the potential the Bayers saw in their concept from the outset is confidently, and fully, on display. From Das Pastoras’ well-executed cover to the “fake ads” (more on which momentarily), everything about this comic works. It won’t be of any interest to readers who have no time or patience for works heavily imbued with nostalgia, true, but the nostalgic influences here are just part of the “sizzle,” they’re not the “steak.” Not every creator who participated in this initial six-issue run got that right, but these guys all do this time around, and you know what? It leaves me feeling very optimistic indeed about ATC’s  future.

Speaking of which —

At $24.99, the All-Time Comics “season one” trade paperback recently released from Floating World Comics (thus freeing this line from being referred to, and saddled with the title of, “the Fantagraphics super-hero comics”) offers absolutely terrific value for money, and comes complete with all those fake ads we just mentioned, as well as the “Bullpen Bulletins”-style text pages and pin-ups (by a murderer’s row of cartooning talent) that rounded out each single issue. Yeah, it’s an uneven read, but as mentioned at the outset of this week, the stories read much better together than they do piecemeal, and you can see the various and disparate parts slowly coming together to form, at the very end, a nicely cohesive whole. Bring on Zerosis Deathscape, Josh Simmons, and Trever Von Eeden! I’m ready for anything, and together with Josh Bayer, Ken Landgraf, Gabrielle Bell, and the others involved in “season two,” who knows? We might just get it!

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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. You can join up for as little as a dollar a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? There’s tons of content up on there are already, and needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse