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 :

I’ve Seen The Future And It Looks A Lot Like “Spiny Orb Weaver” #1

I hardly think I’m making news here by informing all you good readers that the economic landscape for small press comics and self-publishers is absolutely brutal right now — and by that I mean even more brutal than usual — but there are still plenty of people making a go of it by means of every distribution and financing mechanism you can think of, the most popular being crowd-funding and online serialization. It’s no stretch to say that some of the most talked-about comics of the so-called “pandemic era” have been instagram comics, and that platforms such as Kickstarter have afforded many a cartoonist the ability to have their work see print even when their own bank accounts were hovering near rock bottom. There are, however, other less-utilized means of hustling up the money necessary to produce a comic, and one that I’m frankly surprised isn’t utilized more often in the local arts grant — which brings us to the book under our metaphorical lens today, Spiny Orb Weaver #1.

Edited by Neil Brideau and published under the auspices of his Radiator Comics imprint, this new series was funded by The Ellies, a Miami-based visual arts award, and as such the idea behind it is to promote the burgeoning South Florida cartooning scene — but Brideau has found an ingenious way of expanding his talent pool without stepping outside the bounds of his tight-by-design remit, to wit : each issue will feature a cover and lead story by a local artist, followed by an interview with them, and then the final few pages are devoted to a memoir-based “backup strip” by someone who used to call the area home but has since moved on. These are, then, all South Florida comics — even the ones made by cartoonists who don’t live there. Heck, even the title of the publication has a local resonance, the Spiny Orb Weaver being the name of a spider native to the region.

The spotlight of this first issue falls squarely on a name that’s new to me, Miss Jaws (or Jessica Garcia, as her birth certificate would have it), and while her story’s central trope of a highly social pet (in this case Max, the dog, even talks) helping his owner, DJ, overcome her own social anxiety and connect with her neighbors is an admittedly obvious one, it’s presented in an interesting and agreeable enough manner to make even a cynic like myself find the whole thing reasonably compelling. This is largely down to a combination of factors, most notable among them being that Miss Jaws writes an incredibly authentic protagonist, but let’s be honest : the theme of personal isolation in a crowded city is eminently relatable at present, to the point where even the most social of butterflies probably has felt a little bit of what the ostensible heroine of this strip does. Points, then, for timeliness, for solid scripting, and for eschewing an easy, saccharine take on complex psychological subject matter in favor of a far more subtle, considered, and naturalistic approach. I liked the story, and I really liked the art : Miss Jaws utilizes every page all the way to the margins and infuses her fundamentally solid figure drawing with a notable degree of personality by means of well-chosen facial expression and body language “cues,” then tops it all off with expert gray-tone usage that really captures and sustains a specific mood from start to finish.

What I found perhaps even more interesting, though, was Brideau’s interview with the artist, which handily covers the basics for Miss Jaws “newbies” like myself, but then goes the extra mile by delving into her process, sure, but more crucially and substantively her artistic goals, ideals, and concerns, giving readers a full picture of an artist with a both a clear purpose and a distinct methodology by which she seeks to communicate it. The next comic I see with her name on it or in it is one that I’ll be buying immediately, as she is every bit the proverbial “talent to watch.”

All of which brings us, finally, to Tana Oshima, a cartoonist who needs no introduction to readers of this site, as I’ve been doing my damndest to champion her work to anyone willing to listen for the last couple of years now. Her short “comic essay” is densely multi-faceted, as is her custom, offering a rumination not just on her time in Miami, but on the concept of what’s loosely defined as “paradise” in a more general sense. Even as a creature of northern climes born and bred I was taken aback by the wistful and contemplative tone of this one, and of course Oshima’s trademark page layouts (four panels with text blocks above static images) are as integral to the overall mood of her work as they are to its pace — Dostoevsky is a major influence on her storytelling, and she’s emerging as comics’ nearest equivalent to him, which I assure you is no exaggeration even if it sounds like one.

What we’ve got here in total, then, is not only a very well-done anthology comic, but one that manages to balance universal themes with those specifically centered around, and bearing the imprimatur of, the atmosphere, flavor, culture, and ethos of a specific part of the world. It’s of South Florida, to be sure, but not necessarily chained to it — but by “going local,” as it were, and financing his ‘zine by means of local patronage, Neil Brideau isn’t just doing the cartooning scene in his area “a solid,” he’s showing one more way forward for comics in general.


Spiny Orb Weaver #1 is available for $10.00 from the Radiator Comics website at

Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “George” brown leather strap from their “Performance” series.