Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/11/2018 – 02/17/2018

This has been an eventful week full of tragedy (yet another school shooting), triumph (Black Panther), and everything in between, has it not? And somewhere in between the grieving and the glory, there was even time for comics, so let’s talk about those —

Brian Canini remains as busy as always pursuing his various and sundry idiosyncratic cartooning visions, and recently found time to send me issues three and four of his superb ongoing mini-comics series Plastic People, which so far bears all the hallmarks of being his best work yet. Part dystopian sci-fi, part character study, and as of now — a murder mystery to boot? Clearly Canini’s spinning a lot of plates with this title, but so far pulling it all off perfectly. I don’t know how lengthy a narrative he’s pursuing here, but from all appearances he’s playing a “long game,” and after spending the first couple eight-page installments on “world-building,” the main thrust of his story is starting to come into view. The scene of the discovery of the dead body that comes to take center stage is downright Lynchian in its execution, what with one seemingly important event dovetailing into another, entirely unexpected and more consequential one, and the dialogue at the morgue that follows it a joy to read, equal parts procedural and personal. His art on these issues is equally strong, minimalist angularity that presents a foreign-yet-familiar future Los Angeles with a kind of “street-level” uncomplicated dynamism. About the only thing you could wish for from this comic that you don’t get is more pages, so absorbing and immersive is the tale being told here, but if you buy all four (and at just $1.99 each, why wouldn’t you?) and read them in one sitting, there’s that problem solved. I’m hoping he’s able to stick with a fairly regular production schedule on this one — I know, I know, easier said than done when you’re balancing your small-press publishing with a “real life” — because I’m pretty well hooked here and would love to be able to count on a predictable dose to mainline into my eyeballs. I know I’ve talked this series up in the past, but goddamnit, I’m going to continue to do so until you’re sick of hearing me talk about it. Do not pass this one up.

Also arriving in my package from Canini was the second issue of his full-color mini Blirps, another series of one-pagers starring his anxiety-riddled robot (I think, at any rate) monsters. These are always worth a chuckle and the concept seems like one that might have some commercial “legs” to it, as the set-up for each gag strip is simple yet infinitely applicable to any number of socially-awkward situations. I get a kick out of the deadpan humor here and could see this being a fairly successful Adult Swim-style animated short series — or, hell, maybe even being used as the premise for a line of greeting cards. You never know — but, again, I do know that this is well worth your two bucks and, as with Plastic People, is available from Drunken Cat Comics at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

Rachel Scheer is a full-time schoolteacher/part-time cartoonist based out of Seattle, Washington whose work I confess to being unfamiliar with until an envelope from her containing a couple of her mini-comics arrived in my mailbox the other day. Her drawing style is simple, but expressive, and lends itself equally well to scenes of fluid motion or static, single-panel illustration, and in Cats Of The White House we’re treated to plenty of the latter as she and writing collaborator Danny Noonan provide a series of brief-but-fun bios of some of the felines who have shared 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. along with their more-well-known human servan — sorry, “owners.” This is great little book for kids, cat-lovers, or both, and you may even pick up a tidbit or two of useless trivia along the way. Hell, I never even knew George W. Bush had a cat — or maybe I did, and I was just trying to forget it along with everything else about his presidency? Plenty of story and art on offer here to make it $3.00 smartly-spent.

The Scheer comic that really knocked my socks off, though, was The Hanukkah Fire, 1992, a family history wherein she traces the circuitous path her forebears took from Europe, though the little-known Jewish ghettos of Kobe, Japan and Shanghai, China, and all the way to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Bronx. Her use of old family home videos as a framing device is a simple-but-ingenious springboard for this deeply personal tale that touches on topics ranging from religious/cultural identity (or lack thereof) to the transition into adulthood and an examination of why we keep certain family traditions going while letting others fall by the wayside. Quietly poignant, highly literate cartooning delivered in a disarmingly simplistic style that manages to convey an awful lot of emotion with a minimal amount of fuss and muss, this is one of those comics that I’ll be re-reading again and again over the years. It’s available (along with Cats Of The White House and Scheer’s other self-published comics, which I intend to check out) for $4.00 from the cartoonist’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/RachelComics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

And I think that’ll about do it for this week, but next week’s Reading Round-Up is already pretty well set in stone given that the newest four-pack of minis from our Latvian friends at Kus! Comics just showed up in the mail today, so I’ll hope to see you back here in seven days for a look at what promises to be another superb quartet of books from eastern Europe’s finest publisher.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/05/2017 – 11/11/2017

A varied and disparate selection of books came my way this week, some easy enough to find, others decidedly less so —

And on the “decidedly less so” front, we’ve got legendary auto-didact Mark Beyer’s Ne’er-Do-Wellers, a limited-as-hell (as in 200 signed and numbered copies) new publication that comes to us by way of Trapset Zines and was issued in conjunction with the opening of a new gallery show of Beyer’s work. Not so much a “comic” per se as a series of illustrations accompanying reports of particularly strange and sometimes brutal crimes that took place in recent years in Beyer’s hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., this is as stark a distillation of absurdity, deadpan humor, and pessimism for humanity as a whole as you’re probably expecting, and certainly Beyer’s unique-unto-himself style of illustration is every bit as much a dark joy for the eyes as it’s always been, but — and it’s a big “but” —

28 bucks for this thing? Seriously? It’s advertised as being 25 pages long, but it’s not, and while the three postcards and greeting card it comes with are definitely terrific, they’re all older illustrations, and the cover is just a colorized version of one of the interior drawings. The economics of scarcity is the only thing that can in any way justify the price of this thing, and by “scarcity” I don’t just mean its low print run, I mean that new Beyer work is (very) few and (very) far between.

For that reason alone, then, I’m pleased to have Ne’er-do-Wellers as part of my library. I really do love it and have spent several hours poring over every detail of every drawing. But that doesn’t mean that the whole package should, in a perfect world, have cost about ten bucks less.

Plastic People is a fascinating little ongoing mini-comic by Brian Canini published by Drunken Cat Comics that just saw its third issue roll off the presses. Set in a future world where plastic surgery has reduced everyone (or, at least, everyone in L.A.) to a kind of bland sameness, this seems to be a bit of a “slow-burn” storyline (we don’t even find out what our protagonists do for a living until the second installment) for a mini-comic, but I dig Canini’s minimalist style and his characters seem more “people” than they do “plastic.” $1.99 for eight tiny pages is a little bit steep, I’ll grant you, but not out of line with what small-press readers are used to paying for similarly-formatted publications, and so I have no qualms about recommending this one to anybody with a little extra spending money who’s looking for an immersive new story to get hooked on.

The Divided States Of Hysteria #6 sees Howard Chaykin wrapping up the first arc of this apparently-now-ongoing series (it’ll be back at some point in 2018), and while this comic has been a strangely-paced-and-plotted affair even by Chaykin standards and he pulls the (temporary, as it turns out) ending out of his ass, I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t work anyway, and if protagonist Frank Villa doesn’t turn out to be marginally less of an asshole than he’s seemed to be (or, for that matter, than Chaykin’s deeply-flawed “heroes” almost always are). And all the folks leveling (largely sincere, in my view, but nevertheless misplaced) charges of transphobia against this book will certainly be surprised to see who Villa rides off into the sunset with — or rather, they would be if they were still reading. Chaykin’s art on this issue seems a bit crisper and tighter than the last few installments, Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and effects still look a good couple of decades ahead of their time, and there’s something very near to moral redemption offered up by the time all is said and (again, not exactly) done here — but for my money, the best thing of all about this book comes our way via the three-page “house ad” at the very back. I’ll say no more, beyond : it’s about time, Howard. In fact, it’s about time — squared. Anybody else as excited as I am?

Lastly, knowing full well that I risk whatever meager reputation I have by admitting this, I’ll just ‘fess up to the fact that Moon Knight has always been my favorite Marvel super-hero, and the character has been in the midst of something of a creative renaissance since the Warren Ellis/Declan Shalvey re-launch a few years back. Writer Max Bemis (whose work I’m not terribly familiar with, but who apparently fronts a band of some sort) and artist Jacen (CrossedProvidence) Burrows are the latest to take a crack at everyone’s favorite multiple-personality vigilante with Moon Knight #188 (once again, I won’t even attempt to begin to explain Marvel’s new “Legacy” numbering), and while the story’s only a middling affair that centers on a psychologist and her patient (neither of whom, as far as I know, readers have ever been introduced to previously) rather than our ostensible protagonist (who only appears in a brief dream sequence),  Burrows absolutely nails it on the art, and that’s more than enough to keep me around for at least a few issues to see how things progress. His style is remarkably different to that of the other top-flight artists who have worked on the character in the past — from Sienkiewicz to Shalvey to, most recently, Smallwood — but his eye for detail and expression really shines through, and his figure drawing is becoming far more fluid and less “posed” than it sometimes was on previous projects. It’s well past time that wider audiences than Avatar projects (even Alan Moore-scripted Avatar projects) have going for them were exposed to this guy’s work, so here’s your chance.

Okay, that’s enough, I should think, for this week — I’ve got (yet another) package from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half on the way, as well as a bunch of Aaron Lange comics, so there should definitely be some interesting stuff to talk about when we meet here again in seven days.