The Other Side Of The Fold : Robb Mirsky’s “The Lemonade Brigade”

The “tag line” above the title of Robb Mirsky’s new self-published mini The Lemonade Brigade tells you right away that he gets it : why do kids in the suburbs tend to get themselves into any kind of trouble they can find? Because they’re bored — and they damn well should be! When you’re surrounded by people (or, in this case, lemons) who have traded in happiness for the single-dullest approximation of security one can imagine, people who are literally running out the clock on their own lives, you’ll do anything to relieve the tedium. Especially, I suppose, if those people are your own parents.

To that end, most of the juvenile delinquency on offer in these pages is as utterly pointless as such acts of quasi-rebellion tend to be in real life : nobody’s got the brains or ambition to really throw a spanner in the works of the system, so they just “tag” the same walls with graffiti over and over again (among other ultimately pointless endeavors), not so much actively hoping to get caught as they are not really giving a fuck either way. After all, the question of “Why did you do it, son?” is one that only has one answer in suburbia : “Because it was something to do.”

So, yeah, apart from the fact that these comics feature citrus-based life forms, they’re eminently relatable to anyone who either had or is having a standardized, routine upbringing in a consumer-driven community centered around the principle of protracted soul-death on the installment plan. I laughed at something on every page, and that’s basically a Mirsky staple — even if this comic, for entirely practical (yet no less innovative for that fact) reasons actually has no staples. Ya see, what it has instead is something much better : a “B”-side comic of the following strip presented in fold-out form :

Okay, fair enough, it’s a gimmicky idea — but that doesn’t preclude it from being a cool one. Which is also a feature common to all things Mirsky : he has a habit of reminding you why you like certain things simply because he does them so damn well. “Old hat” ideas like muck monsters and anthropomorphic stands-ins for human beings seem fresh, new, and fun again when he’s doing them because he has an uncanny knack both for zeroing in on why these sorts of gimmicks (there’s that word again) were both fun and effective in the first place , and for tossing aside the extraneous baggage that they’ve been saddled with over the years that’s sapped all that fun and effectiveness out of them. They say that everything old is new again, and I suppose that’s true or they wouldn’t keep saying it, but it takes a special talent to make a reader glad that it’s new again. I humbly submit that Mirsky is, indeed, a special talent of precisely that sort.

Looking at things more broadly, it’s fair to say that slapstick gets a bad rap in these pseudo-sophisticated and painfully self-aware times we live in, but when it’s done smartly, and has a point? It’s not only still funny and salient in equal measure, it’s also fiendishly clever, especially when it’s of the painfully obvious “I wish I’d thought of that — in fact, why didn’t I?” variety. All of which is to say that the observations at the beating heart of these gag strips well and truly don’t require any sort of special level of insight — but they most certainly do require skilled comedic timing and a mastery of “Comics 101” visual storytelling basics in order to land properly. If, then, you’re the sort of person who values and appreciates sheer old-school cartooning skill, you’ll find this charmingly unassuming mini to be one that you derive a fair amount of honest-to-goodness joy from.

And speaking (again) of muck monsters, Mirsky has also just released the latest and greatest issue of his infectiously likable series Sludgy, which is #4 to be precise, and you don’t want to pass on that, either. I have, however, talked about that title plenty in the past, so I made it my goal this time out to demonstrate to you, dear reader, that this guy is much more than some one-trick pony. He’s the real deal, and he’s making some real good comics.

***************************************************************

The Lemonade Brigade is available for $3.00 from Robb Mirsky’s website, My Moving Parts, at https://mymovingparts.com/collections/comics/products/lemonade-brigade-mini-comic

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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Back In The Saddle With The Latest From Robb Mirsky, Brian Canini, Connor McCann, And More

And so we — or I guess that should be I — return after a few weeks’ absence, certainly none the worse for wear (in fact, dare I say feeling somewhat refreshed), but with plenty to catch you, dear reader, up on. To that end, the next batch of reviews are going to be whirlwind overviews of a number of comics I read over the course of my hopefully-well-earned (you can be the judge of that) break. And seeing as how I’ve wasted enough time recently as is, I think the best course of action is simply to jump right in —

God Bless The Machine By Connor McCann – Don’t look now, but the “Strangers Fanzine Presents” label is turning into the closest thing the comics world offers to a guaranteed mark of quality. Latest case in point : this artistic and conceptual thrill ride from Connor McCann, a name previously unknown to me, but one I’ll surely be on the lookout for more from in future. Featuring solid, “crunchy” figure drawings rendered in thick, black inks, this cynical-but-in-no-way-overly-obvious look at the cost of fame ostensibly centers around a washed-up former child star attempting to rescue an artificially-created boy band being held hostage on the moon, but veers off in a million different directions from there. The 2000AD influence here is strong, but this is much funnier and more genuinely surprising (to say nothing of genuinely twisted) than that magazine has been in, oh, the past four decades or so. The ideas fly at you a mile a minute from start to finish, but have no fear — it all comes together in a crescendo best described as logically coherent but still batshit insane. If you don’t like this, you don’t like comics, period.

Get it for ten bucks from the Strangers website at : https://strangersfanzine.bigcartel.com/product/god-bless-the-machine-by-connor-mccann-strangers-fanzine-presents

Sludgy #3 By Robb Mirsky – As luck would have it, you needn’t leave that very site to get your hands on a copy of Robb Mirsky’s latest Sludgy mini, and while Mirsky himself told me that this third issue, consisting of five tight, well-paced shorts, was “probably the best so far,” I take all such claims with a grain of salt. Damned thing is, though, there’s no probably about it — things take a turn for the darker here, and not only is that entirely apropos, it elevates this entire concept out of “Casper, only toxic and gooey” territory and into the rarefied air of the disturbingly humorous. Oh, sure, our friendly monsters are still innocent enough in and of themselves, but the people they encounter, as well as the circumstances under which those encounters take place, well — that’s another matter. That being said, believe it or not, this is also the funniest and most impeccably-drawn installment to date, as well.

You can score this from the Strangers site for $6.00 at https://strangersfanzine.bigcartel.com/product/sludgy-3-by-robb-mirsky

Glimpses Of Life #7 By Brian Canini – Set against the impending arrival of baby number three and with COVID never far out of sight or mind, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this collection of January 2021 diary comics from one of Columbus’ most prolific cartooning talents, but likable as these strips are, one can’t help but feel the deck is stacked against Canini simply because there’s so much of this kind of thing out there already and so little to set it all apart. Honestly, unless you’re doing Gabrielle Bell-level stuff, the entire diary comics field is a tough one to stand out in, especially since the pandemic pretty much guaranteed that everyone who wasn’t doing them before is doing them now. The closest comparison I can draw here is to Kyle Bravo’s work, in that both artists produce eminently likable autobio material — that’s pretty well forgotten about after you’re done with it. As I’ve pointed out in the past, though, in regards to this very series, it tends to read better when it’s collected into larger volumes that afford readers the opportunity to really get in there and vicariously spend time with Canini and his family. In shorter 32-page bursts such as this, though, you’re left with a feeling of “that was nice enough, I suppose, ” but not much else. Which feels like a pretty shitty thing to say about a comic that, I should reiterate, is just fine for what it is — but nevertheless, there we have it.

You can pick this up for $6.00 from Canini’s Drunken Cat website at https://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/products/32339596-glimpses-of-life-7

The Big Red Machine, Grandma, And Me By Terry Eisele And Brian Canini – A considerably more successful entry into the equally-crowded field of memoir is Canini’s collaboration with writer Terry Eisele that documents the latter’s close relationship with his maternal grandmother, expressed and expounded upon in any number of ways, most notably via their mutual love of the Cincinnati Reds’ mid-’70s world championship teams. Still, if we parse this mini’s title down to its essentials, it’s far more about the “grandma” than it is the “Big Red Machine,” and that’s as it should be. Eisele’s sheer skill as a writer elevates this simple, but entirely heartfelt, comic over many others of its ilk that are out there, and Canini’s an old pro at drawing this type of story, so the collaboration is about as seamless as these things get. I enjoyed this one a lot and feel pretty safe in saying that you will, too.

This one’s also available from Canini’s own Drunken Cat site, for five very well-spent dollars : https://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/products/32878765-the-big-red-machine-grandma-and-me

And I think that’ll do it for today; I’ll be back tomorrow with another batch of recent reads to expound upon. Until then, a reminder to please support my Patreon if you dig this sort of thing — you can join for as little as a buck, I put up three news posts every week, and I never take a vacation over there. If you’re interested, here’s the link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

“Sludgy” #2 : Happy To Be Stuck In The Muck

In the comics game, second issues are almost as tricky a thing to pull off as first issues — sure, debuts have to grab you and all, but the follow-up has to give you a reason to stick around. And in the case of a rather tightly-defined humor strip, that task is amplified to an even greater degree, because it’s incumbent upon a cartoonist to prove that their concept can keep on being funny even though readers already have a pretty good sense of the general gist of things.

That being said, the swamp is one of those locales that’s always offered more sheer storytelling possibilities than most other places — just ask Walt Kelly. Or, if your sensibilities run more toward comic books that strips, ask Alan Moore or Steve Gerber. And while we’re at it, we can add Robb Mirsky’s name to this list of luminaries.

Or it appears we can, at any rate. Granted, the “sample size” offered by his self-published series Sludgy is considerably smaller than the sprawling bodies of work authored by the other creators just mentioned, but with issue #2 having just been released, it would appear that this Harvey Comics-esque take on self-replicating muck monsters may indeed have some actual staying power to it — and may be malleable enough to be a successful vehicle for long(-ish) form narratives. Which I guess shouldn’t come as too great a surprise when we’re talking about characters that can assume any sort of shape or size and apparently can’t be, ya know, killed or anything like that. Could it be, then, that Mirsky has found the perfect character(s) with which to tell just about any sort of tale that pops into his mind?

As of this writing, the answer to that question as far as this critic is concerned is a qualified “yes,” as Mirsky has delivered a second issue that, a couple short and amusing back-up strips notwithstanding, amounts to a full-length story that pits our Sludgies against a hapless crew of developers a la the F.A. Schist (I still get a chuckle out of that) company of Man-Thing renown. It’s not a mentally taxing or aesthetically challenging story by any stretch, but then it’s not meant to be — Mirsky’s aim is to deliver a bizarrely cute, reasonably funny yarn that touches lightly upon largely non-controversial (unless you’re a right-winger, in which case no one here gives a flying fuck what you think) environmental themes and to draw the whole thing really well. Judged by those standards, then, his comic is a rousing success.

He’s certainly hit on a winning formula in terms of matching apropos subject matter with witty timing, fundamentally strong composition, and a frankly inspired color palette, and with this second issue he’s shown that his hermetically-sealed little comic book “reality” can indeed, like his protagonists, bend without breaking. And honestly, with something like this, a winning formula is more or less game, set, and match — provided a cartoonist is clever enough to not only keep it going, but to do things that are legitimately unexpected, or at the very least surprising, with it.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly passe, I’m here to tell you than there’s nothing wrong with making fun comics — nor is there anything wrong with liking them. And they don’t come much more fun than this, so go ahead and enjoy it, just as Mirsky clearly enjoyed making it.

*****************************************************************************************************************************

Sludgy #2 is available for $6.00 from the My Moving Parts website at https://mymovingparts.com/collections/comics/products/sludgy-2-comic

Review wrist check – Formex “Reef” green dial/green bezel model riding Formex’s own black rubber deployant strap.

Harvey Meets Troma In Robb Mirsky’s “Sludgy”

Oozing forth from the irradiated slime with a wave and a smile, Toronto cartoonist Robb Mirsky’s latest creation is equal parts Casper The Friendly Ghost and The Toxic Avenger, and in the self-published pages of the new mini Sludgy we meet him/it/them in all his/its/their gooey glory, the character’s very existence (on paper, that is) offering a disconcertingly chipper commentary on environmental destruction and the lifelong quest for acceptance on the part of the outcast or those “othered.” Plus, of course, some laughs. Who couldn’t use a few of those?

At heart, Mirsky is a humorist, and his classically-influenced — to say nothing of fundamentally strong and aesthetically professional — cartooning represents a kind of casual apex of thematically-apropos illustration, first setting the proper tone and then carrying it all the way through to the end. He touches on some fairly serious subjects, sure — in fact, his very premise here is born of one of the most important ones of our time — but he isn’t out to force you to do a whole ton of thinking, coming as he does from the always-noble “ya know, comics should be fun” artistic tradition. And in many ways. tradition is what this gorgeously-produced little book (slick, glossy paper sandwiched between heavy cardstock covers) is all about, albeit tradition with a healthy dose of contemporary relevance baked right into its metaphorical DNA.

Which rather begs the question — is Sludgy him/itself comprised of DNA like the rest of us? It’s tough to say given he/it was just “born,” as it were, from the toxic goop dumped in a now-irradiated swamp, but I guess it doesn’t matter : he just wants to entertain you., and maybe find some friends to play with. Which is where the “hijinks ensue” portion of the story kicks in — that is to say, right out of the gate, and yes, that’s me “spoiling” the entire plot in a nutshell, not that you’d have any reason to assume otherwise would transpire given the cover — and Mirsky takes it upon himself to get really literal with the old adage, “if you don’t have any friends, then make some.”

Yup, Sludgy can’t really be “killed” per se, given that he/it is not exactly “alive” (even if he/it is, paradoxically, sentient), but he/it can reproduce, and doesn’t even need to go through the sometimes-regrettable effort of fucking in order to do so. In true starfish fashion, one portion of Sludgy’s loosely-held-together form begets another complete creature when pressed into service to do so — and if not so pressed? Well, more’ll just pop up outta the swamp. And then more still. And then — well, you get the idea. Or you damn well should, at any rate.

Look, just go with the slimy flow here, okay? I promise it’s all you need to do, and I promise just as certainly that you won’t regret it. Mirsky has chosen the perfect split pea soup color to drench everything in, his sense of comic timing is spot on, and his panels are rendered with absolutely incredible skill. A comic doesn’t need to tax your brain to be good, and after a year like we’ve all just had, any sort of break from the ceaseless parade of doom and gloom is a welcome one, especially if it doesn’t insult your intelligence or pander to lowest-common-denominator sensibilities in order to entertain. Okefenokee has become Chernobyl, so just laugh about it along with the rest of us.

Oh, and the whole thing is really kinda fucking creepy, too. And most people with any sense enjoy a bit of “kinda fucking creepy,” don’t they? Anyway, this comic is an admittedly modest achievement, but a thorough and complete one nonetheless, positively nailing the task it set for itself, which is my way of attempting to say : I had a damn good time with it, and that’s precisely what it was designed to provide.

*********************************************************************************************************

Sludgy is available for $6.00 from Robb Mirsky’s My Moving Parts website at https://mymovingparts.com/collections/comics/products/sludgy-comic

Review wrist check – Raven “Solitude” gray dial model riding a Crown & Buckle cypress-colored strap from their “Premium NATO” series.