I Like “I Like Totally Know What You Did Last Summer”

Don’t look now, but it appears as though we’ve got a new “Seattle Dream Team” in the small press scene, as luminaries (in my book, at any rate) Sarah Romano Diehl and Brandon Lehmann step outside both their respective wheelhouses for the new collaborative effort, I Like Totally Know What You Did Last Summer, just released under Lehmann’s own Bad Publisher Books imprint. And while it’s entirely what you’d expect given its title, it’s nothing like you’d expect given the respective CV’s of each of the cartoonists involved.

Points, then, for truth in advertising and being something rather distinctive and new, then.

Survivors of the post-Scream “teen slasher” revival of the 1990s will have the premise for this one sussed, no doubt : a group of friends (five, to be specific) are desperate to cover up their involvement in a hit-and-run that left an innocent party dead, and subsequently find themselves stalked, individually and collectively, by a fisherman’s-cloaked mystery figure with a hook hand and, apparently, a thirst for vengeance — perhaps of the “from beyond the grave” variety. But appearances are deceiving and the twist that hits toward the end goes some way toward validating, perhaps even redeeming, the humorous tone that underscores the proceedings throughout — which, admittedly, sounds strange when we’re talking about what should, ostensibly, be a horror comic.

Still, it’s not like the title itself doesn’t give away that this modest 20-pager likely has its tongue firmly in its cheek. But while Romano Diehl and Lehmann both exhibit rather keen senses of humor in their “solo” work, here they show a deft touch with what borders on being a belabored premise and thread a pretty tight needle thanks to her fluid and expressive illustration and his sharp scripting. Maybe, by rights, anything this obvious shouldn’t work — but when a comic’s got this kind of creative synergy, it’s pretty hard to deny its creators their aims. In other words, these two are simply too good at what they do to fuck up anything they put their not-inconsiderable talents into.

So, yeah, this is fun stuff — by the time all is said and done, in fact, very fun stuff. And in this day and age, that’s something in far too short a supply to easily shrug aside. My advice, then, would be to appreciate anything legitimately and intelligently fun when and where is presents itself — it’s a rough old world out there, the news is almost all bad, and even nostalgia-drenched good times, if done properly, are still good times. And when the pages you find those good times in (or should that be on?) are delineated with this much stylish and exaggerated-in-all-the-right-ways illustration? Give thanks, friends, give thanks.

Hell, you needn’t even brush up on your “teen slasher” history to get a solid kick out of this comic, given that just about everyone of a certain age is plenty familiar with the well from which the story here has sprung — whether they admit to their “cool” friends or not. So, go on — admit to yourself it’s okay to enjoy a clever pastiche on a done-to-death premise, kick back, and take this book for what it clearly and obviously is : a labor of love that dearly wants to entertain you, and succeeds quite nicely in doing so.

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

I Like Totally Know What You Did Last Summer is available for what looks to me to be a precisely- calculated “break even” price of $6.90 from Bad Publisher Books’ Storenvy site at https://www.storenvy.com/products/28512017-i-like-totally-know-what-you-did-last-summer

And while your wallet is open, please consider supporting my work by joining 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 per month. At that price you literally have nothing to lose, so please give it a look by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

With the advent (ha! Get it?) of December, the time has come, once again, for our annual look back at some of the finest comics the year had to offer. We’ll be skipping the usual offerings for the next week or two around here, including the Weekly Reading Round-Up column, since re-reading is your humble emcee’s top priority for the next little while. A run-down, then, of the six different categories I’ve broken things down into is in order, and please keep in mind that I’m deliberately eschewing calling any of these lists a “best-of” simply because I haven’t read everything that’s out there — and who could? Think of these, then, as lists of the ten best entries in each category that I’ve read. Or my own personal favorites. Or something. Anyway, “brackets” are as follows:

Top Ten Single Issues – Pretty self-explanatory, I should think : this list focuses on individual comic books and minis, either stand-alones or part of an ongoing series.

Top Ten Comics Series – This list is designed to spotlight comics that are produced on some sort of production schedule and honors those of consistently high quality. Open-ended, ongoing series and finite mini-series both are eligible, the only qualification is that each series has to have released at least three issues over the course of the past year, since if they’ve only put out two, either one of them would represent 50% of said comic’s total “output” and should, by rights, probably land in the “Top 10 Single Issues” category.

Top Ten Contemporary Collections – This list will focus on collected editions of material previously released either as single issues or in anthologies, etc. English-language translations of Eurocomics, Manga, and the like are also eligible in this category. I have a fairly generous definition of “contemporary,” and have set an admittedly quite arbitrary “cut-off date” of the year 2000, since anything that presents work from the previous century will fall into the category of —

Top Ten Vintage Collections – Same rules as above, just for pre-2000 stuff.

Top Ten Special Mentions – This is a new one I’ve never done before and is somewhat amorphous by definition, so by way of explanation I’ll just say it’s a list designed to highlight my favorite comics-adjacent releases of the year : work that’s done by cartoonists but doesn’t fit the traditional sequential-art format, or else publications that are about comics, but aren’t actually comics themselves.

Top Ten Graphic Novels – Last but certainly not least, this category has fairly strict limitations : every work in it is one which was designed from the outset to be presented in the “graphic novel” format, and cannot have been serialized anywhere else, either in print or online, since those sorts of things are already covered by the “Top Ten Contemporary Collections” designation. These are long-form, wholly original works only.

Are we good? I think we’re good. So let’s jump right in with the Top Ten Single Issues list —

10. Goiter #3 By Josh Pettinger (Self-Published) – The strongest comic yet from one of the most promising “emerging” cartoonists out there, I’m glad to see Pettinger moving away from his Clowes/Ware roots and find an authentic perspective all his own with this superb story about a young woman in love with — a chronologically-displaced floating head? Moving, smart, authentic, and deeply emotive work.

9. Rookie Moves By November Garcia (Self-Published) – Probably my favorite autobio cartoonist working today is at her best in this fun and funny (not to mention endlessly charming) mini focused on her transition from star-struck fan girl to “professional” comic artist — who’s still a star-struck fan girl. One of the most earnest and refreshingly un-pretentious reads of the year.

8. Rust Belt #4 By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – We’ve heard a lot this year about comics that capture the current MAGA-poisoned “cultural moment,” but for my money none succeeded so well as the fourth issue of Knickerbocker’s ongoing “solo anthology” series, as he casts his increasingly-sharp observational eye on the dual personalities of a guy who’s an average enough husband at home, and a rising right-wing social media “star” in his spare time. You know the people in this comic — and while that’s a damn depressing thing to consider, it makes for utterly compelling reading.

7. By Monday I’ll be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage By Laura Lannes (2dcloud) – The most exemplary collection of diary comics I had the pleasure to read in 2018, Lannes’ subtle and self-deprecating tone and smooth, fundamentally inventive cartooning chart the doomed trajectory of a Tinder “romance” in both real-time and a gorgeous, over-sized format. Remarkably restrained for something so personal, this one sticks in your mind long after     closing it.

6. From Crust Till Dawn By Sarah Romano Diehl (Self-Published) – The second chapter in Diehl’s ongoing memoir of her time as a pizza parlor employee unfolds with a dreamlike quality and ease that brings out the character, rather than the nuts-and-bolts specifics, of each instance it portrays — the end result being a joyously unique reading experience quite unlike anything else.

5. Cosmic BE-ING #6 By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham enters her post-Angloid era with this awesomely bizarre and entirely singular look at the lives of the residents of her “Clown Castle” in the sky who will creep you out and crack you up in equal measure as they point out the absurdities of wage labor, group living, and other everyday taken-as-given situations large and small. The most assured effort yet from one of the most unique talents in cartooning today.

4. Tongues #2 By Anders Nilsen (Self-Published) – The most ambitious (thematically and visually) ongoing narrative in comics ups the mystery even as things come into view more clearly in its various and for-now-disparate plotlines. Gorgeously illustrated and colored, viscerally written, this is a true masterpiece-in-the-making that demands and rewards rigorous re-reading and examination.

3. Perfect Discipline And Unbending Loyalty By Tommi Parrish (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – In the space of just a couple of short years, Parrish has assumed comics’ mantle as the most astute chronicler of the emotional landscape of human interpersonal relations, and in this sumptuously-presented work they disarm, dissect, and ultimately empower their characters as they navigate generational differences with the same delicately understated honesty as they bring to their intuitive mapping of physical, sexual, and even mental intimacy between couples. Staggering, heartfelt, supremely confident work.

2. Frontier #17, Mother’s Walk By Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline) – Weinstein’s love letter to her newborn child is a testament to the power of motherhood and cartooning both as it traverses the eternal moment just before a new life enters this world in an elliptical fashion that encapsulates past, present, and future in an ever-present “now” that circles back in on itself and never ends — as is most certainly true of this comic itself, which breaks every pre-conceived notion still remaining as to what the medium is capable of. There’s been a lot of “hype” around this book recently — including from yours truly — but rest assured : none of it captures the full magnificence of all it contains, of all it is.

1. Now #4, Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – The most significant ongoing anthology in well over a decade, Reynolds puts it all together in this issue (with plenty of help from cartoonists like Roman Muradov, Julian Glander, Nathan Cowdry, Matthias Lehmann, Walt Holcombe, Tommi Parrish, and Brian Blomerth, among others), more than living up to the “mission statement” in his book’s title, but going one step further in the process — this isn’t just where comics are at now, it also shows where they’re going in the future. The best, most varied, most effectively curated (I term I try not to use at all, but employ here with absolute precision) assemblage of sequential art you’re going to come across in this year and probably just about any other, this is a shot across the bow, a challenge for everyone to “raise the bar” and make comics that are as confidently-realized as those on offer here.

Whew! Okay! That’s quite the run-down! And we’re just getting started! 2018 really has been an amazing year for comics, and narrowing down each of these lists to just ten “winners” has been a very difficult task indeed. I feel bad about some of the books that didn’t “make the cut,” but I’m very confident in everything I settled on, as well as the specific places they earned. I hope you agree with my selections, sure, but more than that — I hope you’ve found some great new comics to add to your “must-buy” list!

Next up — Top Ten Ongoing Series! I’m aiming to have that list up tomorrow!

Rocking “From Crust Till Dawn” With Sarah Romano Diehl

If there’s one thing I find suspect about any number of autobio/memoir comics, it’s how specific they tend to be. On the one hand, of course, I get it : the impetus to cobble together disjointed instances and events into a cohesive, “A-to-B” narrative is natural enough, and logic dictates that it makes for interesting, even compelling, reading. Accuracy be damned, as long as the general gist of things is presented  more or less as it happened, that’s the important thing, right? And yet —

Memory doesn’t really work that way, does it? Specifics get lost over time, while the overall character of a given memory tends to swell, even magnify. Events that followed tend to “backtrack” and inform the way we remember things that came before. Time-frames get muddled. People do and say things they possibly never did. The past takes on a dreamlike quality the further we get from it. We become unreliable narrators of our own stories.

You know who understands this implicitly? Sarah Romano Diehl. One of the most skilled and interesting cartoonists to emerge from the gloriously-resurgent “Seattle scene” in recent years, her strongest work to date was last year’s Crust, a quasi-autobiographical recounting of her stand-in protagonist Syd’s days as a pizza delivery driver in early 2000s Durango, Colorado, but her just-released second volume in this ongoing, self-published narrative, From Crust Till Dawn, represents something very nearly like a quantum leap forward from even its exemplary predecessor, brimming over with confidence, expressively “loose” illustration, humor, heart, and even more than a touch of, believe it or not, mystery.

Yeah, I wouldn’t expect that last item from an ostensibly autobiographical work, either, but that brings us back to my original point : Diehl, you see, doesn’t hem herself in by slavishly hewing to some sort of strict (and strictly false) adherence to accuracy. She presents her memories in the same manner we all reflect back on ours — as imperfect, muddied, less-than-specific exhumations from a place in our mind somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, thick and syrupy with meaning and emotion, less so with exact detail.

The primary focus of this comic is on the camaraderie Syd shares with her eclectic cast of co-workers, and when you think back on your own early employment, odds are that’s what stands out for you, as well, rather than the tedium of long hours, rote tasks, and aimless time-killing. We remember who we worked with far more than the actual work we did, and if you’ve ever worked a retail, restaurant, or other service-sector gig, the after-hours partying you got up to with everyone else tends to stand out a hell of a lot more than the drudgery of busy-work performed while “on the clock.”

Syd, however, may be “guilty” of having a bit too much fun at her job, as one of the book’s standout moments revolves around a heart-to-heart talk one of the senior employees at the pizza parlor has with her about pulling her weight around the place. It stands in stark contrast to the purposely-disjointed, yet astonishingly fluid (yup, I know that’s a contradiction, just trust me) litany of good times that make up the lion’s share of the page count here, and hits home with all the power of a memory informed far more by its essential character than whatever may or may not have been said specifically.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad summation of the book’s flavor and tone in a more general sense : unfolding at something like a haphazard pace, disparate and no-doubt-linearally-displaced events coalescing into something resembling a holistic continuum held together by the people, the places, the things that move in and out of its sprawling, sometimes-scattershot web, it plays out as a series of reflections on a period of Diehl’s life that helped shape her into the person she is today, but happened to the person that she was then. As such, there is a heartfelt, even romantic, sense not so much of dull and hackneyed nostalgia, but genuine affection, in these pages, for a time and a place that might be gone, but can never really go away. The past may, indeed, be a foreign country — but Sarah Romano Diehl’s is more like a magic kingdom.

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

Featuring superb two-color riso printing on nice-quality, thick paper stock, ordering information (including, crucially, price) isn’t yet available for From Crust Till Dawn, but copies will almost certainly be available at Short Run in Seattle this weekend. If, like me, you’re unable to attend, then contact Diehl via her website and ask her how to get your hands on this book ASAP — because you absolutely need it. We’re all done here, so your next move should be heading on over to  https://www.sarahromanodiehl.com/

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up: 06/03/2018 – 06/09/2018, Special Sarah Romano Diehl Edition

It’s no secret — nor should it be! — that Seattle cartoonist Sarah Romano Diehl’s Crust was one of my favorite comics of last year, but in my attempt to “play catch-up” with some of the stuff I’ve received in recent weeks/months, I came to the realization that I never got around to reviewing the other books (all, to her credit, self-published) that I got from Ms. Diehl some time back, so allow me to correct that egregious (nay, downright unforgivable!) error right now —

All The Comforts Of Being Alive is a thick, bursting-at-the-seams travelogue mini-comic/’zine that expertly incorporates mixed media such as photographs, scrap-paper notes, etc. to tell the story of Diehl’s first road trip back to her Colorado college town in a decade. There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia to the proceedings here, but it’s all good : anybody who goes back home (or, in this case, back to their home-away-from-home) can completely and instantly recognize the cauldron of contradictory emotions that her smooth, minimalist illustration and utterly un-pretentious writing convey here with that special sort of apparent-effortlessness-that-really-requires-a-ton-of-effort. Smart, evocative, and never less than thoroughly absorbing, this is the sort of illustrated travel journal that, dare I say it, even the late, great Anthony Bourdain would probably be utterly charmed by — and at four measly dollars it definitely qualifies as a “must-buy.” So, ya know, buy it.

And while we’re on the subject of travel, Strange Paradise is yet another road trip comic, this one documenting Diehl’s trek through Arizona to attend a wedding. I fucking hate the desert with a passion, but damn if her keen observational eye doesn’t make places like Prescott, Sedona, Jerome, and especially the architectural wonder/”intentional community” of Arcosanti seem like absolutely fascinating places to visit — and probably even live. I may just have to go check out AZ after all one of these days, but until then, four dollars for this bigger-than-a-mini-comic is a solid bargain.

Switching gears, The Secret Life Of Plants is a gorgeous risograph-printed mini  (for the record, Diehl is one of the absolute masters of the riso, and really understands how to use it to make her cartooning flat-out sing) that wordlessly (barring a dedication to, as you may have already guessed given the title, Stevie Wonder) expresses the nearly-magical worldview of all growing things. A stirring mixed palette of greens and yellows is used to convey how life “looks” from the perspective of plants, vines, and trees herein, and the page that shows how human beings “look” to our green friends is worth the $4.00 asking price alone. Visually and narratively (even though, again, there’s nary a word to be found) ambitious to a degree that goes well beyond the merely “impressive,” this is a comic not to be missed under any circumstances, for any reasons.

The Man Spreaders, unfortunately, proves that even the best cartoonists (and Diehl’s name definitely belongs among them) sometimes swing and miss. I can’t fault the quality of her art here in the least, and the oranges and browns that she utilizes are another subtle-yet-shining example of her riso mastery, but her initially-promising narrative — focused on the struggles of a young Old West widow and her children who are set upon by a gang of unpleasant and unruly (but, unfortunately, well-connected) new neighbors — takes a turn for the worse when oblique-to-the-point-of-inexplicable supernatural elements elbow their way into the scene in order to facilitate a confusing (yet, perhaps ironically, also dull and predictable) resolution. I give Diehl credit for trying something quite a bit outside of her “comfort zone” with this one, and the outlines of what she’s hoping to achieve with her story are clearly visible, but she comes up well short of her noble goals. And at ten bucks for a roughly half-sized book, it would be tough to recommend buying this one even if it were a whole lot better than it is.

Still — three absolutely terrific comics and one intriguing mis-fire is a pretty solid batting average (God, I gotta stop with the baseball metaphors), and if I do this well with next week’s Reading Round-Up column (don’t ask me what that’s going to feature yet, I honestly have no idea), I’ll be very pleased indeed. I certainly was with the wares on offer from Diehl’s Etsy shop, as will you be when you give it a look (which you will, right?) at https://www.etsy.com/shop/FRESHTOWELS

 

Truly An Upper “Crust” Comic

There are those who think that autobiographical comics are essentially over and done with, and in darker moments of my past I confess to having perhaps felt that way myself, but in recent years cartoonists such as Noah Van Sciver, November Garcia, Mimi Pond, and Max Clotfelter — to name just a few — have done much to re-invigorate a genre that, for many years, Gabrielle Bell and John Porcellino were essentially carrying on their shoulders after the ’90s autobio boom went bust. Now, I would suggest, it’s time to add the name of Sarah Romano Diehl to the list of the new wave of illustrators who have found that the most fertile creative ground to exercise their considerable storytelling “chops” on is to be found within their own lives.

The Seattle-based Diehl has done some interesting travelogue minis in her time, but with Crust, her new self-published memoir of her days as a pizza-delivery driver, she’s stepped up her game considerably. Like the previously-mentioned Pond, she’s “created” a stand-in character for herself (named Syd) to relate her tale of navigating her way through the culture within, and surrounding, a fast-and-loose workplace, but apart from that, similarities to anyone else’s work are few and far between, and she’s all about carving out a space uniquely her own. The innovative style on display in this book may be quiet and unassuming, but it’s nevertheless both very real and very refreshing. This may be the kind of story you’ve seen before, in a general sense, but I’d wager you’ve never seen it told in quite this manner.

There’s a fluidity and warmth to Diehl’s art that balances the starry-eyed naivete of her alter ego with a keen observational sensibility, and although it’s gotta be said that this book contains nothing even remotely soul-baring, never mind salacious, the frank honesty of its tone is downright disarming nevertheless. Syd’s utterly enthralled by her new employers, and the earnestness with which she communicates that sense of wonder leaves readers feeling nearly as breathlessly awestruck as she is. We get to know just enough about Syd’s background as an Italian-American New York transplant living in a Colorado college town (Durango, to be specific) as we need in order to understand her “outsider” perspective, and from there on out we’re literally right there with her as she learns the ropes, familiarizes herself with a cast of unusual personalities, and barely skates out of some seriously dodgy delivery situations that understandably leave her rattled, relieved, pissed off, or some combination of all three. Anyone who’s ever worked a service industry gig can relate to much of this, but even if you haven’t, Diehl draws you in so quickly and so completely that you’ll “get it” regardless.

Sheer fluidity is probably this comic’s greatest strength, though, as Diehl’s strong-but-loose line illustration flows from one panel to the next in a damn near seamless manner, simple-but-effective facial expressions and body language communicating as much about her characters as her no-frills dialogue. At first glance the idea of a book that seems equally split between tight page grids and large, border-less drawings probably shouldn’t work, but this is real life — or at least a close enough approximation of it — that we’re talking about here, and seldom is there any actual “order” to be found in it, especially when a person is attempting to find their place in a new and entirely unfamiliar situation. You’re never quite sure where Diehl’s going next here — and that’s entirely as it should be given that she/Syd didn’t really seem to know at the time, either.

And yet, in much the same manner as the early filling-in of Syd’s backstory “sets up” her life to the precise the extent necessary for us to “get in the groove,” there’s also just enough visual grounding here to give us an understanding of the “world” we’re visiting/observing, as well. Diehl’s blue-and-white color scheme is shot through with bright yellows at imprecise, and therefore highly dramatic, intervals, and to say that she makes the most of the Risograph  is certainly under-selling the marriage of her artwork and the printing technique she utilizes. A touch of reddish-pink on the cover is the cherry on top of this comic, but it’s those expertly-employed yellows that are going to keep your eyes glued to the pages.

Quite likely the best thing about Crust, though, is simply the fact that it’s not over. Diehl is continuing her (own) story in subsequent installments, and hopes to put ’em all together into graphic novel format once all is said and done. You’d be wise not to wait for that, though, and to get in on the ground floor of this utterly charming and arresting (do those two things usually go together? Well, they do here) series right now by heading over to the artist’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/FRESHTOWELS