Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chapter Two of Jellaby Begins!

The first installment of the second chapter began today at The Secret Friend Society. In case you missed it the first chapter is archived there as well.

The above image is from the mini-comic book Jellaby: The Homage Series Shorts. You can find it and the excellent Salamander Dream at the Secret Friend Society Store.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Life’s a Cakewalk Issues One and Two by Paulette Poullet

Cakewalk is a sketchbook diary mini-comic by Pittsburgh artist Paulette Poullet. I met her sitting next to Jim Rugg and Jasen Lex at SPX. She gave me two issues of Cakewalk (and a jam comic that had Captain America violating Iron Man against a brick wall, but we can't talk about that). Inside the front cover of Cakewalk issue one, she warns the reader that the quality of the art varies in the comic, and she’s right, it does. It’s a sketchbook experiment, so the art can be a little rough, but there are also several bright spots in each issue. Cakewalk works as an auto-biographical comic not only because of Poullet’s honesty, but also because her observations are easy to relate to for the reader. She’s outraged, cranky, angry, but also humorous, humble and challenging. In short, the reader can see some of their own nature in Cakewalk.

Each comic consists of one to two page stories or gags. Many of them are straightforward stacked panel pages, but some are much more imaginative. The nature of the sketchbook comic gives the artist some permission to be honest and it let’s them play around with different styles and perspective. There’s a lot of that here. If you don’t concentrate on some of the less polished pages, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.

Issue one covers February of 2005 and it begins with Poullet waiting for a bus. Three of the buses going the opposite way pass her by, and still her bus hasn’t arrived. When her bus finally arrives, she gets a good seat isolated from the other riders. Then a talkative guy gets on and sits right next to her annoying her for the rest of the trip. She mistakenly wears a red sweater on Valentine’s Day. She gets attacked by her cat, who is normally eleven pounds of pure fun. She’s annoyed by the people on her television. This is you. This is me. There’s nothing spectacular, but again, this is you. This is me. There’s a lot of us in this diary comic. So you keep reading. And as you read, you notice the neat little fonts that she makes up for her headings. There’s a page of nothing but heads of people she has been told she resembles – Kellie Osbourne, Peppermint Patty, the bumblebee girl from the Blind Melon video.

Issue two covers March 2005 and Poullet’s cat Monkey gets fixed! Good for her, even though Monkey laments his lost manhood. She’s got copies of Cakewalk number one back from the copy shop and realizes that it’s missing a page. This begins a downward spiral of whining and mopeyness that she questions until she realizes that a lot of cartoonists and musicians are whiny, mopey bastards. Right on the page is a checklist with Robert Crumb, Ivan Brunetti, Harvey Pekar, James Kochalka, Joe Matt, Jeffrey Brown. They each have a checkmark under the category “Whiny Bitch” with a crying smiley face beside it. Under “Super-Whiny Bitch,” you find The Smiths.

The inside back cover is an interview with Monkey the cat about art:
”I do what the critics call ‘Stink Art’ – but I don’t like to be pigeonholed. What I do is I eat a lot (I prefer ham and tuna) and then I poo and never cover it up in the box. The smell is terrible, it just permeates absolutely everything…”

For that one page alone, I love Cakewalk. It’s quirky, bitchy, and fun and there’s enough here to make me curious about what Poullet can do with a longer narrative. She has plans to do just that, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, you can get issues of the twenty-four page black and white Cakewalk from Poulette at pauly@comicore.com. Each issue contains a lot of story tucked under a bright blue or yellow cover for just $1.50 each.
Rag by Anthony Acri
I had some problems with Rag. I don’t really like homemade comics that use super heroes, and I had some trouble understanding everything that was happening. Still, Acri’s comic has an interesting visual structure. And the back cover has this little tidbit:
”See, when I was a kid, Batman was a gay dandy, and we went with that! Remember when Jews and Italians made great comix about bosomy women in spaceships? Remember C.C. Beck and Don Martin? “

So, I flipped open Rag and got to work. Acri does some neat tricks with close-ups, but it’s hard to appreciate it because of all the lines everywhere. Several times, it wasn’t immediately obvious what I was looking at until I kind of distanced myself from the page and let my eyes cross a bit. Then I could tell, “Oh, it’s a close-up of Mr. Duvall’s face.” That works! But again, there are too many lines obscuring what could be a clever panel structure. You see this a lot in comics - artists who may not be confident with the way their art looks try to cover it up with more details and lines. It doesn’t work; the page just looks cluttered. You can’t hide bad art. The thing here is that Acri isn’t necessarily a bad artist. It’s just difficult to see the art. When you can see it, it’s not bad.
This is mini-comics so I hate to get really critical; it feels kind of like I’m stepping on a kitten. Especially when it’s someone like Acri who wrote such a nice note and obviously has a great passion for his work. So let’s try to help here. Rag could be a much better comic. As it is now, it’s difficult to read, literally. The lettering sometimes borders on scribble and I had difficulty reading it several times. The reader shouldn’t have to work so hard to decipher handwriting. Strangely, the lettering is much more legible in the beginning pages, but often unreadable on later pages. I almost pictured a frenzied Acri at the drawing table pumping out page after page.

The story in Rag is fun. I think it’s one that many of us who harbor a fondness for the comics of our childhood could enjoy. But there should be more care and time spent on making the comic friendly to readers if you want to put a price tag on the cover and sell your mini to someone else. The panel structure is the strength of the book, and the general story is okay, but the lettering and shading need to be tidied up. I mentioned the lines earlier, and shading is okay, but you can’t let it overwhelm the art.

I’ve seen much worse comics land on my doorstep from comic publishers. Seriously. Mini-comics though is a one man or woman show. It’s all you and you can make the changes, or ignore them. It’s your comic. Rag has the basics down, but it could be a better, more reader-friendly comic. Issue one is eighteen pages and sells for $2.75. Contact Anthony Acri at antonius825@hotmail.com for more information.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Farewell, Not Goodbye
Forgive me for stepping outside of the mini-comics world for a moment, but there’s a passing today that I must mention. Barring an unexpected last second change of heart, today is the last day of Graeme McMillan’s Fanboy Rampage. A half a dozen blogs will pop up that try to replicate the FBR recipe, but without Graeme, there will never be another FBR. I’ve always thought of Graeme as this fearless explorer going to all the dark corners of the comics internet and bringing back odd or damaged specimens for the rest of us to gawk at. Message boards like The Bendis Board, Millarworld, and the John Byrne board are fun places to visit through Graeme, but you sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. With Graeme on duty, you didn’t have to. He did the work for us. He was our explorer, our host, and sometimes, when things got out of hand, he was our parent.

I guess I’m a little sad, because Graeme’s not just a faceless guy on the internet, he’s a good friend. I know how much work he puts into the site and I know how much he loves it. I’ve known Graeme since pre-Rampage when we both wrote for a comics website called Broken Frontier. There I learned how much I enjoyed Graeme’s work as a writer. It’s one of the reasons why I twisted his arm into writing a bi-weekly Grim Tidings column at Comic World News. And I know Graeme, he’s unable to not write about comics. He’ll pop up somewhere else like a crazed whack-a-mole, even though I’m sure there are some (those who have found themselves on the receiving end of his wit) who wish he would just go away. He won’t. He’s too valuable to us. Anyone who loves the work of Kevin Huizenga, but can also appreciate the first issue of Infinite Crisis has got to have something to say to the rest of us.

I’m going to miss laughing at the Rampage. Thanks Graeme, you lovable bastard. You’ve entertained us more than you’ll ever know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Two from Brian Clopper
B.O.F.A. is a twenty-eight page mini-comic created over the course of twelve hours. While that sounds like a ton of work in twelve hours, each page is only one panel. They’re fairly meticulous panels too; not the sort of a rush job you typically think about when considering a timed comic. In B.O.F.A. we follow a little goblin on a journey to deliver a scroll to its intended destination. He’s a plucky little fellow, especially when you consider the terrain and dangerous beasts that he meets on the way. The reader doesn’t learn what B.O.F.A. stands for until the final page, but when you do learn the secret it will put a huge smile on your face – unless your heart is full of sand that is. This is one of those short stories that remind you of the magic and power of childhood.
Clopper has taken the art and production in B.O.F.A. seriously. The figures and backgrounds are nuanced with grey dot shading, and his line is very assured throughout. This gives each panel a fleshed-out look and feel that adds to the depth of this simple story. The pages are alternately yellow or red and the cover is slightly thicker purple. B.O.F.A. is a charming all ages mini-comic with a wonderful ending. It was the first thing I pulled out of the envelope last night and it gave me a very favorable impression of Clopper’s work.

The art in Coming of MAGE looks and feels similar to B.O.F.A., but MAGE is in a larger format that lets the art breathe a bit more than its smaller cousin. The panels are twice as large and there are two per page rather than a single one. In MAGE a goblin leads eleven-year old Brandon through a rocky desert landscape, as they search for Brandon’s power stone. The boy is tired of walking around and asks, “So, when am I gonna find it? It feels like we’ve been wandering around for hours.” The goblin replies, “It’s been three minutes.” This is a cute story in a genre that I’m not a big fan of, but it’s done in a manner that makes it accessible to non-fantasy readers. The quest for the stone is also an opportunity for Brandon to discover more about what awaits him, and Wimmer, his goblin guide (or familiar), is a patient teacher. When they finally do find Brandon’s stone, Clopper pauses to make the most of the scene. Several panels stretch into a few pages as Wimmer and Brandon try to comprehend what the stone means about the boy’s power as a young wizard.

There are a few more minis in the Clopper envelope as well as a longer project that he’s just started. B.O.F.A. and The Coming of MAGE are both from 2002, so I’m not sure about availability. You can email Brian at bclopper@nc.rr.com. I’ve also got his mailing address if you’re interested.
USS Catastrophe Restocked
Missed this, but the USS Catastrophe Store has been restocked with goodies from this year's SPX. Mmmm, goodies. The Wonder Book of Old Men looks pretty good. I missed that one.
Copacetic Comics Mini-Comic Stock
I just noticed this, but Copacetic Comics has an excellent page where you can order mini-comics from SPX 2005. I’ve only ordered from them once, but they delivered a copy of Kramer’s Ergot #5 to me in a flash.

Their SPX page has a lot of comics from the show in case you weren’t able to make it this year. As I scroll through the page, it’s really kind of alarming how much stuff they have available. They’ve got comics from Global Hobo, Partyka, Just Mad Books, Sparkplug, PictureBox, Dongery Publications, The Catastrophe Shop, and Little House Comics. There’s more too, including Jaime Tanner’s new books.

Go give it a look.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Three Things
Yeah, I know this is a mini-comics blog, but occasionally I’ll post things that maybe aren’t strictly mini-comics, but mini-comics related and also things that I think others may be interested in. I have three such things to tell you about today.

Thing the first
Via his blog Drawer, I’ve been watching Warren Craghead’s installation take place from day to day. Right now he’s at “T minus 28 days,” and it’s interesting to observe this wall of sketches and collages grow. He began with this post:

”I'm starting a new series here on DRAWER - a countdown to the opening of my first-ever solo show. I'll check in periodically and post about what I'm doing to get the show together and up and hopefully document how fun and frightening it'll be. The show opens November 4, 57 days from now (thus the post title) at Second Street Gallery here in Charlottesville.”

So, fifteen posts later, he’s at “T minus 28 days” and writes:

”Last night I worked on some larger pencils in prep for ordering frames on Monday (that slipped a week). This AM got some more small things made. I also have the design for the first weekly street poster - I'll post it as a PDF next week after I slap it up all over town.

Tonight - openings if Violet is doing well, then more drawing after wife and kid go to sleep. So far the theme music for working on the show late night is all Arcade Fire, Archers of Loaf and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.”

Warren has done several mini-comics, including Jefferson Forest, Jefferson Estates, Thickets, Other People’s Schemes, and an illustrated book with Roger Noyes titled The Problem With Chemistry.

Thing the second
Little Cakes used to be a great source of mini-comics and art in NYC’s East Village. Hanna’s second floor apartment doubled as an art gallery and mini-comic distribution facility, and it was right across the street from the best vegetarian comfort food joint ever, Kate’s Joint. Well, Hanna’s been busy hoping jets back and forth to Tokyo, but she provided some links to a show that I think looks like a lot of fun.

“Delicate Kinship” in Hanna’s words is: “a group show of small sculptures paired with plants. Some artists used the pots and plants as landscapes. Others made protectors or buddies for the plants to hang out with.”

Come on, that sounds cool as hell. Makes me want to run out and get some plants myself.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the show and sketches of the ideas for some of the pieces.

Thing the third
Dan Nadel, from PictureBox/Ganzfeld, has sent out a press release for The Ganzfeld 4, Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs, and the awesome tabloid zines from SPX by Matthew Thurber, Frank Santoro, Paper Rad/C.F. and Marc Bell & Peter Thompson.

From Dan:
”We are celebrating these projects with a whole mess of fun events:

--First up: This Saturday, October 15, Paper Rad will be signing copies of their book at Printed Matter (535 W. 22nd St. NYC) from 5 to 7 pm. The signing will be immediately followed by a night of performances at EAI two floors up (535 W. 22nd St., 5th floor, NYC) from 7 to 10 pm. Paper Rad will be performing music, showing videos, dancing, and manning the wheels of steel. Free admittance and Free Red Stripe beer all night long. Don't miss this exuberant extravaganza!

--In the future: November will bring some Ganzfeld events, including a signing at Giant Robot NYC with Julie Doucet, Gary Panter, David Sandlin, and Paper Rad on November 5. Details to come shortly.

--And finally, Paper Rad will be embarking on a book 'n' rock tour starting right after their NYC shindig, including Quimby's in Chicago on 10/22 and the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh on 10/30. Check www.theganzfeld.com for more dates and info.

I’m going to the Quimby’s thing. I picked up the tabloid thingy at SPX, but didn’t get the PaperRad/Ben Jones book. Oh and just to wake your eyes up, take a gander at the Paper Rad website. Who needs coffee, when you can look at that?
Two from Rob Jackson
Train to Shanghai from Rob Jackson has some lovely and convincing backgrounds. It’s obvious that he’s spent some time studying the backdrop for this tale and one can picture him sitting on a corner in Shanghai, furiously sketching as people stream past him. The best thing in this book is the backdrop. The character design is less convincing, however. The bodies of the characters are often awkward, especially when he uses a heavier line to outline their forms. There’s an occasional shift between a fine line and a thicker line that just feels a bit clunky.

But Train to Shanghai is a nice story and I’m glad that I spent some time reading it. Rob’s excitement for his trip shines through, and he tells the story in a manner that makes it interesting to the reader. Train to Shaghai was completed in 2002 and it’s 24 pages for about a $1.75 (or one British pound).

Café Le Guillotine: The French Revolution, also by Rob Jackson, is a 36-page glance at the French Revolution from the ground in France. Rob has dumped the thick line that he occasionally employed in Shaghai, so the art in Café looks more uniform. The character design is still on the amateurish side (the eyes are problematic on certain faces several times), but hell he’s making his own mini-comics here, so I’ll give the guy a break. Plus, he’s making a kind of historical comics that I’d like to see more of in comics.

Rob crams a lot of story into his 36 pages though, and it’s all through character interaction, rather than heavy narration. This gives it a more “ground level” feel. He begins a year before the revolution and shows the dissatisfaction of the peasants, and then quickly moves through the Three Estates, citizen militias, the lopping off of heads, and finally the crowning of Napoleon as emperor. Along the way, there are gory little details that flesh out the story, including Marat getting stabbed in the bath and more beheadings than you’ll ever need.
Café Le Guillotine: The French Revolution is $5.25 (or three British pounds) and it’s an oversized mini-comic, really more magazine size than comic. You can email Rob Jackson at rob_in_korea@hotmail.com. I also have his address and you can email me for that and I’d be happy to give you that. Rob says he takes PayPal to make things easier if you want to purchase his comics.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Propeller Beanie Comics and Nut Issue One
Larned Justin from House Springs, Missouri sent in three mini-comics for review over a month ago. I’ll review two of them here and save the other one for later. The first, Propeller Beanie Comics is an old fashioned eight-page Xeroxed mini-comic and Larned smartly prices it at fifty cents. Propeller promises to examine great theories and the first issue begins with a big one – evolution. This is a gag comic told from the perspective of worms, monkeys, fish, and single cell amoebas. He begins with a groaner about worms and arms. A worm asks another worm what they mean by the term “arm,” the answer - Adjustable Rate Mortgage. No, Larned! It gets better though. A single cell is casting about for a mate, but has terrible opening lines and a fish and a jellyfish debate trying this new “land” thing. Again, it’s fifty cents and here’s a page from the fish tale.
The first issue of Nut is twenty-four pages of hit and miss comics for $2.00. These comics remind me of the ones in the MAD look alike magazine Crazy. It’s a mix of one pagers and multiple page stories and the stories are heavy on the pop culture angle. There’s “Flush Gordon,” Once Upon A Time In Mexico with Looney Toons characters (my favorite), and some riffs on the annoying “Can you hear me now?” guy. There’s also a running gag of Noah on the ark having animal problems – the moles are a real problem, but I think beavers would have worked better in that strip. In one of the Noah strips, there’s a nice touch of having a note on a wall on the background. It says, “Remember! We need TWO Abominable Snowmen.” That wasn’t the point of the strip, but it’s a nice little gag that made me giggle.
There’s also an uninked strip that grooves on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; it shows that Larned has decent drawing chops. The least accomplished story in Nuts is the “Flush Gordon,” but unfortunately it’s also the longest one. Still, Nuts issue One is only $2.00 for 24 pages. Give Larned’s website a look. As I was typing this I discovered his blog. He talks about some minis that I love like Mr. Big by Matt Dembicki, Reporter by Dylan Williams, and Christina and Charles by Austin English. Nice blog, Larned.
Jellaby Is Back!
Well, kind of. These are little shorts that were in the mini-comic that I picked up at SPX. Go to The Secret Friend Society to check it out. Looks like Chapter Two will begin in a couple of weeks. Yay, my heart sings.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Guest Post the Second by Kate Nyland Meow, by Jesse Reklaw, is a treasure. The cover is a delightful scrap of wallpaper with the title and a picture of a cat silk-screened onto it. Although it set me back $5, it is worth every penny. Each of the sixteen technicolor paintings of cats is a little work of art. “Cat Women,” the final picture, consists of three motley women and a little cat, all in dominatrix gear. Two pages adjacent to each other each have three cats in similar poses, but it took looking at their titles (listed on a page at the end of the mini) to really get the difference between the two. On the left, we have “Good Cats,” looking dapper as they clean themselves, sleep, and lounge about. In contrast, on the right you’ll find “Bad Cats.” They have shifty gazes and ragged ears. Most cat-owning readers will probably identify more with the latter than the former. Below are two paintings, “Pile of Cats” and “Space Cat,” to show the more whimsical side of this mini.
I appreciate The Probe by Damien Jay because although it includes no dialogue, it is visually packed. Smaller than a deck of cards, with a silk-screened cover, this mini has nine panels on almost every page. In the beginning, a rabbit wakes up and is overcome with boredom. Since the mini ends with the rabbit in a near-identical state of tedium, one wonders if the rabbit simply imagined what transpired in between. The action occurs when an alien tries to lure the rabbit out of his den, using a carrot, in order to study him.
Jamie Tanner’s Barry Pago: Crime Scene Photographer violates the mandate I always give Shawn before he passes along anything comic-related to me: no sad stories about animals. I still haven’t forgiven him for Goodbye, Chunky Rice. I picked this mini up on my own at SPX and was immediately awed by the art. There is so much texture on every page. Even the most inanimate of objects (rugs, tables, bathtubs) come to life when drawn with Tanner’s pen. The tale is equally as nuanced. The title character, an anthropomorphic penguin, has brought his son, Walt, along on a job – several gruesome murders need to be documented. Pago likes to, ahem, engage with the victims to the detriment of his son, who wants to follow in the footsteps of his dad and take a picture. The disregard of Walt by Pago leads to chilling consequences, although Pago’s callousness remains untouched up through the last page.
General Thoughts I would imagine something that prevents many people from becoming comic lovers is the feeling of not getting enough bang for your buck. I spent $30 on minis and felt as though many of them lacked substance. Had I spent that money on a good novel, I would have had hours of entertainment. More than several of the minis left me empty. They weren’t horrible, they weren’t stellar, they were just eh – barely blips on the radar. A few times, I exclaimed incredulously to Shawn something along the lines of, “$3.50 for this?!?” Some were trite; others had the uncomfortable air of an adolescent boy trying to show off how crude he could be. I really enjoyed the minis I reviewed and would have paid more for them than I did. Couch Tag by Jesse Reklaw, which Shawn snagged first but I would have undoubtedly picked up had he not, was what I wish more minis were like. Dense, thought-provoking, and memorable, it was just as fulfilling as a chapter out of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

One of Shawn’s quirks is that he does not like short stories. If his favorite author publishes a book of them, he isn’t tempted to buy it. Even compilations including many of his favorite authors get ignored at the bookstore! He feels that maybe a few of the pieces would be fantastic, but the rest don’t have enough development for him to bother. This, ultimately, is how I feel about minis-comics. I understand there is blood, sweat, and tears poured in to the making of every mini. Shawn and I made our own once and can attest to that. As much as I want to love minis to the same extent Shawn does, I don’t. I appreciate the work that it takes to make them, and will continue to read the outstanding ones Shawn passes my way, but I’d rather read a novel - or a book of short stories.
Dan Zettwoch's Schematic Comics Alvin Buenaventura sent out a post card recently announcing that Dan Zettoch's second volume of Redbird would be published by Buenaventura Press. This was shortly before SPX, but Redbird wouldn't be ready for the show. Luckily, Dan put together Schematic Comics, a nice mix of the old and the new.

The thing that stands out in most of Dan’s stories, and it’s certainly the case here, is that he seems to be a tinkerer or a builder. It’s obvious in his work that he likes to think about how things work and he’s good at visually dissecting a process or an object. For instance, instead of just drawing an object, say a school bus, he’ll sometimes draw a cut out picture of the school bus that brings tiny details to life. In Schematic Comics, however, he seems more preoccupied with the process. Below is one of two fold out pages that show how to make a penny board. Lodged within the story of how Robbie Sorg lost his fingers are directions on how to make your own penny board. It’s almost like Dan couldn’t resist including a cut out picture, because right there towards the bottom, there’s a simple cut out of the school that shows Robbie’s path through the school.
Page twenty-six features the horizontal one-pager (but split into two sections) “Making My Own Mini-Comic.” Here Dan ignores any type of traditional panel structure, and just lets the images and text fall naturally on the page. There’s no trouble following his story about a mullet-headed guy wanting to make his first mini-comic. The second section of “Making My Own Mini-Comic” shows the anatomy of the copier and a rudimentary step by step guide to assembling your own mini.
Schematic Comics is 48-pages of comics. There’s a ton of material in here for the price of $3.95 and it’s a great place for anyone unfamiliar with Dan Zettwoch’s material to start. Dan is also the mastermind behind the startling behemoth mini-comic Ironclad, which was featured in my list of “Top Ten Most Innovative Mini-Comics.” You can grab his comics at USS Catastrophe and check out his website that has tons of art, including a step by step visual guide that he did for a wall mural in St. Louis.