Usually I review only one of these, but when they're all pretty short and they'll all written by the same person, I figured I'll put them all together!
Whilst I was wandering around the small press area of Comic-Con, I noticed Kevin Church hanging out selling his wares. He was nice enough to give me a bunch of his webcomics that he had printed up in handy book format, so let's check them out. The cool thing about all of these, if, unlike me, you're hip and trendy? They're all available on-line at no cost to you but your precious, precious time!
The Loneliest Astronauts #1 is drawn mostly by Ming Doyle, with some additional strips by Katie Cook, Brandon Dawley, Max Riffner, and Evan Shaner. You could get it for $3.99, if that's how you roll. This strip is about two astronauts, the last of their crew, who are stranded on a lonely rock (a planet? a moon?) after they argued on board their craft and went off-course. No one knows where they are, the rest of the crew is dead, and Dan and Steve have nothing to do except wait until they die. Which means ... humor!
Church decided to ask himself the question: What if these two surviving astronauts were, well, idiots? At first, you think that Dan is the dumb one, but Church quickly makes it clear that neither astronaut is the sharpest tool in the shed. They never take off their helmets, either (at least they're smart enough to leave them on!), so we never see their faces. It's just two guys sitting around a wreck with absolutely nothing to do and time running out on their lives. Church is smart enough to find the stark, existential humor in this situation - there's a kind of Godot-like vibe to this strip. Doyle is fantastic - one thing you notice when you read Church's comics is that he manages to find these stellar artists, and Doyle is no exception. She has very little to do - the rock on which Dan and Steve are stranded has no distinguishing features, and as they never take their helmets off, she doesn't have to worry about facial expressions, but it's amazing how much body language she gives these two losers. The humor of the strip is almost all verbal, but Doyle gives it just enough to push it even further into the funny.
I'll just reprint a couple of strips to give you an idea of what Church is doing. You can find it on-line here.
Lydia is Church's spin-off to The Rack, his strip about a comic shop. In the spin-off, one of the characters, Lydia Park, heads off to a new job in the corporate world. So Church can have some fun riffing on the wackiness of office life. Max Riffner draws this, with some one-off strips by JustJENN, Cathy Leamy, and Tracie Mauk.
Of the comics I've read by Church, this was my least favorite. Perhaps because I spent five years in a corporate culture much like the one he describes, I can relate to it more, but I can also see that the humor is a bit forced and even clichéd. There's the bitchy boss, the goofy do-nothing dude, the over-eager worker who has a crush on Lydia, the weird boss, the stultifying bureaucracy. There's plenty of humor to be mined from corporate culture without going too overboard, and while I suppose Church wanted to avoid ripping off Office Space, he goes a bit far into the broad humor that can hit some marks, but also misses just as often. Office Space wasn't the model of subtlety, Mike Judge tends to rely on things that actually happen in a majority of offices to mine his humor, while Church doesn't seem to trust that he can find humor in those things and adds some unnecessary broad strokes. I'm not saying there aren't supervisors as bitchy as Ashley or bosses as oddball as Nic (whose last name is Roeg, meaning he shares a name with the director), but their antics feel a bit forced and obvious (especially because Ashley is pretty much a bitch from the beginning). The funniest parts of the comic are when Lydia is out of the office - the episode with the taco vendor is quite good, as is the section devoted to finding a cake for the boss - which, when the hook of your comic is that you're taking this comics nerd and putting in a more "professional" atmosphere, means something is wrong with that premise. Lydia isn't bad, but it's not as funny as Church can be, especially with The Rack (which is usually spot-on with its humor).
Here are some examples, and you can read the entire saga here.
She Died in Terrebonne #1 and #2 (of 4) is the story of Sam Kimimura, a private investigator who, in the course of tracking the rich daughter of a San Francisco businessman (who happens to be married to an old flame of Sam's), ends up in Terrebonne, Oregon (which is just north of Redmond and a bit north of Bend, in case you're wondering), where the girl has been found dead. It's illustrated very nicely by T. J. Kirsch. The story takes place in 1973, although Church hasn't given us too many reasons that it has to be yet. There are rotary phones and free lovin' and porn 'staches, but nothing that screams early Seventies beyond that.
This is just a solid murder mystery, with Sam coming into an isolated town that wants nothing to do with outsiders, especially loose girls who smoke weed and Asian dicks who want to find out what happened to that loose girl. Sam, of course, is in over his head almost immediately, as he's seduced by a local girl whose father doesn't take kindly to him tapping her ass (she basically jumps Sam, but of course the dad doesn't want to hear that), gets the cold shoulder from the sheriff (who eventually decides they need to work together), and has a hard time getting information. Sam owes money to someone back in S. F., so he really needs to figure out what happened to the girl or he might have problems when he goes home. Of course, we have to wonder how much his old girlfriend figures into this, and one of the last people to see her alive hints around that something bad is going on in town, but the book never feels too stereotypical. Church doesn't rush things - Sam takes his time trying to figure things out, and his deliberate efforts help add realism and flavor to the story, because we get a real sense of how isolated Sam is in this town (not only because of his profession but because of his ethnicity) and how isolated the town itself is. Sam can't figure out what Dafne (the dead girl) was doing as she went north from L. A. He tracks her movements, but for some reason, she ended up in Terrebonne. Sam doesn't know why.
I don't know how the mystery will play out, but when I first saw that Church was doing something like this, I was excited (as I've mentioned before, I like this kind of story, and Church did a good job on Cover Girl, which was more light-hearted than this but also a nice action/adventure story), and I'm happy to see that it seems to be working, at least for half of it. I haven't been reading it on-line, but you can find it here if you're interested.
All of these comics are enjoyable. She Died in Terrebonne is the best one, but the other two show that Church, as well as often being humorous on his blog, can also be humorous in more structured situations. So catch up on-line! Or give the man some money and buy these in print! It won't kill you!
Tomorrow: Another grab bag of comics! Yay!