I don't do straight reviews that often, because, well, I'm kind of a softy. I know that no one ever sets out to do a bad comic. Worse, I know from my years of working in print and magazine publication that there's too much aggravation involved for an indie creator getting any kind of creative work out in print in the first place for me to ever feel good about looking at a book and saying flatly, "That was bad work that should not have been created." Even if the book's so terrible that that's exactly what deserves to be said.
So what I usually choke out in those cases is some kind of, "This wasn't my thing at all, but this is what it was, maybe that works for you, but I won't be back." And I even feel guilty about that.
But the last three or four weeks, independent creators and other small-press people have been sending stuff for me to look at and, to my great joy, they have all been books that I can recommend to you all with a clear conscience. It's been quite a lucky streak. I've been meaning to write them up for a while and I finally decided that today, by God, the entire In Box gets cleared. So here we go.
First of all, Becky Hawkins sent me a review copy of her new French Toast Comix collection, Coffee and Beer Money.
Most of it is about her trials and tribulations being a single lesbian in the big city trying to get an art career going. Slice-of-life stuff, and sure, it's not that innovative for an autobiographical indie book. But Ms. Hawkins' day job is being a musician on a cruise ship and there's lots of good material there; that, along with the fact that she can bring the funny without being vicious or needlessly snarky, is what sold me on this book. I like the old-school caricaturist's drawing style she brings to the table, and really the bottom line is that her work made me laugh. What else do you need from a humor book?
Just for the hell of it I shared it with my former student Amanda, who's doing indie 'zines of her own now, thinking she'd probably appreciate it more than I would. Amanda told me that she thought it was a cute book, but felt the different strips could have used a little more differentiation -- even just a title or a 'the end' caption would have helped, she felt like she was reading a schizophrenic run-on comic. Still, she liked it and added that she thought Becky drew like me, which is funny because I would have said that Becky's style was closer to Amanda's sense of humor than any of my other grads. I guess we're all three old-school caricaturists at heart.
Second, Tom Pomplun at Graphic Classics sent along the newest trade paperback compilation from that fine firm. I always enjoy these and so do my middle-school students. Volume Twenty-One is Tales of Mystery, showcasing Edgar Allan Poe.
I usually take these to class and have my Cartooning students review them along with me, but this one got passed around so eagerly that none of the kids were able to put the book down long enough to actually write about it. My 6th graders were ALL OVER that cover, with its promise of ghosts and zombies and all kinds of black magic nastiness. That suggests to me that if Mr. Pomplun can find a way to get this book in front of more young readers, he'd probably have a hit on his hands.
[caption id="attachment_91528" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="What I love about these collections is the variety of art styles. Here's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE by Reno Maniquis and HOP-FROG from Lisa Weber."]
When it comes to collections of the macabre you can't lose with Poe stories, so the thing stands or falls on the art. As is traditional with Graphic Classics, the artistic roster is an eclectic delight. Each selection plays to that artist's strength, ranging from straight mystery like "Murders In The Rue Morgue" with art by the Domino Lady's Reno Maniquis to oddball entries like Lisa Weber on "Hop-Frog," or a lovely adaptation of "Berenice" by Nelson Evergreen.
[caption id="attachment_91528" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="A creepy MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH page by Stan Shaw, and one from THE MAN IN THE CROWD by Brad Teare."]
My students appreciate the variety too; several mentioned how cool the different art styles were, and on top of all that it's just in time for Halloween.
[caption id="attachment_91528" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Michael Manning's nasty take on THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, and Ronn Sutton's new interpretation of THE TELL-TALE HEART."]
Well worth it, and it wouldn't hurt to mention these Graphic Classics collections to your local school librarian, either. Backlist is here. My favorite is still Western Classics, but that's just personal preference. So far I haven't seen a loser in the bunch.
I was really, really impressed with this book. For a first-time-out graphic novelist, Mr. Case has an incredibly sure hand. This is a polished, beautifully-told story. The hell of it is, it's almost impossible to sum it up in any kind of standard way.
It's sort of about a Gill-Man, sea-monster-type mutant that's inspired by reading Shakespeare's plays... and then... oh, hell, I give up. I'm just going to give you the jacket copy and you can judge for yourself:
Deep beneath the waves, a creature named Grue broods. He no longer wants to eat lusty beachgoers, no matter how their hormones call to him. A chorus of crabs urges him to reconsider. After all, people are delicious! But this monster has changed. Grue found Shakespeare’s plays in cola bottles and, through them, a new heart. Now he yearns to join the world above.
When his first attempt ends… poorly, Grue searches for the person who cast the plays into the sea. What he finds is love in the arms of Giulietta—a woman trapped in her own world. When she and Grue meet, Giulietta believes her prayers are answered. But people have gone missing and Giulietta’s nephew is the prime suspect. With his past catching up to him, Grue must decide if becoming a new man means ignoring the monster he was.
And finally, a couple of press releases: one, Ron Randall is posting his entire body of work on Trekker online, from the early days in Dark Horse Presents on up.
Eventually, Mr. Randall promises, there will be NEW stories appearing in that space as original webcomics. This is good news for those of us that missed the adventures of Mercy St. Clair, and though I'm really not a big fan of scanned print comics on a screen, I have to say that Trekkercomic.com is very easy to navigate and read through. Recommended both for old fans and new readers who want to get caught up before the new stuff goes up.
Mystery Men is an anthology series of pulp-hero short stories, very similar to the old Weird Heroes books from Byron Preiss back in the 1970s.
[caption id="attachment_91589" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Each collection has four heroes to a book. Still working my way through these, but so far the one that left me with the biggest grin was the tale of two-fisted reporter Jack Minch versus the Mole People. Really, though, I have enjoyed every entry so far. "]
I like a lot of what Airship 27 puts out, especially anthology projects like Mystery Men. But the price always puts me off a little; anywhere from $15 to $22 for a paperback that's often less than two hundred pages. I understand the costs of doing small press publishing and I know that it would be almost impossible to get the price any lower.... but it does put me off. I can't help it.
Blessedly, though, Airship 27 has entered the digital age, and though I don't usually care for PDF comics, PDF prose is just fine with me. I downloaded the book for $3 and that seemed extremely reasonable considering how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I loved it so much I went back and purchased the download of Mystery Men Volume One as well.
[caption id="attachment_91586" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Honestly, I love these MYSTERY MEN books because they seem like a continuation of the Byron Preiss WEIRD HEROES books, a very similar pulp-revival project back in the 1970s. "]
You can find the whole Airship 27 digital backlist here, and I gotta tell you, screw the print version -- this is the way to go. Three bucks for a 170-plus page book of rockin' pulp action is a DEAL. It's cheaper than most single-issue comics I buy, in fact, since there's no sales tax, and I get far more entertainment value.
It's easy to think that comics and superheroes are in some kind downward-spiraling burnout when you are solely inside the Marvel and DC comics bubble that so many comics retailers seem to live in, especially if you are disappointed by recent efforts like FEAR ITSELF or SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE or whatever.
But that doesn't mean that there's not still good stuff out there. It's nice to be reminded that there's still lots of vibrant, interesting work being done outside of the Big Two, and I appreciate my various correspondents over the last month taking the time to let me know about them so I can pass them on to all of you.
See you next week.