Hotwire Comics Vol. 3Edited by Glenn HeadFantagraphics Books, 138 pages, $22.99
Once again, Hotwire returns to attempt to fill in that edgy alt-comix niche that was so prominent in the 80s and early 90s and has seemingly been eclipsed by the more literary, rarefied indie comics of today (sort of). If for no other reason, this anthology should be lauded for giving folks like Mary Fleener and Mack White the opportunity to showcase their work, since no one else seems to be interested in doing so these days. There is always the occasional dull or misguided piece (David Paleo and David Sandlin's work continues to fail to interest me), but the stellar work by folks like Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, Onsmith, Johnny Ryan, Tim Lane and Mats!? make this well worth your time.
Things Undoneby Shane WhiteNBM, 88 pages, $12.95.
A graphic artist stuck with a bad job and a dissatisfied (and soon to be ex) girlfriend starts literally falling apart at the seams, turning into a zombie to match the frustration and emotional deadness he feels inside.
As visual metaphors go it's a pretty good one. it's a shame then, that White doesn't really explore it more. A good part of the problem is that we never really understand what exactly is the problem with the lead character, Rick, and his girlfriend (it doesn't help that he jumps around in time a lot without any guideposts to help the reader figure out when, exactly, a particular incident is going on. He ends up coming off more as a petulant jerk than a sympathetic victim and it kind of sinks the book as a result.
Vatican Hustleby Greg HoustonNBM, 132 pages, $11.95
Houston's got an intriguing style -- I really like the Ralph Steadman meets John Kricaluci look of his characters. And certainly, any story that offers a homage to 70s blacksploitation and features a alcohol-swilling, porn loving pope that plays craps with violent clowns can't be all bad.
But if Hustle has style and flair to spare, it falls down in the storytelling department. Houston frequently loses track of the plot and lets the story meander into various alleyways, which is often more annoying than charming. It's also way too wordy, to the point where it's a detriment to his layouts and the flow of the story. Basically, he could have used a much tighter editing job here. If he gets that with his next book, I'm there.
Missile Mouse: The Star Crusherby Jake ParkerScholastic, 176 pages, $10.99 paperback
This is a pretty perfunctory space opera that hits all the cliches -- sorry, I meant story beats -- you'd expect, right down to the hero having a chip on his shoulder because his dad was killed by the bad guys and the one seemingly sympathetic character turning out to be a turncoat and so on and so forth. I doubt most elementary school kids will mind too, since they haven't been exposed to these tropes too much -- unless they've been watching a lot of Cartoon Network. Older readers, however, may find everything a bit too familiar. The characters themselves -- from Missile Mouse on down -- aren't distinctive enough to provide any nuance or variation on such a well-worn theme. Parker's a good artist -- his layouts are nice, his art is clean and sharp, and his characters are visually distinctive -- but those traits simply don't carry over into the writing. Feel free to pass it on to your kids. But don't expect it to linger too long in their imaginations.
Copperby Kazu KibuishiScholastic, 96 pages, $12.99 paperback
Copper is not actually the name of the dog, but the small boy. Fred is the dog's name. Fred is a rather nervous and trepidatious sort. Copper meanwhile, is a bit of a go-getter, live for the day fellow, which sets up a nice dynamic between the two right from the get-go. Together they go on a series of one-page fanciful adventures, meeting strange and interesting creatures and seeing fanciful, candy-colored lands. This collection of mostly one-page strips by Kibuishi (originally done as a Webcomic) is certainly in frequent danger of falling on the "twee" side of the cute fence, and I don't think that very many of Kibuishi's insights are nearly as profound as I suspect he does, but Fred's innate cynicism helps leaven some of the more precious parts of the comic 9it helps a lot that most of the stories here are shorter than short), while Kibuishi's art, especially in the later strips, gives a real playful pop to the proceedings. It owes a lot to Calvin and Hobbes in some respects, but this is the first strip I've seen that bore that influence so strongly and yet was charming and clever enough in it's own right to make me want to visit its world and characters again.