Robot reviews: More potpourri

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Wrapped-Up FoxTrotby Bill AmendAndrews McMeel Publishing, $16.99

Here's my basic problem with FoxTrot: I can't stand the family. Not a one of them. They all come across as a bunch of unlikeable clods to me, each one too invested in their own personal tics and desperate obsessions to show any interest in each other. Really, they seem more interested in making each other miserable, especially the bratty youngest child, Jason, who would have been thrown to the lions years ago by any real-life family. Of course, without him we'd miss all those obvious and occasionally desperate attempt to reference contemporary pop culture. "Hey, they're making a Star Trek movie! Let's make a strip about it!" "Here's a joke about World of Warcraft! You know, lots of people play that!" People complain about the saccharine sweetness of The Family Circus, but their are times I prefer that to the insufferable smart-alec attitudes of the Fox family.

This new Treasury collects the last of the daily strips as well as some Sundays. It's certainly readable. It didn't make me want to claw my eyes out the way, say Snuffy Smith does, but still, that's a real annoying family.

More reviews after the link ...

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Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-EssaysEdited by Brendan BurfordVillard, 160 pages $16.95.

Despite the "picto-essays" nonsense in the sub-title, this is actually a very good anthology, one of the best in recent memory really. I think one of the reasons for that is Burford gives the cartoonists a good bit of leeway in deciding what constitutes nonfiction, resulting in a nice variety of styles and subject matters, ranging from straight out memoir like Josh Neufeld's quick rundown of father figures, history lessons like Nate Powell's look at the Greenwood tragedy, straight biographies like Paul Karasik's examination of psychologist Erik Erikson, journalistic essays like Alex Holden's look at a stretch of grafitti underneath New York's Riverside Park, and straight out illustrations, such as Tricia Van Den Bergh's portfolio of park sketches. The breadth of material just underscores how all-encompassing the "nonfiction" genre is, and the variety of ways a good cartoonist can make use of it. Special mention must be made to Greg Cook's interpretation of FBI reports about treatment of prisoners Guantanamo Bay. Through his use of silhouettes he's able to avoid ramped-up melodrama or self-righteous indignation and cut right to the quick of the horror of the situation. It's shoe-in for "best short story of 2009."

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Danny Dutch by David KingSparkplug Comic Books, $5.50

Four-panel comic strips featuring long-nosed, squat-bodied fellows conversing about wistful, philosophical subjects like friendship, death and the passage of time. The end result is an odd mix that seems to fall stylistically somewhere between John Hankiewicz and Stephen DeStafano. King's cartoony style keeps hinting that manic high-jinks will break out at any second, but instead the comic attempts to be more contemplative and decidedly peculiar than that. It's interesting, but I feel a bit removed from it, as though I'm admiring it from afar. Perhaps with time King will produce something that draws me in a bit more. It certainly seems like he's capable of it.

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Jin & Jam No. 1by Hellen JoSparkplug Comic Books, 36 pages, $5

Lots of folks have already proclaimed their love for this short comic about two tough teen girls -- one streetwise, the other well-to-do -- who become good friends despite their lives heading in polar opposite directions, so allow me to just add one more voice to the growing chorus. Jo is very obviously influenced by Tekkon Kinkreet author Taiyo Matsumoto, but she manages to bring her own blend of the down to earth (the budding relationship between the two girls) and the surreal (cops that literally rope in stray juveniles a la Gene Autry). It's a really strong, fun comic that suggests Jo is an artist to be on the lookout for in the future.

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Cold Heat 5 and 6by Frank Santoro and Ben JonesPictureBox, 48 pages, $20

What impresses me about Cold Heat is how it at the same time manages to be an avant-garde, experimental comic and a action-adventure genre exercise albeit one involving time travel, space aliens, strange cults and martial arts. What's more, it does so exceedingly well, with the more experimental aspects of the book feeding off and servicing the narrative but never derailing it. It's a really solid work in progress that continues to fascinate as it develops. Admittedly, $20 is a lot for a 48-page book, but it could be awhile before this story is finally collected in one book, and if you're anything like me, you're not going to be able to wait.

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