August 28, 2016

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It's here! SPX Spotlight 2016!



It's almost hard to believe it's been a year already, but here we are again, heading straight into September, and that means it's also time for another Small Press Expo! This year's edition will be held September 17th and 18th in its home for years and years now, the Marriott North Bethesda in Bethesda, Maryland.

While it doesn't look like any active Panel Patter-ers will be at the show this year for the first time since 2008, we're moving right into our sixth year of extensive coverage of the small press convention that's unlike anything you'll find on the internet. In this age of comics sites falling faster than Donald Trump's popularity (and that's saying something), Panel Patter keeps on going, and we couldn't be prouder than the work we do to support comics that deserve every bit of coverage they can--as well as your dollars.

It's no secret that Panel Patter probably wouldn't exist if I hadn't gone to my first show in Bethesda in 2008. It's where I learned there was a huge world of comics out there, telling stories that were as intimate as Jeffrey Brown's autobiographical works and as absolutely fucked up as Rafer Roberts' Plastic Farm. And just look at where those two have ended up--Star Wars for kids and one of the core writers for Valiant! Wow!

As many long-time readers know, I'm a comics omnivore. I don't sneer at superheroes (though I don't write about 'em much, because everyone else still standing does a great job, anyway) and I'll grab a near-abstract like Vortex and devour it cover to cover. One of the best parts of SPX is that it's a place where those things can co-exist, but the superheroes will likely be gay or people of color or things that mainstream publishers don't like to touch.

SPX has changed a ton since I first went. It's a lot larger, for example, and Nickelodeon even showed up last year. With so much demand and popularity, some old favorites that I only met through SPX, like Rob Ullman, won't have a table this year. But pound for pound (or should I say brick for brick, given that the annual Ignatz award--voted on by SPX attendees each Saturday of the show--is literally a piece of masonry?), SPX is a show that can change how you read comics forever. It certainly did for me, and for countless others who visit the show for the first time each year.

As in past years, we'll be using the SPX Spotlight tag to keep all our reviews, past and present, organized for you. Think of us as a way to create a shopping list for the show. And if you can't make SPX, we'll do what we can to tell you where you can get the comics instead.

I hope you have a great time at the show, if you go! Maybe someday, I'll make the flight back, but in the meantime, I and the rest of the Panel Patter team will work hard to ensure you're always grabbing great comics at one of the best shows in the USA. Hope you'll join us over the next three weeks for wall-to-wall coverage of the show--and, more importantly, the creators and comics that make it shine. "See" you here at the site!

August 26, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for August 26th, 2016-- I Came In Alone and Now I Don't Know Where the Door Is



** Welcome to the New CBR (CBR)-- CBR Managing Editor Albert Ching introduces the world to the new CBR.
Welcome to the new CBR! As you’ve likely noticed, we’ve moved to a new site design, incorporating many of the features that readers have asked for — a mobile-friendly format, responsive design and what will be an all-around more efficient and more comfortable reading experience.
This is one of those things that have been inevitable ever since CBR was bought by some internet company or another.   It was only a few weeks ago that we learned that longtime Comic Book Resources columnists Augie DeBliek and Brian Hibbs left for greener virtual pastures, PipelineComics.com and The Beat respectively.

There's a lot to take in from this redesign though.

August 24, 2016

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Traveling with Sarah Becan in Stockholm is Sauceome


Stockholm is Sauceome
Written and Drawn by Sarah Becan

Cartoonist Sarah Becan’s Stockholm is Sauceome is a comic journal of her and her boyfriend Niles’ trip to Sweden earlier this year. But instead of chronicling the sights and sounds of Stockholm, she concentrates her memories on the food and drinks that they found in that Norwegian city. But her comic is much more than just a catalog of what they ate and what they drank. Honestly, that’s about as exciting as flipping through the photos of someone’s vacation; it may be exciting for them but for you, it’s an exercise in trying to act interested in someone else’s fantastic vacation. Through the food and drinks of her and Niles, Becan explores the people of Stockholm and it’s fascinating to see this Chicagoans’ experiences and impressions of this foreign land.

Actually, the food and drink in Becan’s comics is only part of the tale. Instead of being the end of her story, she uses them to look at her encounters with Swedish barkeeps. As she discovers, bartenders aren’t the same all over the world so Stockholm is Sauceome becomes a quest to find a bartender that reminds her a slight bit of home. Instead of a talkative barkeep, someone who may want to know what a couple of Americans are doing in Sweden, most in Sweden are content to offer a drink and go about their job. Small talk isn’t part of that. It’s a small part of their encounter with Swedish culture (and who knows how accurate it really is?) but Becan’s examination of another country through not just its food and drink but through the people who also serve that food and drink gives this travelogue its personality.


The best thing a comic like this can do is make you hungry and thirsty. Becan’s easy art and loving description of the food and beverages on her trip is just tempting enough to get a stomach rumbling. Her coloring is really quite delicious at not just capturing the textures of the food but at capturing the light of Stockholm. In the short days of their winters (the sun rises in January just before 9am and sets before 3pm,) the lighting is very different. The atmospheric blues and sunny golds that fill Becan’s daytime skies are quite magical as she evokes an otherness quality of their skies. It’s not extremely different from skies around the world but the different colors and chilled temperatures that Becan conjures just adds to the feeling of adventure in a strange land that is what you should be feeling whenever you’re on a trip.

Stockholm is Sauceome, an outgrowth of Becan’s webcomic called Sauceome, isn’t just about food and drink. Using those as an entry into the people and sights, Becan shares her memories of Stockholm as she explores her own reactions to the similarities and the differences of what she expects at home. In almost any travelogue, there’s a bit of a stranger-in-a-strange-land mentality behind the telling of the story as Becan tries to reconcile her experiences in Sweden with her expectations in Chicago. Through this, she paints an inviting image of a land that’s just different enough to be slightly exotic in its own ways.

August 23, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #21 (Dinosaur Project by Natasha Alterici)



See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

If you’re ever trying to sell me on something, tell me that it has a strong affirmation of self as its core concept and I’m already on board. Dinosaur Project is clearly a deep-seated passion project for its sole creator, Natasha Alterici. As part of its clustering of short stories, it contains a story where she pushes back against a neighbourhood bully telling her who she should be and it unexpectedly touched me. The rest of the stories follow a similar vein, coming together to create a brief, but incredibly poignant, anthology title that continues to claw at the edges of your mind like a hungry velociraptor after you finish the final page.


Each individual story in this issue has a concept that revolves around, as the title would infer, a dinosaur interacting with either a real or fantastical world. Some are told from the perspective of kids at play, while others are inspirational and quasi-metaphorical fantasy stories that are designed to tug at your heartstrings. Even though each story doesn’t last more than a few pages, the diversity of storytelling draws you in; there’s going to be a story here for every person, regardless of creed, background and, specifically for the purpose of this column, age.

As much as I was touched by every little tail that I was introduced to, I hold a very deep affection for the story that closes the anthology: Princess in the Time of Dinosaurs. Alterici captures the sense of innocence that accompanies childhood play, bringing the imagination into reality in a way that only serves to make it all the more entertaining to read. It’s easy to project a younger version of yourself onto these children as, with the perspective that age gives you, you can see exactly what it was about make-believe that made it so appealing to you when you were younger.

Alterici’s art style varies from story to story, switching slightly as the tone of the narrative demands it, but is always unquestionably appropriate. You’re drawn into the squished-down versions of the dinosaurs in the introspective Existential Tina but pushed right back out again in The Walk to admire the detail that Alterici is able to portray in her art. In the latter example, she uses colour to magnificent effect, guiding you through each panel and each page with a reverence and sense of wonder that only the most talented creators can imbue upon a reader.


The final third of the book is made up of various sketches and doodles that Alterici has constructed throughout the years. They range from immensely detailed, fully-layered paintings to a sketch in a notepad with a biro. While not strictly a comic in the traditional sense of the word, it’s a wonderful way to wrap up the, for lack of a better word, delightful nature of the rest of the book. It demonstrates how intensely and how extensively the concept has been brewing in Alterici’s mind and how much more she still has to give.

Combining humour with heart and mixing in a little bit of inspiration for good measure, Alterici shows off her talent and her range in this book. She is able to evoke dinosaurs in a contemporary and allegorical setting and then effectively transition to a picture of a baby tyrannosaurus rex in a Batman suit; it’s a talent that I honestly wish more writers possessed. In such a short space, Alterici has both taken me on a rollercoaster of emotions while also convincing me that she’s somebody to keep an eye out for in the future. There’s so much unbridled passion and demonstrated talent that there’s no question that you’ll immediately be convinced too.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!

August 19, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for August 19th, 2016-- All in Dime for a Color

August 16, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #20 (Rikki by Norm Harper and Matthew Foltz-Gray)



See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

The Jungle Book stands up there as one of the most famous books to be adapted into an even more well-regarded Disney animation. What you might not know is that there’s an ancillary story within the original Rudyard Kipling anthology book named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which is where Rikki draws its influence. Rikki follows a mongoose that is occasionally eponymously named, which I’ll get to, as he finds himself in a situation that sets off a chain of life-changing events, forcing him to cross paths with the most unexpected of people. It’s a standard coming-of-age story wrapped up in some absolutely gorgeous art that pushes it far higher than the story alone could achieve.



That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of this comic, specifically related to the plot, that I do like. Rikki deals with serious concepts while never losing the exciting sense of adventure that comes from an exploration into unknown territory. The mongoose protagonist, originally named Tavi, finds himself in the uncharted land of a human house and subsequently, for plot related reasons, has to reinvent himself from the ground up. Attempting to decipher the core parts of his being that transition through the personality shift leads to some really fascinating situations.

However, the actual plot itself feels very formulaic. While the story centred around the confrontation with the king cobras is engaging, the rest borders on cliché. Drawing influence from such a classic piece of literature creates an ironic situation where it feels as though you’ve read a story like this before. Media that influences so much after it subsequently, if incorrectly, feels stale to new readers; these are tropes and story beats that, as an adult, you’ve read or seen before. Putting them in the context of these admittedly adorable creatures definitely helps, but it’s debatable as to whether or not it’s enough.

Foltz-Gray's art is absolutely phenomenal from beginning to end. It leans into the Disney adaptation influences, but remains a distinct enough style that it doesn’t feel like individual frames pasted together. The way that Foltz-Gray manages to emote these definitively non-human creatures is impressive, keeping the focus clearly on these characters and their current emotional state. On top of all of that, there’s an attention to detail that leaps out at you in the single page spreads. There’s a synergy between the pencilwork and the colouring that works extraordinarily well in an upbeat story such as this.


There’s an underlying humour to a lot of the book that keeps it moving along, even when the driving force from the core plot starts to falter. As the titular character tries to figure out where he came from, he and his brand new friend, Khan the house-cat, are taken through a montage of increasingly ridiculous and wonderfully delightful tests as they attempt to pin down exactly what animal Rikki is. It’s a sequence full of levity that serves to make the succeeding scene feel all the more deliberately serious. Sequencing a graphic novel can be arduous work, so it’s worth pointing out this successful pacing where it’s apparent.

People who are fans of the original story will be able to come into this graphic novel and see all of the elements of the story that they know and love, but it’s difficult to say if fresh adult readers have anything to gain here. As much as there were moments when I started to get into this book, something new would pop up that would push me right away. It’s worth mentioning here that this book is undoubtedly suitable for a younger audience; it has mongooses behaving like humans and, at the end of the day, isn’t that far better than anything your kids could ever ask for?


Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!

August 10, 2016

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The Black Monday Murders #1


The Black Monday Murders #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Tomm Coker
Colored by Michael Garland
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics

Jonathan Hickman is a master at the long game.  He's better at telling big, complex stories than pretty much anyone working in comics today.  So when he debuts a new series I'm excited to check it out, both because he's a great storyteller and also because if you don't start at the very beginning you might quickly get lost. Hickman's stories also have something of a thematic consistency.  While the subject matter may differ (the apocalypse, multiversal collapse, secret Cold War conspiracies, dark forces controlling the media, science gone wrong), he is clearly interested in certain themes, including (i) complex social settings and systems, (ii) the powerful and secret elite that are the hidden hands moving the chess pieces of society, (iii) the ultimate failure of that elite to focus on those goals and to maintain (or protect) society, and (iv) the inevitable descent into selfishness, fighting, and betrayal. 

It's a really rich set of themes, and ones that he and illustrator Tomm Coker, colorist Michael Garland and letterer Rus Wooton (both Garland and Wooton are regular Hickman collaborators) begin to explore in the dense, compelling, well-designed debut of The Black Monday Murders. This is an oversized first issue that deftly does a lot of world building in a way that makes reading this comic not feel like work (which can sometimes be the case with dense stories).  It helps Hickman that he has such skilled visual storytelling partners. I wasn't familiar with Coker's work, but it's a revelation. 


The story begins in October, 1929, with the day of the stock market crash, where the curtain is pulled back and we see the leadership of Caina investment bank monitoring the day's events. The story wastes no time revealing the hidden truth which is that magic is real and is the true currency of power that drives these titans of capitalism, and magic, money and power are inextricably linked. Ultimately, with money and magic, there are consequences that someone must pay, sometimes with their lives.  The story moves forward to the present, and interspersed throughout the issue are supplemental materials such as a glossary of certain terms, family trees and other information relevant to the story. The present day story is focused around the murder of the investment bank's (now known as Caina-Kankrin, thanks to a merger) chairman (who also held a set of power within the more secretive controls of the bank), with investigative duties being handled by Detective Theo Dumas, a police officer who appears to be working for the bank and a practitioner of magic. The murder is an ominous event, one that looks like it will have political, social and magical repercussions. 

This is a great, ambitious start to a new series. Hickman and company don't waste any time in introducing a lot of story elements, as the story establishes that this is going to be a serious, detailed look at the real power behind high finance; i.e., magic. One of the things I appreciate about Hickman is that engages in comic book storytelling for grown-ups. He believes in giving the reader a lot of information, and expects that they can keep up. One of the ways he is doing this is by including supplemental information within the text of the story. I really like this storytelling technique as it is in effective way of delivering a lot of information without making any one character into an exposition machine. This sort of material has been used effectively as part of storytelling in books such as Lazarus and Zero in the last few years, And it seems like it is going to enrich the story here as well, as this material is presented as part of the story is it the reader is finding some sort of secret dossier. 

This illustrates one of the other (many) things I enjoy about comics written (and sometimes illustrated) by Jonathan Hickman, is the very deliberate way in which they feel designed and structured in an almost architectural sense. Hickman has brought a lot of great design sense to comics including his use of lead-in pages, quotes (which help set a tone), white space (which adds a sense of pacing to the book), and terrific, additive info-graphics from time to time. That's also the case here, as the design (which includes excellent lettering from Rus Wooton such as a code that is there to be deciphered and makes its way organically through the story) gives the sense that this story is a very deliberately-structured found artifact.  

Thankfully for Hickman, he has an excellent set of artistic partners in illustrator Tomm Coker and colorist Michael Garland. His collaborators on his Image series are uniformly great artists (Nick Dragotta on East of West, Nick Pitarra on The Manhattan Projects, Ryan Bodenheim on Secret and The Dying and the Dead). As I mentioned, I wasn't at all familiar with Coker's work but he does great, grounded, dramatic work in this first issue. Backgrounds here feel completely real and lived-in; I'm not sure if Coker is using photo reference but if he is, it's helpful. The stock market floor, secret offices and apartments, and police precincts all look like these actual locations which helps to sell the (relatively) more realistic, grounded nature of the story. 

Coker has a great line, and I'm already a huge fan of the way he creates his characters. The people depicted here feel completely realistic as far as facial expression and body type (none of the comic exaggeration of illustrators such as Dragotta or Pitarra is used here). Coker's character depiction reminds me of that of Leinil Yu (for the strong, muscular line that's conveyed in characters' faces and emotions), Tula Lotay (for the wry expressions and the striking beauty of several of the characters) and Michael Lark (for the painstaking, detailed work done in world building, along with the careful facial acting) but Coker's style feels very much like his own. His body language and facial acting all feel very precise and on point for the particular mood or reaction that needs to be conveyed. 

What helps Coker sell this grounded world tremendously is the color work of Michael Garland. I'm a huge fan of the not-realistic, limited color palate that Garland does so well in Secret and The Dying and the Dead, but he's a versatile colorist and he's doing something very different here. The color choices here are pretty muted, as fits with the grounded, relatively real world setting. Garland makes a lot of effective use of light and shadow, which helps convey the ominous nature of the events of the story. He also does a little bit of pixellation and worn, scratchy effects in several panels, which reminds the reader that the whole issue is presented as a secret dossier and we are privy to knowledge about highly confidential events. It's great, specific work that really adds to the storytelling. 

The magic in The Black Monday Murders is a fantastical element, but it's one that the story takes completely seriously. We see the magic used only in brief glimpses, almost shadows. It's hinted at and seems to be involved in predicting and reading the stock markets, but it seems to be a subtle magic (no lightning or ghosts or men that turn into giant wolves here). What's really clear is that, like Hickman's other great works, even more than magic, this is a story about greed and power and control. Magic is a currency in which the powerful trade. This feels like a peek behind the curtain at those who are in charge; it's meant to be eye opening in the sense that he's letting us regular folks know that we don't even know who's in charge, nor do we know how it is that they maintain that power. I think Hickman is most interested in the societal 30,000 foot view, and he's far less interested in the view of regular folks living in these worlds than he is in the folks who're making the decisions (unlike Brian K Vaughan, for example).  

By way of example, his work on Fantastic Four centered around a secret interdimensonal counsel of Reed Richards from many universes; SHIELD focused on an Illuminati-like organization who has been defending us from alien invasion since the time of the ancient Egyptians (but who ultimately falls victim to infighting); East of West gives us the heads of a number of nations who are secretly all members of an apocalyptic religious cult that drives their motivations even more than allegiance to their nations; The Nightly News shows us the secret cabal that's manipulating the media and, by extension, us; and The Manhattan Projects gives us the brightest scientific minds of their time, tasked with protecting American interests, who instead go off on some pretty disturbing tangents.  Ultimately these stories feel like a critique of those in power, as the emperor very much doesn't seem to have any clothes. My sense is that The Black Monday Murders will continue to address these same themes.

One of the other nice choices I think Hickman makes here is that he centers this story around a murder mystery. It's a great way to show readers an unfamiliar world, as police officers will NY necessity need to ask questions and interact with a lot of different people and in some ways can serve as a guide to this world (such as in Fatherland where a murder mystery is a way to introduce the reader to an alternate history Germany, or The Fuse where a murder sets off an investigation aboard a massive space station in the near future). 

The Black Monday Murders feel like a great place to be in order to explore themes of power and greed and secret control; what better setting to explore these ideas than through (magically enabled) finance? This is a world I am very excited to read about further. If you are looking for gorgeous, complex, interesting comic book storytelling for grown-ups, The Black Monday Murders is definitely worth a look.
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Observational Autobiography in John Porcellino's King-Cat Comix and Stories #76


King-Cat Comix and Stories #76
Written and Drawn by John Porcellino
Published by Spit and a Half

The best autobiographical comics are the ones that reveal the creators not through the events that the comic recalls but through the ways that the creator puts those events together on the page. John Porcellino’s comics look simple; at a first surface glance, there’s not a lot there in his drawings. But King-Cat Comix and Stories #76 demonstrates that as Porcellino has been doing his comics for over 20 years, the simplicity of his drawings creates an easy way into seeing the complexity of life as Porcellino experiences it. In his opening essay “Sinnissippi Days,” Porcellino calls his latest issue of King-Cat Comix “... a weird one.” And for as weird as it may be, Porcellino remains open and honest about his life, creating “weird” comics that tell us more about the cartoonist than any straightforward autobiography ever could.



In many ways, Porcellino’s comics are traditional autobiography comics. He recounts dreams that he had, time spent waiting for a car to be repaired, memories of an old, freezing apartment and signs of the changing seasons. It’s all the stuff of so many cheesy and self-obsessed autobio comics. But instead of getting trapped in an endless cycle of recounting a days’ events, Porcellino’s comics in King-Cat Comix #76 offers insights into the everyday things that Porcellino think are important. He’s not chronicling what he had for lunch or retelling every encounter he’s had trying to raise his own importance in the everyday. In fact, his drawings and the immediate nature of it reduces his stories to a simple emotional level that really opens up his storytelling on a universal level.

It’s this universal experience portrayed through specific events that make Porcellino’s comics unique. The ways that he observes the moment when how a dream leads to a memory that’s a decade old or the emotions that seeing an old lady and a man stir up in him strike a chord that’s resonant as part of the human experience. But it’s also in the way that he observes nature that shows how Porcellino makes something specific into something broad and understandable. A one-page joke is a review of radishes (“weird and earthy”) but another one-page cartoon is a drawing of bird tracks in the snow. Both of these comics are the right amount of weird as he called out in the opening essay but also perfectly at home thanks to the observational characteristic of Porcellino’s stories. 



Adding to the general tone of the comic is the conversational nature of it, from Porcellino’s stories to a listicle of stuff he’s currently digging to the letter column that’s just letter writers stopping by to say “hi” and offer up some Porcellino-like observation from their own life. The friendly nature that Porcellino cultivates in this comic stretches out through all of the aspects of it. While there’s undoubtedly a lot of work that goes into making a comic like King-Cat Comix #76 (thanks to Porcellino notating when things happened and when he drew them, you can see that the origin of some of these comics go back a couple of years,) the lo-fi approach to storytelling and production makes it feel like Porcellino could have rattled these stories off the top of his head like any good and practiced raconteur.
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Rob Kirby's Review Roundup: August 2016 Edition

Welcome to another edition of Rob's Reviews Round Up™ - that occasional feature of capsule reviews that usually shows up my own site, this time out on loan to the venerable Panel Patter (hey, howya doin' Panel Patter, it's been a while). What I'm looking at this time are the best of the small press comics, either self-published or from various micro-presses, that were sent to me for review in the first half of 2016. Aside from that admittedly slender connecting thread, these comics cover a good range in terms of form, style, and content. Without further ado, let's see what’s been cooking out there in minicomics land (and in my mailbox):

The 42nd issue of the venerable mini-Kuš! series, Alien Beings tells the tale of young girl who, with her family on a drive one night, encounters possible UFOs hovering above them for a brief period. "After that,” the girl tells us, "is when things started to get weird at home."  As her parent's relationship becomes ever more fractured by arguments and they move towards divorce, she grows confused about the boy she's supposed to like at school and her best friend Aleksandra, for whom she clearly has deeper feelings. Through it all the lyrics of pop music on the radio describe love and romance in a way that doesn't jibe with the marriage of her parents or her own experiences.  Though at heart a coming of age tale of a typically confused adolescent, Alien Beings is also about the attempts we make at controlling or at least making sense of the chaos of human relationships, and the malleable nature of perception. Laura Ķeniņš, an artist stationed in Halifax, Canada, successfully juxtaposes the wan nature of her narrative by rendering it in soft pastel colors, and her slightly naïve style fits the young narrator's voice perfectly. It's a compact, insightful comic.

I first saw the work of Sophia FS on her Tumbler site: a mere 15 years old, she has a strikingly fluid, organic style of drawing—the antithesis of the manicured digital art that's everywhere these days. I sent for some of her minis and this is what I got:

Hands in the Leaves is a mini-meditation on gardening. In it, a woman delights in her beautiful garden, but is disturbed by the hands and faces she sees in the various flora. Is she crazy or is this really happening? And if it's real, do the plants want to hurt her? Sophia FB's presentation is free-flowing, with the black and white line drawings of the woman surrounded by pleasingly expressionistic splashes of color for the plants. It's almost like a little art study, with effective touches of the macabre.

Space Can Be Scary but Sometimes we Need It is a B&W comic about a young girl who journeys to a remote area of Texas for the imminent landing of a UFO. "I don't belong here," She tells her mother, "on earth." It's a good little comic that might have benefitted from being longer; it has an effective quality of yearning and mystery, summed up by the epigraph on the back cover: "The odds of two universes coinciding are small. The lure, however, is immense. We send starships. We fall in love."

Of all her comics I was most struck by the emotionally direct Iced Tea, a short memoir about an incident of childhood emotional abuse.  Sophia relates the time she and her brother were deliberately dropped off on the side of a country road by their mother for unspecified reasons: "She was angry at us and needed some time to cool off, I guess." The bewildered pair, wondering if she will return, wander off into some sort of woodsy artist commune, where a simple act of kindness—something the children are clearly unused to—triggers a deep emotional reaction. Readers may find this story triggering memories of their own childhood sorrows—I've rarely seen such an honest depiction of vulnerability. The piece is made all the more moving by its straightforward presentation. I look forward to seeing what Sophia FB will be doing in the future—she is a talent to watch.

This interesting anthology, from a number of talented young students at Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), is built around stories of dread, in many of its manifestations, be it personal insecurities, body horror, or other fears personal to the storytellers.  As editor Lee writes in his introduction: "every artist involved should write a comic that would contain at least one panel that was frightening or traumatic to draw." Of all the stories I especially liked Emily Parrish’s “Monstrum,” which taps into fears of excessive (perhaps unholy) gastronomical appetites; Anna Selheim's "Wasted," which is grounded in obsessive fears of wasted potential (a refreshingly real, relatable subject of dread to focus upon), and Iskander’s "Ugly Boy," which smoothly (and wrenchingly) includes themes of bullying, deformity, and bad parenting. Iskander's is also the most technically accomplished art in the book. "Spores," by Angela Boyle, is another winner, a downbeat tale of an innocent young woman who falls victim to a monstrous entity disguised as an old woman from whom she rents an apartment. It's a creepy conclusion to a successful, well-rounded collection.


This issue of Youth in Decline's acclaimed monograph series features Kelly Kwang, an artist previously unknown to me but about whom I suspect I'll be hearing much more in the future. This book is less a narrative than an introduction to its creator's fabulist, video game-inspired universe. Kwang's Space Youth Cadets are a crew of groovy cybernaut fashionistas. Kwang delineates their milieu and their individual "looks" with a mix of gorgeous black and white pencil drawings, comics, murals, and even some photos.  Though the Cadet's realm is distinctly cyber-esque, it feels swoony and romantic rather than cold and digital; never more so than in the drawings of one character encasing themselves in "internet jelly." Kwang's overall aesthetic is fresh, original, and super-fun.


The mini-genre of comics about teaching has been growing in recent years; artists such as Cara Bean, Robyn Jordan, and Aron Nels Steinke have all mined this rich field for personal storytelling, humor, and advocacy. Chicago-based artist Alex Nall began drawing his own comics in this vein in 2013. Presented in diary format and rendered in his Brunetti-influenced drawing style, Nall describes the occasional triumphs and many travails of teaching art to inner city children, which naturally provides Nall with insights into own artistic drives, ambitions, and insecurities. He also gives us an acute sense of the day-to-day problems of being an instructor, as when he tries to help an uncomprehending student solve a very basic arithmetic equation, or his continuous frustrated efforts at controlling his more unruly charges. When he discusses the latter issue with the Principal, Nall is told: "I experienced the same thing as a first year teacher and my advice to you is to push through it and work with your teacher to create the most stable class you can"—which sounds realistic if not exactly inspiring. Nall is obviously a sensitive arteest but he has a wry sense of humor, which gets him through some of the rougher times. The stories collected here are honest, sad, hopeful, and compelling—and a sobering glimpse into the state of our public education system.  

Marian Runk has made a welcome return to comics after a year or so of relative inactivity. Plastic Feathers, self-published in 2015, is a clever series of full color drawings of lawn ornaments that adorn various yards and gardens in Runk's Chicago neighborhood, including flamingos and other birds, squirrels, deer, and humanoid figures.  Runk captures each in all their kitschy charm, with a gently humorous poignancy in the final figures. Get a copy for your favorite gardener.

Sometimes I Pay Attention is more of a collection of odds and ends (the title page indicates the material spans from 1999-2016), though it all coalesces nicely. Included are drawings and short comics relating to Runk's birdwatching activities, odd dream imagery, found graffiti, and a few short poems and song lyrics (Runk is also a musician). As the title suggests, the focus is on the seemingly peripheral things in life—in books like this and Plastic Feathers, Runk drives home the fact that Paying Attention is its own reward.  As always, her work is characterized by an unpretentious, homespun charm, and these beautifully handmade chapbooks fit her aesthetic to a tee.


This mini has notably fine production values: it comes complete with endpapers and a coolly elegant cover design—the meaning of which becomes apparent after reading the story within. Silver Wire is a dark, ruefully funny satire of miscommunication and ineffable longing in primary relationships—enacted here by male-female pair of mice. Shiveley's line art has a simple, almost artless grace, and he has a great sense of pacing. His deadpan humor is in particularly high form in the back index, which includes entries such as "Callous Disregard," "Helpless flailing," and "Inexorable march of time." All of that is instantly relatable, which is what makes the story so acutely funny. One of my favorite minis of the year, this is also the first release I've seen from both Shiveley and Uncivilized Lab (an imprint of Uncivilized Books) and I really look forward to seeing more from both.


From the back cover: "Ley Lines is a quarterly publication dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us." Thus far I've seen two issues of this series, which is a co-production between Kevin Czapiewski's Czap Books and L. Nichol's Grindstone.  

"Medieval War Scene," by Aaron Cockle, takes as its starting point the work of several artists, including lesser knowns W.G. Sebald, Werner Heldt and Anne Carson, along with Sappho and Edgar Degas. Cockle has always been an interesting but challenging artist, with a particular interest in the various physical forms and codes of language. Here he combines passages from the above artists with repeated visual motifs of vases and abstract shapes to form a mesmerizing tone poem of decay, destruction and regeneration, reverberating through history. A quote from Anne Carson on the inside front cover is key to my interpretation: “Even though you are approaching Sappho in translation, that is no reason you should miss the drama of trying to read a papyrus torn in half or riddled with holes or smaller than a postage stamp—brackets imply a free space of liminal adventure.” This is a beautiful, haunting little book, deserving of careful reading(s), and my favorite work of Cockle’s to date.  

"Made with Love in Hell," by Providence, RI-based artist Mimi Chrzanowski, is a loopy riff on Hieronymus Bosch's infamous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, specifically the third panel: Bosch's depiction of hell. In Chrzanowski's hands, it's Mother's Day in the underworld, and there's all kinds of merriment amongst its denizens.  The loose plot involves demon sisters Minty and Bobby Dahl paying their mother a visit—who proves that moms will be moms, even in hell: "I'm just worried about you," She tells Minty. "I want you to be able to find the right devil man to support you financially." When she gets too mom-like and clingy, Minty reminds herself, "Just keep thinking about armored pups." Chrzanowski's Garden features many of the sights in Bosch's original, but with all kinds of goofball touches. Her line is thin and textured, and appealingly cartoony. It's all very imaginative and playfully funny—and nice to see Ley Lines open to featuring lighthearted work along with that of a more "fine art" focus.  

August 9, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #19 (Dungeon Fun by Colin Bell and Neil Slorance)



See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

With all of the bleakness in the world at the moment, sometimes you need to sit down and read a story that’s so gosh-darned silly that it leaves you grinning beatifically and you get to feel that, just for that brief moment, everything’s going to be alright. After getting recommended this title by the wickedly talented Rob Jones, of Madius Comics fame, due in part to how hilarious it was, I went into this series entirely blind and the experience was all the richer. 

Dungeon Fun follows the bizarrely, but appropriately, named Fun as she adventures through the dungeon that she’s spent the entirety of her life living in. Meeting countless fascinating and hilarious characters along the way, she emerges from the story learning things that she never thought that she could. A story of believing in your true self stored in a barrel of delightful self-referential ridiculousness, Bell and Slorance have created something really special here. Keep an eye out; these guys are going places.


Although the first page sets this up as a stereotypical fantastical adventure, which I was expecting from the style of the artwork, the second page reveals it to be something different, yet so much more. With a very self-aware approach, Bell pokes fun at the tropes of the fantasy genre while also mixing in a little bit of modern day anachronism. We are made to feel for the troll guarding the bridge, after all this is only his day job, then shown the mighty knight walking through what is essentially an airport security check. Everything about this series is beautifully insane and you’ll be laughing from start to finish.

As all of the best media does, regardless of its intended audience, the reader is taken on a rollercoaster of emotions. The hilarious moments only serve to push the weight of the emotional ones higher. You read through each issue, enjoying all of the little jokes, until suddenly you’re forced to confront your feelings in a handful of surprisingly poignant scenes. Bell and Slorance subtly build up your empathy and compassion for these characters, only allowing you to realise what they’ve done when things start to come crashing down.


The cast of characters that we meet are broad and diverse, primarily thanks to series artist Slorance’s expressive world design. There’s an individuality to each of these characters that’s usually reserved for JRPGs and other ensemble fantasy stories. Again, this quality roots the series firmly within the genre that it simultaneously parodies, demonstrating how deep an affection the creators possess for it. You’ll meet humans, the aforementioned trolls and a whole array of monsters and you’ll fall in love with each and every one of them.

Slorance has a stylistic art that, upon first glance, might seem like it leans too far into childish territory, with his oversized skulls and large iris-free eyes, but it’s one that could not be more appropriate for this book. With the protagonist definitively pre-teen, she experiences the world through her own filter, seeing the best in everything and wanting to confront the world head-on for never allowing her to be herself. People that behave in an over-the-top way is not only tonally appropriate, but it allows you to forge deeper connections with the characters.

At its heart, as previously mentioned, this is the chronicle of someone striving to break out of the mould that her upbringing has put her in; whatever your age, that’s a trope that you can relate to in some form or another. However, instead of a story about putting your middle finger up to the predetermined nature of fate, there’s a more complex layer bubbling right below the surface. Fun is forced to forge a new path while also fully accepting everything that’s made her into who she is today. It’s a time-honoured, classic story that hits all the harder when being told from the perspective of a young child.


These creators know their audience and they know their genre. If this isn’t clear enough from the story, there are all of these little Easter Eggs that turned my affection for this series into head-over-heels love. Slorance includes little details like positioning the camera to make reference to Legend of Zelda video games that caused me to fist pump the air more than once. Not content to be left out, Bell brings in hampers full of D&D references, primarily through the character Frank, that are deliciously shrewd and will cause some genuine out loud laughs.

Although I went into this comic expecting a simple, yet endearing, story of a girl on a fantasy adventure, I left it immediately wanting more. Walking that tight-rope between homage and parody perfectly, this is definitively a series for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. If you’ve ever professed even a passing interest in the fantasy genre, or are simply someone who loves a good laugh, then this is the series for you. I cannot recommend it heartily enough and implore you to pop over and grab a copy before they all disappear. Now I just have to buy Rob a drink as a thanks.


Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!