Hotwire Volume 1

Written and Illustrated by Various Creators, including Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, and Tony Millionaire

You have to give Fantagraphics a lot of credit. They are willing to take publishing chances that I don't think anyone else with a name as big as theirs is willing to try. Take Hotwire, for example. This anthology is filled with some extremely offensive material, even for me, and I'm not easily shocked. Yet this is only the first of three collections of similar material. The market for a book like this has to be small, and I give Fantagraphics a lot of credit for putting this out there, and in such a nice format, to boot.

On the other hand, for me personally the content was a bit too uneven to make it an anthology I'd want to read more of right away. I can appreciate edgy comics, but I don't like it when artists just try to see how much they can get away with, replacing ideas for shock value. Unfortunately, there's just a bit too much of that going on here in my opinion, and it drags down the collection.

The stories from the people I knew were quite good. This collection has the original printing of Sikoryak's Garfield meets Faust mash-up, Mephistofield, one of my personal favorites from Masterpiece Comics. Tony Millionaire's entry is bizarre, of course, and Kupperman once again manages to lovingly skewer 1950s comics with a Sunday Serial-style strip that features a pair of kids who are ultimately useless to whatever semblance there is of a plot.

There were also a few neat stories from people I didn't know, such as Glen Hedd's Mindless Thrills, which hit on just about every pre-code comic trope or The Visions of Rasputin by Mike Wartella, another story that clearly drew inspiration from the old horror comics, with its vivid, not-quite-right colors and blocky illustration style.

Perhaps the best comic after Sikoryak's is My Gun Is Long, by Mack White. White draws an interesting twist to the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory, using some ideas I already knew and some ideas that I think he came up with on his own. Unlike most conspiracies, he even makes it seem almost plausible. There's a cool sense of logic in the protagonist/narrator that allows this comic to work. White's storytelling here is excellent.

Unfortunately, stories such as this one, or even the weird tales such as the one where a girl tries to reach an understanding with a circus monkey or the quick gags where a woman gives birth to the anti-christ, are buried in comics that are just plain bad. I don't understand the appeal of comics where people make the most offensive jokes possible, daring someone to censor them, without stopping to see if the joke is even funny. Guess what? They're not funny and they're not clever. I've seen better ideas on the inside of men's room stalls than some of the doodles or inbreeding "jokes" that find their way into this collection. I'm not a prude by any means, but if you are going to try to be tasteless, at least be clever about it.

Overall, I can't recommend Hotwire unless you have a high tolerance for offensive comics. There are some good stories in here, but they're not enough to shine their way past the problematic comics that are not very good at best and extremely offensive (for offensive's sake only) at worst. Be aware that this is an anthology that has great potential, but also great risk, in terms of how you might like it. Not unlike a real hot wire, the results of reading it may hurt you.