October 13, 2014

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Old-Timey Hockey Tales #2 by Rob Ullman

Written and Illustrated by Rob Ullman
Self-Published

It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh--and many other cities--as the season resumes play in arenas across the United States and Canada. In honor of this great time of year for those of us who are hockey fans, creator (and Penguins fan) Rob Ullman brings back Old-Timey Hockey Tales for a second issue of stories from across the history of an under-appreciated sport.

Working a solo act this time, Ullman turns his keen eye and slick lines to eight short pieces that cover everything from a player who only starred in a Cup because of WW2 manpower shortages to another who was actually taken out of a bar, sobered up, and placed in a goal, a strategy that might have worked better for the Pens some years than actually starting Marc-Andre Fleury.

A lot of Rob's stories center around goalies in this mini, including a guy who thought he'd been re-incarnated and his penance for prior sins was to have hockey pucks shot at him by the opposing players. (Spoiler Alert: That is not the secret to a long career.) Most tend to the quirky, but one is about an early success for the LA Kings, long before they started to become a dominant team.

Showing his ability to cover both sides of one of the most controversial parts of hockey, namely its sometimes brutal nature, Rob gives us the story of a bruiser who loses his career when he can't rattle a rookie in a series of brawls at center ice. In another, Ullman shows the tragic story of Bill Masterson, who died after a hard (but legal) hit. That remains the only confirmed hockey-related death, and Masterson's name lives on in an award.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Rob's art, going back to before we knew each other and bonded over a mutual love for the Pirates and Pens. And while these stories don't give Rob a chance to do what he does best (drawing amazingly attractive women who actually look like real people), he's still able to not only put his smooth lines to work making us go back in time but also vary his style and approach along the way. Despite the fact that these stories are all drawn by one man, they don't all look alike. By adding in a bit of color, varying how he includes the narrative text, and even going a bit looser in his layouts than we usually see from Rob, it feels more like a standard anthology than a one-man band.

Of course, the best-looking of these are when Rob goes with his usual designs. The square-jawed brawl between Rocket Richard and Killer Dill, with the two exchanging blows that show almost a comedic level of violence is a highlight, as is Rob's depiction of peasants throwing rocks at the reincarnated goalie. Ullman as a whole is spot-on with his selected visuals, a key component of non-fiction comics. A perfect example of this is when discussing getting Moore into playing shape, he shows him taking a cold shower while guzzling coffee.

Anyone who loves hockey and has an appreciation for the long history of the game really needs to own a copy of Old-Timey Hockey Tales 2 (and issue one, also if you didn't get it yet). Rob's getting a well-deserved reputation for these, which will actually see him doing work on a hockey book for younger fans being published by Hockey News sometime later in 2014. If you're worried that he was doing too much about just the Penguins (and that makes you a Flyers fan, but we'll forgive you), this issue finds him doing no stories about his favorite team, just picking out some of the best stories of a game where the tales of old players is probably under-represented.

You can buy Old-Timey Hockey Tales 2 (and other good stuff from Rob) at his website.