Reviewing the Rust Belt Review

 Rust Belt Review Vol 1
Edited and Published by Sean Knickerbocker
Stories by Andrew Greenstone, Caleb Orecchio, M.S. Harkness, Juan Jose Fernandez, Sean Knickerbocker, and Audra Stang

I'm always sucker for a new anthology series, whether by an established publisher like Fantagraphics or a photocopied collection at a zine table. I love variety when I read, and I love seeing what people can do with the medium of a short space in which to tell their story, or to tell one part of a larger story.

I was delighted to receive this first volume of the ongoing Rust Belt Review from Knickerbocker, which I am happy to see is now on its third volume. Extremely well put together (the production values here are as top notch as Fanta would be, the oversized (roughly 9x12) magazine is exactly the type of book I'd look to pick up at a comics show. It feels like a professional work, from the way in which the title is situated to the the credits page (with a brief editorial) to the Contributors page on the back. Rust Belt Review is clearly modeled from a literary magazine format and it shows. That's a good thing.

The stories themselves are extremely good, too. I was instantly hooked by the unfolding mystery of Greenstone's "Prof. Livingston's Labyrinthine Trivia Trials" in which we learn about a sinister cult that has its tendrils across more than just a compound of trials in which unwitting victims were trapped.

Greenstone's art has a very flowing feel, and they use a combination of traditional balloon and panels mixed with narrative boxes "illustrating" a story about the compound. It's incredibly clever and the depictions we get of the horrors Prof. Livingston's victims faced are just enough to spur our imagination into even darker places. Not getting the entire picture, either in plot or picture, helps keep the mystery going. It's a perfect leadoff story, and one that set the tone for the quality of the other stories.

Next up is "Kids Playing Outside" from Orecchio, and it couldn't be more different visually. Instead of the detailed, flowing lines, we get very thin, comic-strip style work. This fits the theme of the story, since we're made to think of those adorable comics of kids doing things that dot the daily newspapers that still remain. A clear parody of those patently absurd tales, "Kids Playing Outside" quickly takes a dark turn, ending in a gleeful celebration of death. Naturally, I loved that. 

What I thought was particularly cool was how Orecchio played with perspective at times for exaggeration and effect, especially one where we are the children looking up a bully character, with the perspective twisted so far he's basically angry nose and ugly shorts only, while his name looms behind. Really cool stuff 

Bank Robbery and a rather odd blowjob go hand in handjob in M.S. Harkness's "The Uncut Gem" in which we find two stoners going for "one last heist" using the male character's ability to create a skinshield with his foreskin and their attempt to use it to thwart the police.

It doesn't go well.

The whole thing is a dumb farce with a great pun on a recent movie, and Harkness's visuals are a clinic on the use of black and white. The figure work is a bit stiff at times, but this is a story featuring two robbers flying over the police with an inflated dick (see top right of above panel). That carries a lot of weight with me. I was laughing out loud the entire time I read this section. Just a ton of fun to unroll, panel by panel.

"The Wind Cries Maria" is a pattern based comic in which the images and words work together in what I would consider a poetry comic, but I think everyone's definition of that is slightly different. This is the first page, which gives you a pretty good idea of the work itself.

I'm still trying to determine if the art is from an older graphics program (maybe even the old Game Boy one?) or just a clever recreation of that style. Either way, its very pixelated and intricate in a different way from something completely hand-drawn. (And I apologize if this was hand-drawn!) Poetry comics and their ilk aren't for everyone, but I enjoy them and this was a little different from those I've read before. I really like its inclusion here, as it's also quite different from the rest of the stories.

The next story is "Best of Three" by Knickerbocker and it's the longest story in the anthology. The art style is a familiar one to me, sharing some qualities with Ben Towle, Kevin Huizenga, Charles Forsman, and others who I've read a lot of stories from over the years. The characters are ordinary people who might not be the nicest people in the world...
As you can see. 

The story is an ongoing, with this part being mostly set up, but some of the concepts (a father who dies after being a competitive gamer for Magic: The Gathering just tickled me to no end) and the little set pieces, like the one in the gas station, really do a nice job of setting up the world in this genre of story. 

Audra Stang ends things with another continuing story, "Tunnel Vision," where a group of kids get prepared to get in over their heads, which of course is the best type of kinds to feature in a comic story. This one was a little weaker for me than the others, simply because the set up doesn't really bring anything new to the character archetypes (yet). I recognize it's only the beginning, however, and I really enjoyed the art style, which looked to me like pencil and colored pencil, which was then turned into greyscale. Really cool presentation, and again, different from the other stories.

Rust Belt Review Volume 1 is an incredible anthology, especially for a debut. The stories are all good to great (a rarity for anything like this), the plots/dialogue are really distinctive amongst each other, and the artwork, as you can see from these examples, are just as varied and never feel too much the same. I like the length of them, too--across 72 pages we get enough for each one, even a quick joke story, to breathe.

You can purchase the first three issues of Rust Belt Review here, and I strongly encourage you to do so.