AL BURIAN GOES TO HELL
Written and Drawn by Al Burian
Published by Migraine
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Gripped by an existential crisis for which there seems to be no end, Al Burian finds himself out of the office, hitting the streets and suddenly living within a Hell of his own making. Well, that’s not quite true- it isn’t entirely one of his making. Instead, Burian finds himself in an inferno that owes more than a little to Dante’s great work itself. Indeed, as Al makes his journey, we get passages from that classic work alongside his own torment, driving home the author’s predicament.
I would love to tell you that Burian’s use of Dante and his structure help GOES TO HELL rise above its meager roots as a navel gazing exercise, but I can’t. Burian hates his corporate job. He hates art school. He’s confused about the nature of creating and in criticism. In short, he’s no different than thousands of others in his same place. While that should make him relatable, he doesn’t make himself compelling enough as a character to make you sympathetic towards his angst. Instead, it comes across as boring and rote.
It isn’t that Burian lacks talent. His cartooning has an interesting look to it, and the way he handles structure in the book is genuinely interesting. Plus, his use of Dante at least has a spark of “different” to it. But none of that adds up to make the work one that grabs you and makes you want to read more about this person, this character he has made of himself on the page. Instead, you (on occasion) feel more inclined to punch him in the face and shout at him to stop whining and seize control of his life and destiny and stop worrying about what others think or want from him.
Of course, if Burian takes his own advice from the end of the book, then the point of me writing this is moot, because criticism is unnecessary, right?
Written and Drawn by Nate Beaty
Published by Microcosm Publishing
BFF stands for “Brainfag Forever”, and while brainfag may sound like a pejorative or derogatory thing, it is actually an early 20th century medical term for brain fatigue. However, in this case, it’s use came from Portland comics artist Nate Beaty’s self-published comics. Over the space of about a decade, he produced ten issues of autobiographical work, and now that he has ended the series, he brings it together under one cover with this handy trade paperback.
The biggest trap for autobiographical comics is to get caught up in the author’s own personal aggrandizement or self-loathing. But Beaty shows a reasonable ability to balance himself. When he is in pain and disgusted with himself, it surely comes across, but he doesn’t ask for the reader’s pity. When things are working (admittedly rare) he doesn’t revel in it and expected to be thrilled. That makes his work far more palatable than so many others following in the same vein.
Another thing that sets Beaty apart is the variety he shows in his art style. Some of the work is very rough. Some just leeches onto the fringes of realism. And yet at times, he sits down and does work of near photo-realism. But no matter what style he is using, you can see his talent growing as the book progresses, and that’s important. If it didn’t, it would almost be for naught.
The one problem I had with the book was the exclusion of four of the original BFF issues. He notes in the text that two through four “sucked” and that they’re available online, but I felt like that was a cheat. I wanted to see them and watch how he grew past them to make himself into a better artist- not go to the internet to do it. Still, the stuff that is here is solid. Beaty is worth watching.
CONSTANT RIDER OMNIBUS
Written by Kate Lopresti
Published by Microcosm Publishing
Kate Lopresti is either completely nutty or a hero to anyone who wants to make the environment cleaner. Her self-published zine, CONSTANT RIDER, details her adventures as a traveler on public transport, whether on the local buses in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, or taking a passenger train across the country. Facing the crazy, the stinky, and the stressed out, most people would fold up their tents and stay home. But Kate chooses instead to plop down and start writing… as well as to keep riding.
As a person that uses public transportation quite frequently, I was immediately sucked into Kate’s prose, recognizing the world she was describing immediately. But even if I hadn’t, she has the skill to describe the people, places, and scents with such detail that anyone reading the book will have no issues in visualizing what she’s talking about. Me, I know the people she’s talking about; I see them almost any time I board a bus. Apparently, city buses (and other forms of public transport) truly are universal. (People are people, right?) I also found myself impressed by Lopresti’s descriptions of herself; she has a healthy sense of travel paranoia, including one amusing incident where she fears that she is the source of a horrific smell during a train ride and tries to do something about it. (If only others were as self-conscious!)
Other nifty parts of the book find Lopresti offering tips for how to properly wait for, board, and ride a bus; dealing with a bus-stop Romeo who won’t take “no” for an answer; and discussing how to deal with drunks. She even throws in seat-moving etiquette when the bus clears out. This is really a charming little book, a true gem, and I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone, especially those who live the public transportation lifestyle.
MY BRAIN HURTS VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Liz Baillie
Published by Microcosm Publishing
Kate has wandered through her adolescence like most kids, flailing around to find her identity and generally feeling disaffected by the society around her. But things begin to clarify for her one night at a party when, in a game of spin the bottle, she has to kiss Verona, another girl in her class. Suddenly, her confusion begins to erode. Aided by her already out younger friend Joey, she begins the tentative steps of exploring her sexuality and what it means to her. But it’s going to be a bumpy ride; teenagers behave like teenagers, gay or straight, and Joey’s brash attitude about his own life is going to lead him to horrific trouble that will shake Kate to her core.
MY BRAIN HURTS is a terrific portrait of gay youth on a journey of self-discovery, and makes for a really terrific read. Kate is an instantly compelling and sympathetic character, even when she’s using poor judgment; you know this girl, you invest in her. That’s no mean feat for any creator, and Baillie pulls it off perfectly.
Her balancing act with the character of Joey is even tougher for Baillie, but for the most part she pulls it off. There are moments in Joey’s behavior that make you wonder why on Earth a character with any sense in his head would do the things he does, but it eventually becomes clear that his anger and grief over his relationship with his father is pure fuel for his own self-destruction. It’s powerful stuff; you just have to hang with it until the story ultimately pays it off.
Baillie’s art is a bit on the rough side, but she puts her focus on the characters and they look strong on the page. You can see her grow and refine her talent as the pages pass; if I had to make a guess, I’d say that this material appeared in smaller bits over time, say at least two years, because that’s really just how much better she becomes along the way.
Ultimately, the themes of kids trying to figure out who they are and what their place in the world is are universal to everyone. MY BRAIN HURTS must read like a Fodor’s Guide for gay teenagers on their personal journeys, but rest assured: this is a book for anybody who simply likes good stories. I look forward to volume two.