COFFEE AND BEER MONEY

FRENCH TOAST COMIX #6: COFFEE AND BEER MONEY
Written and Drawn by Becky Hawkins
Published by Fremch Toast Comix


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Anyone who has read my reviews over the years knows I’m a sucker for a good minicomic. Often they represent comics in their purest form- artists and writers getting down and dirty with their work, busting their asses to make a print run, spending the night stapling them together before a convention… you can see and feel the effort in minis in ways you can’t from some superhero comic from one of the Big Two. I was introduced the work of folks like Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, and Paul Horn via their minicomics, and I’m happy to report that after reading COFFEE AND BEER MONEY I’ll be keeping an eye out for Becky Hawkins at cons and picking up any new work she has to offer.

BEER MONEY contains a number of autobiographical short stories ranging from amusing to downright ludicrous. In one story we follow Hawkins on a cruise vacation, in another we see her head out for live band karaoke, and in the best of the set, we find out what happens when one of her exes calls in an attempt to get her involved in a multi-level marketing scheme. In each of them, Hawkins does a deft job of not only telling us the story, but also telling the reader about who she is. There’s a nice balance in the storytelling approach that shows what a confident cartoonist she is, and it makes you want to continue reading her stuff.

Hawkins also shows solid skill at shifting her artistic style. For one single-page gag she does her impression of Frank Miller, and she pulls it off pretty well. Her lines are clean and simple, and she doesn’t skimp on the backgrounds and details where they’re necessary to carry the story. With material this good, I hope Hawkins is thinking about collecting her work in trade paperback sometime soon- the time feels right.

NEW INDIES

NEW INDIES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason


Diving right in…

Six or seven years ago, writer Charles Fulp teamed with artist Craig Rousseau for a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek miniseries called HARRY JOHNSON. Finally, years later, that book makes its debut in trade paperback. Now titled UNCOUTH SLEUTH (Fulp Fiction), Harry is once again ready to tickle your smutty bone with his combination of dick jokes, bad puns, and well-executed action sequences. I liked the book because it spat in the eye of political correctness, and because even though Harry was a sexist caricature, the women in the book inevitably got one back over on him. Fulp plays fair with the fairer sex, though on the surface you can sometimes lose track of that. The book also looks fantastic. Rousseau has long been one of comics most underrated artists, and his work here practically glows. The trade also adds a nice sketchbook section showing off some design work by the great Dean Yeagle. Definitely worth a look.

VEGGIE DOG SATURN #5 (Buyer Beware Comics) by writer/artist Jason Youn is another terrific issue in what has proven to be a very good minicomic series. Youn’s secret is that he keeps his work simple and relatable- there’s a universality to his storytelling that makes the comic so good. In one story, “The Tape”, he discusses something a teenage boy would remember perfectly- his older brother’s ability to fast forward a VCR tape to moments that showed nude women- something that any boy that young would remember forever- and a disappointing one as well, as he eventually gets older and discovers his brother’s “magic” secret. Youn’s art can be a little rough, but he does vary the line work and level of detail from story to story, showing that he’s thinking things out as far as how he wants to demonstrate place and atmosphere in the work he is sharing with the reader. If you’re a minicomic fan, this is an easy recommend.

Silber Media has released a new round of micro-mini comics from writer Brian John Mitchell, and a few of them deserve special note. The best of the new pack, by far, is STAR #1 which is drawn by artist Kurt Dinse. The story of a traveling musician who is always on the run from his (literal) demons, this may be the best looking comic that Silber has ever released. Even with the matchbook-sized format, the art is amazingly detailed and attractive to the eyes. The story works well, too, making this one a total winner. I was also impressed with MONTHLY #1 which features art from Eric Shonborn. On the surface it just appears to be about a man searching for love. But as the story progresses, you begin to understand that there is a lot more to this man than we first realize. The ending has a nice twist, and it looks really nice. Solid stuff. I’d also recommend ULTIMATE LOST KISSES #12. Here, Mitchell and artist Jeremy Johnson tell a tragic story of a teenage girl who sees her life destroyed in the space of only a few moments, and give us clues as to what will happen to her afterward. This comic has a nice bit of emotional resonance to it and shows good depth in the writing.

MISC. NEW STUFF

MISC. NEW BOOKS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Look! New stuff from various folks and places. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Starting with MERMIN #5 (Tragic Planet) is always a good idea, as I’ve been enjoying Joey Weiser’s nifty minicomic from the beginning. The story of a young boy from an undersea kingdom and his attempt to join human society has worked from the start, mixing humor and pathos in perfect amounts. This final issue of volume one finds the stakes at their highest, as bad guys from Mermin’s home have come to drag him back, and it has placed his human friends in danger. There’s a surprising amount of action this time around, and it has a shocking amount of scale to it- I wasn’t even truly sure that all of the human cast would actually survive. But all that really does is show off just how good a cartoonist Joey Weiser really is. In five minicomics he has shown a massive amount of variety in what he can bring to the page, and as a result, he’s delivered a book that I suspect will soon be collected under one cover and be a smashing sales success to the all-ages crowd. I know I’ll want one.

Speaking of good all-ages books, FRAGGLE ROCK VOL. 2 #1-2 from Archaia fits that description well. This miniseries brings to life another classic Jim Henson creation, reminding us that he didn’t peak solely with THE MUPPETS. These characters have a wonderful life and charm of their own, and the variety of talent writing these tales has done a good job of creating interesting stories that captivate the reader, as well as providing an interesting “moral” at the end that evokes what the TV series was all about. Whether it’s about the importance of embracing your own dreams, or understanding that friends and family are more important than potential fame and fortune, these pieces just work. The artists do their job well, too, and it was quite easy to sit back and enjoy just how pretty the whole shebang looks. Fun for everybody.

Shifting the focus to the topic of actually making comics, EXTREME PERSPECTIVE FOR ARTISTS (Watson-Guptill) by David Chelsea is a stunning how-to book, though I have to warn you in advance- this one is for advance level artists only. Done in graphic novel format, Chelsea takes you through chapters how to truly take your work to the next level. Topics include “Extra Vanishing Points”, “Fisheye Perspective”, “Cylindrical Perspective”, “Reflections”, and many others, and he uses comics panels to demonstrate how they look first, then he lays out a drawing lesson that allows the reader to test these techniques on their own. The book also comes with a DVD that includes a perspective grid and guides you through attempting the material he’s talking about. Chelsea is impressively thorough, and if I had an ounce of artistic talent, I have no doubt I’d use this book heavily.




NEW INDIES

NEW INDIES
Written and Drawn by Joey Weiser
Written and Drawn by Dan Mendoza

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Couple of things to recently cross my desk…

MERMIN #4 (Tragic Planet) continues Joey Weiser’s excellent series of minicomics, this time around upping the action quotient a bit. When last we left the book, one of Mermin’s human friends, a boy named Pete, had been captured by some nasty characters from Mermin’s below-the-waves home in an attempt to force him to go home. Now Mermin must save Pete and somehow prevent himself from being captured and dragged below. What makes MERMIN work is how well it combines its ingredients- Weiser’s story is fun, his art it wonderful, and the characters are just fun to read about. There’s nothing deep or groundbreaking about this book, it’s just good comics. We could use a dozen more just like it.

Just when you thought the zombie craze had reached its zenith comes ZOMBIE TRAMP (Super Real Graphics), a book that I think wants to be a satire but doesn’t quite get there. Hollywood’s most popular call girl gets chomped by a zombie but maintains some semblance of herself, sending her on a quest for revenge against the people that led her to her doom. Along the way she gets involved in a bizarre plot involving a voodoo priestess, a corrupt sheriff, and other strange characters (many of whom are undead). Rather than satire, this is more of a straight-up exploitation flick, though it shies away from full nudity for some reason. You’ve got R-rated gore going on, what difference are T&A going to make? Mendoza’s heart is in the right place, and his story does a decent job of working within the genre, but he never really takes that final step and embraces what he really has here. This book has one of the best titles of the entire year. I just wish it had a bit more courage of its convictions.

NEW INDIES

NEW INDIES

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new ones that have arrived in the post recently…

MERMIN #3 (Tragic Planet) is the latest in writer/artist Joey Weiser’s new minicomic series. The story of a young… well, Mer-man… that has left his undersea home and moved into a suburban neighborhood and befriended the local kids, MERMIN has balanced humor and absurdity through its first two issues. However, issue three takes a different step, raising the actual stakes for Mermin and throwing an intense action sequence into the mix. The ending is actually quite a stunner, proving that you still don’t quite have a full grasp of what is happening in this series yet and that Weiser intends to keep you on your toes. Like the first two issues, this is a terrific effort, and money well spent.

Z-BLADE XX #2 (Atomic Basement) sees writer Steve J. Palmer and artist Guy Lemay take a nice step forward in their strange hybrid take on armored superhero tropes and flat-out parody. This issue introduces us to a pair of waitresses, one of whom moonlights selling sex toys at an adult toy expo. What she doesn’t know is that one of her regular customers is Z-Blade XX in his civilian identity and he recognizes her when he winds up having to fight a bad guy at the show. Throw in a ridiculous bad guy, a wacky double date, and a sudden dark shift in tone, and you have a book that throws everything at you bit the kitchen sink. I’m not sure that the story actually works in the grander scheme, but I admire the ambition. Lemay’s art, very Grist like, is also pretty snazzy.

Finally, we have THE GHOSTS OF MARKO DARC (Atomic Basement), an anthology title written by Palmer and drawn by Lemay, Chris Dyer, and Christopher Booth. The stories revolve around a demon-slayer and all-around tough guy (the title character), his adventures, and the sub-characters that make up his world. This one isn’t quite as fully formed as Palmer’s other book; the character isn’t deeply defined, and he barely appears in the book, which puts the onus on the other elements and they just aren’t as strong. The book is also hampered by the wildly different art styles of the three guys that did the work. It makes Darc’s world feel inconsistent in its threat level. There’s hope and room for improvement, but right this first effort just doesn’t fly.

NEW MINIS

NEW MINICOMICS
Written and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at a couple of indy projects…

VEGGIE DOG SATURN #4 is written and drawn by Jason Young and available via Buyer Beware Comics. This mini is filled with autobiographical stories of Young’s life, and it has some strong and interesting material. The highlight is “Regina,” a sad story about Young’s loss of a childhood friend and what happened when he discovered the underlying reason why his and Regina’s families stopped spending time together. The “one that got away” story is always one with some emotional resonance, but Young takes it a step further by exploring a fatal flaw in his own family’s character and what it cost him. The other stories vacillate in their quality level, but none of them is really a bust. Young’s art is the roughest part of the deal; this has a very indy look to it. Still, solid stuff, and I’d read more by this guy.

Writer Brian John Mitchell has some new minis from Silber Media, and a few of them stuck out to me this time around. First up is MECHA, which is based on an album by Mitchell’s band, Remora. The story, illustrated by Johnny Hoang, is one of survival and love, as a young man raised on an Earth conquered by Martians makes his escape and ultimately tries to find his humanity. This one is printed a little larger than the normal micro-minis Mitchell puts out, which allows Hoang’s art some space to breathe. Smart move, because it looks pretty good.

Jeremy Johnson draws issue two of MARKED, Mitchell’s tale of a man possessed by a demon that he finds a way to free himself from. Of course, what should be a happy occasion isn’t quite so, since the beast goes on a rampage and begins looking to kill and destroy everything the man cares about. MARKED works because it has some nice pacing and because Johnson finds a way to use the small format to his advantage.

Finally we come to the flip-book COPS AND CROOKS #1, drawn on the Cops side by Jason Young and on the Crooks side by Eric Shonborn. The two stories both feature young boys for whom the police radically changed their lives. In one, the child’s father was a cop shot and killed by a crook and finds himself raised within the policing community; on the other side we meet a boy who lost his crook father as a child because he was arrested by the law and sent to prison. He responds to the loss of his father in an entirely different manner. Mitchell’s work here is solid; he does well in showing the dichotomy of how the police can be a force for good and yet also can use that good to caused harm. Should be interesting to see where he takes this book in future issues.

BLIND MICE-OCHO #8-11

BLIND MICE/OCHO #8-11
Written and Drawn by Eric Mengel
Published by Blind Mice Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Reasons to love minicomics #437: they tend to deal in local flavor.

Local Phoenix/Tempe homeboy Eric Mengel sent me a batch of his popular mini, BLIND MICE recently, and it was fun to catch up on the series. He collected the first seven issues of his series into trade paperback a few years ago, and with these books in hand, I’m fully up-to-date. Happily, I might add.

BLIND MICE, which undergoes a name change with issue #10 to OCHO, reflecting its focus on the character of that name, focuses on an alien missionary that finds himself living in Tempe, Arizona and doing his best to blend into human society. This isn’t always easy, seeing as how he’s seven feet tall, blue-skinned, and has no pupils. Yet, this being an accepting community (and God knows, it wouldn’t surprise me to stroll down Mill Ave on a Friday night and see this guy standing in front of Robbie Fox’s) he manages to do pretty well for himself. If only he weren’t plagued by the warrior missions he went on back when he was on his own planet…

There’s a certain sense of lunacy you can get away with when you’re making minicomics as opposed to standard floppies, and Mengel embraces it. Ocho has a roommate named Pitbull, and the guy travels around on a magic carpet (which would be pushing it, even for Mill), ultimately deciding that Geronimo (the carpet’s name) should just stick to working Ocho because Pitbull prefers to walk.

These minis have a fun, loopy attitude that carry you along for the ride. Mengel’s storytelling, panel to panel, isn’t always strong- a sequence in issue eight where Ocho needs to climb into his upper floor apartment because he forgot his keys is clunky at best- but Mengel makes up for it with spirit and zeal. He’s developed the world within his book to the point where he understands it and knows how to manipulate it. So while it’s risky when Ocho winds up elsewhere later in these books, you don’t lose confidence in the creator’s ability to make things work.

Issues eight through eleven will comprise the second trade paperback volume featuring Mengel’s characters. Not many minicomics make it this far or even to a single collection. That’s something to be respected and appreciated.

 

SILBER MEDIA MINICOMICS

SILBER MEDIA MINICOMICS
Written by Brian John Mitchell, and Drawn by Mitchell, Melissa Spence Gardner and Kimberlee Traub
Published by Silber Media

In many ways, minicomics are the purest form of comicbook expression. Written and drawn in an artistic form of guerilla theatre, they are photocopied and stapled by people who genuinely love the artform and see it as a way to present their thoughts and ideas and not just as a way to make their name. Whenever I hit a major con, I always put aside a piece of my budget to find and buy new minis. But occasionally, I also receive some in the mail for review, and that was the case with these three minis from Brian John Mitchell. And Mitchell has taken the minicomic to an even more literal place; rather than the usual 8.5 by 5.5 inch mini, these are two inches by two inches, about the size of a matchbook.

XO #4 is the best of the three, a surprising and darkly finny piece of work. A man arrives home from the grocery store to find his female neighbor arguing with her lout of a boyfriend and intervenes against his better nature. What happens from there goes south in a hurry, and the ultimate resolution has a wonderfully black heart in the center of its chest. Melissa Spence Gardner does a terrific job of using the tiny amount of space on the page to its fullest effect, employing her inks diligently to maximize the panels’ ability to move the story forward. One recommendation- I didn’t read the PR about the story ahead of time, and I was glad because it contained a spoiler that would have taken some of the edge off the story. Should you choose to buy one of these, avoid any descriptive text.

Right behind XO in my preference would be WORMS #2. This story, which focuses on a young woman waking to find herself in a nightmarish hospital, fills its pages with tension and dread, and again finds a way to use the small format to positive effect. Artist Kimberlee Traub goes with a more minimalist look, allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks as the girl tries to free herself from what appears to be a horrible fate on the horizon. Mitchell’s script is mining a rich vein of traditional sci-fi horror tropes here, but it doesn’t feel warmed over.

Lastly is LOST KISSES #6, Mitchell’s meditation on whether or not the woman in your life is right for you. It’s a flipbook, presenting the good things on one side and the bad on the other, and while I understood what Mitchell was trying to do (be funny and work out some issues he’s gone through in his past) it just never took hold for me. I felt that way in large part because nothing here felt surprising or revelatory; instead, it felt like old hat- like a supplement to “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Put up against his work in the other two minis, this is definitely the weak sauce in the Mitchell oeuvre.

Marc Mason