Time now, finally, for a look at some of the books I've received in the mail...
Y'know, it's not easy to do slice-of-life stuff, especially light-hearted slice of life stuff, well- especially given the cynical mindset of most TV, film, and print writers these days. Look at all the downbeat and exceedingly lame TV sitcoms, dramas, comic strips, etc. we have out there to bear witness to that fact. When one runs across an instance in which it's done right, then we need to stand up and shout about it, and that's most definitely the case with Tom Beland's True Story, Swear To God: 100 Stories, a collection of Beland's two-tier strips which are basically about him, his life, his relationships, his fanboy-ish-ness, his career as a cartoonist, his childhood, etc. In less capable hands, this could get tedious real fast, but Beland manages to hit the right note nine and one-half times out of ten, and the end result is that you can't put this down once you get started. He even manages to be engaging when he shifts gears and writes about the death, in his teenage years, of his parents- quite wrenching, especially if you've been through something similar. Invaluable in keeping the tone light throughout is Beland's cartooning style- he has a swooping, graceful line which reminds me a lot of the great Al Hirschfeld, and this makes Beland's vignettes a pleasure to look at, even when he's getting all serious on us. True Story, Swear To God, the ongoing, is a title that I pretty much overlooked when it came out initially, there's just so much to buy and so little money with which to do it with...but I'm thinking I might need to start picking it up as soon as possible. If you're looking for a fun read, written by an engaging storyteller with no hidden political agendas or cynical attitude to impose, then I definitely recommend picking both this and the ongoing up. You'll be glad, I think, you did.
Hench is the story of, well, a super-villian henchman, surely as much a staple of comics lore as the cape, mask and secret identity. This sort of thing has been touched upon before, I think, but I can't recall when it's been looked at in as much depth as here. Set , of course, in a world in which superheroes and supervillians do their respective things, football star Mike Fulton blows out a knee, has trouble adjusting to life without sports, specifically getting a job and providing for his wife and young son, and eventually falls into the henching profession. He winds up working for an assortment of colorful costumed lunatics on a number of big heists- sometimes they pays off, sometimes they don't and he gets busted and sent to prison, which causes serious strain on his marriage. When we first meet Fulton, it's late in his career and he's pondering just how it got to the point it did, plus, he's contemplating one last big score so he can get away. Problem is, the job is for the biggest psycho nutjob in the city...and somehow he winds up holding a gun at the head of the other big psycho nutjob in the city, a Batman-ish crimefighter named "Still of the Night". Does he shoot him in cold blood? He can't let him go, surely! Along the way, we get a look back into how he got into the life, and how much it's cost him. Hench is a nicely written character study, populated with imaginative characters, and it's writer Adam Beechen's straightfaced approach to the subject matter that keeps it from veering into Tick territory. Art-wise, Manny Bello is a bit on the raw side, especially in his figure drawing, but manages to keep the proceedigs going efficiently enough. He gives us a handful of full-page swipe illos, inspired by and credited to the likes of Ditko, Kirby and Steranko, and these are well done. So I think Bello bears watching in the future, and perhaps we'll look at this like we do X-Men 53 when considering Barry Smith. Hench isn't perfection, but it is a solid effort by a couple of creators who, I'll bet, will be heard from often in years to come.
Later: Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues and Jax Epoch.