Some recent acquisitions, first up from Top Shelf:
My previous exposure to the work of Jeffrey Brown was his Bighead story in Top Shelf Tales, last year's Free Comic Book Day offering. To be honest, it didn't grab me. I found his art primitive at best and amateurishly crude at worst, and you all know how important the visual aspect of any work of sequential storytelling is to me. The story itself was an inoffensive, gentle even, superhero satire but still gave off that sweet stink of a shot at an easy target by someone who wants to make it clear that he's above such things. But- I found myself enjoying MINIATURE SULK, a collection of short (autobiographical?) vignettes and general tomfoolery, which always came across as real no matter how silly they were, and at their best rang very true. Mostly structured as your basic four panel gag strip, except more often as not they didn't end with a punch line...and for once it didn't bother me. Made me just go "hmpf" and move on. But I found myself chucking at the oddest moments, such as the ambiguous resolution to the boy-gets-kitten saga "Misty" (and anybody who's ever had a cat can certainly relate) and the four-panel absurdity of "I'm Not Kidding", in which a startled-looking young girl says "Oh my gosh, I'm going to die...you don't know how hysterical I'm going to be!" and lets it go at that. I'm probably never going to warm to Brown's scrawly art, but by and large I was hugely entertained by Miniature Sulk. If you're attuned to Brown's wavelength, you'll love it. If you're not, you'll still get a chuckle or two, and there's nothing wrong with that, now is there? B+
I got a postcard a couple of months ago promoting Max Estes' HELLO AGAIN; liked the cover's eye-catching color scheme but wasn't moved to reserve it. Once again, I goofed. Hello Again is a very good tale of a somewhat aimless young man named William who's screwing his best friend's fiance and is just coasting along in his career as a building manager. But something keeps nagging at him: he blames himself for his parents' divorce, feels guilt over what he's doing to his friend, and has just met a young lady tenant with who he strikes up a friendship-maybe-more. Things come to a head when he sees a head, sticking out of a hole, of an old drunken fisherman that he and his friends caused to be knocked unconscious and drift out to sea many years ago, his fate unknown. The ghost of the fisherman proceeds to follow William around and alternately berates him and cajoles him to make the changes in his life he seems to want to make. After several pages of existential guilt and "nobody can see me but you"-type stuff, William finally comes to grip with his demons and makes some decisions. Estes has a deceptively simple style; his work is as unpolished as Brown's, but at the same time he knows how to compose and tell a story very well and it definitely grows on you as the story goes along. While I usually don't go for psychodrama all that much, Hello Again is at least lighthearted psychodrama and I was engaged throughout. A
I didn't know WHAT the hell to make out of MOSQUITO, a wordless vampire tale done entirely in red ink on cream-colored paper stock and in a highly idiosyncratic, pictographic style (which reminded me a little bit of Nick Mahler's Van Helsing's Night Off) by one Dan James. Visually striking, for sure...but unfortunately a little too innovative for its own good since storytelling clarity gets completely lost in the process. It's interesting, as an art project if nothing else, but it took me several readings to feel like I had a good handle on the events depicted...and I'm not sure that I'm 100% correct even now. C+
Finally, I received a big package o' stuff from the unfortunately-named Moronik Comics, consisting of a DVD featuring three computer-animated shorts about The "Bad Kids", some business cards and stickers, and a copy of the company's maiden comic book project, DIRTBOY. Dirtboy is apparently an escapee from the "Bad Kids Zoo", which consists of, well, "bad" kids who display certain anti-social tendencies- as we see in the animated shorts, one captive likes to play with matches, another likes to throw rocks at windows (the rocks wink at him, which encourages him to fling them), and so on. In this issue, another potential Bad Kid (so we're told) named "Sparky" is lost in the forest, and encounters Dirtboy, who is in turn being pursued by a Good Kid called Pet Girl, who wants to return him to captivity. The pair get in and out of jams, and the issue ends with a cliffhanger on the stones crossing a river. I liked this all OK, even though I was kinda dubious about the Burtonish fantasy concept at its base- apparently the fine folks at Moronik intend for these to be cautionary fables of some sort, but we don't really get a strong sense of cause and effect and consequences of actions- the Firestarter kid, for instance, sets his fire in his house out of boredom, being egged on by a mischievous turtle (I know, this sounds might wiggy). He doesn't seem to display any particular pyro tendencies- he sets the fire after being talked out of several other turtle-inspired misdeeds by a Seuss-like fish in a bowl. When the fire gets out of control it merges into one fire-being from several small dancing flame-guys, and the being whisks him away to the Zoo. Wha-huh? Anyway, if these are intended to be Good Stories for Bad Little Kids, there needs to be some fleshing out and more thought put into the concept, I think. As introductory issues go, though, this isn't bad- it's nicely drawn in a Naifeh or Vazquez-ish style by Colin Adams, and this particular story moves along at a brisk pace. Perhaps writer George Mondero will settle in and get cooking the longer this goes on; I hope he gets the chance. B
That's all for now...comics reviews tomorrow!