Thursday, October 12, 2017

Minis: J.Lisa, K.Krumholz, S.Sharpe/P.Goodrich

View-O-Tron #3, by Sam Sharpe & Peach S. Goodrich. This has very quickly become a must-read two-person anthology, with Sharpe in particular turning in memorable stories. "That First Summer After College We All Stayed In The City And Founded Religions" is told in Sharpe's typical anthropomorphic style, and it's an achingly familiar story about that first awkward year after college friendships start to fall apart in the face of adult life. The titular activity of all their friends starting their own cults may be absurd, but it was contextually just a metaphor for young people doing something kind of ridiculous when they can still get away with it. What was interesting was that when two of their friends founded "The Church of the Sandcastle", it had a fervor that piqued the interest of both the narrator and her boyfriend at separate times. There's a metanarrative about a novel that's being read out loud that's also about relationship and a search for meaning, as each character separately finds themselves going to a sandbox service and only one of them emerges as a true believer. Sharpe really gets at that sense of utter certainty and energy of youth that goes hand-in-hand with a sense of aimlessness and a lack of meaning. His characters are far from deadpan; in fact the bulging eyes of the boyfriend after he's found a way out of his personal malaise, even if it came at the price of brushing his girlriend off.

Goodrich's pieces are about seekers: one, a stand-in for the artist, and other a giant monster (also possibly a stand-in for the artist) trying to find one's way in a hostile world. The first piece is an extended visual metaphor as the author goes on a literal hike around the world, only to be told to come home, where their house is made out of their friends. The rest of Sharpe's strips are shorter and more absurd, yet all of them pull on that same sense of displacement in his main story, only he uses sci-fi allegory to get across that point in silly ways. The final strip has callbacks to several earlier stories in a story about stress and how different people react to it, starting with a woman walking down the street and ending with a cosmic eater of worlds, who thinks about the woman walking when it's stressed out. There's a sense of yearning in these comics, of wanting to be comforted by someone or something that knows better. It's implied that the true believers who find a way to become happy are both extremely lucky and hopelessly deluded, like someone had flipped a switch in their heads that not everyone possessed. The cartooning is crisp and attractive, with Goodrich using a thinner line weight, as compared to Sharpe's denser comics. View-O-Tron is just one of many recent traditional comic books that's shown just what can be done in a short story format, but there's no doubt that it's one of the best.

Dotty Spotty 1-2, by Jennifer Lisa. This is a collection of classic 4-panels a day diary comics that mix whimsy and weirdness with frank talk about her emotions. The strips about the anxiety that an ultrasound produced are nicely built up with humorous tension that's diffused when all the portents turned out to be nothing. There's another strip devoted to a deceased and beloved dog, where Lisa talks plainly about allowing herself to forget that her dog was dead, then fake-jokingly noting "Hey, remember? Remember how we healed each other of broken pasts?" The drawings are spare and quick in this strip and in general, as Lisa doesn't get overly precious with her line. Lisa is also frank about trying to find the time and energy to do her comics, as much as she loves them.

The second issue is even sharper than the first, with a strip about playing pinball for an anniversary date that uses repetition nicely in its punchline. Then there's simply a strip about struggling with ADHD, including getting people to take ADHD seriously as a problem. There's a whimsical strip about wanting babies & toddlers to look like forest creatures (the mushroom-raised baby is particularly cute AND disturbing). There are strips about feeling shy in public and depression that resonate thanks to how immediate and urgent all of these comics feel. There's a note in issue two saying that while it's now 2017, she drew the comics in 2015 and hadn't done any since. This is unfortunate, because Lisa's willingness to let her mind wander and then snap to attention on a particular image, or emotion, or memory give the reader a crystal-clear understanding of that experience, whether it's funny or sad.

Revolt To What?, by Daniel Landes & Karl Christian Krumpholz. While this comic takes place in a bar (Krumpholz's specialty as a cartoonist), the story is by Landes, seemingly trying to channel Hunter S. Thompson and Joe Sacco simultaneously. It isn't quite successful, because Krumpholz's figure work is highly stylized in a way that clashes with Landes' already bombastic prose. The story is set in the early 90s in Prague, after the Soviet Union had collapsed and it started to dawn on the Czechs that they weren't exactly being handed paradise in being raided by capitalism. There's a character who is Landes' stand-in, an Argentinian scholar, a highly sexualized female revolutionary, and a world-weary male revolutionary. There's a bar, there are locals acting like American frat boys, and there's general unrest. There are musings on the strength of Czech beer. There's lots of pontificating. It just does not cohere. There's an interesting story to be told, even about these characters, but Landes' stylizations as a writer renders his characters into cliches. Krumpholz' line is out of control with spiky hair on everyone, an excess of cross-hatching and and dull grey-scaling that is suffocating, and an overall lack of restraint. Indeed, Krumpholz is far more restrained as a storyteller with regard to his own work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Minis: S.Lautman, K.Fricas, C.Bean

Blabbermouth 2 and Art Fan, by Katie Fricas. This issue of Blabbermouth has a clever premise: taking a bunch of notes friends wrote to her in 7th grade and creating a narrative of sorts out of them, accompanied by Fricas' distorted and often grotesque figure drawings with garish, non-naturalistic colors. The results, as you might guess, are hilarious. Fricas prints notes that pinball from sheer teenage boredom and discussion of tedious school-related minutia related to tests to wacked-out stories of home, like one kid getting in a screaming match with her mother and then locking herself in the bathroom, calling her a bitch. An anecdote about scoliosis testing gets across the intense feeling of humiliation that went into the exams, especially if one's spine was curved. There's lots of talk about guys and one note where someone was trying to comfort Fricas by saying "You are not as ugly as you think you are" after a guy turned her down. Fricas is never less than intense in depicting all of the awful and yet sweet absurdity of being a 7th grader, in the form of documents that clearly meant enough to her to keep for well over a decade.

Art Fan is a collection of art criticism that Fricas did in the form of comics on the art website Hyperallergic. I could read a full-length book of these pieces, as her ratty line, effective use of grey, expressive use of color and uncanny ability to evoke the spirit of each of the art shows she attended gave me a thorough understanding of what each show as about. The Duke Riley show "Fly By Night", which involved going to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, waiting for sundown, and watching pigeons wearing LED lights being compelled to fly up and to the nearby bridge. That kind of extreme stunt in the service of a simple aesthetic reminds me a bit of the sort of thing Christo does, only it involved "defying their nature, the pigeons refused to surrender to a darkening sky". Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" combined the aesthetic of an interactive art installation with that of a haunted house in a critique of capitalism and political corruption that felt harrowing in interesting ways. Fricas seemed drawn to shows that pushed typical understanding and experience of art but wasn't necessarily out-and-out performance art. A strong visual component seemed key to her appreciation of the show, which is one reason Bjarne Melgaard's show bored her, as it was dull to look at and felt more like a fashion shows advertisement disguised as a show than authentic self-expression. Whereas the fashion history show Rei Kawakubo show's presentation had a whimsy and specifically a punk attitude that took the familiar and stretched it, battered it, and bloodied it and still came out looking beautiful. I'd love to see Fricas turn her discerning eye to reviewing comics, as she's an outstanding writer and gets to the heart of works in a clear manner.

Ghost Sex, by Sara Lautman. Lautman's comics are some of the strangest I've ever seen in terms of being in service to their own internal logic and nothing else. They are anti-narratives, like one story about a person anticipating a smell, inhaling the aroma, and then waiting for it to come back around again. The lines are thick, quick and simple. "The Most Popular Thing" is simply someone musing what the most popular thing happens to be, whether it's ice cream, dogs, music or "likes". There's a joke about a hamburger that's the same image on page after page, with only the accompanying text telling us something absurd about the item of food. The titular comic is the most interesting, as Lautman really plays with form here, as two Pac-Man style ghosts go from first base and then all the way home. Lautman is playful with her use of shapes and the way they relate to sex--especially when the two ghosts merge. Lautman's attention to seemingly inconsequential details is a strategy for her overall project of observing the absurd in everyday life.

Snake Pit and Why Draw?, by Cara Bean. Bean is an art teacher and many of her comics are about the experience of teaching and the process of teaching. Why Draw? is more in the vein of the sort of thing that Lynda Barry does, except it takes what Barry regards as a self-evident truth (everyone loves to draw) and delves into it a bit. On page one, she explodes Barry's "Two Questions" ("Is this good?" Does this suck?") that inhibit both creativity and the basic pleasure that making marks on paper brings. She does this by using her self-caricature (an anthropomorphic bean, of course) to say, "You don't have to like your drawings. I will like them." There's power in that statement, as Bean gives the potential student (the reader) and gives them unconditional support in what they draw. They just have to do it. From there, Bean goes into the litany of positive effects that drawing can have on the brain. From there, she does short strips about various artists and their comments about drawing, as well as getting into the right mental space to draw. This feels like a perfect mini to hand out on the first day of a drawing or comics class.

Snake Pit sees Bean use her talent for synthesizing lectures into short comic strips that crystalize certain topics. Here, it's adolescent depression and suicide. The way she illustrated the symptoms of depression, for example, gives them a solidity that simply reading a list of symptoms does not. Without minimizing them, she uses funny drawings to make them even more memorable, like a group of arrows branching off to indicate problems with concentration. Similarly, for more serious symptoms (like suicidal ideations), her drawing a mountain that someone's scaling, wishing they didn't exist, is a powerful visual metaphor. Bean goes on to describe some of the consequences of depression (like learned helplessness) as well as treatments like Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy (CBT). It's a clear, non-judgmental and easy to understand distillation of a lot of information, as the simplicity and fluidity of Bean's clean line carries a lot of complex information.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Minis: L.Weinstein, G.Galligan, S. Mannheim

Perfect Maine Vacation and Normel Person, by Lauren R. Weinstein. These are minicomics collections from strips Weinstein had online at Mutha Magazine and in print in the Village Voice. There's always been a humorous, unapologetic bluntness to Weinstein's work that gives it a raw power, matched by her line that ranges between exquisitely naturalistic and cartoonishly ratty and grotesque. Weinstein takes her trenchant sense of humor and turns it on herself as she struggles to cope with the onslaught of emotions she feels after giving birth, especially with regard to her status as an artist. It includes self-recriminations as her teenage self vowed never to become a mother since it would interfere with her desire to be an artist. Weinstein even teases herself at the end by admitting that she hoped doing this strip would give her an epiphany between motherhood and her art, between being present and drifting into fantasy. Each page is framed by a large upper panel, but the rest of the page is a six-panel grid without panel borders. That pull between tight and loose is not only a theme, it's also the very structure of the comic itself.

"Perfect Maine Vacation" picks up a few years later, as her is growing older and Weinstein realizes that so many memories she holds dear with regard to her daughter are things her daughter is about to forget. It's a remarkable story (Ignatz-nominated) that plays on memory itself and why the fragments we retain from childhood stay with us and why other memories don't. It's a much more straightforward story done in a 2 x 3 grid with a blue wash that gives the sense of memories fading away. Once again, her style is blunt, self-deprecating and unashamed to share very personal details. Also once again, Weinstein struggles with being present and starts to acknowledge that these moments are slipping away, and it hurts. "Flower Voyeur" is a great example of her watercolor skill as she recounts recovering from fusion neck surgery, laying around her garden. Speaking of the pollination, she says, "All around me is sex. Which I miss, not being in my 20's in Brooklyn anymore." It's a perfect example of her almost blase' frankness; she's writing it because it's an amusing truth, not to get a rise out of the reader.

Normel Person is a single-page strip that reminds me a lot of her old alt-weekly strip from The Stranger, Inside Vineyland. It's a similar format, only this time around Weinstein is stressing about Donald Trump and sharing stories of getting pregnant again (by accident) at 41. It's a full-color strip, which gives many of the strips a particularly visceral and unpleasant quality. For example, in her strip "Extreme Comfort Food", the creamed cat casserole wouldn't have been quite right without the nauseating yellow-orange she chose for it. There's one strip where she's crying because her uncle was going on a bigoted rant with regard to Trump winning and she's off buying cranberry sauce for the family Thanksgiving dinner. The can of sauce urges her to run away with it, and as the sun sets in this happy ending, Lauren asks, "What do we do now?" The next strip is an absurd diagram of her parents' fridge. It's an easy juxtaposition regarding the kinds of things she tackles on a week-by-week basis, with strips like "Feel Good Lefty Valentines", "Time Loop" (about a relationship with an expiration date), "How To Think (First World Edition)", "Parent Zone!", and "Tainted Hoods, Blocked Blocks: The Streets I Avoid" giving you a taste of her bouncing between the political, the personal and the completely absurd. Sometimes she mixed all three in one strip. This is truly the best work of her career, and I get the sense that the deadline prevents her from getting too precious with regard to the art. Weinstein's skill makes even he scrawls and scribbles expressive and funny, and her willingness to be vulnerable and real only fuels her more pointed political and humorous asides.

Weeb 1 & 2, by Gale Galligan. Galligan is known now as the artist who took over the Baby Sitters Club series from Raina Telgemeier, but her autobio work is sharp and funny. It's got a heavy manga influence put through an American blender, with a look not unlike the sort of thing Bryan Lee O'Malley does. Galligan's strips are much different, however, and they use the exaggerated character of manga style to emphasize heightened emotions. There's a great strip where she gets her first boyfriend as a teen and her eyes turn huge and the facsimile of the One Ring he gave her to put around her neck glows. Galligan's stock-in-trade is exaggeration, like when her boyfriend mentions kissing, her face first shrinks up like a prune, then she fades into an endless field of flowers until the actual kiss, and....CLUNK. It's a great punchline, since when she "learned the power of storytelling", it came at the price of hissing "lies" to a wall of manga books she saw. The second issue is a series of one-page vignettes about gaming and Yu-Gi-Oh in particular. It's really about the kind of friendships that can develop with a shared interest. Galligan's work is never anything short of charming, mixing the bitter and the sweet in a way that makes her an obvious choice to take over Baby Sitters Club. It's a mix of funny drawings and sharp set-ups that never stray too far from reality.

"No Time For Coffee", by Stephanie Mannheim. This little mini highlights Mannheim's ability to draw herself looking unbelievably stressed out, mouth agog and eyes bulging, as she thinks she's late to class. Each page a single panel, Mannheim hilariously was so disoriented by being an hour early to her class that she thought she was dreaming, because she was encountering an entirely different teacher and set of students! It's a good story that doesn't outstay its welcome.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Minis: A.Meuse

Taking Up Space, by Adam Meuse. Throughout his career, Meuse's comics have been equal parts amusing whimsy and dark undercurrents. This comic contains two stories that wind up being connected in an unexpected manner. The first, "Grey Cube", is an excellent example of Meuse's idiosyncratic sense of humor, as it recalls an art school experiment that determined the volume of his body; that is, how much space it took up by submerging himself in water, taking measurements, and doing the math. It would up being the equivalent of a 74 liter cube, or a cube with 16.5" dimensions. He turned this into a jokey student gallery show presentation by making cubes with those dimensions and labeling them "my volume standing" and a messed-up one "my volume dancing". The cubes sat next to his apartment until the city came to pick them up. This was a cute but rather inconsequential story.

That is, until you read "Black Box", which grimly (but with a touch of bemused humor) notes that eight years after Meuse's cube experiment, "my brother decided to take up a lot less space" by committing suicide. Meuse's pacing and drawing in the first story was methodical, taking the reader through perhaps more detail than was necessary to get the joke. In this second story, the reprise hits the reader in the gut, as we see how his brother methodically sealed the door, safely created a charcoal fire in a bucket in his sealed-off room, took sleeping pills and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. This story is about the three plastic containers that his brother's ashes were placed in, one of which Meuse received. There are no major epiphanies or emotional scenes in this story, yet it's unquestionably a story about grief and mourning. He mixes his brother's ashes into his paints in his art studio shed and paints a portrait of him with those paints. There's a beautiful panel were Meuse muses "I know my brother would have approved" with the image of his brother looking over his shoulder, a very slight smile on his face. The final volume of the painting was 4,600 cubic inches--or 76 liters.

There is a sophisticated layout in this comic for such a relatively simple pair of stories, as both stories essentially mirror each other in terms of placement of splash pages and overall pacing. The question "How much space does a person take up?" is absurd and comical on the face of it, because no one thinks of one's worth in terms of volume; people aren't "precious" in that way in the way a precious metal is. At the same time, in an existential sense, this is exactly the right question to ask. How much space do we take up can mean what impact do we have on the world? What is the mark we leave on it? How will we be remembered. If the first story treats the question like a joke, then the second story treats it quite seriously. Documenting his brother's existence through that painting that contained the literal essence of his brother was clearly a means by which Meuse came to terms with that initial grief. In many respects, this comic that documents that documentation is another way of coping with grief with reverence, with a bit of cheekiness, and love.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Comics From Hazel Newlevant and Laura PallMall

Sugar Town, by Hazel Newlevant. This is a good old-fashioned, quasi-autobiographical romance comic by an artist who quite deservingly just won an Ignatz award for portraying relationships both healthy and toxic. The fact that it's a queer, poly romance comic simply means that there were more layers for Newlevant to explore in a manner where every character treated others with respect, empathy and compassion. This is not to say that the comic was devoid of tension, because people make mistakes even with the best of intentions, but that the openness displayed by all prevented cartoonish conflicts and deceptions.

The story finds Hazel home in Portland, away from her boyfriend. She meets a woman named Argent who tells her within seconds of meeting that she's also a dominatrix. Not to impress or intimidate her, but simply as a matter-of-fact expression of her sexuality. The cover of this comic is expertly constructed: Hazel moving from right to left across the page, stopped in her tracks by the gaze of the exceedingly confident Argent, as a disco globe above them framed the image. Newlevant explores desire, vulnerability, queer identities, poly identities and so much more in this comic. There's a scene where she's skyping in the bathtub with her boyfriend, as they both deal with feelings of jealousy that often appear no matter how hard one tries in this sort of relationship. There's the palpable new relationship energy on the page as she gets to know Argent, and when she accidentally annoys her when she talks about her dominatrix job in public, it's a moment that's respectfully acknowledged but forgiven.

I don't know how much of this was pulled from real life, but there are levels of detail on a date that I found remarkable: Argent coming home to bake Hazel a cake for her birthday, a flogging session derailed by a pulled muscle, and Vicodin-induced declarations of love. Hazel deciding to make a true mix tape (not CD or digital file) for the older Argent was especially cute and drove the narrative a bit further, as the story ended with Hazel heading back to New York but very much in love with two people. Newlevant's figure work grows ever more confident with each new project, but it's her coloring that's the real revelation of this comic. It's complementary to her line rather than overwhelming it, but her use of color particularly with regard to outfits was a key aspect of the story, as Argent's stylishness was an important part of her overall personality. It's a sweet story with levels of complexity that surprise the reader, with every aspect of its emotional narrative feeling entirely earned.

Sporgo 2, by Laura Pallmall. The artist has a way of digging deep into the lives of miserable or confused people and dumping the audience right into the middle of their problems. A young screenwriter in LA is struggling to find any traction, doing shit jobs and even getting arrested at a Wal-Mart for illegally filming a project. The mini follows him around, including a disturbing episode of sleep paralysis that takes on apocalyptic overtones. What's most interesting about this comic is the way Pallmall juxtaposes the most mundane and tedious difficulties that have more to do with ennui than anything else with their sudden transformation into potential doomsday scenarios. Such stories tend to sneak into the writer's scripts no matter what else he's doing, as well as his nightmares. Pallmall's figurework is greatly simplified from the first issue, which certainly helps with the story's overall flow. The way she captures a particular time and place gives the comic a lot of power, as the main character is faced with a common problem in Hollywood: maintain integrity or start to buy the hype and dressing regarding star power. The ending provides a beat where he realizes that he can't do both at once and isn't sure which way he's going to go. That ambiguity is another strength of Pallmall's work, as she prefers to provide only enough information for the reader to understand what's at stake but eschews doling out easy answers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Minis: KC Krumpholz, AJ McGuire, M.Kalra

Taking on some idiosyncratic items here...

Succour Fanzine Issue #2, by AJ McGuire, illustrations by Dylan Chadwick. This is a highly entertaining zine about comics by a critic who would be ideally suited doing short pieces for the old Comics Journal, if that still existed. Actually, if I was the Journal's editor, I'd hire him right now to do a monthly "review of reviewers" column that he did here, reminiscent of an old feature from SPY. McGuire successfully stradldles the line between snark and sincerity, as he genuinely has things to say about comics and not just random potshots or quips. His "Essays About Comics I Have Considered Writing" is similarly both funny and pointed. The brief interview of and four pages of interesting drawings by Craig Ronan rounded out this short but compelling zine that revealed McGuire's aesthetic as much as it did Ronan's. McGuire points out the tension between abstraction and figuration in the drawings, and Ronan notes that it's that tension that makes it interesting. I'd say there's also a tension between McGuire's love of comics and his disappointment in both them and the industry, and it's his genuine investment in comics that makes this a compelling read.

World-Changing, by Mohar Kalra. This is a first attempt at a short story by a high school senior, and it shows a lot of promise and ambition. It's a story about an earnest young man named Jim, a dreamer-type, who silently judges others while overinflating his own importance and worth--alone, naturally. He gets kicked out of a bar, loses his wallet and simply sits on the sidewalk, pondering others, imagining himself as a hero, and generally fantasizing that he can somehow change the world with his ideas, even if they are a bit on the megalomaniacal side. Then a young woman interrupts his reverie and essentially joins right in. Jim has found a kindred spirit and doesn't quite understand that he's been handed a tremendous opportunity. In the end, he messes it up by losing her number, and Kalra extrapolates to him being old and lonely, having squandered a shot at connection, at happiness. Kalra's line is understandably on the rough side, but there's nothing wrong with the ambition of his page composition. Every page varies in terms of layout depending on what's happening, whether it's Jim in his dreams or Jim staring at others in panel after panel. Kalra is a solid storyteller who also understands the use of negative space and how to lead the eye across a complicated page with a minimum of difficulty. While his character design is a bit shaky, the young woman (Jen) has an interesting look that immediately catches the eye of the reader, a look that's idiosyncratic yet entirely personal. Hopefully, Kalra keeps going with this, because this is very strong work for someone who is this young and has no formal training.

An Introduction To Alcohol, by Karl Christian Krumholz. Krumholz writes funny, hard-bitten stories about the various people he's encountered and the stories he's heard from years of hanging out in pleasingly seedy bars, with Denver being the most fruitful of his targets. This comic is a collection of strips he did about his relationship with his now-dead father. His father was a classic alcoholic jock, bringing his kid to bars with him and ordering young Karl Shirley Temples to drink. There are a number of telling quotes that Krumholz emphasizes in the story, like when young Karl wants to leave because "it smells weird in here", and his father says "Yes, it does..but if you're anything like me,'ll find yourself in these kind of places a lot. Better get used to it." Of course, this would come true, only with Krumholz fashioning himself a hard-drinking writer-artist instead of a jock, a subject that would divide them their entire lives.

Krumholz walks the line between glorifying crazed alcoholics in his strips, having empathy for them and depicting just how awful their lives are, but he always does it with a laugh. In these stories about his dad, the laughs are far more scarce. It tracks Karl's first taste of alcohol, driving his shitfaced dad home from a baseball game, and getting punched in the jaw hard by his father for the offense of walking in front of the TV. The punchline of the comic is that by the time Karl grew up and started drinking (a story about the first time he got drunk was puke-tastic and funny), his dad had gotten clean and got religion. No matter what, never the twain did meet between the two of them, but despite Karl's protestations, he showed himself to be more like his father than he was willing to admit. Everything about Krumholz' work is about exaggeration: hard angles, dead eyes, and even a melancholic blue wash throughout the issue. There are times where that exaggeration is almost too much, like when his father punches him, but Krumholz follows through no matter what--both in terms of what he draws and how he draws it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Minis: M.Hoey & P.Hoey, C.Cass, W.Taylor

Time for some more mini talk:

Coin Op: Project Gemini (Musical Twins) and Coin Op: Chuck Berry's Revenge (Afro-Futurist Re-Mix), by Peter & Maria Hoey. The Hoey siblings have always been interesting in exploring music on the comics page, and their "45 RPM comics" are shaped like the old 45 sleeves: an aesthetically pleasing square. Project Gemini is one of their comics that combines historical research and straight-up illustration, juxtaposing interesting anecdotes about famous musical twins with vintage imagery of casinos, countrysides and gas stations that all use a twin theme.

On the other hand, Chuck Berry's Revenge is hilariously deranged, working in themes, quotes and lyrics from a number of artists into this unexpected sequel to Back To The Future. As you may recall, Marty McFly passes off Chuck Berry's work as his own, to the point where Chuck's "cousin" Marvin plays him some of the music. We see the other end of that conversation, as a furious Chuck slams the phone into the wall. However, he seeks out avant garde jazz maestro Sun Ra, who sends rock pioneer Ike Turner with him to alter the course of history. Turner kills Henry Ford, uses his assembly line idea, and becomes America's premier industrialist, only with a diverse workforce. Chuck goes back to 1955 and seduces Marty's mom ("she's too cute to be a minute over seventeen"), causing Marty to disappear. This twelve-page comic features an avalanche of ideas, jokes, references, puns and history, and it's astonishing just how much havoc the Hoeys wreaked in the course of the story. The mix of naturalism and psychedelia (the "Afro-Futurist Remake") were perfectly balanced for a comics story, as both made sense right away, given the story's absurd premise.

The Once Great Auk, by Caitlin Cass. As far as Cass's comics go, this one is pretty grimly straightforward. The Great Auk was a bird that had no natural fear of man, was plentifully found on small islands, and exceedingly easy to kill. It was like they were a litmus test for humanity's capacity for mercy that it wildly failed. With each page a single panel, Cass zeroes in on the escalating hilarious and horrible circumstances surrounding the eventual total extinction of this species. Cass indulges in some detailed cross-hatching in this comic, emphasizing the utterly benign quality of the bird and its utter lack of a survival instinct. From an evolutionary perspective, it's a simple case of a species getting wiped out because it had no way of dealing with its predator. From a human perspective, it's an extreme example of the way we take advantage of nature without fully thinking of the consequences, like an exceedingly long game of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Fizzle #1, by Whit Taylor. Taylor has really come into her own in the past year or two doing autobiography and journalism. This series represents her best slice-of-life work to date, and she really stands out in terms of character design and expression. Always great at drawing side-eye and creating expressions with scrunched-up mouths, Taylor really goes to town with those expressions in this comic in panel after panel. In a story that's mostly a series of talking heads, Taylor creates action and tension in each panel because of the frequently seething and hidden character of emotions that are hinted at by facial expressions. This story follows a young woman named Claire who is questioning her life's choices. She has a stoner boyfriend with a rich family that he's rebelling against, finding him complaining about having to hang out with his dad and brother at a posh steakhouse. She has a job at a boutique tea "lounge" with a hilariously obnoxious boss named Poppy who is obsessively focused with her business. Her glasses and sort of mop-top haircut are a great example of the way Taylor used character design to sum up her characters without saying a word. This is a character who isn't suffering: she has a job, a relatively cushy life and a boyfriend--yet it's clear that she's deeply depressed, her life the titular "fizzle" as she has no creative outlet. The verisimilitude of the dialogue and the story's tiniest details are elements that help it stand out, as well as variations in page design that reflect Claire's disorientation and ennui. The cover image reflects the overall cleverness of the comic. It's exciting to see how Taylor has come into her mature style as an artist and is doing it across the board with all of her various projects.