Reviews - Illustrated Fiction 14


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Reviews on this page:

Art Bureau #16 & 17

The Cheapest S.O.B.'s

Comics on Fire #1

Epic Tales of the Mundane #5

Good Minnesotan Two

Izzy Challenge #5

Nerd Burglar

Ochre Ellipse #2

Time Warp Comix #6

Two Stories

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Pulp Fiction

Science Fiction



The Cheapest S.O.B.'s coverThe Cheapest S.O.B.'s
by Kelly Froh

The idea of being thrifty or frugal is always worth consideration. These concepts take on additional significance when the economic climate worsens. Rising prices, uncertain employment, down markets, and personal debt levels impact our attitudes and our comfort zones about spending. But what happens when fiscal conservation becomes mania? What happens when a couple pushes the limits of thrift beyond a reasonable doubt? In real life, when frugal turns stingy, things get ugly.

Froh's grandparents aren't penny-pinchers, they're just plain cheap and her mini comic doesn't pull any punches about it. From used greeting cards to dumpster diving, Froh scrapes out a barrelful of onerous anecdotes about the miserly dark side of her family.

A page from The Cheapest S.O.B.'s

This mini comic is painful and funny at the same time. Froh states in the introduction it's all true. You have to admire her grit and frankness for publishing it. Providing a glimpse into real life family dysfunction is risky business. Whether it's therapy, revenge, or just too juicy to pass up, it provides a fascinating example of extremes and encourages us to consider our own manias.

Who knows what the fallout from this mini comic will be, but Froh ends with the promise of another issue featuring the Grandparent's daughter. Is it nature or nurture? Maybe there really is a cheap gene inside the daughter's cheap jeans.

The Cheapest S.O.B.'s really is cheap. Just $1 for 16 b&w pages, plus cover. 4.5 x 5.5 inches. Available from the Scubotch Shop on their website.


Time Warp Comix #6 coverTime Warp Comix #6 edited by Dan W. Taylor

Weird Muse Production's wonderful tribute to Clay Geerdes is back with its sixth issue. During the newave era Geerdes produced literally hundreds of eight page mini comix that he printed on multi-colored paper. Inspired by Geedes' formula, Taylor's book successfully captures the spirit and the look-and-feel of the original books from the 70s and 80s.

The cartoonists inside all were part of the newave era and thankfully Taylor has been able to spark their enthusiasm for the project and produce brand new comix pages for the series. Often the gags are centered around geezers and aging cartoonists. The cover by Taylor is a great example. Inside is a full page illustration by Andy Nukes, a couple of single-page gags by me, a two page before and after comix by John Howard, a one page tribute to Lilly & Lolly by David Miller, and punster Jim Siergey's one page Randumb Thoughts.

It's a fun mini comix on its own, but if you really want to get a flavor for the newave era, I'd encourage you to get the whole series. At $1 apiece, they're a great deal.

Time Warp Comix #6 is 8 b&w pages printed on color paper, including the cover, and bound with a staple. It's available from Weird Muse Productions for $1. For Taylor's paintings see his Art Blog. For a great sampling of his comics and some nice convention photos see his ComicSpace page.


Epic Tales of the Mundane #5 coverEpic Tales of the
Mundane #5
by Brandon Huigens & Brad Dwyer

This issue of Mundane features two stories written by Huigens and drawn by Dwyer. It was a lot of fun to see Dwyer doing longer stories in contrast to the stand-alone comic strips that run on his website, and that were featured in the previous issue of this self-published comic. I really like his drawings and he does a great job illustrating and delivering Huigen's autobiographical scripts.

The first one is the longest of the pair. Please Don't Show My Parents (or the Government) These Comics is about Huigens' social ineptitude growing up and his escape into reading anything he could get his hands on. The narrative may be embellished in places, but I suspect many of the events are based on real life episodes of Huigens' rise to adulthood. They're told with humor, but they're also interesting as snapshots of awkward adolescent behavior and coping mechanisms. The shocker comes when Huigens decides to enlist. The story ends not with a riveting climax, but rather a calm resolution; like a new day's hope, that's still colored by yesterday's past.

Page from Epic Tales of the Mundane #5

The shorter tale, Black Coffee and Rainbow Sherbet is a sweet memory of Huigens' grandfather. It's funny and a little sentimental. Just the right flavor to finish off a satisfying small press dish.

Epic Tales of the Mundane #5 is 28 b&w pages, plus the cover printed on blue paper. It's available for $1 from Brad Dwyer at Black Marker Comics. Brandon Huigen on Phat Phree


Ochre Ellipse #2 coverOchre Ellipse #2
by Jonas Madden-Connor

This mini comic is filled with inventive graphic storytelling techniques. And when you add the story itself, nearly every page takes you in unexpected directions. It's all very experimental, but well thought through. It's evident Madden-Connor put a great deal of emphasis on exploring new territory, but his does it without sacrificing communication or clarity.

His tightly rendered artwork helps keep things grounded amid the landscape of shifting scenes and perspectives. I had no idea where things were going, but by the end everything fit together quite nicely.

A page from Ochre Ellispe #2

The lead character is a guy named Spot. He moons over a cashier at a grocery store. But he's so afraid of striking out he can't seem to gather the courage to try a turn at bat. In the end he chances upon his dream on a city bus. But is she really the one who's lulled herself to sleep?

Ochre Ellipse #2 is the winner of the 2008 Isotope Award for Excellence in mini-comics. It's 32 b&w pages, plus a heavy weight cover. The book is 5.5 inches square with saddle stitch binding. It's available for $4 from Family Style. Blog


Good Minnesotan Episode Two cover

Good Minnesotan
Episode 2
edited by Raighne and Meghan Hogan

The second episode of
Good Minnesotan
expands the list of its contributors considerably. Co-conspirators Raighne and Meghan Hogan have done a great job enlisting the aid of other Minnesota-based cartoonists and expanded the page count and the diversity inside.

Their approach to this comic anthology still emphasizes experimentation and risk-taking. Here's the full run down:


Ed Moorman panels

Back Pages by Ed Moorman follows a news reporter pestering Bob Dylan in a series of accusatory questions about his songs and stature. I liked the crisp, cartoony artwork and the rhetorical repartee.

Gail Kern panels

Halloween (Revisted) by Gail Kern is rendered in a sketchy style that captures the ominous mood of the subject matter until you realize she just horsing around.

Meghan Hogan panel

Too Much Time on Land by Meghan Hogan is an edgy daydream with scratchy illustrations. It's followed by Yard Work, a bitter recollection of the protagonist's one-time partner.

Joseph Nixon panels

Untitled by Joseph Nixon is a mixture of images with a loose narrative. Some are very sketchy and others like the buildings are drawn in great detail.

Raighne Hogan panels

Cloak of the Moon by Raighne Hogan and Alex Witts is about transient power on an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Hogan's characters are drawn in a thick and wooden style that fortunately lends a certain distance from the treacherous world they inhabit.

Luke Holden page

The Untitled piece by Luke Holden is a wordless, slowly progressing visual narrative that's almost like looking at individual frames of film. The number of drawings he's included on each page is remarkable. The story is a surreal journey that seems to fit the concept of "Untitled" quite nicely.

John Holden panels

The Ripoff by Nicholas Breutzman and John Holden is the issue's only traditional-looking comic story in its style and presentation. What makes it fit in with the other more experimental styles of this anthology is the unusual subject matter and the characters' interaction.

Panel by PM from Good Minnesotan #2The book concludes with several pages of sketches from P.M. called Blah Blah Blah.

Good Minnesotan Episode Two is 86 b&w pages, plus cover with a hand-cut applique. Legal-size digest, with saddle-stitch binding. It's available for $12 plus postage from the 2D Cloud Store along with buttons and mini comics. Check out their blog for more of their artwork. Adults only.


Two Stories coverTwo Stories
edited by Tom England

This zine has the look and feel of a self-published effort, printed on a copier or a desktop laser printer and bound with a long reach stapler. The low-budget production values are in contrast with the thoughtful, nicely crafted content. Two Stories presents one longer piece in the comic medium and one shorter story in prose form. It's part of a new breed of publications like Chaotique that are small press literary journals that recognize comics as a legitimate form of expression.

England's 16 page comic, A Memory of an Evening recalls a formative time in the life of a struggling cartoonist when he dreams of becoming a professional. Now middle-aged, he reflects on a haunting epiphany he had one night long ago. The years have brought seasoning, experience, and perspective, but the urgency to find meaning seems stronger than ever.

A panel from Two Stories

I've been enjoying Christopher Bernard Leahy's serialized story in England's Mallard zine, so I was happy to see a complete short story as the second feature here. The overlying theme of The Gap is really the same as England's. But while the comic version is told from the more personal perspective of first person, Leahy chooses to explore the territory from only slightly less distance in third. In The Gap, the protagonist has achieved external success and recognition for his work. But he remains alone within himself. His success offers no special advantage in sorting out life's meaning in a journey that grows shorter every year.

Two Stories provides a pair of thoughtful examinations on expression and meaning through the passage of time. The cover image of a bridge suggests the powerful link between them. It's a nicely realized literary zine with two stories that will linger.

Two Stories is 32 b&w pages, including a self-cover. A4-size digest. Printed on standard copier paper. It's available for £1.50 (+50p P&P) from Tom England's blogsite.


Comics on Fire #1 coverComics on Fire #1 by Paul Hack

The first issue of Comics on Fire is filled with single page comics on a wide variety of subjects that range from household pets to outer space. Some are straightforward like the mid-air duel between two balloonists. Some are anthropomorphic like the two wristwatches discussing difficult times. And some are just outrageous like Terrace, the Head on a Skateboard. I think my favorites were the instructive charts on subjects like how to Understand Body Language and What's Your Greatest Fear?

The subjects in Hack's comics are inventive and clever. Some are very funny, while others could use a little more polish. His artwork is pretty basic, ranging from little more than stick figures to nicely stylized cartoons like his Stanley, the Swingin' Amoeba comic strips.

A comic from Comics on Fire #1

Comics on Fire is a nice first effort. You can see more of Hack's cartoons on his sketch blog and add your comments. I hope he gets enough encouragement and support so he'll continue to grow as a gag writer and cartoonist.

Comics on Fire #1 is 24 b&w pages printed on heavy-weight newsprint, with a color cover printed on heavy, white stock. It's available for $3 directly from Paul Hack.


Izzy Challenge #5 coverIzzy Challenge #5
edited by J.B. Winter

No matter how many small press cartoonists I hear about, it seems like there's always plenty more. The majority of the folks contributing to JB Winter's fifth issue of the Izzy Challenge were new to me. In fact, I hadn't heard of this zine either. So it was a nice surprise to discover a review copy in the mailbox a couple of weeks ago.

The concept behind this issue is simple and it's great fun. The idea was to provide a way for Izzy the mouse to tour the entire country stopping for a visit with a small press cartoonist in each of the 50 states. Since the cost was prohibitive, Winter decided to make it a virtual tour.

First he drew 50 different sketches of Izzy in different positions inside a blank frame. Next he contacted a different cartoonist in each state; using the web to locate many of them. Their job was to draw the background and write the caption. The content could be state-specific, but it didn't have to be.

He doesn't say how long it took him to pull this off, but I can just imagine some of the challenges he must have had along the way! With this many different artists, the zine runs the gamut in terms of styles and approach. It's a fun, quick read and a great way to get a glimpse of artwork from 50 different comikers. And many of them have websites listed in the state key that runs along the bottom of each page, so it's easy enough to check out more of their work.

Panels from Izzy Challenge #5

The fact that Winter drew all the Izzy images anchors the collection with a common element. And frankly, it's great to see this many panels with fully rendered backgrounds in every one. Just goes to show how much some background detail can add.

Izzy Challenge #5 is 16 b&w pages, including the self-cover. The zine is letter-digest size. It's available for one dollar (including postage) from JB Winter's website. He's open to trades too, but email him first.


Art Bureau #16 & 17 edited by Bert Benson

Benson's Art Bureau organization is on the move. It began as an online gallery with a mission to display, publish, and promote the work of artists from around the world. The Art Bureau zine was an offshoot of the gallery. It began as a simple photocopied artzine and evolved into a limited edition, commercially printed showcase for traditional and digital artwork. The zine also includes artist's statements and short interviews.

The organization began in 2000. The last issue of the zine is issue #17, but Benson continues to publish prints and has plans for a graphic novel called Art Bureau Comix and a perfect-bound book of artwork targeted for release in 2009.

The web has brought the work of artists around the globe into our homes. Benson has culled the sea of choices to bring us an outstanding collection of work by artists whose images deserve greater awareness. Both issues of Art Bureau are digest-sized, but stitched on the short edge to provide a horizontal page. The books are printed in a rich blue ink on white paper.

Art Bureau #16 cover

Issue #16 features the work of Bubi Au Yeung of China; an interview with Dom Hall editor of Computer Arts Projects (UK) with artwork spreads by Catalina Estrada, Mulheres Barbadas (cover), and Jan W. Wennekes; Amaranta of Venezuela; and a short feature about the City Birds project from Eyeformation. This issue is trimmed to create rounded corners that add to its tactile appeal. 36 pages, plus heavy weight cover printed on yellow stock.

Art Bureau #17 cover

Issue #17 features the work of Hannah Stouffer (cover) of Los Angeles, an illustrated interview with Matt W. Moore of Boston, Cristian Vargas of South America, and an essay by Nate Williams that offers Advice for New Illustrators along with a few of his images. 36 pages, plus heavy weight cover.

Be sure to visit the Art Bureau website. (It's an "org", not a "com".) It features the color artwork of the artists published in the one-color zine and includes links to their sites. The Art Bureau Shop hosted on Esty includes the complete catalog of zines, prints, chapbooks, etc.


Nerd Burglar coverNerd Burglar
Comic Anthology

This is a very nicely produced anthology of comics published in a three-way partnership between Tugboat Press, Teenage Dinosaur, and Sparkplug Comics.

A talented group of Portland-based cartoonists each contributed four pages to the project. It was a handed out free at Stumptown (and other recent events).

Sarah Oleksyk starts things out with Fifteen Variations on "The First Day We Met" The objects of all that affection start in grade school and traverse the years through the short days of winter. It's an engaging idea and Oleksyk does a nice job delivering it.


Sarah Oleksyk in Nerd Burglar

Elijah Brubaker in Nerd Burglar

Elijah Brubaker creates a haunting, seafaring tale inspired by William Blake's The Clod and the Pebble. At the bottom of each page he provides a row of panels for the poem itself. It's a brilliant interpretation and deserves more than one reading.

Chris Cilla in Nerd Burglar

Chris Cilla (who also drew the cover) provides a wacked out documentary on the invention of The Sleep Gas. It's great fun and Cilla's cartooning is outstanding.

Jennifer Parks in Nerd Burglar

Jennifer Parks' illustrations tell most of her story, The Lone Wolf and the Search for the Missing Babooshka, wordlessly. Her detailed artwork propels the reader into a strange world filled with wonder and mystery.

Bobby Madnes in Nerd Burglar

Changing the tone back to slapstick humor again, Bobby Madness gives us Amerikan Imperialism Comics. Saving the world through cowboy logic may be hard work, but Kaptain Capitalism is just the foul-mouthed, straight-shootin' mofo for the job.

Shawn Granton in Nerd Burglar

Next up Shawn Granton gives a history lesson about an amazing instance when a freeway juggernaut was actually brought down by ordinary citizens. What's next — bike lanes?

Tim Root in Nerd Burglar

Tim Root's untitled comic wins the award for most surreal contribution. His goofball characters jump head first into a seriously disturbed beer bash that goes straight to the gut.

Aron Nels Skeinke in Nerd Burglar

The book concludes with a series of short comics by Aron Nels Steinke. Each one beautifully crafted in his distinctive, crisp style. Steinke also drew the back cover.

Nerg Burglar is 32 b&w pages, plus full color cover on heavy weight stock. Title page drawings by E.D. Nilsson. Editorial assistance by Jeremy Tiedeman and Andrice Arp. The book is saddle-stitched and offset printed by the Brown Printing company, who's ad graces the inside back cover. I can't tell if it's a nostalgic send-up or for real. Either way the ad is a classic piece of printing industry humor that may tempt you to go all Web from now on. Still, the allure of print is seductive and this book is printed perfectly. Better yet, it's priced at one cent plus postage from Sparkplug. A zine this good, at this price, is really something that shouldn't be missed. Get yours while they're still in stock. And be sure to check out the other great books on the Sparkplug website.



Link to Howard Cruse website


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Original content Copyright © 2008 Richard Krauss.
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