Category Archive: Reviews

Reviews of all kinds

Aug 27 2014

Scenes Seen from a Zine Fest

It may be late but I wanted to write a little about some works I bought/traded for at comic and zine fests this summer. One of the best parts about zine fests is being able to meet the creators themselves, who are usually very open to chatting with you about their work and the creative process, even if for such cynical reasons as they are bored or simply hope to make a sale. On a similar note, everyone is pretty open to drawing a sketch for you if you spent as couple of bucks on their works, which is all the more reason I have to urge them not to put out signs saying you will do a drawing for 5, 10 or 15$! I totally understand that art is often how you make your living and you have every right to turn someone down if they just want you to work for them, or to do a half-ass job if they only buy your cheapest item, but I purposefully stayed aways from those tables that charge for doodles. As I’ll bring up again, fest are for fun and networking, so be friendly and let’s see what I stumbled on. Be aware that these works are not presented in any particular order and I’m not including anything I didn’t like.

I’ve known Bill Roundy for a number of years and he is both a nice person and fun comic creator. He tends to make comics that are either D&D or gay oriented (or both) or are part of his on-going series about various bars throughout NYC. I like and admire his work and enjoy talking with him but I must warn that his non-Bar Scrawl work is often short which might turn some people off. Additionally, his Bar Scrawl is great if you find a bar you know or wanting to try, but otherwise you are reading a short comic about a bar, so unless you are really into bar reviews it can get old fast. I bring this up because as popular as it is, what is the long term goal? I rather see some of his effort put into creating more substantial work (i.e., Orientation Police). 

Rachel Burkot had a lovely collection of poems, Think of all the Beauty, but if she wishes to continue with this, she needs to at least invest in a long arm stapler as it just doesn’t visually appeal to have some printouts of text folded into booklet form. …And make it look more like The Ken Chronicles who records observations and thoughts of his travels and life in general, along with pictures (some in color!). This is a great example of what one can do with a zine and Mr. Bausert seems like a very nice guy, so I wish him well and am glad to see he has at least 30 issues of his work!

I picked up Cosmopolis by Z-Man as I was immediately taken by his zanny art (maybe that’s what the “Z” stands for). It’s a cute collection of strips about a crazy world (i.e., ours), but I think the art is the best part. He may be better served by collaborating with a writer. (PS Everyone should put the phrase “except for the purposes of review” in their copyright to allow me to include pictures)

Monday Saddies! by Steve Seck are various stories usually involving talking things that should not talk like violent park animals and idiotic locker contents. It’s fun and I like the large size format of the books, but with a big disclaimer of “NOT FOR KIDS!” I was disappointed by its lack of utter craziness. Talking to him and his wife(?) was more fun–and I mean that as a compliment. 

Marguerite Dabaie has several works on the Sogdians as well as jewelry in its style. What the heck is a Sogdian? She’s glad you asked and should check out her work. The very short answer is that they are a “lost” culture from central Asia’s silk road (think about all those -stan countries). I’m fascinated by the peoples of central Asia and would like her to produce more comics (vs non-reading material) and hopefully of lesser cost to help hook people. 

That’s a general comment I often have about things from zine fest. I realize that so much of your work is painstakingly and lovingly done and producing them is expensive, but I honestly believe that no one is really going to get rich off this forum, so use it a a means of promoting yourself and your work and networking with others (through trades) until you can get that book deal.

Masterpiece Mini-Comics are simpler to my own My Life as Literature only R. Sikoryak uses traditional comic characters to retell classical stories. Hands down he does a great job mimicking the format and capturing the literature’s style. I should have bought more. 

Another rather professional publication I got was Sam Henderson’s Magic Whistle, which I have purchased issues of before. One of the great things about a fest is that you get to buy a comic that is rather simply drawn, but filled with outrageous and sexually deviant comics, and then to meet the creator who is the most unassuming man you’ll ever meet. I guess still waters run deep and I’m glad he makes this comic or he might go on a killing spree. I also bought a piece of his art. 

T. Motley had some interesting fairy tale-esque stories and his art is quite sophisticated, but the small minis may not be the best form for his work; I would rather see it in a larger frame. Better suited to this small medium are some works like the silly Sam Spina’s Tarn and Alan King and Jamie Vayda’s The Rats Were Bad That Year, which was one of the best  stories I read from a zine fest. 

Speaking of great reads, perhaps the most impressive works I had the pleasure to buy/trade for was by Teylor Smirl. Two issues of Flightless Birds and a stand alone called Wild Turkey are incredibly raw, dealing with her drinking and relationship issues and featuring a very punk rock penguin. As an aside, Ms Smirl was funny, charming, has great tattoos, and is utterly gorgeous, so I can never fully believe that such women have difficulties in relationships, but I’m blinded by delusion. The art is quite strong and the no holds bared subject matter coupled with great humor (ex “I got a palm reading today … just so someone would hold my hand”) shows her major potential. The copying is a little weak and the works are a few years old making me wonder if she has anything else in the pipeline and/or is planning a new run of (clearer) printing. I certainly hope so, as I’m eager to read more–high praise from a curmudgeon. Being obsessed with all things Lovecraftian, I got a kick out of Lara Antal’s Cthulhu mythos inspired pictures and cards featuring Yog-Sothothery love proclamations. At one fest I gave her some suggestions as to other eldritch horrors she should turn into terms of endearments, but didn’t see any new ones the next time we met, so I guess I have to summon a great old one to destroy her mortal form. 

Caitlin Cass shows talent and creativity in her mockery of ABC books (like my first comic: The ABCs of The USA!), making fun of literature, and producing creative displays of historical cities. Her art is rather cartoony, but I’m not sure if it is styled that way as she does have a problem getting words to fit within panels and balloons, which makes the work look–unfortunately–unprofessional. 

A staple at many a zine fest is the Barnard Zine Library and it is always nice to see the activist and overworked Zine librarian, Jenna Freeman. Dedicated to helping the downtrodden get information as well as promoting zines, my hat goes off to Ms Freeman. She has some cool zines that are truly DIY and I encourage anyone to visit the library despite that the focus is of female issues/created zines rather than all inclusive. I took part in a zine workshop there and I was the only male in the group and am still kind of convinced that I wasn’t suppose to be there. Still, everyone was very nice and it was great to be creative around so many zines. I’m telling you, if  could get a job as a zine library at a university, I’d cut and run from this PhD program so fast it would make your head spin (mainly because I had to murder you by breaking your neck to get the job). 

Speaking of activism. There is a group called Research and Destroy New York City (you’ll have to figure out if that means they want to destroy NYC or are just based here, but they certainly have it in for cops) and they produce some amazing zines, some heavily researched recounts of events and information and some, equally researched, but much more whimsical, zines that are simply a collection of newspaper articles revolving around a single subject, such as my favorite: Cats Hate Cops that just shows attacks on cops by cats. Being that I have been on the wrong end of an unprovoked butt kicking by cops too many times, I understand where some of the rage comes from. It used to be that police considered communication their best weapon, now they have seminars on how cops can explain why excessive force was used. This group is always very open to trades and I greatly appreciate that. 

Mindy Indy (pretty sure that’s not her name) had three little comics (one a year which is a good rhythm) that I thought were cute, especially the one about a dog in a fight with his balloon animal counterpart; likewise I got two from Alisa Harris that were also well worth the pittance I paid for them, giving fun “tips” for living on nothing and a guide to some live music venues that I knew and which no longer exist.

On the high end of comics (price-wise due to (semi-)uniqueness and hand crafted excellence), my obsession with mollusk forced–forced I say!–me to buy The Cambrian by Estrella Vega and Pulpo by Alexandra Beguez. The former traces the, well, Cambrian age through beautiful illustrations and the latter is a delightful story about a boy and an octopus that is similar to one of my own encounters that I’ve presented in an “Aquatic Adventures” comic. I spent more on these two works than on everything else on this post put together, and while I do not regret it, as I love the work, I have to bring up a bone of contention hinted at earlier. Hard Traveling Hero and I both bought works from these ladies and asked for sketches as well, and the illustrations they did for HTH were much bigger and intricate than they did for me. Now I spent easily ten times what HTH did and I’m at least ten times as good looking and charming as him so WTF!? A little commensurate behavior is all I’m asking. Not that I’m bitter–F you HTH!

Going back to zines, Katie Haegele has some short ones on fashion that are nicely done, if not what I’m personally interested in. Joseph Carlough is doing some creative work by taking old (circa a hundred years old) literary stories and texts and bringing them to contemporary attention to hilarious/intriguing results. Both these individuals were extremely friendly and open to trade, and seem to be doing their work–at least in large part–for love not profit. Points to them! 

I’ll end–mainly because this is taking a lot longer than I thought–on two little (size and length) comics that make all of us who say we can’t draw or don’t have the time etc complaint look like dorks. Alden Viguilla has a delightful and simply drawn work, Lesson #1, about a cat and dog fight, and Kriota Willberg has an even simplerly (?) drawn work called Phagocytosis about bacteria. Unfortunately, I already filed away some of the other works I collected this summer and I apologize for inadvertently missing any works/creators I enjoyed. If any of these things here do sound interesting to you, please look for them online or at a comic/zine fest. As always, if you are interested in trading some of your work for those of the ArmzRace, let us know!

Aug 26 2014

Divergent

So I won’t get too much into the plot of this futuristic Chicago that is divided into five factions (plus the faction-less) in which a young girl gives up her faction to join the (reckless)fearless warriors: the Dauntless. There she discovers herself and her potential but also the horrible truth that she is what is called “divergent” (someone who is not clearly just one faction and thus can’t be controlled (and thus a danger to the order)). For more details you can read my review of the book here.  I have to admit this is one of those movies that I liked better than the book, mainly because the book isn’t incredibly well written and the film cuts through a lot of the crap. On the down side that does cut out some of the subtlety that does exist (I watched the deleted scenes and a little of it was actually there), but I still think most will be better served by the movie. Little addition: I talked to two of my teenage nieces and they felt the opposite to me in that they liked the book so much better than the film. Not saying they are wrong, but it might be valuable if I could get the mindset of those so different to me, namely different ages and genders. Oh well.

Aug 25 2014

This One Summer – Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

What should be just another summer vacation for Rose and her friend, Windy, at Awago beach turns out to be dark and confusing. It feels like I have to read five comics to come across one that is any good, but this story should count as double. Beautifully drawn, elegantly paced, simply colored with blue ink, spartanly written, this YA tale is powerful and fun, if a heavy inducer of melancholy. It involves two summer vacation friends: two young girls, somewhat dissimilar with just enough of an age difference to cause some problems. Together they become by-standards to grown-up (sort of) intrigues that they don’t quite fully understand. It is a story about friends, family, growing up, and the fleeting nature of life. I greatly enjoyed it. 

Aug 24 2014

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return – Zeina Abirached

Well done! Stark B/W art in a simple yet striking style, told in few actions and even fewer words. Amazing, non-accusatory tale about a single moment during the Lebanese civil war (yeah, I know we forgot about that one, what with all the middle eastern wars we are so busy ignoring). I think this is a great learning comic in so many ways: Want to learn about drawing a comic using only large amount of blacks with whites? How about telling a story in sparse, simple language? Need to flesh out characters in short order? All this and more is done here and I want more. 

Aug 23 2014

Templar – Jordan Mechner

I thought I wrote up a review for the first part of this book: Solomon’s Thieves, but I can’t find it, and thus much like where the rumored treasure of the Knights Templar is or the reason the warrior order, so popular in medieval christian Europe at one time, was branded heretical, the mystery might never be explained. I enjoyed this tragic and exciting (and very fictional) tale about a group of Templars who plot to steal back their order’s treasure in an attempt to both reform their group and free their imprisoned brothers. The story is begging to be made into a movie and while much of it screams of other heist tales (e.g., Ocean’s Eleven), there are climatic moments that, while reminiscent of other films, I don’t think have been done and I expect would look beautiful and filled with pathos on the big screen. There are problems of characters that have no background/rhyme or reason, and as cliched as some of this comic is, I truly enjoyed it and was sad to reach the end. 

Aug 22 2014

The Dumbest Idea Ever! – Jimmy Gownley

I’ve liked Gownley’s work before and wanted to see what other works he has produced. This one tells the story about how he first (sort of) created a comic: the story, the motivations behind it, where the ideas came from, etc. It is his story about being a star middle schooler who has a bit of an identity crisis, once he move onto high school, and dedicates himself to comics. It is designed for kids to see the value of comics and how it might be a medium for them to express themselves. The trouble with this work is–and I’m starting to feel this may be a bigger problem with Gownley–that the work is all over the place. Let’s ignore the fact that he makes himself out to be the coolest person ever, and stick to the general plot, which tends to jump around, making it difficult to realize where (or rather when) I am as a reader. Many of the characters are there for only a second, hinting at backstories that never materialize. Additionally, it seem like all the “difficult” writing: break-ups, deaths, etc. are simply left out. I felt I had a better story from the less than two pages of Author’s Note than the entire almost 250 page graphic novel. I really like Gownley’s art and his general story ideas, but unless he is able to find an editor that will actually get him to focus, I’m not sure his work is worth it. 

Aug 21 2014

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton – Matt Phelan

In 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, Henry meets a summering troupe of vaudeville performers, specifically “Buster” Keaton, the eventual comic star of the silent film era. I liked an earlier work of Phelan’s, The Storm in the Barn, which–AGAIN–I swear I wrote a review for, but had similar problems in that, while the art is lovely (watercolors!), it is sparse, as is the writing, which could use some more details. This last part is especially true as, sorry, I actually know nothing of vaudeville and have never even seen a Buster Keaton film, despite all the pressure to do so from The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcasts I’ve been listening to. Still, a very fine comic about the friendship of some boys, ideas/cliches about the grass always being greener, and staying true to yourself in order to find yourself. 

Aug 20 2014

Sailor Twain ~or~ The Mermaid in the Hudson – Mark Siegel

For the most part I absolutely loved this comic. The pencil art, cartoony characters, mysterious situation, clever mythology, and intriguing characters all lead to an exciting tale about a ship’s captain (named Twain, no–possible!–relation), a philandering ship’s owner, and a mermaid in late 19th century NY. I write “for the most part” because I feel the last 20% or so felt rushed (especially considering the leisurely pace to begin with and overall length of the tale) and led to some confusion rather than  illumination. Still, maybe you will have a better grasp with the ending and thus see this as you should: an amazing work of comic narrative. 

Aug 19 2014

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey & The Desolation of Smaug

After the success of The Lord of The Rings movies, Peter Jackson, most famous for his masterpiece Bad Taste, takes on The Hobbit. This comes before the LotR and was originally a children’s story that explains how Bilbo gets the magical ring that would cause such trouble 60 years later. Unfortunately, Jackson, doesn’t capture the fun of the book as well as he should, and made some pointless changes to the story (and I’m not talking about the fleshed out parts, just odd little things like some weird Dwarf-Elf romance and barrel fighting). Additionally, he tries too hard to recreate the action of the LotR at the expense of, for example, the songs, which add a lovely element to the book. I don’t think this needs to be 3 movies in length, but we’ll see how things go. The first part is still a good movie, but takes some time getting into; the second seems at times more of a filler to get us to the third. Hopefully, by the time this is ready to post I’ll be getting ready to review that installment.

Aug 18 2014

A Bag of Marbles – Joeph Joffo, Kris, & Vincent Bailly

I should have been absolutely thrilled by this true adventure tale of two young, Jewish brothers that live off their wits in order to survive in Nazi occupied France. Sadly, I didn’t get that into it. The art is lovingly done watercolors, and the story itself is amazing, but the telling leaves much to be desired. I rarely felt the impending doom I should, time passed unclearly for me, I never got to understand how they managed to make so many street contacts so those victories didn’t mean what they should have, and I didn’t ever feel I knew the characters so well. As mentioned, this should have been one of the greatest stories ever! And yet, falls too short. 

Aug 17 2014

Batman (vol. 3): Death of the Family – Scott Snyder

NOTE: This post has been scheduled for a number of weeks, but during that time Mr. Snyder actually read one of my reviews of his work (why does that always surprise me?) and let me say that he handled the criticism with class. It is interactions like these that are useful in reminding us that criticism does not have to be personal, meaning both that reviewers should say what they believe without needless attacks and creators have to accept that not everyone is a fan–and that a reviewer has probably just as much of a chance of being wrong as they do in actually being helpful. We tend to forget, in the cyber world, that there are real people attached to the topics we write about and it is nice to be reminded of this fact. That said, here is my uncensored review that I wrote before Snyder’s post. If he reads it, I hope he will continue to see it for what it is.

I totally admit it, the fault is my own. I have not enjoyed Snyder’s take on the vigilante Batman and yet I keep reading. Maybe I thought his focus on the traditional villain, the insane Joker, would get him to produce an exciting, unique story. Sadly, Snyder fell into a typical Joker trap–no, no, what I mean is he decided he had to make the Joker as evil, twisted, and bad ass as possible to make him interesting, and the results were disappointing. Joker, who never shuts up in this story (to be fair neither does the normally taciturn Batman), is somehow able to pull off a possible triple digit death toll and defeat ever member of the extended bat family without breaking a sweat, all the while imitating early 2000′s horror flicks. The results don’t have any suspense or any cleaver twists; it is simply bad ass horror for the sake of bad ass horror. I know there will be those that are thrilled with it, but that’s why they made dozens of Saw, Friday the 13th, etc. movies. There is nothing here that makes me interested in the characters, just a lot of gruesomeness. 

Aug 16 2014

Batman (vol. 2): The City of Owls – Scott Snyder

Ok, I admit, I broke down and read this and–surprise!–it wasn’t very good. The crime fighting Batman must take on a secret society that, for no reason, decides to blow their cover and come out of the woodwork in order to take down Batman. There are two good stories in the collection: one about Mr. Freeze, that really showed his insanity and had almost nothing to do with the Court of Owls nonsense, and the other, weaker, story (although I was very glad it dealt with issues like poverty and homophobia) was about a civilian who stumbles onto Batman and her reaction to it. 

Aug 15 2014

Bake Sale – Sara Varon

I gave Varon a hard time at the Grand comic fest because I found Robot Dreams so unexpectedly depressing and Sweaterweather to not be a long enough story. She assured me this title was different. I’m not sure how to label this comic other than to say it was delightful. It’s about a cupcake that owns a bakery and has a best friend who is an eggplant. Eggplant is going to Turkey and Cupcake dreams about going along to meet her hero, the great baker Turkish Delight. There is nothing overly complex about this story, but I don’t think there was a moment I didn’t enjoy.

Aug 14 2014

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley

I really enjoyed this delightfully drawn, colored, and told story about a woman growing up with parents that are rather obsessed with food and her own relationship with cooking and experiencing different cultures through their food. There are things I dislike about the comic: too much name dropping of famous food people (yeah, I didn’t know there were any) and I’m sure the obese foodies will use this to justify their lifestyle (“it’s not that I eat like a pig and don’t exercise, I just love food because I’m cultured”). Still, I have a major crush on Knisley and, even though my stomach issues mean that I would–literally–die if I ate some of the things she does, thought it was great that she included recipes as part of the comic.

Aug 13 2014

Dogs of War – Sheila Keenan

While these stories aren’t super-great, I was very glad to read them. Three tales of three different wars wherein dogs played very important roles–and ones you might never suspect. While in one sense I think this would be a great read for a younger crowd, interested in animals, there is a lot of harsh reality about war that might be too much for them; this is why I’m not 100% selling this work. 

Aug 12 2014

Feminist Frequency

This blog and series of videos by a woman I’m so crushing on, deals with the portrayal of women in popular culture from Lego to video games to movies, etc in an informative, professional, succinct, and accessible way. While I don’t always feel the same way she does on some of the issues (sometimes creators are not exploiting tropes because of male-centric views, but simply because they aren’t competent enough to develop something new or are too desperate to cash in on the familiar), I feel that she does an incredible job pointing out flaws–such as the marginalization of women in movies and toy lines (often against the best interest of the producers!)–that are too often ignored. I have to cynically wonder if she wasn’t so attractive would the videos resinate as much with me? Probably, ’cause it is awesome.

Aug 11 2014

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice – Mike Carey

You have to be reading the main title of The Unwritten to enjoy this prequel (which seem to be the case for all prequels), but it is a fun little tale (or two tales) about both the–perhaps–insane author that decides he will raise a son in parallel with a fictional character he created to see if he can blur the lines between fantasy and reality. In this story, we read the beginning of the boy wizard, Tommy, and friends and their first encounter with their arch-nemesis, all the while hearing their creator justify destroying real lives for the sake of “art.” 

Aug 10 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

So it takes until mid-August before I see my first movie of 2014. The film focuses on rather unknown characters, centering on the Guardians and the Kree: Ronan The Accuser (don’t worry, it gets much more obscure, ever hear of Knowhere?). Peter Quill is Star Lord, or his is after becoming a thief which he becomes after being abducted from Earth as a child, something that leads to a whole lot of 80s references (as that was when he was taken). The Guardians, who are really a bunch of murderers and thieves in the form of a couple of green people, a mutant raccoon, and a tree–rejects all–band together to stop Ronan from destroying, well, the Galaxy. The movie was fun, filled with clever remarks and references, but the fights scenes aren’t great and there are a bunch of characters they need to introduce really fast and I not sure how many people got a whole lot from the truncated characterizations, or how many of those people could also get the 80s references. A lot of the movie dealt with the idea of friendship, which is pretty standard, but is often too obvious. In the end, while I had fun, I’m not sure how many others–read: non-Marvel comics fans–will really fully enjoy/get the film (then again, it has made a ton of cash).

Aug 09 2014

Paul has a Summer Job – Michel Rabagliati

No, this isn’t about our own HTH (he never has a job). Paul has just dropped out of school and is working at a summer camp. Sounds pretty dull, and yet this simply drawn (and often imperfect) comic was really a delightful coming of age story, sweet and funny, and–for us old folk–poignant. Apparently, there are various other Paul titles and I will try to check them out, as should you. 

Aug 08 2014

Drunk History

At first I thought this was a very bad idea, promoting alcohol as a source of humor and presenting poorly done historical explanations (yes, it does sound like I have no sense of humor). After seeing some of these episodes that are cleverly done and often focuses on little known parts of history, I have to say that I greatly enjoyed them. True, the first episode I saw has a piece narrated by Morgan Murphy who I think is both hilarious and the best looking woman in the existence of the world, so maybe that has something to do with it.

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