Monday, September 22, 2003

From the Reading Pile XXI

Styx Taxi: Pastrami for the Dead
Written by Steven Goldman and drawn by Jeremy Arambulo, this 28-page self-published comic outshines some of the recent work written by Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis. Blending the gritty reality of New York City with the mythic travails of next-gen boatmen on the River Styx, the book considers what it might be like if cab drivers ferried the recently dead to the afterlife. While Arambulo's art is solid and at times reminiscent of Jim Valentino's early work (p. 5, panel three; p. 9, panel two), it is the story that carries this read. Following the fares -- and farings -- of three cabbies (Charon, Circe, and Dom), the call outs made by the dispatcher are almost competitive as the drivers strive to make quota. Possessing living liverymen, the drivers help the recently departed revisit loved ones, elephants, old haunts, and unclosed clauses in their lives. Charon even leaves one soul in the lurch because his final request was lacking: a last meal at McDonalds. Styx Taxi is a great concept and a brilliant book. Is it sustainable for multiple issues? Where will the drivers go? Who is the dispatcher? Interesting stuff. $2.50 to Steven Goldman, 1771 E. 14th St., 2nd floor, Brooklyn, NY 11229.

Tread #6
When I met Robert Young, publisher of the Comics Interpreter -- only the most important replacement of the Comics Interviewer and fanzine corollary to the Comics Journal -- at SPX, this 36-page comic was well placed on his table, and I ignored it. Totally. Regardless, I'm glad artist Greg Vondruska sent me a copy for review. The first story, "The Snake Charmer," was actually written by Young and is a 17-page text-heavy tale about a snake charmer with aspirations to become an asp himself. It's a solid piece, but the heavy exposition makes this more of an illustrated story than a comic -- and slows the pacing somewhat. Greg's artwork is dark and heavily inked, reminding me at times of Gene Day's work. "You Waited at the Airport" considers the lives of people encountered while traveling. And the final selection, "Insomniacs and Cockroaches" is a mysterious story about a man who dreams of meeting what might be the queen of the cockroaches. The man-roach image on p. 28 is awesome. Of the three stories, I enjoyed the airport piece the most because of the personal aspects. I look forward to more semi-autobiographical work from Greg! $3 to Greg Vondruska, P.O. Box 273415, Tampa, FL 33688.

True Adult Fantasy
This 40-page glossy "comic art sketchbook" collects selections created by Emmy-award winning animation director and storyboard artist Bradley Rader over the course of 20 years. Having worked on the cartoon Spawn and drawn for DC Comics' Catwoman, as well as the gay erotic periodicals Drummer, In Touch for Men, First Hand, and Chiron Rising, Rader's taste run to those of the bear. Including ink and watercolor work, the collection touches on many of the things bears might like: shower scenes, male-to-female fantasies (a seven-page preview of a story Rader plans to continue), pianos, shaving, saunas, hair, and the military. Indicating that he was somewhat isolated during his formative years in Anchorage, Alaska -- as well as that there was a 12-year gap between 1989 and 2001 while Rader recuperated from a car accident -- the artist was inspired by 911 to return to erotic art. While I need to check out his general comics and illo work -- and while I appreciate his New Yorker-esque watercolors more than most of the material -- True Adult Fantasy shows that it's not always a bad thing to be a near-Tom of Finland. Not really my bag, but respectable nonetheless. $6.95 to Bradley Rader, 4470 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90027.

Yellow Baby #1
I buy most of the comics published by Jeff Mason, but this is the first book his company has actually sent me for review consideration. Usually, I only review self-published and minicomics that I buy, but in the hopes that Jeff will "service" me, here we are. Is this whoring or wholesome commentary? You be the judge. Jed Alexander's 36-page pamphlet is interesting but not really my cup of tea. His art is slightly messy -- what I'd call ugly in the Alison Taylor sense (grotesque, not idealized) -- and the writing, while solid, falls slightly short of what I'd guess to be his goal. The 13-page untitled piece that opens the book comes closest to Alexander's potential as the protagonist ponders his American-Mexican-Jewish heritage during a plane ride. Otherwise, readers get an analysis of Alexander's creative process, a sloppy-flabby return to the old dingaling joke, and a Chester Brown-esque attempt at the golem myth. Maybe Alexander's art is getting in the way of my appreciation of the writing, but for the most part, Yellow Baby visually represents a more fully formed Victor Julio Cayro and does little else. Perhaps concentrate on the writing? $3.95 to Alternative Comics, 503 NW 37th Ave., Gainesville, FL 32609.

Thanks to Media Dietician Tony Shenton, who seems to be spreading the word about my comics reviews far and wide. Both Tread and True Adult Fantasy seem to have reached Media Diet based on his say so.

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