Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The Dirty Half Dozen
Last night's rain also gave me a rare chance to hole up at home and catch up on my reading pile. Here's a handful of reviews of some of the self-published comics that pile on my floor.

Love Letters for the President: Handwritten by area cartoonist Ben Jones in two narrative voices, this 16-page pamphlet contains 11 fictional letters exchanged by John Truman and his love Bess Oldheart. Dated in the late '20s, the letters share mundane details about the romantic wonders of correspondence, new stationery, farm life, tennis, marriage, and war. They also tell of the frustrations brought on by distance, familial meddling, and how little love letters can convey. Ben graces the bittersweet correspondence with computer graphics and hand drawings, which stretch his usual drawing style. Available through Million Year Picnic, 99 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA.

Spaceship on Earth 17: Drawn in a dense, almost claustrophobic style incorporating a surprisingly clean, spacious line, J.D. Durst's 16-page photocopied comic carries the "story of the day spaceships came to earth and of the effect they had on the rest of the planet." Dated 1999, the comic features a bald, bespectacled narrator who tells readers about changes in architecture, religion, art, and business. Pages 7 and 8's spread of Space Camp, a sprawling metropolis, is quite impressive, but the comic's concentration on commerce goes nowhere; the utopian hopes of the future are given short shrift. The comic ends with a two-page spread dominated by Marvel Comics-influenced killer robots and the title "Welcome to the Big Brick Shithouse." An odd mix of intention and inanity. Unfortunately, the email address in the comic no longer works; I have no contact information to offer.

Shelf Life: An impressive 24-page, half-legal, photocopied effort by Max Nordlie, this mini is a clever mix of roughly drawn comics, writing, and sketchbook pages. There are three main sections. The first, a five-page, 10-panel comic, features two men sitting on a brick wall and talking about love. The pacing and dialogue is excellent, and the punchline funny. Next there is a sloppy comic titled "Adventures in Weight Training" that concentrates on the embarassing horrors of gym class and lacrosse injuries. Lastly, "The Last Man on Earth." A lone man enters a burning city, procures a hand gun, and then wakes from a nap to a new, less satisfying reality. Impressive. Write to Max Nordlie at 1418 3rd St., Coronado, CA 92118 USA to see whether he's still up to his old tricks.

Cyril, the Little Dead Boy: If you grew up on Casper, the Friendly Ghost, and you're sick and tired of Jhonen Vasquez, Neumie's eight-page pocket comic will make you smile. The short story? A sad boy gets crushed by a falling bookshelf. The up side? Neumie's heavy pen and children's book exposition. Reminds me of Aaron Pikcilingis's contributions to the zine Karma Lapel. Email Neumie for more information about the ghost with the most.

Gator: Ben Jones is brilliant. Just when you think he's gone and drawn a comic with a Sharpie and then proceeded to phtocopy it double-sided accidentally so you can see the bleed, he throws in a one-panel Warp Zone that indicates he know exactly what he's doing. Gator is a new character, of the Alfie school. He's dressed like a motorcyclist, is an avid coffee drinker, writes and performs poetry, and is about to go on a very Hip Trip. This 22-page multicolored comic blends Ben's comics with his recent experiments in poetry and delivers quite a punch of attitude, humor, and neo-psychedelia. If there's a new underground underway, Ben holds a shovel. Available through Million Year Picnic, 99 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA.

Runoff: Tom Manning's well-printed 2000 comic is difficult to read. Actually, it's a relatively quick read, but it's a challenge to decipher. What I got out of Tom's darkly inked, shadowily drawn story is this: Near a rural, mountainout community anchored by highways, there are ghosts: cartoony, floating eraser-shaped apparitions; wispy, smoke-edged little girls; and vicious lycanthropes. The art is solidly impressive in its weight, and Tom's sense of humor lightens the dark mood several times. His Doonesbury-esque strip on pages 14-17 and the couch-bound exchange between Mort and his trucker friend are especially clever. I came across Tom's work late. I hope to encounter it again. Email Tom or visit his Web site for more information.

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