Awesome: The Indie Spinner Rack Anthology
Written and Drawn by A Whole Bunch of People (that's what the title page says)
As seems to be the custom when reviewing anthologies, I feel like I must mention that such books are always a mixed bag, with some good material, some poor material, and often a whole bunch of mediocrity. In this case, I think the good outweighs the bad/meh, making a nice sampler of the indie scene (that is, the somewhat "mainstream" indie scene, which I would categorize (possibly incorrectly) as separate from the more "artsy" indies from publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly). As the title indicates, this mix of stories formed from the community that has sprung up around the Indie Spinner Rack podcast, and thus many of them seem to be in-jokes about the show's hosts. Not being a listener (nothing against them; I just don't really listen to podcasts), these stories didn't really do anything for me, which was too bad, at least in the case of Nick Bertozzi's strip about the hosts getting ready for a show. But most of the material is pretty accessible, and in the best case, the stories provide a good example of what the creators are capable of, spurring the reader on to search out more of their work.
I don't generally like to dwell on the poorer works, so I'll mostly be skipping what didn't appeal to me, but I felt I did have to point out the awful series of strips by Neil Swaab. His crude art serves only to highlight the lack of humor in his lame stories that try so hard to offend. His character, Mr. Wiggles, is a teddy bear who, get this, is a total asshole. Wow, that's creative. In the strips, the bear and some bald guy do stuff that is supposed to be hilariously excessive, like punching nuns, kicking rabbis, and peeing on clowns. Haw haw! In a couple other strips, Swaab interprets the secret language of women, with insights like: when women say size isn't important, they really mean that you have a small penis! Oh snap! You told them, Swaab! And most offensively, one strip features Mr. Wiggles' "Shake Your Baby Workout" for single mothers, with the oh-so-funny idea that those welfare queens can solve their problems by killing their children. He gives a disclaimer here, letting us know that he's trying to be offensive, so we shouldn't take him seriously, that scamp. The thing he doesn't realize is, offensive humor should try to be funny rather than just strive to piss people off.
Okay, enough negativity. What's good in the book? Josh Cotter, creator of Skyscrapers of the Midwest, has a nifty little story called "Ubiquitous 3", which involves a giant robot, squid-like parasites, and jetpacks, with some nice panel layouts and a weird atmosphere:
I haven't read Skyscrapers, but this makes me want to check it out.
Matt Kindt, creator of the amazing Super Spy (review coming soon!), has a selection from his work-in-progress, The Misery Index. This is a group of real-life stories that describe true misery, and are "100% true". The stories here feature experiences like a dad inadvertently hurting his daughter, a child rejecting a gift given to her, and a boy watching a friend unwrap a completely inappropriate birthday gift. Kindt has a nonrealistic, cartoony style, but he captures emotion very well, and the way he conveys the misery here is extraordinary:
After reading this (and Super Spy), I'm very interested in anything he does, and can't wait for a full-length version of The Misery Index. I just hope it isn't too depressing.
Even though his characters are very simple, he makes them very expressive. I'm going to have to check out his Zig Zag one of these days.
Jamie Tanner, author of The Aviary, contributes a story called "The Accommodations of Old Man Small", about a weird old guy with a moving, shapeshifting house, and it's quite nice, with a sort of Rick Geary-esque style, with maybe a dash of Jason:
Josh Finney and Kat Rocha have a creepy little story called "Post Mortem", with photoreferenced art that effectively sets the mood for a supernatural thriller:
I don't know if this is part of an ongoing series, but if so, I certainly wouldn't mind checking it out.
I probably don't need to go into too much detail about Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy's "Crime, Oh Man Does It Pay!", since they're pretty well known for Action Philosophers. This is the first story from their new series, Comic Book Comics, which will tell stories about the history of comic books. It's about the book Crime Does Not Pay, which kicked off the gruesome crime genre made popular by EC Comics which eventually brought about the wrath of Frederick Wertham. It's a fascinating bit of history, and a good indication of the sort of stories the new series will contain. I can't wait to read it (and also Action Presidents, their other forthcoming series. Those guys are busy!).
Bernie Mireault gives us a story featuring meetings between a bunch (all?) of his recurring characters: Dr. Robot, Bug-Eyed Monster, The Jam, and Snuuger Dü. They meet in a fanciful manner by following "storylines" which are laying around on the ground and going through portals:
It's cute and goofy. Mireault really should do more comics; he's got a unique, cartoony style that I would love to see more often.
Sarah Oleksyk does a nice fairy tale story called "The Enchanted Stag", which has some really good artwork; I especially like the figure work:
The ending is marred by what appears to be a bestiality joke (maybe I just have a dirty mind), but it's still rather nice. I'll have to try to seek out more of Oleksyk's work.
Keith Champagne and Dev Madan contribute a story featuring Frank Neil Stein, Monstertown P.I. It's a lot of fun, featuring the titular monstrous fellow working out a relationship dispute between a certain spinach-loving (or spinach-addicted, actually) sailor man and the skinny gal who left him for a big bearded bloke. It's fun and enjoyable, with a sort of pathos; Frank has a rich inner monologue, but he can't communicate outwardly in anything other than grunts and groans. Dev Madan's artwork is really good, mixing noir-ish shadows with a cartoon sensibility:
Beautiful stuff. I don't know if this is an ongoing series or a one-off, but I would love to read more of Frank's adventures.
Jesse Post and Ben Towle contribute a fascinating little historical tale called "The Gates of the Garden", about the British Empire's use of diplomacy to aid the formation of a certain Middle Eastern nation. The events may have had some repercussions in the present; who knows? Even though it's only four pages long, it's really interesting and informative. One of the best parts of the book.
Joseph Lambert has a nice story about the artistic impulse and the way our inner impulses sometimes unleash themselves unpleasantly:
It's quick, but it's quite enjoyable. He's one to watch.
Roger Langridge is a pro at short, cartoony stories, and his "The Ballad of Silvertooth Johnson" is a great example of his skill. It's a poem about the titular traveling songsmith, accompanied by wonderfully expressive artwork, and it's hilarious, both in pictures and words. The story is about how Silvertooth tricked the Grim Reaper and is now immortal, roaming the land performing his songs. I love the curving panel borders and the Mad Magazine-style art:
Wonderful stuff. He's another creator who should do more work.
That's it for the stuff I really liked and thought was worth sampling here. There were plenty of others that were good, or at least interesting. Chris Schweizer did a nice two-page superhero-ish story. Liz Prince has a cute one-pager about a make-out session gone wrong. Robin and Lawrence Etherington have a strip that seems to be a preview of their upcoming series Moon!, which appears to be about a futuristic alien TV station. Their artwork is really expressive, with tons of little background details, but the story is kind of slight, only serving to introduce the oh-so-wacky cast. Maybe the regular series will be better. Al Columbia provides a really disturbing one-page horror strip that I didn't understand. I would like to read more of his work. Richard Tingley contributes a nice short about a man laying a dead badger to rest. Sam Hiti's "The Golden Deer" looks like a bit of Indian (as in the country India) folklore, and it's nicely-illustrated, but I don't understand it at all. Cameron Chesney's one-page story of his grandfather trying to learn to ride a horse as a boy is quite nice. He's another one to watch. Steve Hamaker adds a cute, cartoony story with his characters Fish 'n Chips. Robert Goodin shows off a flair for expression in a creepy story about ducks encountering something murderous. Kazimir Strzepek has what I think is an excerpt from The Mourning Star, which looks nice but confuses me because I don't know who the characters are. That's a book I really want to read though. Nakiesha Koss, Fred Chao (Johnny Hiro), and Dylan Babb do a short and sweet bit about rock and roll and crowds. And Hanvey Hsiung and Gia-Bao Tran contribute a really beautiful-looking story that I don't understand at all which seems to be about alien water towers providing awesome water to a city.
So that's what I thought about the book. It's definitely a nice package, and it's not too expensive ($14.95). Plus, the proceeds go to a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies. I would certainly recommend it as a sampler of some of the indie talent currently producing comics. Now I just need to get my hands on some of these creators' longer works...