SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
Last weekend I went to Comic Arts Brooklyn. I bought a lot of comics. Here are six that I think are really good, and I think you should try to find as well.
1. Epoxy #4 by John Pham (self-published). Perhaps the biggest shock/surprise at the show was the arrival of the day-glo colored fourth issue of Pham’s self-published comic. In fact, it had been so long since the last issue of Epoxy that it took me longer than I care to admit before I finally went “Oh yeah, that guy.” Sorry, John.
This issue is especially strong, too, and one of the standout comics I bought at the show. Essentially a two-story anthology, the main, magazine-sized half is a sci-fi tale, told in near-Moebius-like detail, concerning a spaceship crashing on a foreign planet. Pham teases out the ship’s collapse in beautiful, near-excruciating slow motion, so that the action in effect becomes the plot.
Ah, but opening the comic reveals a second, attached mini comic, done in a much different, more manga-esque/cartoony style, concerning two young girls – Jay and Kay. They go to a party, try to steal some food and play dancing video games. Oh, and a pimple on one character’s back bursts out to give birth to a gross-looking but apparently benign creature. I really enjoyed the blend of the cute aesthetic and disturbing story – It’s like Cronenberg meets Hello Kitty. I don’t know if Pham sold out of this comic at the show or not – he doesn’t seem to be selling copies online. Hopefully that will change soon.
2. B+F by Gregory Benton (AdHouse). Along with Epoxy and the third book on this list, this is one of the comics everyone at CAB was buzzing about. It’s certainly large enough to make it difficult to miss (I joked at one point that buyers would be banging into other show attendees all day as if they were in some sort of Laurel and Hardy routine).
Based on the cover and the brief description, I thought I knew what this comic was going to be about: A love story between a pretty, naked woman (I should note that despite the nudity the book never feels exploitative or overtly sexual) and her oversize protector, an enormous Great Dane. The pair would get separated and face trials but would eventually be reunited and all would be well. I was half-right, at least at the beginning, and rather pleased to find that Benton had something more surreal and slightly darker in mind. But the real appeal here is Benton’s lushly colored art, which creates a vibrant, lovely and threatening jungle world for readers to explore.
3. Life Zone by Simon Hanselmann (Space Face Books). The king of cringe-comedy, Hanselmann spins three painfully awkward, very funny stories surrounding Megg, Mogg and Owl (and the always-sociopathic Werewolf Jones). You have to be in a good head space in order to read these comics (or at least, not have your life in such disarray that the characters’ antics seem hauntingly familiar) but once you’ll do we’ll be rewarded with some truly great cartooning.
4. Hagelbarger and That Nightmare Goat by Renee French (Yam Press). This is probably one of French’s more light-hearted comics, which isn’t to say that her trademark surreal grotesquery and general sense of unease isn’t on full display (one character ends up getting his arm bitten off by the titular goat), but overall the dark stuff is kept in the background in favor of a smart-aleck humor that wouldn’t be out of place in your average children’s book. Hagelbarger is a bulbous undersea critter that builds nests for his friends and runs afoul of the hungry and rather sarcastic goat. Problems arise, but all ends relatively well, though not without the occasional bit of body horror or shock at nature’s feral nature. The whole book’s probably a metaphor for avoiding the jerks in life. Maybe not. I liked it either way.
5. Space Basket by Jonathan Petersen (Domino Books). This is the kind of comic where a bearded man picks up a drifter, complains about the general cruelty of humanity, meets a one-eyed lady in the forest and then unzips to reveal that he’s actually a giant banana. The story isn’t so much dream-like as much as it is suffering from a kind of delirious ADD. It’s as though Petersen either forgot or grew bored with whatever his characters were doing by the time he got to the end of one page, and decided to go in a completely different direction. I liked that. I liked that I had no idea what goofy path the comic was going to take each time I flipped the page. And Peteresen’s thick, marker lines give the comic a childlike appeal. I’m especially grateful, however, for the phrase “Banana that dirt back in Wong.”
6. The Mysterious Underground Men by Osamu Tezuka (Picturebox). Oh man, this book. Tezuka opens this thing (one of his earliest comics) up with a literal bang and just barrels on through as the hero drills down to the center of the planet and runs afoul of a nefarious race of intelligent, human-sized termites. There’s also an effective and highly melodramatic subplot involving an intelligent bunny-boy that in the best Pinocchio fashion desperately wants to become human. Best of all is the great essay by manga historian and editor Ryan Holmberg on the book’s significance and Tezuka’s initial influences. Any Tezuka or manga fan worth their salt needs to snatch this up.