Retrofit Comics published a magazine-sized comic book presenting 34 pages of a Box Brown story called “Beach Girls,” and 10 pages of a James Kochalka short called “Dweeb.” The book gives off that retro feel of underground comics from the 80′s through 90′s, with that newspaper-feel page and large-sized panels and print. It’s also a solid introduction to two of the best independant comic book authors of today and a pair of great stories. So obviously, it’s a no-brainer how I feel about this comic book.
Box Brown‘s “Beach Girls,” follows a girl named Pheobe and her summer spent with two of her best friends. While she continuously feels she doesn’t belong near her two attractive friends, she tries enjoying her summer by pursuing what her two friends seemingly don’t want to. On that path to total summer freedom, she meets a local surfer named Hank who also feels inadequate for different means — he’s a surfer who does the same cut and paste routine every day and is tired of summers spent with privileged blondes who trash up the beach and buy worthless shell necklaces.
Typically, what would happen next is a cliche love story where Pheobe and Hank fall in love together for a summer and things end up bittersweet as they part ways. Thanks to Box Brown‘s terrific storytelling, this doesn’t happen. What happens is the two learn life lessons from each other. The two meet a certain midpoint and understanding, a mutual bond in compliance of how things are for the summer and how they changed each other’s summer experiences. It’s a truly interesting tale without any predictable paths taken, terrifically told by Box Brown and executed with a smart style.
Then James Kochalka pitches in his 10-paged short called “Dweeb,” revolving around a pair of mushrooms who stumble upon a passed-out girl. It’s cute, like most of Kochalka‘s work, and it’s effective. Thoughtful, yet completely simple.
“Dweeb,” is pretty much the sweet, sweet icing to that cake Box Brown created. James Kochalka and Box Brown use similar bold black lines for smooth inking of their characters and pace themselves in similar ways, so there’s no miss-match here. “Dweeb,” never felt like it was tacked on and “Beach Girls,” doesn’t feel any less fitting in this comic pairing. A great comic book featuring two superb illustrators from this generation of independent artists, I highly recommend grabbing “Beach Girls,” from Retrofit Comics.
Ghosts and Ruins is a coffee table book created by Ben Catmull, author of Fantagraphics’ 2006 Monster Parade. The book is an illustrated guide to some of the most horrific haunted houses ever created in Catmull’s mind, giving the reader a fictional backstory and setup for every house and ruin shown. While a bit of story here is humorous, most of the stories presented for each haunted area is crafted after older children’s tales and horror stories for younger generations.
Take this except for example:
A chorus of frogs surrounds the house where young Shelley was drowned headfirst in the bathtub by her drunken stepfather. Say her name 13 times while looking in the pond and she will drown you in your sleep. Say her name the wrong number of times while looking in the pond, and she will leave hair in your breakfast dishes. Say her name 13 times while not looking in the pond, and she will watch you when you clip your toenails. Mispronounce her name 13 times while looking anywhere near the pond, and she will kick you somewhere delicate at the stroke of midnight.
This book actually reminds me a lot of the horror collections I’ve read growing up, with dark pencil-and ink drawings and black and white portraits of haunted houses and creepy characters. The book is very visual, but keep in mind this is a coffee table item. It’s definitely on the short side and the main focus here is the art.
The visuals are extremely well done though and that’s what will make anyone want to grab this book. It’s terrific. Ben Catmull has made dizzying and horrific houses and landscapes that are an amazing feat in art. The shading and lines are reminiscent of gothic style art, while everything does not cease to horrify. The illustrations are incredible and scary and accompany each story very well.
Catmull did an excellent job producing such a great piece of work. Ghosts and Ruins is an intense showcase of horror and beautiful artwork, appreciated by anyone who even slightly enjoys scariness and dark imagery. Definitely a grand ode to old-school horror books.
The End of the Fucking World was originally a 16 part minicomic series created by Charles Forsman, owner of the small press company known as Oily Comics. The minis were sold at $1 a pop and quickly rose to the top of many lists in 2012, creating huge buzz over blogs as one of the best comics of the year, according to The Comics Journal and Comic Book Resources. Fantagraphics did a great deed for collecting these minis into one softcover book for all who couldn’t find a physical copy.
This year, the series is nominated for an Ignatz award in the “Outstanding Minicomic,” category, specifically for it’s 16th issue. I’m a bit late to the scene with this breathtaking title from Chuck Forsman, but damn do I feel like The End of the Fucking World will be talked about for an extensive amount of time. Forsman has illustrated a seriously dark comic in which two angst-filled teenagers are doing terrible things. If you want a glipse of how dark this comic is, just take a look at that bold statement that is the title of the book and stare at the intense tint of red on the cover. This kind of story is a void of comic book I don’t see often.
TEotFW revolves around two teens, named James and Alyssa, going on a road trip away from their parents and venturing into an awful journey of nothingness. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, with James and Alyssa alternating points of view between each part of the story. We’ll get a look at James’ view on Alyssa and his personal upbringing, while Alyssa will show readers how much she blindingly falls for James.
Through each chapter, we find James giving off more and more confirmation that he’s a young sociopath who is aiding in ruining Alyssa’s young life. His chapter starts off detailing his first affair with murdering animals at the age of 13, punching his father out and stealing his car at 17, and within a few more chapters, venturing further into sociopathic nature, revealing his troubling thoughts and murderous urges he tries restraining.
Alyssa’s views of the world are about the same as James, except more angst filled and less of an evident disorder. It could be Alyssa’s combination of young love with James, as well as James’ influence on her to accept doing horrible things in her life. She’s masked with fear throughout the book, while James is comfortable, knowledgable there’s something wrong with his way of thinking, yet never comprehending what exactly he is yearning to feel for.
All the adults featured in the book seem to represent an aggressive force of authority for the kids to run from and attempt to exploit. They break into a professor’s house who is on vacation and live together for a bit, experiencing what their lives could be if they could sustain a place with each other. The plot gathers momentum as the professor comes home early and James slits the man’s throat, showing Alyssa proof of him being a Satanist and a terrible person — more terrible than James may think he is, which is reason it was justifiable to actually murder in both of the kids’ eyes.
It is then that the story becomes deeper than what’s revealed on the angsty teenage surface. It’s a story that explores psychopathy. It explores teenage rebellion against authority and a need for love and understanding. The dark, simplistic style of drawing from Charles Forsman is that of Charles Schulz, injected with a syringe of inpurity. The creepy illustrations and the quickly escalated momentum of problems in The End Of The Fucking World is absolutely insane. It’s gritty and clearly conveyed as crazy. The discomforting, disturbing story is a unique comic book nothing short of fantastic.
Heck was originally serialized in the hefty sized Double Barrel — a digital comic released by Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon for a mere $0.99 from Top Shelf Comix. Evolved from Zander‘s contributions of the digicomic, Heck follows a man named Hector “Heck” Hammarskjöld and his adventures into Hell (or Heck, to fit the pun).
In Heck, Hector Hammarskjöld has inherited his father’s mansion and started a business in which he travels into Hell to deliver messages to the dead from the living. The mansion literally bears a gateway into Hell that Heck (Hector) regularly ventures into. He has a friend mummy named Elliot who aids him in adventures, in addition to being equipped with some heavy weaponry and heroic fearlessness.
Think Bone mixed with Dante’s Inferno here. Hector goes through limbo, fights a minotaur, and battles both literal and figurative demons. There’s an extremely imaginative, yet simple story in place with Heck, with the main theme revolving around Hector’s friendship with Elliot, and some other themes playing on morality. Ultimately, this is an adventurous, gripping Dante’s Inferno for kids to comprehend and adults to enjoy.
Hector is in Hell solely to deliver a letter from a woman named Amy to her deceased husband. He gives her a spellbound ring for them to communicate back and forth from the afterlife to the living and Amy is then told to look through past diary entries and think of past memories in order to speak with Hector. Thoughts and diaries of her past are processed as Hector’s words, whether she thinks it’s him or not. It’s an odd, but truly imaginative detail for a tale like Heck‘s that I thoroughly was impressed with while reading from page to page.
The story runs by very quickly, even at 285-collected pages, but it’s still a thrill to read. All characters in the story seem so established off the bat, to the point where I could actually see each personality having a standalone comic of their own. The wit in Heck is there, still having imagination without being overbearing with complicated detailing and rules. It’s a great blend of adventure, comedy, morality, and Hell. The black and white cartoony style will appeal to teens, but the post-read questions posed will definitely prompt some adult notions.
Jeffrey Brown has been one of the illustrators I’ve grown to love since reading his graphic novel debut, Clumsy. He’s written numerous bittersweet autobiographical comics about his personal life that involve love, girls, deadpan humor, simplistic style, and thoughtfulness in a very expressive manner. And since his debut in 2002, he’s ventured down some other creative paths, creating stories revolving around a superhero named Bighead, writing about a team of shape-shifting robots with the Incredible Change-Bots, written a couple of books about cats, co-wrote a feature film called Save the Date in 2012, and he also created some successful mainstream books about Darth Vader being a father titled Star Wars: Darth Vader & Son and Star Wars: Vader’s Little Princess.
With those last couple of bits, you would imagine Jeffrey Brown is in a pretty great state of mind right now. He’s got a significant other, a son, recognition inside the comics realm, and thanks to the Vader series, recognition outside the comics community as well. That’s great, but it also changes the style of what most find his autobiographies to be. With Clumsy and Unlikely, we see Brown sometimes fail miserably, connecting emotionally with him and relating to his stories of love and triumph. With A Matter of Life, we see that reflection of happiness through his autobiographical documentation of three generations — he depicts his father’s life, his own life, and his son Oscar’s life, as well as Brown‘s own views on faith.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it is very different than the Brown most are used to.
The story beings with a question of faith, with Brown exclaiming: “I believed in God. At least, I think I did. At some point I realized I didn’t believe. And I hadn’t in a long time. If ever. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in something bigger than myself.” Those words are spread across six black pages, with the sixth page ending with a partial close-up of the sun’s surface. The idea here is held throughout A Matter of Life, linking Brown‘s personal faith with, well, a matter of life itself. The book immediately shows a scene where Brown is carrying his son Oscar on his shoulders, who curiously stares at the sun and tells his father that it reminds him of a bug.
Instantly, the thought of how vast the universe is to Jeffrey Brown and how small it may look to his son Oscar kind of hit me. It’s a great comparison, detailing the curiosity and unawareness a child has of the universe, while Oscar’s dad is writing a book on the mysteries of faith and fatherhood.
In terms of past autobiographies by Brown, this is probably as real as it gets. It’s raw and personal, with no embarrassing details being put out there like previous efforts, but rather hard truths about being a father, whether it be depicted through Jeffrey Brown himself, or his own dad. For that reason alone, it’s harder to relate to Brown with this comic over previous books.
But that’s also not saying A Matter of Life isn’t a damn fine book, because it definitely is. The bits of memories Brown illustrates of his childhood growing up with a minister father is relatable, as the more you read about Brown’s youth, the more you see him losing faith in God. That personal struggle is a crisis for Jeffrey‘s dad at the time, though further along the book, the blood relation between the two is still evident, as he’s compared to his dad numerous times and shares similar traits his father has.
There’s several bits where Oscar shows his innocence throughout A Matter of Life, as well. We see Jeffrey and his partner Jennifer cope with Oscar’s obsession with the Smurfs. We see Oscar ask his mother if dad ever hit her, to which his father wonders if his son will ever mention the conversation in in school. We also see Jeffrey telling his son about the same faith he grew up and lost, and leaving the choice entirely up to Oscar to believe in something or not.
And that really sums up A Matter of Life overall — a tremendously kind graphic novel about fathers and faith. Jeffrey Brown may have written his most personal account to date, and though some may not find the fatherhood aspects relatable, it doesn’t disregard the solid warmheartedness factor of the book. It’s touching and simple, yet somewhat complicated with its easy ideas of questioning faith and analyzing fatherhood. It’s sweet. Very sweet.
Kelly Froh sent me some mail. Inside of the envelope that was in my mailbox were seven mini-comics and zines for me to read. From what I’ve read, she seems to be a charming artist who writes autobiographical comics with a big sense of humor. Some of her comics come packed with awkward, while others seem to be bundled in harsh truths, but they all very much reak of personality. I thoroughly enjoyed her Weekend Casserole series, as well as her Tales from the Amazon series, in which she tells fascinating personal bits of her time working for Amazon.com. Check out her zines on her Etsy or check her official blog here.
Here’s what I thought about a couple of her zines:
Weeknight Casserole #1 Featuring some great illustration work, this is a collection of comics and drawings by Kelly Froh. It’s very charming, and if you were to check anything out by Froh, it’d be this series (she’s got a Weeknight Casserole #1, of course, but I can’t seem to find the link to buy it anywhere so I’m assuming it’s sold out). She’s got some funny stuff in this anthology, definitely. Froh captures the creepiness and the awkward out of others she illustrates and chooses to gossip to you about. It’s great stuff!
Samson: Milwaukee’s Biggest Celebrity This is the history of a gorilla named Samson who lived in the Milwaukee County zoo. Interesting and heavy on the informative side, no beating around the bush and concise with its delivery, I heavily enjoyed this zine.
Two Days Away From Staring At Birds From A Park Bench This mini-comic was about Kelly Froh losing her job. It feels like a lifetime of struggle being unemployed, though she was jobless for only 7 weeks, Kelly Froh guides you through a rough patch in her previous years.