Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ci Vediamo

By Hazel Newlevant

The Xeric Awards were monetary prizes given out to comic book self-publishers from 1992 - 2012. Created by Peter Laird (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), they probably gave out close to, if not over, a million dollars to hundreds of comics creators. They stopped last year, apparently due to the popularity of webcomics and creators using Kickstarter as a means to raise money to fund self-publishing. The Xeric Foundation now only gives out grants to charitable and non-profit organizations (and not comic book related ones as far as I could tell).

While I understand the appeal of Kickstarter, I was saddened by this news. I think the value of the Xeric awards was that they were providing funds for completed works (many Kickstarters are for uncompleted work), and for supporting books that might not find an audience immediately, even with the internet and Kickstarter. One thing Kickstarter has revealed is how few people artists actually need to support their projects. This is both cool in that their projects get funded, and weirdly frustrating in that it was so difficult to find an audience before. My friend has a Kickstarter that's just about to be fully funded (after about two weeks), and it has well under 100 backers. It's not for a huge amount, but it's probably the most she's ever made in one go on one of her own projects.

Newlevant was one of the final people to receive a Xeric award, and I'm both glad she got it, and glad I received a copy, as this is a beautiful book. You can't tell from the scan above, but the cover features cut outs of the two characters, with the actual black ink art being printed on a blue card stock "cover" underneath. The interior pages alternate a more "normal" paper with a semi transparent one. The transparent paper allows for shadows and silhouettes of the characters to move and disappear from page to page. It's a really cool effect!

To quote from the letter Newlevant included with this comic '"Ci Vediamo" is an Italian parting phrase meaning "We'll see each other."' The story is about two people who encounter each other on the street. The actual encounter is left to the reader's imagination, as it's represented through various plants (though I just had a total "oh shit" moment, as I flicked back through the pages and suddenly was able to see an image I hadn't realized was there), but it seems as though it doesn't end well for both of them.

As far as stories go this one isn't really that great, but it's the format in which it's told that really grabs your attention. I love the way the semi-transparent pages can change how an entire page looks once they overlap, and that "oh shit" page I mentioned above really impressed me. I went back and forth multiple times looking at pages before and after the additions of the silhouettes and shadows. It all looks really cool, and you couldn't get the same effect digitally.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


By Eroyn Franklin

I've read a number of Franklin's comics over the past couple of months, and all of them seem to succeed in making me feel uncomfortable in one way or another. This one is hard to describe as it doesn't seem to be "about" anything, and not that much actually happens. Franklin's site says "The deluge is a struggle with burdens that appear overwhelming but by comparison to the problems of others they are surmountable, even welcomed.", but to be honest I totally didn't get that out of the comic.

The comic features the same two panel layout on each page, and opens with a person seemingly frustrated with an itch in their ear. Over several pages they begin picking at it, and what starts as almost nothing becomes a...well, a "deluge" or ear stuff. It's kind of gross, helped in no small part by the fact that all of the ear stuff is printed with a sickly green colour.

The comic continues with vomiting and a hobo (why is this word not recognized by my spellchecker?) and gets even stranger, but no explanation of what's going on or why is ever given. However, I guess I have to commend Franklin for creating a comic that has almost succeeded in making me taste earwax, and even writing that sentence is close to making me gag.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Slam-A-Rama #s 2 & 5

By Dave Howlett

So I read an issue of this comic last year some time, and didn't even think about about reviewing it on this site. Why? I really don't know, maybe because it seems so professional in its content and presentation. It's printed by an actual printing business, it's in full colour, and it's incredibly solid in it's construction. It's obvious to me that Howlett wrote the entire thing in advance, and had a script and knew when everything would happen. Even if the final version doesn't match the script exactly, he had a plan and put in the time to complete it. So why am I actually reviewing it this time? Well, it is a minicomic size wise, and I know that there were only a few hundred copies printed, plus I liked it!

I only had issues two and five, but after finishing reading them I went to Howlett's site and was happily surprised to discover that the entire comic is there, so I read all of the other issues. Even if I read them out of order, I'm glad I was able to read the entire story.

This comic is a love story to professional wrestling in the 1980s, complete with bad action movies and Saturday morning cartoons staring wrestlers. This is something that I was never exposed to at the time (in no small part because I didn't live in North America during that time), and it's not something I ever really got into even after I came to North America, though I remember I went from thinking "Wrestling is stupid" to saying "Wrestling is awesome!" after watching Kaiju Big Battel.

Slam-A-Rama is set at the 1988 Slam-A-Rama wrestling event, and the story weaves amongst all of the different wrestlers and performers. In many ways it's not a traditional narrative telling one story about one person, but rather it tells the events of one night and the many stories that happen. In effect, it is reproducing the style of an actual wrestling event. The narrative veers between many different characters, most of whom never meet, while supporting characters will show up in multiple stories.

One neat thing is that the characters are shown in both their in-the-ring and real life personas. They plan out matches before they happen, get into arguments over who the winner is going to be, and deal with real life problems that may or may not have any real effect on what happens to their wrestling career. Even if a character only shows up in one issue, Howlett still generally manages to give them motivations and problems, and have them run through some sort of challenge and reach a resolution.

The illustration style effectively tells the story, and while the style doesn't blow me away I think the art and colouring are generally of a high quality. I have some problems with the lettering from time to time, but that's a fairly minor thing in an otherwise well put together package.

It seems obvious to me that Howlett (who manages the Strange Adventures comic shop in Halifax) has studied the way comics are made, and has really tried to put everything he's learned into this comic. It succeeds in telling a story, makes you care about the characters and wonder who will win the fights, and even manages to have some pretty effective action scenes. I'm not a big wrestling fan, but I am apparently a fan of comics about wrestling.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pants: an anthology

By Ben Juers, Jone Fine, Emily Steele Sauter, and Nomi Kane

This is a comic book anthology about pants. Not pants in the UK sense, but trousers. Kind of a weird idea for an anthology, but at the same time it's broad enough that you can have lots of different types of stories that still fulfill the mandated theme.

The stories contained in this zine include one were a cat turns into a tree after putting on pants, a historical piece about early adopters of bloomers, the existence of nantucket reds and horrible yuppie society, and a giant, talking spider who thinks they're not getting jobs because they're naked.

I think I liked the spider story the best, just because it was so bizarre. How can a spider even wear pants?! (The answer is revealed to readers!) I would have ranked the story about bloomers higher, but the historical section has an (autobiographical?) framing device about some anxious artist and his partner who he's infatuated with that I found really boring.

Possibly the neatest thing about this comic is that the back cover has a glued on "pocket" that includes a smaller comic called "Shorts". I thought this was a really cute idea, and the only thing that sort of mars it is that only have the comics in it are actually about shorts. But while I actually liked the non-shorts based comics here better (who can't love the idea of a "denim hoodie jumpsuit"?), I still love the idea as a whole.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Super Aids

By Hyena

So a while ago I got an email from someone asking if I'd like a copy of their zine. This wasn't that unusual, what was unusual was that the persona asked me to "write a few bad comments" about their zine, because they "love bad reviews".

That was kind of weird, but after getting their zine I can understand why they expect me to write bad things about this. So let's get that out of the way first: I did not enjoy this zine.

Why? Because, as the cover says, it's full of offensive material like sexism, xenophobia, necrophilia, and lots of other stuff. It's satirical of course, and just because there are characters who are cannibals doesn't mean it's promoting that sort of thing.

I actually just read a pretty long piece about a Japanese animated movie (and the comic it was based on)  that featured (amongst other stuff) a dwarf psychic's violent sexual relationship with a twelve year old school girl. That story is apparently a reaction to the idea that tradition and the past were better and more moral than our current society, and I can definitely see that being true. At the same time I'm already aware of the evil that humans can produce, and I don't really see any need to be reminded of that sort of thing (such as the reproduction of news stories in Super Aids of people doing horrible things). To reuse a Hayao Miyazaki quote from that aforementioned article “If the world were truly filled with such hate and destruction, if that were how history was made, then everyone would surely have been dead by the Edo period.”.

But just because all of that applies to a movie, doesn't mean it applies to this comic. However, while this comic is produced from a very different society and culture, you can see parallels in it's parody/rejection of traditions like family and religion. The author uses characters from The Simpsons acting extremely out of character, and the repeatedly desecrates religion just to offend people who believe in that stuff.

The author even goes so far as to repeatedly insult any of the readers who actually enjoy this comic by questioning their intelligence. So I'm sure there is an audience for this sort of thing (including some who will find it hilarious), it's just not me. The one paragraph Kraken rum review in the back was pretty good though.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Donate your zines to the Zine Pavilion at the ALA conference!

I'm one of the people helping with the Zine Pavilion at the American Library Association conference in Chicago from June 27th to July 2nd.

You should check out the Zine Pavilion Tumblr which has lots of photos from last year's pavilion. That's also where we'll be releasing the schedule of readings and other zine events happening during the conference.

If you are interested in donating some zines to the pavilion please send them to:
Sarah G. Wenzel (ALA Zines)
University of Chicago Library
JRL 363
1100 E 57th St
Chicago, IL

Suicide Cartoon Girls

By Ertito Montana

I kind of expected the worst from this zine based on the title and the cover. I mean, it was just going to be pictures of naked girls right? Well, not that I really have any problem with that, but there's always the concern (at least for me) that it'll be incredibly exploitative.

Surprisingly (to me at least), there's no actual nudity in this zine, though there are lots of pinups of girls in various states of undress (and how you feel about that is your own decision). Well, some of them are fully dressed, but there's also lots of fishnets, corsets, and tattoos (which is pretty much what you have to expect based on the title).

Montana has a pretty distinct style at work in their artwork, and many of the images feature stylized perspective and proportions. These definitely seem like purposeful decisions on the part of the artist, though for most of the art on display here I can't say the style appeals to me that much.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What a Whopper

It's interesting to think about your own biases and how the decisions you make don't really make sense. I don't remember the last time I ate at, or was even in, a major fast food chain location. Except Subway, which I've grudgingly eaten at while cycling somewhere or just when I forgot to bring lunch to work. Why? Because it's "healthy"? I have no excuse really, as it's the largest chain restaurant in the world, and while their wikipedia page is mostly controversy free I'm pretty sure that as a huge multi-million (billion?) dollar company, they're probably as bad as any other large capitalist corporation. (Though maybe that's my biases showing...)

This comic deals with some of those controversies that large companies frequently deal with (and which most people never hear of or care about). In this case it's slave-labour (or close to it) that's used to pick the vegetables that are served in these "restaurants". The comic communicates this information effectively, beginning with a (true) story about migrant workers trying to escape from the terrible conditions they're dealing with, and then tackling the way the corporations have dealt with these issues.

The issue at hand is how terrible the (frequently illegal) workers who pick these vegetables are paid. They work in appalling conditions, for money that hasn't increased in 25 years. In the case covered here they fought for a 1 cent increase per bucket of tomatoes they harvested. Bringing the total they earned to 51 cents per 32 pound bucket. How much do you think you could earn hauling those around all day? I'm guessing I could make pretty much fuck all.

While the comic eventually concentrates on the actions of the Burger King company to avoid paying any increase to workers (including fining companies who they worked with who agreed to pay their workers extra), other information is also conveyed to the reader. While the conditions the tomato pickers in this comic deal with are deplorable, I already knew that migrant workers dealt with those issues (and more!). But one small throw away piece of information completely blew my mind. 

While discussing a boycott of certain companies who refused to increase the amount workers earned the comic states that "Taco Bell was blocked from 22 college and high school campuses". Maybe nothing in that sentence seems weird to you, but to me? Oh my fuck! High schools have Taco Bells? What the fuck is wrong with society if high schools have fucking fast food restaurants (presumably with high school students working in them)? Underfunding education while lining corporate pockets. Great job everyone, pat yourself on the back.

So yeah, corporations are horrible, capitalism is awful, humans are frequently terrible, but this comic by Dan Archer was pretty good. Even if it made me upset and angry at least it talked about the good that many people and organizations are doing and provided places for people to find more information about the issues.

So in the spirit of that here's some information about Burger King labour controversies, and the Student/Farmworker Alliance who hope to "eliminate sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery in the fields". I wish them my best.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Alternative Press Spring Fair, North London, June 1st

I  was asked to post about this event on my blog. So here are the details!

Alternative Press Spring Fair
Saturday, June 1st, 11am-5pm
The Albert, 1 Albert Road, London

There's still time to apply for a table, but the deadline for applications is Friday 17th May at 9am (tomorrow!).

Dear Dear

My first time through this comic I wasn't really sure what was going on. The story cuts back and forth between multiple people disjointedly talking into a video camera and telling about an event that happened one night. Like many eye witnesses to events they misremember things, get real events completely wrong, combine real memories with dreams, and come at things from incredibly bizarre points of view.

After I finished reading through the comic I thought about it for a while and tried to figure out what had happened. When it hit me, I went back and checked some stuff and suddenly everything clicked. The seeming nonsense that one person said actually made sense once you were able to filter it back to reality.

I thought this was a really interesting way of telling a story, one that I've seen before (usually in film), but which can be used really effectively by some creators. My only wish is that this comic was much longer. I feel like we get, at most, half of what was going on here, and that if there were more interviews with more characters we could get a fuller sense of the events.

Of course it could be that the creator didn't want to create a more defined account of what happened, and that their goal was to make the reader think and wonder about all the elements of the story that we can never find out about.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

One Thousand Lies

This was a cute little story about a travelling itinerant who returns to LA to visit his former guardian, a bit shot lawyer. There's an immediate disconnect between the lives of these two people. One who is constantly dealing with huge piles of money, and the other who has all of their belongings strapped to their back.

The comic is about telling stories, and features the traveller telling increasingly ridiculous stories about some of the places they've visited on their travels. There's a city where the library is where you go for drug deals while intellectuals hang out in the playground providing answers for people, one where the railway tracks separate the mobile part of the city from the permanent part, and a city that was built to reflect the universe, but is now eerily empty.

The rapport between the two main characters is well represented, and you can tell a lot about the relationship between the characters just from their body language and the way they talk to each other. The dialogue and actions manage to reveal a lot about their interests and how they feel about both their own lives, and the lives of each other. That the friendship even exists despite the vast differences in lifestyles says a lot!

The stories are all fun, and even when they're being "creepy", it's still in a humourous way. The art works pretty well for the story it's telling, and Terry is good at making pages of "talking heads" look visually appealing as the characters banter back and forth. I also enjoyed the use of gray shading to give depth and shadow to the artwork.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Monsters & Girls: Amelia

So sometimes the problem with having piles of unread comics and zines around is that I'll pick up one like this, discover it's chapter five, read it and have almost no idea what was going on. There's are some nosferatu guys, and a girl has a nightmare, and what?

Except this time I discovered that I actually owned chapter's 1-4 as well! They were just in a totally different comic that didn't have the name on the cover. I'm kind of surprised I found it at all!

So does it make more sense now that I've been able to read the story from the beginning? Yes! Definitely! Chapter five picks up immediately after the previous one, and now I have some idea of who the characters are and what they're doing.

There are three magical artifacts, and one of them belonged to Amelia's mom. It seems like it killed her (the mom) somehow, and now Amelia is trying to get the other objects to "make things right", and to discover the secrets behind them.

Neither the art or the story really appealed to me that much. The style of the art makes all of the characters look weirdly unattractive, though I'm not sure if that is the artist's intention or not. The story is just kind of...generic I guess? Plus there's a sex scene that's just kind of gross (this is at least partially on purpose). I did enjoy the fact that one of the characters was a nosferatu instead of just a vampire. I thought that was pretty funny.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

By Anna Anthropy

This isn't a zine, hell, this isn't even a book about zines. It's a book about the concept of video games as zines. And there are some interesting ideas in here concerning the video game industry in it's current form, how diversification of the type of people who make games would probably improve the industry, and how it's easier than most people think to make video games.

Anthropy brings forward the idea of DIY games that are distributed for free online as an equivalent of zines. They can be made by only one person, made with no commercial intent, and made just because you want to make something. In fact Anthropy says you don't even have to show people the games you make, but that by creating games (even terrible ones) you get a better idea of how games are constructed, and also become more creative yourself (something I definitely think is good!).

I think there's lots of really interesting stuff still to be said about video games, and while reading this book a quote from a video game creator came back to me: "a video game is the most effective way I can express myself." I thought that was really fascinating and shows a side of video games that most people don't realize exists.

Of course, there are also lots of problems with this book. It really stretches to hit two hundred pages, is fairly repetitive in places, and there are a lot of games (and ideas) it just completely ignores. I'm not sure I could really recommend this book, but at the same time I'm not sure of other books that cover similar areas. Are there any?

Mostly though I just wish that I encountered more zines about video games. If you've made one get in touch! I'd love to read it.

(I'd also kind of love to get a zine on a 3.5 inch floppy disk, but I would have no way of actually reading it...)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Poems WIthout Words

By Mark Bilokur

Okay, so poetry (the written kind) isn't really something I get. I mean, I understand why people write it, but it's never really been something I've enjoyed that much. My eyes tend to glaze over while reading it, and I remember one time I was over a hundred pages into an epic poem by Aleksandr Pushkin (which one exactly I can no longer remember) when I realized that I had actually read it before. Over a hundred pages before I realized that. I'm amazing.

That's not to say I dislike poetry. There's some I enjoy, and I'm a pretty big fan of hip hop (which can be spoken word poetry with backing music), but overall it's not something I seek out.

Visual poetry is probably about the same for me. I can go "oh this looks cool", but at the same time I don't "get it". A lot of the art in this zine (people with hands for heads, burning skeletons, etc.) is pretty awesome, but I'm left with the feeling that there's something that I'm missing. Still, sometimes just looking at nice art is fine, and I enjoyed looking through this zine, even if I didn't really understand what the creator meant by the art.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

First, a story I call...

So last fall I was one of the organizers for the Halifax Zine Fair (hey look, you can already apply for a table for this year!). It was pretty fun making sure everything was ready in time, though a little stressful too. The most stressful part was when we asked one of the people tabling at the fair to leave.

This wasn't an easy decision to make. The other co-organizer had heard multiple complaints concerning the items this person was selling. We took a look at this zine, which was being given out for free, and several of us discussed the content and what we thought we should do concerning the creator.

Asking them not to have the work in question on display wasn't an option, as they only had a few things and I think they would have had nothing left if they removed what we'd heard complaints about. So we made the decision of asking them to leave the zine fair. Thankfully they left without any real fuss, and the rest of the zine fair went without any other incidents. You can read the creator's take of the day (including several complaints they received about their work) on their blog (

So this zine has sat in my review pile ever since with me wondering what I should do with it. Except for later issues of a zine I really didn't enjoy due to it's humour style I've reviewed every single zine or minicomic I've received for this site (or if I haven't they're in my review pile and I will get to them eventually). Should I review this one? Just write a post about it? Ignore it? Not quite as hard as asking someone to leave the zine fair, but still a question I thought about a lot.

Now firstly I think there's definitely an element of irony involved in asking someone to leave a zine fair based (in part) on a work that says "always read a book before forming an opinion of it" (which we did on the day of the zine fair). As for the content, I think some of the characters depicted within are definitely offensive, and claiming the work is satirical doesn't make that go away. Even excluding that the art, writing style, and design don't appeal to me, and the final few pages are, to me, gruesome and gross in a completely unnecessary way.

So did we make the right decision? Yeah, I think so. I'd prefer not to be the organizer of an event that contained material such as this. So I'll stand by what we did, while hoping that I don't have to deal with a situation like that again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


So I've been reading a bunch of HP Lovecraft's stories recently so that I can run a Call of Cthulhu campaign. I'd never read them before as I'd heard they were...filled with ideas, but also racist and weirdly written. And they definitely are weirdly written, though I've yet to run into any of the super racist stuff I'd kind of been led to believe existed in his stories (that's supposed to be HP Lovecraft, the comic is the Planetary/Authority crossover). There's just the kind of casual background racism I sort of expect from early 20th century fiction. Despite that I am generally enjoying them, and it's kind of cool to finally read these stories after so much time reading things influenced by them. Plus I'm super excited to be running a game based (somehow) on the mythos.

So then I picked up this short zine that uses a word that wouldn't seem out of place in a Lovecraft piece as a title, and found the contents kind of creepy. The zine features illustrations of the author and text describing how they are feeling mentally and emotionally. Now, I'm pretty much entirely making up any connection between the two works, but when the text talks about "the space between the warp and weft", and the "absence that gives other things their shape", I'm more or less convinced it's describing the indescribable and unnameable worlds and creatures that exist in Lovecraft's work. The accompanying artwork is kind of creepy and reminds me of the flickering of dimensions and loss of self that exist in Lovecraftian fiction. 

But like I said, I'm making all this up as I'm in the middle of reading The Dunwich Horror. But I guess I liked the zine, even if the last page made me shudder.