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Thrown to the Wolves

Minicomics Round-Up III
Reviewed by Milo George

ADVENTURES @ EBAY #1 by Judd Winnick and Greg Rucka & Jen Van Meter
12 pages, Full Color, microdigest sized

I shudder to think this is the first issue of a continuing series. Starring "The Famous eBay Apple Man," an anthomorphized apple corporate shill, [who has what I'm sure Winnick meant to be a mustache but actually looks like a serious nose hair beard] ADVENTURES @ EBAY #1 helps explain the Byzantine mystery that is bidding on eBay.

At first, I thought this had to be a joke, but the continual references to fanboys, collectors, and supercomix got me thinking otherwise, and the full page WIZARD advert on the back page convinced me that there really are comics fans out there who are so dense that they need a talking piece of fruit to walk them through using eBay: from going to the site to searching for a book to registering to bid to bidding [fittingly enough, that little apple bastard's bidding example is made with just minutes left in the auction to spare] to bidding to sending payment to the seller.

If that wasn't insultingly stupid enough, The Famous eBay Apple Man then tells the story of "The COLLECTIONEATER Versus THE POWER OF COMICS-O-RAMA!" to really convince us that eBay is the place to buy the crappy comics you need to complete your crappy comics collection. The CollectionEater is a manned giant robot with a bird's head and Dr. Octopus-looking tentacles who destroys brick and mortar comic stores and devours everything comic book collectors hold dear.

Evidently, The CollectionEater and its operator are supposed to be the bad guys -- go figure -- who get on a female comics fan's bad side after destroying her Pokemon-looking doll and eating some signed comics of hers. Using The Power of eBay's COMICS-O-RAMA -- apparently, by buying supercomics on eBay, one can actually gain that superduper's powers -- she plots her revenge. "Hilarity ensues," if one still finds retooled Looney Tunes jokes heeeeelarious. And the story ends with the woman defeating the CollectionEater guy by cyberstalking him until she discovers his morbid love of SUPER SQUAD comics, buys some SUPER SQUAD back issues on eBay, becomes "Glory Gal" of The Super Squad, lures the comics nerd out of his giant robot and kicks his ass.

Something tells me Rucka and Winnick won't be including this comic in their personal bibliographies. I don't know much about Jen Van Meter, but it's rather sad that a comic this short really needed an extra set of hands to be written.

GALAXION #11 by Tara Tallen
Helikon Comics
40 pages, B&W with color covers, comic book size, $2.75 US $3.75 Can.
Snail mail: 178 Jarvis Street #1108 Toronto Ontario M5B 2K7

I can't count the number of times I've been watching UCHYUSENKAN YAMATO [that's STAR BLAZERS to you, Yankee Bluejeans] and said to myself, "You know, this would make a fine English language comic book series, but only if the story was more like that dopey STAR TREK spin-off where the crew gets lost in hyperspace and can't find their way home than the YAMATO crew's desperate search for that dohicky that will resuscitate what's left of their Earth, post-apocalypse. The story would still have as much character development as story plot, but the art would be more influenced by Terry Moore/ Mark Oakley type cartoonists than any manga-ka in particular. I wouldn't read it regularly, but that would be a neat comic."

I can't say I'm a big fan of Merkin-made space science fiction epics, though I've read most of the recent ones. Tallan includes a "Story thus far" recap for readers new to the comic [like me], and I could follow the story just fine on the second reading, though I still don't get what the significance of the butterflies in the gymnasium is. The art is well done, quite clever in spots, and does little to distract the reader from the story. The book's overall package reminds me a lot of late 1980s to early 1990s CEREBUS, The template for most Direct Market-focused self-published comic books, especially fantasy/scifi ones. I'm sure GALAXION gets compared to A DISTANT SOIL, FINDER and WANDERING STAR a lot.

GREY NOISE #4 by Nathan Thrailkill
1 foldout page, B&W, minidigest sized $0.00
Snail mail: 412 Eighth Street, Ames IA 50010
GREY NOISEs #2 & #3 are 32 pages for $2.00 each, and the 58 page VIRTUAL VACUUM is available for $3.00

This issue of NOISE, titled "Us vs. Them, or Zen Bloopers" is clever. It's more of a premise than a story, about a battle as viewed by two scribes/historians observing it from the two sides' opposing castles. They record images of the brutality in vignettes that run alongside the roads from their castle to the central battlefield. Each vignette is dated [with Roman Numerals, no less] with a different year, probably as a commentary on how war and its brutality have been with us throughout time. I'm not sure if the vignettes are supposed to be funny or not -- one of them depicts a beheaded knight laying near a catapult that a knight from the other side is launching his head with, which made me giggle -- since the art is so rigidly drawn that it makes the violence appear more cartoony that it may be intended. The flattened perspective and think-lined blockiness gives the page a strong Middle Ages feel, though Thrailkill's rendering is still less than workmanlike, especially the attempts to render the stone buildings. The format he choose for the piece -- a long page that folds out to be 5" by 40" long -- works admirably, but I don't think the format, nor its hoary message, really stand out.

56 pages, B&W with color cover, comic book size $4.95
Snail mail: 801 Hunters Road, Huntersville, NC 28078

This is the greatest good girl jungle adventure comic Art Adams has never drawn; Budd Root has nearly every surface tic of the man's work down cold. This comic, like most pornographic films, has less of a story than an engine to move the viewer from one money shot to the next, though the "money" in PANGEAN SEA is strictly non-sexual; some snazzy full-page splash pages of giant monsters [various prehistoric behemoths like dinosaurs, giant apes, etc.] fighting each other and some rather creepy drawings of Meriem the Cavewoman [and her considerable cleavage and alarmingly present perineum] in action. This is one of those comics that makes me wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and strangle the person responsible for popularizing the conceit of using a [typically illegible] cursive font to denote a diary-like narration in hir crib.

ATTEMPTED NOT KNOWN #5 by Peter S. Conrad
12 pages, B&W, comic book size, $1.00
Snail mail: P.O. Box 64522 Sunnyvale CA 94088-4522

Leading off with a charmingly cretinous animesque cover -- dig that covergirl's cleavage -- KNOWN #5 just gets worse; "Breakfast Cereal Morning," a failed experiment of a piece that probably should have been shelved [or burned] to be revised when Conrad has either something more substantial to state in the piece than "Fruit Loops with milk is really good," or when he has the cartooning skills needed to express whatever else "Breakfast" is supposed to communicate, especially without using the worn-out crutches of cheap Freudianism [Example: panel of a woman's crotch. Caption: "There can't be a key without a lock, but there can be a lock without a key."].

Things improve somewhat with the next story, "It's Not Easy Being Pants," a witty piece about a man's marital infidelities as viewed form the point of view of a pair of his jeans. It's a slight premise, but, at two pages long, it's long enough for Conrad to explore the idea to good results, but not too long for it to buckle and collapse.

The rest of #5 is so stale it barely deserves mention; an inane "friend of a friend" one pager about Viagra failing an old man trying to seduce his cleaning lady, yet another "college roommate from Hell" story, and a few single page dream comics. The art occasionally rises to workmanlike in spots, and the choice of subject matter is pedestrian, but ATTEMPTED NOT KNOWN does improve with each new issue.

PRAVDA #1 by Khris Soden
28 pages, B&W with color cover, legal sized $2.50
Snail mail: 829 SE 15th Avenue, Portland OR 97214
PRAVDA NOTES, 24 random pages of his notes about the city of Pravda are available for $3.00 ppd

According to this book's "Words" page, PRAVDA took Khris Soden nearly two years to complete. Most of that time is on the page, so to speak. The pages are loaded with different textures, all meticulously laid down with clarity in mind; rare is a cluttered or confusing panel. Soden has a consistent sense of design, perspective and character. It's also clear he's a big Shannon Wheeler fan -- the story has a Too Much Coffee flavor to it, and Ralphie, the only normal-looking one of the lead characters, has the looks of a Wheeler creation -- but nobody is perfect.

The story opens with Lenny, a chatty goldfish in a fishbowl, falling from the sky. The bowl lands, unbroken, on the neck of a headless man who is sitting on a park bench in the fictional island city of Pravda. Having somehow gained control of this headless body, the fish then sets out to explore his new surroundings. He meets Ralphie -- an introvert who has only "met" his parents and his acquaintance Pea -- who is suitably impressed by Lenny's impossible feat and invites him to lunch. Ralphie fills Lenny in on life in Pravda. Meanwhile, the headless body's next door neighbor, Anonymous [who has the words "Your Face Here" for a face and wears no clothing] has gotten off work at a Cheese factory, taken the bus to the park bench where he left the headless body ["so he can get some fresh air"] that morning, only to discover the body gone. Anonymous then begins looking for the headless body. While he is searching, Lenny essentially invites himself over to Ralphie's house for the night. Ralphie, who has a couch Lenny can crash on, gets excited, tells Lenny to meet him at a designated spot and runs off to get food and stuff for the little party. Lenny heads to the nearest pet shop for some fish food. We then visit Pea in a short vignette that doesn't quite match up with the rest of the story in terms of pacing nor rendering, then return to Lenny's search for the pet food store. Lost, Lenny winds up being chased by a pack of burly thugs until Lenny bumps into Anonymous who scares them away with threats of calling their mothers. Anonymous and Lenny go home, leaving Ralphie alone at the rendezvous with a bag of party food, curtain.

What makes this comic unique are its details. PRAVDA is populated by a number of secondary characters who appear infrequently but continue on their own discernible story arc, like Anonymous' constipated coworker who buys some "special" fiber tablets from a pusher on the bus and promptly disappears from the narrative for fifteen pages to then return to play a major part in the Pea side story. The constipation pusher, the shotgun toting pharmacist, the crazy street person, even a few pedestrians who don't even have speaking parts, they all weave throughout the main Lenny/Ralphie/Anonymous narrative, giving the book a much richer sense of a city setting and atmosphere.

As we said earlier, the art is loaded with texture; fields of gradated pointillism, sure handed crosshatching, dry brush, and some screen tone give the streets of Pravda a sense of physical depth, and the necessary flavor the first issue of a series needs to establish its setting. The center page has the most impressive double page splash of any of the comics I've reviewed thus far: a massive, mindblowingly detailed cityscape that extends for miles, all the way to the city's shoreline. The pages feature a very Ware-ian device of superimposing single panel moments of a few of the city's inhabitants [Lenny & Ralphie, Anonymous, the shotgun drug store guy, the constipated pusherman, et al.] with directional arrows to their location, giving the reader a sense of where each of them are, relative to the others.

Soden has clearly put a lot of thought into creating the island of Pravda; in addition to a map of the island and some "Fun Facts" -- Actual Population: Last Estimate, 62.3 Million. Number of Automobiles: 739,422 registered -- about its populace on PRAVDA #1's inside back page, he also has apparently extensive notes about this project [according to the advert, PRAVDA NOTES includes city maps, unused story ideas, sketches, how much a pay phone call costs in the city, etc.] for sale. I'm quite interested to see where PRAVDA goes from here.

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