Let's review some stuff and say things:

A few books to keep an eye on:

Sam Hiti’s “End Times - Tiempos Finales”, volume 1 in a projected 9 volume series, according to Hiti’s website.  Xeric winner, apparently only available through Hiti’s site or at conventions, 128 pages, two colors, $10.  The preview images look interesting.  Folks at MOCCA liked it, folks at San Diego report growing buzz conditions.  I’ll have to look into this, and you should see if you want to as well.

"Flight Vol. 1", a 200+ page $20 anthology book coming soon from Image, has suddenly begun popping up all over the place.  It’s by a group of young cartoonists and animators; future volumes are already in the planning stages.  They’ve got a nice site, with two of the book’s stories posted and three more to come; both feature polished, colorful art and lightly humorous stories (one of them is by Derek Kirk Kim, who’s won both a Harvey and an Eisner this year).  Some of the tiny images of other stories suggest different tones, however; the project certainly looks tempting, and I’m glad Image is taking a shot on a big anthology series.

RabbitHead by Rebecca Dart

Let’s not sugarcoat this.  “RabbitHead” is a short read.  It’s wordless, 24 pages (some of which contain a ton of white space), and $4.95.  It’s worth the money. 

The book was originally produced as a minicomic, with a few hundred copies produced.  I first head of it when The Comics Journal ran a review of the minicomic, hyping it up quite nicely (and that’s one of the reasons why I read the Journal: exposure to new comics I’d have probably never heard of otherwise).  I soon learned that Alternative Comics planned to issue their own edition.  Alternative is in a bit of a financial bind at the moment, and they could use some purchases; RabbitHead is exactly the sort of book that should have a shot with a larger audience, and Alternative is just the sort of publisher to take the plunge on such an interesting project. 

On first flip, the book seems like a cute little gimmick.  The story begins with small panels proceeding side-by-side in the center of the otherwise blank pages, like postage stamps set up side-by-side.  An anthropomorphic rabbit girl clad in fantasy adventure garb sets a flower down by an empty grave, in a cemetery of cross-like powerlines.  She mounts her mighty steed (an exceedingly odd elephantish thing) and spits.  The spit divides into two droplets, and the comic itself then branches off into two further lines of comics, above and below the main action, which follows the results of both droplets striking the surface world.  Strange beasties grow.  Their own stories progress, and branch off too.  At the center of the book, seven sideways stories fill the pages, covering a wide range of adventures.  Then, the stories begin to fold upon themselves, until we are left with one strip again by the end, the conclusion of our rabbit heroine’s journey.

What elevates RabbitHead above mere diverting formal trickery is the excellent sense of a functioning world at the book’s core.  It’s not so much as new stories beginning with each branch, it’s like the blankness of the page is a curtain, slowly drawn back a few inches with each branching, then cruelly replaced at the story’s (stories’) conclusion.  Most of the stories follow wild animal monsters, more subtly humanized than the rabbit protagonist herself, as they go about their business, usually involving eating and being eaten.  The feel is similar to Mat Brinkman’s “Teratoid Heights”, like we’re being granted a glimpse into the weirdly familiar ecology of a fantasy world.  I also picked up traces of Jim Woodring’s wordless “Frank” material, especially in the more spiritual aspects of the action.  The creatures in Dart’s world are a bit more distinctly humanesque then Brinkman’s, a bit closer to Woodring’s primal cartoon symbols.  There’s some good humor, like a psychedelic plant inadvertently inspiring an evolution in a puppy monster, whose enlightenment is brought to a very sudden end.  Or the stick monster that spends the entirety of his storyline searching for his lost skull.  And then there’s the twin monsters, one small who retreats to a hole to calmly carve his own flesh for supper, the other large and ravenous for any outside nourishment.

And despite the humor, the book is also a lot grimmer than either Brinkman or Woodring’s work.  Our rabbit girl herself encounters the most human-like of all the creatures in the book.  Her story (the literal center of the book as well at the emotional center) is physically surrounded by tales of the wild kingdom, eating and hunting and dying.  But humans are capable of crueler acts, violence beyond that which is needed for survival.  We live in the natural world and mirror it.  We affect it.  And is it only our capacity for additional cruelties that separates us from it, in a philosophic sense?  That is the question I derived from this quick little book.  But it’s the sort of work you’ll want to keep, to revisit every so often.  Dart’s art is well suited to her task, crafting fine little compositions in her tiny panels, making every weird monster seem functioning and alive.  The cover image is gorgeous, suggesting the exotic and foreboding world inside.  I’ll be on the lookout for future visits.

Shorter Works by Ron Rege Jr.

I haven’t read “Skibber Bee-Bye”, Rege’s ‘big’ graphic novel.  He seems to be one of the more divisive artists around, and maybe that book is the source of the controversy.  From the work I’ve read of Rege’s, I’ve been quite satisfied.  He’s got a great sense of page structure, and I find his drawing style to be cute and appealing.  Simple, yes, but absolutely not sloppy.  It looks totally different then James Kochalka (UPDATE: who has just been interviewed by The Onion AV Club), but I felt the same sense of confidence coming from Rege, a certainty that his style will convey just what is needed.  Look closely at Rege’s trees, his buildings.  Nothing is wasted.

Boys” is a 24-page floppy from 2000, written by Joan Reidy, who attended Rege’s school in the grade below him, and the two later began a letter-writing correspondence.  The book is composed of one-page strips, all of them revolving around a female character’s interactions with boys.  They’re amusing, and unfailingly cute (even during the many explicit sex scenes), and Rege knows exactly how to pace the gags.

 A bit more variety can be found in “Yeast Hoist: Can Music Make You Cry?” a 64-page book from 2003, which Rege wrote mostly himself.  It’s the 11th installment of a whole series of projects Rege has been working on, and it collects a number of different short stories.  Here is where Rege’s talents at page design really shine, as he examines a photo he took on a trip to Italy, and imagines the rest of the countryside beyond the borders of the camera frame, but within the panel frame.  The stories mostly boil down to observation or interior meditation: all the better to emphasize Rege’s world of the page!  There’s also an odd sequence near the end where a friend of Rege’s describes his sleeping environments over several weeks, and Rege dutifully illustrates each scene.  The many resultant images of sleep (or lack thereof) do however fit in with the book’s preference for quiet time.