Er, better late than never... right?

*Well, it's new comics day (pretty late on new comics day too; thanks work and Blogger - you two make a great team!) and new solicitations are coming out all over. That can only mean it's time for one thing:


All of the below books were purchased from the USS Catastrophe shop, a nice online source for some good books.


Already we’re going to have to challenge the ‘mini’ part of the term. “Ironclad” is a quite a lavish production, with a thick pastel paper cover stock enveloping the entire book, its colors a gleaming gray and orange. You must open a flap at the back of book to access the contents, a 26-page letter-sized historical comic, dramatizing the famous Civil War clash between the Merrimac and the Monitor, rival ships that nonetheless led the charge of progress together, eventually transforming the wooden Navy of the US into a fleet of metal. The story, written and drawn by Dan Zettwoch, is presented in an interesting format, with typical single comics pages providing exposition and incidental action, but the bulk of the ship-to-ship warfare presented in two four-page foldouts, one for each of the book’s two acts. It’s an ambitious structure for about 21 pages worth of comics, with the remainder of the book’s space devoted to historical notes, bonus technical specs on both featured vessels, and other assorted drawings and maps.

Zettwoch is a veteran contributor to a wide variety of anthology titles. I actually own two of them, the generally excellent “SPX 2001” and the middling “Hi-Horse Omnibus”, and I’ll soon own a third, “Kramer’s Ergot 5” (oh do hurry media mail!); it’s always a pleasure to read a good comic by an unfamiliar talent and then discover (on Zettwoch’s website in this case) that you’ve seen this artist in several places before, and you smile as you pour over those older volumes. And “Ironclad” is certainly a good comic, exactly the thing to send you out looking for more of the artist’s work. I recall hearing about it in “The Comics Journal” at some point, which is maybe why it stuck in my head; historical drama is kind of a unique topic for a standard-length minicomic, unless I’ve been missing out on some corner of that particular comics world. But Zettwoch makes a good case for further short-form explorations of US history; noted figures can be given only brief roles, yes, and some compression of events is inevitable, but this is a fast-paced, authentic-feeling work, a satisfying story.

Zettwoch’s art is tight and sharp, his characters rendered in a stylized form, all dots and tiny circles for eyes, and long arms flailing around with cartoon sweat drops pouring off of rounded brows. There’s even ‘comics-cussing’, with @$&% standing in for profanity, although there are some moments of gut-spilling violence; the creative symbols are there for that added comics iconography feel, rather than a squeamishness regarding content. But those mighty ships are drawn with love, huge splashes of maritime behemoths crashing into puny wooden bathtub boats, with often tiny panels surrounding the action and detailing the inner workings of each crew, the stories sometimes running right along side each other. Even if the story serves mostly as a quick visual primer on a complex historical event (Zettwoch is candid regarding the simplifications and contrivances he’s made for the sake of good comics in the back of the book), it’s an attractive visual primer, a fine-reading comic.

For only two dollars, the book is really a steal. Both production-wise and in terms of visual appeal it’s a nice example of the high level of quality attainable by ambitious artists working in minicomics.

Sermons #1 and The Feathered Ogre: Designs and Sketches

These two books, however, are a bit more in line with the typical picture of ‘minicomics’ that I suspect many readers already hold. Cannily labeled KH Books #1 and 2 respectively, with the Drawn and Quarterly release “Or Else #1” holding down the #3 spot, these books are simple small-sized Xeroxed pamphlets on white paper, both by Kevin Huizenga, one of my favorite new(ish) artists.

The first, “Sermons”, is essentially a sketchbook release, filled with drawings Huizenga made in his handy spiral-bound notepad during church services from 2001-2002. Many of the sketches have a religious theme with a few interesting diagrams illustrating Huizenga’s constant musings on faith. The simple symbols and arrows and descriptive words reminded a bit of Steve Ditko’s one-page comics ‘essays’, though obviously Huizenga’s sketches are simpler and more hastily crafted. Still, there’s evidence of a natural grasp of eye-flow and page space, making many of these particular entries compulsively readable. There are many more sheets of faces and scenery and a few text-only bits. It’s 48-pages for one dollar, and I think fans of the artist will find it interesting.

Somewhat less intriguing, surprisingly, is “The Feathered Ogre: Designs and Sketches”, a 14-page collection of design sketches for the title beastie, as seen in his “Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 1” story. It’s pretty much exactly what the title says it is, with even a few bits of reference material tossed in, but I guess I was expecting a little more on the influences behind the story. But no, it’s just designs and sketches. Having cost me a whopping fifty cents I can’t complain too much, though; if you’re picking up a bunch of books from the Catastrophe shop this might make a neat little addition for big fans of that D&Q story.

USS Catastrophe Election 2004 Treasury

This, however, is quite a neat little book, 36-pages with a blue cardboard cover, featuring a fold-out center and the inside back cover sporting a Mad-style fold-in, masterminded by Huizenga, Zettwoch, and Ted May. It’s the result of a Kerry Campaign fundraiser (or, “an original art bake sale” as Zettwoch put it on his site); the trio offered drawings of pretty much anything in exchange for $25 (later $35) which would then be donated to Kerry. The project eventually raised $1600, and some of the best drawings are presented here, with their accompanying descriptions (provided by the people who ordered them) listed on the inside front cover. It’s a fun, attractive little book, and many of the drawings are quite elaborate and detailed; no hustled sketching here. Huizenga displays an amusing tendency to work his signature Glen Ganges character into virtually any description, ranging from ‘time’ to ‘irate message board guy’. There’s recreations of famous superhero comics covers, kittens from outer space, old-time hockey, and more than a little recognition of Huizenga’s recently expanded profile due to that Drawn and Quarterly piece, which is referenced by requesters more than once, though Zettwoch also gets a specific “Ironclad” request. At three dollars it never feels overpriced; it’s an impressive collection of fun illustration by some talented fellows.