Minicomics R Here

*After you deal with LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Tales to Offend #1, 411 #1-2 (of an intended 3) (these comics had important things to say about Our World today!)

Doc Frankenstein #1, Hulk and Thing: Hard Knocks #4 (of 4), BPRD: The Dead #2 (of 5), Wild Girl #2 (of 6)

Marvel 65th Anniversary Special (and thoughts on why Namor is God)

Well. There they are.

*Wow! I have an awful lot of minicomics! I think I’ll divide them up by shared authors, whenever possible.

A Story About Collectin’!, Redbird Vol. 1 #1, VS. (Redbird 1.5) (three comics by Dan Zettwoch)

You might remember me reviewing Zettwoch’s “Ironclad”, a beautifully produced piece of historical warfare; Tom Spurgeon recently named it one of the “25 Minicomics You Can (and Should) Buy Right Now” in his column for “The Comics Journal”. I’d readily agree with that. I also think that (like me) you’ll enjoy “Ironclad” enough that you’ll want to check out the rest of Zettwoch’s available minicomics work (particularly considering that Zettwoch’s output is mainly devoted to minicomics and anthology entries like his fine piece in the lovely “Kramer’s Ergot 5”). His comics are joined by a love for page layouts in the style of elaborate charts and symmetrical displays, a fascination with historical and childhood ephemera, a country suburban setting, and thick, dark lines, loaded with crosshatching. His characters, with their tiny circle eyes and visible sweat drops sometimes seem to come from an older, newspaper strip inspiration, but with more wrinkles and zits and unflattering details. You can check his stuff out at his website, and buy all of these books at the USS Catastrophe store.

A Story About Collectin’!” was originally released in 2000, I have the second printing with a simple cardboard cover and a detailed logo atop it. The book is 42 pages long, split into four chapters (the table of contents is set up as a diagram of the main character‘s digestive tract, just to further highlight the compulsive nature of collecting), with a map of the story’s environment included. The plot concerns an elderly man who lives in an old drive-in. He fills the property with things that he collects, but it leaves him feeling strangely empty. Then one day he accidentally encounters a strange chest filled with curious metal parts. He devotes himself to building the device, which fuels his dreams and perhaps fills a void in his life. But the truth about the item is eventually encountered, which sours the innocent feel he gets from collecting. The plot here is pretty straightforward, with Zettwoch’s use of formal ingenuity restricted to in-panel highlights of additional detail. Sometimes, we only get illustration of additional detail, like the culture of the area through ‘North’ and ‘South’ symbols plastered on opposite sides of a single road. But sometimes such formal techniques inform the very themes of the work. As the protagonist describes his daily situation in Chapter One, for example, a large panel of him sitting in his car is covered with magnifying highlights, pointing out the religious icons in his vehicle, the sort of gum he’s chewing, and the relative state of his soul between Heaven and Hell. This sort of thing is not only amusing, it helps inform the main character’s reactions at the end of the story, as he becomes even more detached from the rest of the world than before through the construction of his machine. Much is made of the compulsive nature of collecting, but attention is also given to the ignorance of an object’s true history that often comes from an accumulation of bric-a-brac. In this way, compulsive collecting is a way to turn inward, to become lost in the self while pretending to become lost in objects. It’s a fine story, and I’d greatly recommend looking out for it.

Redbird Vol. 1” and “VS. (Redbird 1.5)” are installments of Zettwoch’s ongoing series of miscellaneous stories, both released in 2003. “Redbird Vol. 1” is a beautifully produced 36-page comic, with a deep red pastel paper (I think) cover and silk-screened art with illustrated transparent sheets underneath. Ooooh! It’s quite a deluxe presentation (as “Ironclad” was) for only $2. Three stories are included. “Still Life” is an interesting experiment. The story gets its own table of contents, with each of its 18 pages identified by an object sitting in (or near) a still-life display. That page’s object then appears at the center of that page, with four panels of the continuing plot surrounding it. The object in the center seems to set the tone for the page (a treasure chest on a page with an unexpected discovery, a Reader’s Digest on a page with a condensed story being told, etc). The only exception as also the only object not included in the still-life itself, which takes up the entirety of its page, and also causes the story to make a dramatic shift. The story, by the way, concerns a nervous commercial artist called in to chat with an uninterested group of school kids. The speech seems like it’s going to bomb, until he cleverly taps into everyone’s love of adventure and violence. It’s an amusing story, made all the more fascinating through innovative techniques which highlight the story’s emotional/thematic undercurrents. The other two stories are much shorter. “At Large!” is essentially an amusing 4-page anecdote about a record store clerk’s lunch being stolen, and “Steel, Glass, and Sweet Tea” is an 8-page recipe for sweet tea, coupled with family reminisce and visual comparison between the art of making Sweet Tea and the art of working on a car. Lots of symmetry in those page layouts! “VS. (Redbird 1.5)” is a comparatively lower-tech release, plain white folded paper with some great safety-cone orange spot coloring. It’s one story at 26-pages long, with a concluding fold-out. The story follows two slot cars as they make their way around a highly detailed, seemingly absurd track (though the fold-out reveals that the whole thing does appear to fit together), with their controllers yelling from the sidelines. A surprise ending highlights the secret loneliness of the long-distance slot car racer.

Zettwoch’s comics form a prime example of technical experimentation serving the themes and emotions of a story. His comics-as-objects also highlight the innovation and high-quality that can go into the production of minicomics. There often seems to be a perception among some readers that minicomics are at best elaborate beta tests for properly published comics and at worst the hopeless stapled-together scribblings of people who just aren’t good enough to get Real comics released. These three great little books stand in contrast: lovely little comics that pulse with handmade love and uniquely individual expression. You should look into them!


Of course, there are other uses for minicomics, like as a supplement to an ongoing series. Gary Spencer Millidge has been self-publishing his excellent (if intermittently released) “Strangehaven” for years now, with two trades out and individual issues now up to #16, with #17 due in February. “Strangehaven” is pretty difficult to describe; it’s a very English suspense book, set in an odd village filled with engaging and weird characters, with lots of secrets hidden. A stranger enters the town, finds it difficult to leave, and there are apparently some killings. It’s a great book, and I’d recommend looking into the “Strangehaven: Arcadia” and “Strangehaven: Brotherhood” trades, since the story get very reliant on what has gone before in the thus far uncollected issues.

I mention all of this because I like “Strangehaven” a lot and it’s extremely unlikely that anyone but hardcore “Strangehaven” fans will want to purchase this $9 32-page minicomic, devoted to Millidge’s abandoned pre-”Strangehaven” comics project, so I thought than any “Strangehaven“ readers who haven‘t heard of this book will want to know of it. The book is slightly smaller than average comic book size and the cover is the same paper as that within, but it’s very nicely printed with bits of color when necessary, and it’s limited to 100 copies only (I have #30). Devout Millidge fans will delight in this book, presenting the cover and 14 completed or half-completed art pages of the intended “Insomnia“ issue #1, each at as full a size as possible. There are nine pages of thumbnail sketches and notes and photo references, fleshing out the rest of the issue. Then there’s several short essays detailing the circumstances behind the book’s abortive life, the themes that were going to be explored, and how the approach differed from that of the later “Strangehaven”. There are some interesting similarities to be picked up by “Strangehaven” readers (like the main character’s appearance) while perusing this book, and it’s quite a comprehensive examination of an abandoned project, plus a great peek at Millidge’s creative process. Given the small press run of this book, interested fans with the money to spare might want to act now. The book can be purchased by following instructions in Millidge’s site. A pricey but comprehensive peek behind several unused scenes.


I picked this one up off of the tragically defunct Highwater Book’s still-operational online store. I’m unsure of how long it’ll all stay up, so check the whole place out for all the books and minis you want. This particular book is by Paper Rad co-conspirator Ben Jones. This is another one that popped up on Spurgeon’s list in the Journal, in which Spurgeon mentions that this book “challenges everything you ever thought made good comics.” Now I guarantee most readers unfamiliar with Jones’ work are going to take that as a gleaming red-light warning, and maybe they should. I managed to accumulate a bunch of Jones’ stories through various anthologies, and I never took much notice of him until I one day realized that I had generally enjoyed much of his work. I had become a fan almost without thinking of it. Jones has a very loose, very round and loopy line, very simple. Pages can become crowded with stuff, and individual panels can get honestly hard to read. But Jones has a great sense of humor, which usually wins the day in his shorter solo works. Paper Rad, of course, is tapped entirely into a found-art nostalgia-plus DIY trash aesthetic (as you can see from their fine site), and their contribution to “Kramer’s Ergot 5” was one of the more impressive, in my opinion, mixing absurd humor, seemingly disconnected happenings, and eye-searing color to curiously profound effect.

Horace” has quite a lot going for it, and smartly doesn’t hit at pure laughs. It’s a little similar to that “Kramer’s” story, although the plot is somewhat more straightforward. It’s 24 pages, paper covers, simple black and white with some color on the cover. Horace is a long-haired humanoid fellow who lives in an unspecific fantasy world with Alfe (a strange cross between an anteater and a teddy bear), Roba (a robot), and Spiralina (a baby that kind of looks like Alfe). One day, Horace gets a call from his friend Traz who lives in the future and wants Horace and Alfe’s band to send him a videotape of a performance (time travel is accomplished by tying objects to model rockets and firing them into a cloud). Traz also sparks a sudden maturity in baby Spiralina, who must now be taught the secrets of the world. This prompts a series of mostly hand-written text pages explaining that existence is divided into Spirit (the purity of life and love), Soul (the conduit from the Spirit to the System), and System (the living world of humans). These truths are made understandable to humans through the inventions of Spirituality (Spirit), Art (Soul), and Science (System). For our purposes, Alfe’s lecture on Art is most interesting (“People now think art is a noun. Anybody who tries to tell you anything about art, just don’t believe a word they say. If someone tells you history of art, don’t pay attention. Only pay attention to things you do or do not like. To see a huge cloud can tell you more than all the fake books on art could ever hope to do.”), since I’m certain that Jones’ presentation will scare a few readers away through its sheer crowded simplicity, and its wordiness.

There is a definite cohesion behind it all, however, a clear plan. There’s some good humor in the book, and some real emotion, as various characters make choices to change their lives as the story progresses. The book, taken as a whole, has a little of the world-building spirit of a “Teratoid Heights”, with its semi-realistic grounding and overt fantasy elements. By the end of the book, it seems that Jones’ art is the only style that can possible illustrate this place, that everything is foreign and not always attractive but certainly in its rightful place. It’s honestly difficult to explain the appeal of this book beyond that; it’s a perfectly self-contained, self-sustaining little world. It’ll be a challenging engagement for those inclined toward a certain style of craft; it was challenging enough for me, a fan of Jones’ shorter works. But its an admirable work, loaded with genuine feeling and a consistent vision.

*Ok. I STILL HAVE MORE. But that can wait for another day later this week.