Splitting headache.

*The other day I was at a truck stop. I purchased a pickled sausage. I was unaware that the sausage, as it slept in its plastic wrap, was soaking in a thin film of brine. I was momentarily panicked by the slippery texture of the treat once I got it free. But you what won’t scare you, no matter how much of it you get on your hands?


Zap Comix #15 (new[ish] issue from the long-lived comics anthology)

The Punisher: The Cell, The Punisher MAX #21, Friday the 13th Special #1, Astonishing X-Men #10

Firestorm #14, Desolation Jones #1 (the former is a sneak preview of the upcoming first issue from new writer Stuart Moore, the latter is about what you'd expect from Warren Ellis)


Adam Strange #8 (of 8) (featuring a short dramatic presentation)

And by the way, a pickled sausage is just a raw hotdog, only sour and moist.

*Further Consideration of Punishment Dept: It seems I’m not the only one curious as to whether or not Garth Ennis’ run on “The Punisher MAX” is finally drawing to a close. I guess being the last one in the room does suggest the oncoming of emptiness; turn out the lights on Marvel MAX once you’re done, folks.

Which brings me back to issue #200 of “The Comics Journal”, which I talked about a little on Saturday. Contained in the their big section of recommended books (a great, wide-reaching list), there’s an entry for Ennis and John McRae’s “Troubled Souls” by David Rust. Rust hails this 1990 book, collecting material serialized in the well-respected British comics anthology “Crisis”, as a real overlooked classic, a suspense piece about a reluctant IRA bomber and a saddened assassin trailing one another through then-contemporary Ireland, their struggle passing by many characters and becoming representative of the force of history, that which has maybe damned a generation of youth. It was Ennis’ first ever published comics work and Rust insists that it’s “perhaps sad to say, still one of his best.” Not entirely about “Troubled Souls”, the piece also touches on how Ennis seems to have wasted so much of his potential since 1990; it’s not to say that entertainments like “Preacher” or “Hitman” (or, by logical extension, “The Punisher MAX”) are necessarily bad, but from examining this initial outing it becomes plain that Ennis is capable of so much more, and that “his preoccupations with outrageously excessive violence and fuck-you attitudinal posturing have greatly limited his scope and potential as a writer.” Rust commends Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Vertigo one-shot “Heartland” as the only piece Ennis has written since that initial work (as of 1997) that truly lives up to his full abilities as a writer. I haven’t read “Troubled Souls”, but I’ll gladly recommend “Heartland”, a superb slice-of-life piece about young Irish adults that begins as a spirited romantic comedy but gradually builds into an emotional (even tragic) allegory for the conflict facing the nation, the flirty actions of the youth reflecting the political strife of the land, which is fitting since the young inherit the conflicts of the old. Go track it down.

Anywhere But Here

Oh my gosh, I might well be at a loss for words concerning this one. It’s Fantagraphics’ latest dalliance with the manga scene, here compressing selected strips from the multi-talented Tori Miki’s popular weekly comic into one volume (both Fanta head Gary Groth and Studio Proteus founder Toren Smith are credited with editing, and I thus presume that strip selection was performed by them). I’d say ‘English-language volume’, but there’s no words in any of these comics anyway, save for the very occasional sign or t-shirt. Every installment is one page long, in a strict nine-panel grid. It’s humor. Gags. But in a different way.

The book features an introduction by critic and translator Nozomi Ohmori, who describes how Miki’s humor is influenced by the comedic style of ‘kangaeochi’ - a style of delivery that favors silence from the audience after telling a joke, with laughter only arriving after the audience has thought about what has been said. Surely that’s the type of humor one can find here, although I find I’m still thinking about some of the strips (well, squares actually), without too many laughs forthcoming. Luckily, most of the book operates on what I call a ‘subtle smile’ level of amusement, where the reader isn’t laughing aloud very much, but finds the book to be pleasant and compulsively readable nonetheless.

The ‘star’ of these comics is apparently the author himself, so I’ll just call him ‘Tori’. The average page in “Anything But Here” finds Tori engaging in some everyday activity (maybe going for a swim, dusting around his bookstore, or simply sitting around), only to witness or become involved in some absurd situation, often defying the very contours of reality, or at least the comics page. Indeed, some of the jokes (Tori snipping away the panel borders to escape, or flipping through a flip book only to have a giant finger descend to flip him away) are reminiscent of Harvey Kurtzman’s “Hey Look!” gags, or other similar form-bending humor pages. But more often, strange events happen that follow only their own curious logic. On one page, Tori notices a strange wooly beast with a thin beak walking around. A man appears and shaves off the wool: it’s a dolphin underneath. The dolphin is happy to be shaved and jumps in a pool of water. The end. In another strip, Tori is walking home from a busy day, only to find a miniature elephant abandoned in a box. Tori gives the elephant milk, plays with it, and apparently time passes. Then one day Tori arrives home only to find that the elephant has had a litter of baby miniature elephants. The end. Surely this strip has its own special logic, but it also plays off of expected patterns - this is a situation to be expected from a cat.

Patterns and expectations are important to this book (more so than in the typical humor comic, granting that humor itself largely arises from the upheaval of expectations): Tori removes a sock, rolls it up into a joint, and smokes it. But then he turns around to discover everyone else smoking articles of their clothing. Sometimes, the jokes are taken far enough that they can’t help but be a little funny. Tori is fishing and catches a boot. He’s happy, because this completes his set. He takes the boot home to his son, who’s overjoyed. They then sit down for supper, watching “Moby Dick” on television, in which Captain Ahab pursues a giant white boot. There is also a constant feeling of mystery in these strips, of secrets hidden beneath the surface. Tori is trying to catch a baseball, but the outfield wall is opened and a masked villain takes him down to see an Emperor of Baseball, clad in a robe with uniformed servants. The end.

Miki’s style is simple, with a small array of character types (I like the Creepy Moustache Man the best) , and simple, attractive backgrounds. Sometimes, the storytelling gets slightly unclear, as Miki doesn’t have much of a propensity for action. One strip (more patterns!) utilizes all three tiers of the nine-panel grid for its ‘beat’. The top tier sees Tori confronted with a path in the woods. He tossed his walking stick, which points to one path. He takes it. In the second tier, Tori is wearing a mask. He tosses a pencil onto the table, and it lands on the side of a carpet-beater, as opposed to a gun. He beats a carpet, the mask protecting his lungs from dust (as opposed to protecting his identity in the robbery he was doubtlessly planning). In the last tier, he’s sitting in a bar packed with salarymen, next to a gorgeous woman. He flips a coin. The last panel sees him in bed with one of the salarymen from the background. The joke is easy to get when you know that Tori makes all of his decisions as based on tossing objects. The problem is, Miki just isn’t very clear in depicting Tori tossing the stick or the pencil in the first two tiers - it looks like stuff is just laying on the ground. Thus, the joke becomes very difficult to understand, due to a lack of storytelling clarity. But Miki keeps these burps to a minimum.

It’s strange, often impenetrable humor here, although I got some really good laughs out of it, and maybe you will too. Tori picks up a woman in a bar. They check into a hotel. He gets undressed, only to find that she’s apparently given birth to a miraculous child. At that point, three wise men burst into the hotel room, and the strip ends (the Messiah ruined my evening!) On another page, a scientist is developing a strange circular donut-shaped device. Across town, Tori is sitting in a restaurant. An ass then ascends from the table - a human ass. At a loss of what to do, Tori licks the ass. The scene then shifts to a man seated in a stall at a public toilet. He leaps up in surprise as the scientist leers on in pleasure from a secret vantage point. And in one strip (square), Tori meets his Fairy Godmother. She puts a leaf on his head and a stick in his hand. With a wave of her wand, the leaf becomes an artist’s beret, and the stick becomes a brush. Tori rishes home and draws page after page of comics. He takes them to an editor. The editor glances at the pages, and throws them all in the garbage. The end. Ain’t it the truth?