Friday, August 13, 2004

Mini Madness: Dave Roman

Written and Drawn by Dave Roman
Available at

Now these are truly mini-comics. Priced at $.50, these eight page gems are rightfully called on the covers "mini manga." Featuring a cast of characters that are as cute as can be, Roman's milieu is quite literally an elementary school set in space, complete with classes like "Dinosaur Driving Lessons." There's a rich and popular girl, a quiet girl, a troubled boy and a boy who is considerd by his classmates to just be flat out odd. However, even with the standard character archetypes, these minis charm their way into your heart and are a reasonable and cheap alternative for readers young and old. When we talk about making more comics for kids, its stuff like this that we should be thinking about.

Written by Dave Roman and Drawn by John Green
Available from Cryptic Press

These books are so fucked up inspired that they nearly achieve pure brilliance. Think about your comics today. Teenagers gain superpowers by being bitten by super spiders or they develop powers like walking through walls because they're mutants. Teen Boat, on the other hand, is a young boy who turns into... well, a boat. A small yacht, to be specific. Immediately, one's reaction is something like "That is one of the most retarded things I have ever heard in all my comics reading years." But honestly... it isn't a bad book.

I know, I know... but I promise you I don't do any drugs. I'm serious.

Shockingly, these books work. TB is pretty normal, excepting that he can pop a propeller out of his ass. He liks a girl who won't pay attention to him unless he's in boat form, his best female friend is doing her best to look out for him, and his classmates are constantly trying to exploit him for their own ends. In fact, TB and his friend Joey Steinberg could be played by James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes and you wouldn't blink.

TEEN BOAT would be a mess of mammoth proportions if Roman and Green didn't play the character completely straight, but because they do, and because they give him a surprisingly fertile emotional life, I found myself wanting to see more of these, and I make no apologies for that.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Mini-Madness: Raina Telgemeier

TAKE OUT #1-6: written and drawn by Raina Telgemeier. Available from her website at

As many of you know, I love mini-comics. In their own way, I think they are as pure of an expression that you'll find in comics today. Some folks make them and put out absurdist stuff that would only find a cult audience anyway. Some artists use them to collect strips, sketches, and other assorted materials in a cheap format. And some, like Telgemeier, use the format the way they would use standard sized comics: to explore personal themes and journeys. I have room in my heart for all three kinds, personally.

TAKE OUT sees Raina explore herself from childhood to current adulthood, examining her oddly frightening moments, such as the first time her father shaved his beard, to her laugh-because-it-isn't-you moments like beating the New York subway system to get down to the platforms for free, but then missing her train on multiple occasions. Karma can be a wretched mistress.

Telgemeier doesn't fall into some of the basic traps that many autobiographical artists do, in that she isn't telling too much information about herself. Many creators are so struck by their own lives that they'll take a personal story to a point beyond unpleasantness, but Raina finds a happy medium, for instance showing off her personal obsession with musician Ben Folds in a way that is endearing, not creepy. Frankly, I wish she'd do seminars on that technique.

Issue four contains my personal favorite story, "Letter To Matt," in which Telgemeier describes the aftermath of going to her friend's "Pimps And Hos" party. While the party was delightful, the trip home in her "ho" outfit had more than its share of grief. Knowing someone myself whom this has happened to, it had a humorous ring of authenticity that left me laughing. And having read almost four full issues about the quietly subdued author at that point, seeing her depct herself dressed like a streetwalker and keeping a straight face was hilarious.

In a sea of bad comics hitting the stands right and left, it was very refreshing to read these wonderful minis and see such quality work and effort in them. I will, unquestionably, be keeping my eyes open for future work by Telgemeier, mini comics or otherwise. She's a talent to keep watch upon.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

More Spurgeon Than You can Shake A Stick At

Word is now out that Tom and co-writer Jordan Raphael's wonderful Stan Lee biography will be making its debut in paperback. Buy this deservingly Eisner-nominated book, and you'll be happy:

The old promotional web site for the book is still around, too:

Good stuff.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Comics' Greatest Genius

I'm a bit behind in reading, well, everything, these days, so it took me until this past weekend to finally settle down with The Comics Journal #260 and give it a read. As usual, I was glad I did.

Plenty of folks out there like to tar and feather The Journal with particular brushes, and not all of them are the wrong color paint. That said, it is still the best place to go for quality writing, criticism, and interviews about the comics medium and its community. There are excellent works in this issue such as a detailed examiniation of Dave Cockrum's illness and settlement with Marvel and Clifford Meth's work on his behalf, as well as a side look at Meth's axe grinding against Barry Windsor-Smith while putting a Cockrum tribute book together. Michael Dean also contributes an informative look behind the scenes at Drawn And Quarterly, giving the reader a much better picture of who they are as a publisher and why they make the choices they do. But the real standout in the issue is Tom Spurgeon's incredible look at the entire AiT-Planetlar publishing line.

Spurgeon starts at the beginning with Larry Young's first publishing forays with the original Astronauts In Trouble series and winds his way through what has become a very large small-press empire. And it is one of the most magnificent things I have read on the subject of comics in many a moon.

What Spurgeon does is almost beyond belief. As he gave critical weight to book after book after book, I found myself simply in awe of the time and effort he put forth into writing the piece, and that wasn't even taking into consideration the actual depth and content of his words. Spurgeon is quite likely the sharpest intellect writing about the subject of comics today. His grasp of story, genre, art, place, history, and dialogue are monstrous. You get the sense from Tom that he's thinking three steps ahead of you at almost every turn, and there's almost an intimidation to even sitting and reading his work. It forces you to really realize and examine your place as a writer.

I've been reading comics for about 29 years now, and writing about them for about ten, and reading work by a guy as gifted and intelligent as Tom Spurgeon is something I treasure. It also gives me something to aspire to, though I don't think I could ever come close to doing work of his quality. But it makes you want to try, you know? At the very least, it makes you think that much harder when you're sitting at the keyboard working up a column, realizing that yes, you may pale in comparison, but if you work that much harder, that paleness might gain just the smallest bit of color.

I had the pleasure of seeing Spurgeon in San Diego again this year, and as always, he was a whirlwind. Rightfully nominated for an Eisner for his excellent Stan Lee biography, he was everywhere, soaking in the atmosphere, finding great books, and locating new talents. Not to mention, he was looking at back issues and finding affordable treasures to add to what I am sure is a stunning collection of work. And you know what? That told me something very important. It told me to keep reading The Journal... because soon enough, we're going to be lucky enough to read all about those discoveries.