Thursday, 30 March 2017

In Review - Garbage Night' by Jen Lee

Garbage Night

Created by Jen Lee.

Full colour. £12.99.

Published by NoBrow.

The Story - 'In a barren and ransacked backyard, a dog named Simon lives with his two best friends: a raccoon and a deer. They spend their days looting the desolate supermarket and waiting for the return of the hallowed 'Garbage Night' - and week after week, the bins remain empty. But rumour has it, there's a nearby town where humans still live. The trio join up with Barnaby, a mysterious stranger, and set off into the unknown.....

Juvenile animals struggle to survive across a post-apocalyptic wasteland in this striking parable about the nature of freedom and friendship.'

"It's fun though, right? .... A world without walls, just doors?'

The Review - Playing with context and preconceptions is something that always makes me sit up and pay attention. Garbage Night along with creator Jen Lee's previous story in the same back yards stage Vacancy are tales that move you out of your comfort zone. She mixes the anthropomorphic with the (seeming) end of the world. A small world nonetheless but one that seems familiar yet also scarily ephemeral.

As a lover of NoBrow's ever growing and developing back catalogue I would hazard a guess that this is beginning to form a significant addition to their stock. 

Garbage night is a no holds barred allegory for the breakdown of modern society. A breakdown that we see on the news and internet on a daily (and ever accelerating) basis. Jen shifts our ragged and ever surviving/commuting/driving/working overtime/finding solice in a sandwich in the park personalities into those of urbanafied animals. Those animals that scurry about in the rubbish bins of the more fortunate looking for food. It is these mirrors that have expertly crafted moments of character and deftly crafted action sequences. Action that is sought from truely desperate circumstances and not some set up car chase or bar fight that one might see elsewhere.

It is also bleakly haunting. It echoes at times with too much reality. You worry that they will not survive the walk across a landscape that at first glance is banal but has hidden moments of danger. It is this edge that changes what could have been a fluffy anthropomorphic story into one that clatters along and you have to reach the end to see what happens.

Jen throws a spanner into the works and introduces a new and crafty friend into the circle. You wonder how this will effect these characters and if Barnaby (a ragged and dangerous looking dog) will affect their dynamic. This grows the tension and plays on our feelings of not wanting this group to split up or fall out.

The language is a cross between the Lord of the Flies/The Walking Dead desperation and those of the more innocent children playing on the slides in the park. It moves the character along with real skill and the creator knows when to slow down and speed up in each sequence. Glances are cast between friends and emotion is snatched out of the story and sent to the reader seamlessly. Hope is rare but present enough to make you believe the motivations.

A comic that can be read on may levels I highly recommend it.

This volume also features the previous story Vacancy that was released under NoBrow's 17x23 series.

Jen Lee was born in Manhattan but grew up in a beach town in Florida. She grew up mimicing the cartoons she was watching and copying them from frame to frame. She jumped from High School to The School of Visual Arts in New York to study comics, graphic design and writing. She then flirted with a career in animal psychology before landing a job as a graphic designer in a software company. She now works freelance for Boom! Studios and the Nickelodeon Channel. Vancancy for NoBrow Press was her first published work.

Find out more about this publisher at or follow them on Twitter @NobbrowPress

Many thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Little Review of 'Cosmos & Other Stories' and I find out it's a lonely place

'Cosmos & Other Stories'

Created by Rozi Hathaway.

Published by Good Comics.

'...a collection of short stories about love and longing..... if you've ever been in a crowd, felt the ache of absence, or looked for meaning ion the constellations, then this collection will speak to you.'

It's not often that a piece of art touches you in in such a profound way. I speak as a cynical forty something who up until March the 21st this year hadn't really found a gem in the small press and was worried that it was sitting back in it's collective armchair ready for retirement. This comic changed my mind and did so with grace and a gentle whisper.

This is a comic full of stories that examine those private unseen moments that we all experience without the gaze of others. These accounts are both big and small in impact in the lives of ordinary people. Rozi describes them in her summary as 'about love and longing..' but I would add the word loneliness. In these solitary heartbreaking moments she shows us stories that broke this readers heart (just a little).

A moment can change your mind and your attitude, a moment can hurt you, a moment can inspire you, a moment can change everything. Rozi proves that comics are a powerful instrument. Good art rents a room in your consciousness and really good art plants roots in your subconscious. This is a piece of art that will allow you to step out of the rush, rush, dopamine fueled day and rest happy in that second of time. The one you could be in now if you were reading this book, that is the effect it has had on me.

I have intentionally not recounted the narratives in these short stories as they are indeed short and to do so would spoil. But the art is very worthy of comment. An experimental style full of loose pencils and flashes of colour. Characters are represented as ghostly images, wandering this landscape and thinking, always thinking. Rozi uses colours that are at ironic and telling angles to the initial appearance of a story. The creator plays with our preconceptions. The red of a sky or building line as the cold weather settles into view is a lovely addition that makes you watch the page like it is a moving canvas. The art adds a definite poetry to each line in a way that should be explored more in our world.

This is a book that I guarantee you will reread and enjoy. You may also shed a tiny tear.

Find Rozi at or on Twitter @angelsallfire

Many thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

No More Cats!

This is another in the series of angry rants that I like to describe as 'My Falling Down Stage.' I came to it through a deep frustration at the lack of chances we are taking and the safe warm blankets that are masquerading as art these days. Peter Blake admitted in a 1985 interview to being the person who upsets society. I applaud him for evoking an emotion, it may be a cruel one but it makes you (and me) feel alive for that split second when the art hits your senses.

Art is all around us. It permeates us at every turn and every flourish. It is gloriously present in the art form of comics. The art form that so many of us choose as an avenue to express wild and succulent emotions, loves, hates and on occasion our morbid dirty little secrets.

Our inner lives deserve exploration. So explore them we do. 

The world is an open book. Every nook and cranny of it is ripe for exploration and explanation. Go wild inside and outside the panels. Feel the creative flush in your cheeks and in your balls (female genetalia is also welcome).

I took a run (and a charge) at describing my frustrations of one type of comic. Have a read. If you agree or disagree then please let me know. 

Autobiographical Comics - let's have it!

What drives people to talk about themselves. In general terms it's a need to make sure you are still there, still a part of the planet. Art has been about the self as much as it has been about the outside since it began. From the very choice of the subject, through how the artist goes about creating it all the way down to how the viewer interprets this object.

So, and here we get to a thorny subject. Why does the current state of autobiographical comics irk me so? It hasn't always. I have been quite vocal about the first person narrative over the years. Some of my favourite books and comics that I reread regularly have been about the creator themselves. There is no doubt that Portrait of An Artist... by James Joyce is a masterpiece. There is no doubt that James Kochalka or Bob Fingerman put out amazingly good comic books. All the above are based on something personal and autobiographical and real.

All the above are also raw and honest and insightful.

So where do we go now? The internet has now arrived and wedged itself into our brains, lives and souls. A medium that is so self involved that it defies shame and becomes a transparent window into our snowflake moods. Everyone is granted that voice, and mostly are granted that voice to talk endlessly about themselves. It is now a world full of fragile egos and manipulated outward facing personalities. This eems to have evolved into a factory line of similar looking comics that scrape at the banal lives of their creators with only the quirky and cool excuses for narrative.

It is my solid (and old and grumpy) opinion that there are waaaaay too many autobiographical books. Some are to be admired but in a big brown mass only few are the peanuts to be picked out.

Before I began this piece I thought that I would (listen to the 'I' ringing out throughout this piece incidentally) research what counts these days as an autobiographical comic. Those books that have been released in one form or another over the last few years. I didn't want to get (too much) flack for not looking into the subject sufficiently. So, my first stop was over at a well known webcomic platform. One with Hundreds and hundreds of strips. I searched under the term 'autobiographical' and looked at the first few strips that came up. They were both about a couple sitting on a couch talking. Both were done in a Manga style and both made me want to vomit in their messy self indulgent cutesy styles.

Where is the edge? Where is the raw emotion? Where is the honesty? Where is something vaguely worth reading?

OK, I'll go deeper. What else is about? I have a couple of shops near me that have a good Small Press and Indie section. I'll head there to have a look.

Hmmm, Katzine by Kat Chapman, that's pretty good. Tille Walden, good stuff again. But, as much as I love these titles I'm looking for something that is a little less sedate and a little less safe. What is there out there. I want a comic that shouts at the world. Not one that curls up on the couch with a their socks off.

So, I found a couple. Not, to be perfectly honest, as many as I expected. The first one is £4.50, not a crazy price but then again neither competitive or even close to worth the money I'd pay.  Opening the first one on the centre pages I find it is about a couple chatting in bed about their day. I explore more, oh look a cat (again). I picked up the second one - it's about the author and their cat (seriously?) Now, don't go screaming 'HE HATES CATS', I really liked Maus and that has cats in it!

Keep going. Here's another one. It's about a trip the author took to Hamburg. He's walking about, looking in windows....... oh look its raining. Is that it? I'll try one more before I feel that I have to claw my own eyes out. This one is about the creator taking a walk again, oh look he likes trains! FUCK ME!!!!

The one question that won't leave me is - 'Who do they expect to be interested in this story?' Are people who like cuddles, cats and walking going to be flocking to buy these books? I'm going to hazard a fucking guess and say probably not.

This should be a genre full of free thinking and vigor. They should contain moments of observational gold. They should pioneer the experimental format with thought provoking bare honesty.

Everything at the moment seems safe and banal.

'Just because you can does not mean that you should', seems a mighty strong piece of advice in this year of 2017. Where are the Eddie Campbells, the Harvey Pekars, the Joe Saccos, the Marjane Satrapis? Instead we seem to be stuck with the 'Idle but cool Movement'. We are sitting in a trend of smugness so loud it's like nails on a blackboard. The rules of life should make the rules of an autobiographical comic. In other words, there are and never should be any rules. I want to see the bare naked revelation of your life, what goes on behind the closed doors and in the embarrassing moments. Not this stream of boringly catatonic cack.

I got sent a comic to review recently that was about the friendship of three people. ''That pitch has relatively interesting prospects' I told myself. 'Keep positive', I told myself. On opening it I saw that it was about how they met at University, that they all had things in common and how they are friends now....... That was it. I messaged the creator asking who it was aimed at, I presumed it was for some University/Class Reunion. Nope. It was for sale! I didn't message him back. It is that level of complete and shameless self-involvement that seems to be a big part of the problem. Simply because it is autobiographical doesn't mean that it shouldn't be interesting. It doesn't have to be full of car chases and explosions but it does have to have something that engages. In real life a conversation can engage the detached observer but it has to have something, anything will do, just something of interest.

Another recurring subject seems to be people creating comics about music or bands that they like. Have you ever sat in a bar and listened to people at a neighbouring table talk about a band they just saw? Or listened to someone talk about how an album inspired them? Or got in a car on a long journey and that friend or colleague has played you a mix tape they have prepared? Yup, boring and self involved (again). It is the equivalent of making Mixtapes and selling them. It is the equivalent of walking round wearing an obscure band T-shirt. It is only interesting to you. It is also (I'm using this word once again) safe.

Take a big bite. Go on. Be brave. Show me your failings and your inner self. Don't give in to showing people what you want them to see or what you think is cool. Show them your real self. Those moments will, I guarantee, be more interesting than this shite. Never hold back. Swear and shout at the world. Some people won't like you for that, but Fuck Them! Everyone should be able to state their case without fear or repercussion. State yours.

I have and it feels sooo much better.

And please, no more cuddling cat stories.

Monday, 6 March 2017

How To Buy A Comic - It isn't always that easy!

(Part of this piece is true and part is not. This will be the basis of this new column series going forward. It is also based on almost 40 years of going in to Comics Shops and finding that little has changed. The truth has been 'reconfigured' to suit my rant. See if you can spot it as it dances about in the vinegar?) 

OK. This is going to be fairly easy. However, if you think that 'Saga' or 'Afterlife With Archie' are the best books ever written you might need to find your mummy and get her to help you (she's probably down the pub blowing hobos for loose change btw).

Stage 1.

Find a shop that sells comics. A not altogether easy task, something akin to finding a virgin in Croydon. But remember this does include charity shops and they can be found on most high streets - if you live in the Medway Towns they are situated adjacent to the PoundWorld. (Not that comics stall at The South Bank in London - anyone who sells 'Troll: The Halloween Special' for £7.50 needs shooting!)

Stage 2.

If you are one of the lucky few who has a Comic Shop nearby then head in. Nod at the staff who will probably ignore you and then begin to scan the shelves.

Remember that most people who work in comics shops are better than you. Serving or helping you is well below any priority they may have for the day. Listen to them talk. They drone on about anything except comics. They mostly talk about what they are having for lunch, that cool band they saw online, that they feel 'Reeeeaaallly hung over' and what time they are going home. They all believe that they are not destined to work in a shop and that they should be artists/musicians/poets/insert shit here (and so on).

It is important to be safe. Remember that an awful lot of crazy people head in to Comic Shops. One could come in, pull all the copies of 'Great Lakes Avengers' off the shelf, drop their trousers, do a huge dump on them and run out (although to be fair this is a thought that I often have about 'Great Lakes Avengers' whenever I see it!) All the shop Staff will completely fail to act in any useful way and then as if a reason for their inaction complain about the poor state of mental health care in the UK - like the have been programmed to say this by their cool friends. Shoplifting is also common but I'm sure this has something to do with failings in the Welfare State (and not rampant greed and heroin addiction?) 

WARNING - The shop may have a Small Press event going on. If so you will see shambling zombie like bearded characters (men and women). These people all know each other. They also do not buy anything and/or know about current comics. Do not make eye contact. If you have an ironic hat, shitty tattoos or have problems with actually changing your clothes every single day they may be confused and speak to you. Do not make eye contact. Confuse them by mentioning Syd Barrett or Bowie and leg it!

Think about what you like. Don't think about what you think you should like because someone has told you it is cool. These are the Devil's thoughts. He is playing with you. Beelzebub and the Demons of Advertising are trying to hook you in.... 

Sure, 'I've heard that Squirrel Girl is well written.'


IT IS NOT. (Well, not really.)

It is a load of hyped and cutesy guff that people pretend is good. It's like that indie band who lasted two albums and NME kept saying were geniuses. It's like that art house movie about staring at the sea.


Being a comics fan is all about seeing past the bullshit. Recognising what is really actually good and seeing through the veil of mundanity that masquerades as 'event comics'. Read what you like - plain and simple.

Comics are also a fiction. Also normally set in a fictional world full of fantastical beings and unreality. This is neither the real world or a world that needs to be a battleground for agendas. It is about stories. Stories of all kinds. It is not an axe to grind, unless that particular axe fits into the story you are telling. Don't force your real world agendas into the pages of these fictions. If you do you will be constantly disappointed. If you are looking to satisfy your political agenda by reading comics you will be sorely disappointed. (On the Planet Krypton they think you are a boring cunt too).

If you are the sort of chap or chick (wink) who looks for comics purely based on the gender/race/sexuality/species/political background of the inker/what online stores the editor likes/what newspaper the office manager reads/that it's a comic created by bears who were used to test bubblegum etc (etc, etc, etc, etc) then I wish you luck in your next hobby. 'Cos you ain't gonna last long in this one.

Likewise , if you are the sort of reader who is worried about damage to the staples or a slight curl in the cover paper then there are a couple of easy steps you should take.

a. Put the comic back.

b. Leave the store.

c. Hand your computer in at the local police station. (They may also be interested in any storage devices you have hidden?)

Just remember this mantra - "Comics are for reading.'

I digress.

Stage 3.

Pick up a book that you like the look of and leaf through it. Look good? Yeah? What's the art like? Read a little bit. Like it?

Look at the price. Expensive huh? Yup. That's the way it is these days. Overpriced at every turn. A comic will take you (at most) 15 minutes to read. Think about that for value for money?

If it is too much then put it back and head to the back issue bins. These shops normally have some £1 or 50pence boxes. Grab something from there if you prefer.

Remember. This is not a race. Take as long as you like. Let inspiration hit you. Find something that you are going to enjoy.

Read a trade if you like. (But remember Manga is written backwards by foreigners to confuse you. Most other comics are written by Americans, they have problems with spelling, politics and firearms - so remember this when reading their usual murder filled crap. Thank God for Brexit!)

Stage 4.

Can't find what you are looking for? Why not ask?

Approach one of the staff. They will either be the type who are actually working or the type who sort of sit about reading, looking at their phone, watching loud Youtube videos or chatting to their hipster mates (they can be quite loud - wear earplugs). Their words will be confusing. They speak without meaning and mostly so that people will look at them.

Remember to act casual. Say things like 'Chill' and 'Whatevs'. These are coded signals to hipster central. They will see you as one of the lazy snowflake millennial nation. (They still won't really help you but it makes the whole thing a little less awkward.)

'Hi, I'm looking for something about (insert subject here). Can you help?'

The Answer (I guarantee will be) - 'If we have it it'll be back there.' They then point/wave/gesture at the back of the store.

Count to ten. Look annoyed but don't say anything (we are British after all). Then wander off looking elsewhere than where they have pointed (this minor triumph may make you feel a little better.)

There is a good chance that they won't actually know the answer. They only work in the shop because their friend Rosamund/Trilby/Flat White/Bakewell/Custard Hat/Pilchard/Edmundo/Beehive/Frank told them that it was a 'cool' place to work. 

Stage 5.

Found a comic? Based on liking it and not on a supposed agenda? Great! Well done you.

Now go to the counter. (This may take a while.)

The staff will not initially see you. They have customer blindness. This is a sliding scale between not being bothered to deal with you and wanting to actually stab you in the ballbag (insert female genetalia here).

They've seen you? Phew. Seize the day. Be polite. Pass the comic over. 'I'd like this please.'

They will then take it from you. They won't reply. Then they will face away and continue chatting to their friend Tarquin.

Now, you really need to watch carefully. They will ring up the wrong price and give you the wrong change! When you point it out they will huff and puff like this is interrupting something. Don't watch them too closely (they may think you are creepy) so look elsewhere, look at the variant covers of keyrings or trading cards on the counter. But try to keep them under casual observation. They will bend and pull your comics, this is because they don't actually buy or collect them. 

One of them will go 'Ha, ha, this is fun and open and read your comic. You'll feel like saying 'I'm buying that, I'd quite like to read it before you do!' But don't as this will cause them to have a snowflake cry. I usually bring up a comic from before the last 5 years. This causes their hipster programming to become confused. 

When you finally leave the store you'll feel a little dejected. You might have tried talking about comics and been ignored or brushed off. This is normal. Whatever you do don't mention Bowie or George Michael passing - this may cause wailing and self-harming.

Just be pleased that you have your reading material. Now go enjoy it.

Then Repeat this for 40 years......

(PS - I have a great local comic shop, but it took a while to find!)