Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sharp Stick: Black Eye, Volume 1

The Black Eye anthology gained some initial notoriety thanks to being stopped at the Canadian border prior to TCAF in 2011 and rejected by customs, due to material that they found objectionable. While editor Ryan Standfest had to deal with the headache of censorship and having his work seized, that reaction in some sense was a triumph for the kind of reaction he attempts to provoke in this volume. Black Eye is part-comic, part zine in its approach to Black Humor, the darkly satirical off-branch of comedy that began in roughly the 1960s. It's clear that Standfest draws a straight line between the influence of EC Comics and Black Humor, because everything from the subtitle ("Graphic Transmissions Designed To Cause Ocular Hypertension") to the feature on Panic editor Al Feldstein reads very much as a tribute to EC, both in style and appearance.

Black Eye is obviously an intensely personal, idiosyncratic publication that feels wildly uneven to anyone who doesn't share the editor's precise sense of aesthetics. Sean Collins' review in The Comics Journal criticized it for being a humor publication that lacked many laughs. While that's true to an extent, there's nothing on the cover that says "humor"; indeed, the images suggest something more akin to underground comics. The humor to be found in the comics of S. Clay Wilson (profiled at length by Jeet Heer) is far from conventional, for example, and that's true of the many underground-influenced artists featured here, many of whom are staples in Glenn Head's Hotwire anthology. Producing laffs isn't so much the point here as it is to unsettle, disquiet and provoke readers.

One thing greatly in its favor is the book's design. With a font originally designed in the 1930s, the book has an antiquarian feel to it, looking like some obscure, strange academic journal. As such, the text-heavy pieces in the book are pleasant to read and simply look at, which is helpful because Standfest was unable to include much in the way of actual original art in the book's articles about Wilson, Feldstein, Steve Ditko and The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist. That was to the detriment of each of the three articles, especially given that the author of each piece went into great detail about specific pieces of art that the reader wasn't allowed to see. Apart from that, the essays are astoundingly good and certainly led me to reconsider some of my ideas about the artists in question. For example, I find Wilson's work to be juvenile and repulsive, but Heer makes a convincing case for Wilson not only being a beacon for id-exploration that peers like Robert Crumb were drawn to, but also as a satirist and moralist in the tradition of Rabelais. Bob Levin's story about Michael O'Donoghue and Phoebe Zeit-Geist also gets at the central conceit of the anthology; that book, like Wilson's work, is not so much funny as it is mean and ridiculous. It's designed to provoke and fascinate. Standfest's history of Panic (a MAD spinoff) is interesting because it ties the humor of that title directly into the horror comics of EC, which in themselves were examples of proto-Black Humor. Ken Parille's assertion that Ditko's more Objectivist comics held a similar dark, satirical (but ultimately moral) character also makes sense in this light.

So how do the comics chosen for the book stack up in that regard? Leading off with an Al Columbia comic is a great way to disturb an audience, and his image of a rotting tooth being extracted is both beautiful and creepy. The Mark Newgarden "Insurance" calendar is one of the more graphically clever and funnier pieces in the book, using a different graphic on each day of the month to reflect the need for insurance. The fact that each image follows sequentially from day to day makes the joke especially effective. Onsmith's two page spread of single-panel gags (the ones that got Standfest in trouble with Canadian customs) embody the sort of bone-dry humor that Ivan Brunetti popularized in the late 90s. Onsmith is one of the few artists who can do it as well as him (which isn't surprising, since Brunetti was his mentor). The banality of the humor combined with the horrific nature of the events he depicts (rape, dismemberment, murder, etc) is what gives these images their charge. Brunetti's own stripped-down strips felt a little half-hearted compared to his more recent, richer work, but there were still some laughs to be found in the simple brutality of his punchlines.

French artist Roland Topor's list "100 Good Reasons To Kill Myself Right Now" is similarly hilarious, with #91 ("So others will follow my example") being my favorite. In general, Standfest keeps a pretty good rhythm going in the anthology, with one major exception: the preponderance of fake ad pages, which kill the momentum of the book nearly every time. If Standfest did that as a sort of tribute to Panic's fake ads, it fails on several levels: most of the ads aren't funny; most importantly, most of the ads don't have the graphic realism that made Panic's fake ads so effective; and the tribute itself is too on-the-nose in imitating Panic. The big exception to that rule was Danny Hellman's contribution: his Wally Wood "We're Looking For People Who Are Dying To Draw" ad is both brutally effective and flawlessly-executed, while his smaller page of ads gets it right because of the clarity of his drawing & design and the familiarity this page will have for fans of old comics. I did like Michael Kupperman's fake ad page, but that sort of absurdity ("All-Purpose Animal Groinologues!") doesn't seem to have much to do with Black Humor.

The most successful stories seems to have an explicitly narrative bent to them rather than a directly political one. Olivier Schrauwen's "The Postdamer Wolfman" is a good example of this, as a needlessly frightened man, woman and mad scientist are all suddenly given good reason to be afraid in three tightly-packed, geometrically-apportioned (lots of circles and triangles framing the action) pages. "In Memory of Brecht Evans' Wife" is even better, as it's a brutal send-up of memoir as a form of self-aggrandizement. Other highlights include the vicious mash-up of "Medea" and the Mell Lazarus comic strip "Momma" as well as Lilli Carre's "Hands", which also seems to share a thread from EC Comics in the way she she provides an ironic ending and then makes a wisecrack about it.

There are also plenty of pin-ups and illustrations with provocative or gross-out imagery. Much like in Hotwire, I found these to be the weakest link of the book. Less effective than that is editorial cartoonist Martin Rowson's "Black Humour", which uses the conceit of clowns as members of Goldman-Sachs in order to perpetuate a joke. The thud of that punchline is all the more egregious given the overly-labored nature of his art. A good third of the book's content could have been trimmed with absolutely no detriment to the final product; indeed, it probably would have made it a stronger book. Of course, that's the book I would have edited it down to, and it's clear that Standfest has other ideas and a conception of Black Humor that's perhaps a bit broader than stated in the book's manifesto essays. The uncompromising expression of his own aesthetic is what makes this book such a powerful experience, even if it is frustrating at times. I look forward to a second volume.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Top Fifteen Comic Books of 2011

Alt-comics are far from dead, as any number of cartoonists have stubbornly stuck to the form despite the fact that the market has shifted over to graphic novels. Below are the best I read from 2011 that resemble traditional comic books in format and/or periodicity. It should be noted that I still haven't seen the most recent issue of Optic Nerve, which would no doubt make this list. I'm doing separate lists of minicomics and graphic novels this year, but I'd stack most of this list up against anything from the long-form lists.

1. Love & Rockets: New Stories #4, by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics). Here's my original review. Gilbert's stories are typically excellent in this issue, as he manages a certain luridness in one story that brings sexuality to the fore, and goes the other direction in a more oblique, subtle story. Of course, the story that got everyone buzzing was the second half of Jaime's "The Love Bunglers", which is an ending for this thirty-year cycle of stories--and one where Jaime sticks the landing with authority. He's had endings before (most notably at the end of volume 1 of Love & Rockets, when Maggie and Hopey ride off together in a police vehicle) and they've had their own sense of power and authority, but it's the way Jaime has become a more subtle, restrained and mature storyteller in the last decade that made this simple story so utterly compelling.

2. Lose #3, by Michael DeForge. Here's my original review, part of a larger article on DeForge. This is DeForge's most ambitious comic yet, centering around the post-apocalyptic, funny animal slice-of-life story "Dog 2070". DeForge's ear for painfully funny detail and awkwardness combined with his desire to create a feeling of claustrophobia in his reader make this an uncomfortable read, yet an incredibly compelling one. The rest of the issue features a mix of gags, shock, body horror and anthropomorphism taken to unusual places. It still feels like he's just now getting warmed up, as he transitions over to longer and more involved pieces.

3. Pope Hats #2, by Ethan Rilly. Here's my original review. Rilly’s slice of life story about a young woman who works at a law firm is a model of subtlety and restraint, but he also knows when to tap comics’ more cartoonish well for comedic effect. It's also one of the more handsome and well-designed comics I've ever seen, one that could easily stand with any of the dense, classic alt-comics of the 80s and early 90s.

4. Ganges #4, by Kevin Huizenga (Fantagraphics). If Ganges #3 was Huizenga's phenomenology of sleep, then this issue is a phenomenology of hypnagogica--the state of dreaming while awake. We continue to follow Huizenga's everyman character Glenn Ganges in his attempts to fall asleep, which were thwarted at the end of the previous issue by his mind rebelling against his body and jolting him awake. This issue goes deeper into that mind-body duality conflict, only reality becomes more flexible as Glenn enters that strange, wonderful state where we slip in and out of dream states rapidly while never quite reaching full sleep. Once again, Huizenga's use of formal elements is stunning, clever and meta without being precious. For example, when Glenn tries to fall asleep by reading the most opaque book possible, he starts to wish the book had diagrams or drawings--and of course, both appear in every panel. His dream state is represented in classic comics form--as a squiggle, asterisk and other scribbles that appear near his head. Later, when he contemplates all of the days of his life that he's forgotten, he creates a calendar grid that looks suspiciously like a highly elaborate comics page. Indeed, as Glenn slips into an actual dream at the end (where the Men In Black come to investigate his "time traveling" that occurs as a result of him drinking a special blend of coffee), Huizenga uses the end flap to "flip" through the pages of that story without actually making any of its word legible. It's a clever response to the same technique being used to introduce the issue, where the "endless night" and his bustling thoughts coalesce into coherent thoughts. Huizenga's work is restrained and even playful in its approach but wildly ambitious in terms of its content, and he continues to successfully mine work left untouched by other cartoonists.

5. Eye Of The Majestic Creature #5, by Leslie Stein. This issue picks up right after where Stein's recent book published by Fantagraphics leaves off, though with a substantially different approach. The book is still about the life of Stein's surrogate Larrybear, working as a shopgirl in New York City, living in a roach-infested apartment and spending time with her anthropomorphic musical instruments. What's different is that the book's narrative captions are all taken from Theodore Drieser's 1900 novel Sister Carrie. The only similarity between the two works is that both concern a young woman trying to make it alone in a big city, but the circumstances surrounding the protagonists of those works is quite different. Everything about this issue is dialed down from previous issues: emotions are more restrained, the magical realism aspects of the story are far more matter-of-fact, and the entire comic takes on a more plaintive, solemn tone.

The connections that Stein makes between Dreiser and her own story are fascinating, especially when Dreiser starts talking about the bustle of city streets and the loneliness of city life. Larrybear is a person adrift, desperately searching for an activity to give meaning to her daily hustle and bustle. She finds it in the art of "sand counting", a hilarious metaphor for any obsessive hobby that can be considered art--like comics. In many respects, this single issue is a recapitulation of the entire series to date, only done from a different angle. Instead of being dominated by Larrybear's interior monologue, we instead get Stein selecting Dreiser quotes to comment on her life. The comic is faster-paced than the more languid and tangent-filled stories of earlier issues, with days and weeks going by as Larrybear goes through winter and into the first glimpses of spring. Stein here is measuring the weight of days and weeks on her stand-in, the debilitating passage of time in a life desperately spent looking for meaning and purpose. Larrybear manages to find that balance, to find a way to survive and thrive in the big, impersonal city, even as she comes to terms with the way she's becoming more removed from her anthropomorphic friends. Those friends are symbols of her imagination but also a symbol for abandoning music in favor of a different pursuit, one that's far more solitary. As always, Stein's art is stunningly detailed in its exacting stippling style but fluid and loose in terms of how she draws her characters. The innovations in this issue point to Stein becoming a truly significant and mature artist as she continues to evolve in daring ways.

6. Pornhounds #2, by Sharon Lintz and various artists. Lintz writes a series of vignettes that start out detailing life working as an editor/writer at a porn magazine and shifts into her detailing her experiences as a cancer patient. She varies tone with great sensitivity and efficacy, going from ridiculous laughs to moments of poetry that tie into repeating motifs but do so with a light touch. Her artistic collaborators range from solid to great, with Nic Breutzman's work standing out.

7. Dark Tomato #1, by Sakura Maku. This is the debut book from Austin English's new publishing concern Domino Books, and it's an auspicious start for him. Maku is firmly in the Immersive camp of comics, mixing traditional narrative, collage, lettering for decorative purposes and poetic language to create a dizzying array of images that nonetheless draw in the reader's eye. The story concerns a subway train driver in New York who slips into and out of hallucinatory, dreamlike experiences that she can't quite explain. Make fuses Snow White, Prince, high fashion, and the energy of a cityscape that alternates between piercing dissonance and remarkably fluid harmony. Indeed, if one can describe a comic as "musical", this comic certainly fits that bill. It's not just because of the frequent use of song lyrics, but rather it's due to the way Maku uses an almost staccato pattern of images to create rhythm while her figure work is sort of the tune--scribbly and liquid on the page. Maku flips foreground and background, dreaming and waking, and the mundane & the fantastic--often in the span of a single panel. Despite demanding that the reader approach the comic on its terms, Dark Tomato rewards the reader with a cohesive, fascinating narrative that is just beginning with this first issue.

8. Hate Annual #9, by Peter Bagge. This was Bagge's first feature-length Buddy Bradley story in years, and it's a doozy. Buddy, Lisa and young Harold visit Lisa's parents in a story called "Hell", and Bagge truly pulls out all the stops in depicting extreme familial weirdness. His dialogue is as sharp as ever, his line is quite lively and his uncanny ability to depict the creeping weirdness of suburbia is even more disturbing than in the initial run of New Jersey stories in Hate. The scene where Buddy attends a weird "party" with Lisa's cousin gets at the heart of that underlying creepiness, where a lot of folks get continually weirder as they lurch into middle age. Throw in a bonus strip about Belgium (?) and this is a wonderful throwback to the early 90s.

9. Too Dark To See, by Julia Gfrorer. Here's my original review. This is a bleak, terrifying story about betrayal, animal instincts, sexual violation and paranoia. It's a true horror comic in the sense that the raw ugly emotions of its protagonists are only highlighted by the unexplained and disturbing succubus angle of the comic. There's also a jet-black sense of humor in Gfrorer's comics that heightens the grimness of the story all the more.

10. The Accidental Salad, by Joe Decie. My original review can be found as part of a larger survey here. This is deadpan autobio absurdity with a restrained line and razor-sharp wit. Decie does do some more naturalistic strips about his wife and son as well, but he's at his best when he's at his silliest.

11. Tales Designed To Thrizzle #7, by Michael Kupperman. Here's my original review. Kupperman's "Quincy, M.E." story in this issue is a tour-de-force of twisting narrative structures and just plain crazy silliness. Kupperman's art has become increasingly bland as his aesthetic references have changed from 1920s comic strips to 1950s comic books, forcing the reader to perform double-takes at the crazy juxtapositions he creates. If his comics aren't as visually exhausting and exciting as they once were, he still provides an avalanche of ideas and jokes for the reader to sort through.

12. Blammo #7, by Noah Van Sciver. Here's my original review. Van Sciver is willing to try anything in his one-man anthology series, from different sorts of genre stories to varying his line in interesting ways. It's that willingness to constantly stretch and challenge himself that's his greatest strength as a cartoonist, even if individual examples of his storytelling aren't his best. His trademark grime and sweat visuals suffuse this comic, even some of the more sentimental or sweet stories, creating a uniting aesthetic for this artist who continues to get better from project to project.

13. Passage, by Tessa Brunton (Sparkplug Comic Books). This is a moving, lovely comic about rites-of-passage and shame. This slice-of-life story is fascinating because it starts out as a typical story narrated by a knowing teen regarding the embarrassing hijinks of her parents and the weird behavior of her brother but turns into something quite different by the end. Growing up with quirky parents in a cluttered house made the protagonist self-conscious, but she reveals that the shame she felt had an emotionally crippling effect on her, one that destroyed her own sense of self-worth despite her parents' attempts at boosting her self-esteem. The final page of the book reveals a moment of hope and one without shame a little later in her life, creating a sense of serenity that is an obvious touchstone. The cluttered nature of Brunton's line is a perfect complement to the life her protagonist lives, adding power and depth to the narrative.
14. 2012, by Sam Gaskin. This is Gaskin's best work to date. This episodic comic about various end-of-the-world myths and predictions has the rhythms of excellent long-form improv, with unexpected and funny callbacks that build up to its climax. Gaskin loves to incorporate junky pop culture into his comics (the Rush Hour films) along with myths, sports, music, comic strip characters and fantasy tropes. His line has become much more assured and in service to his jokes than it was before, when it was more of a scribble. Unlike DeForge, who takes his genre work seriously in his comics, Gaskin goes strictly for laughs, albeit frequently disturbing and uncomfortable laughs.

15. Bad Breath Comics #4, by Josh Juresko. This is a strange, wonderful comic that also feels like it could have come off a rack in 1988. Juresko is clearly influenced by EC Comics and silver age cartoonists like Steve Ditko, but it's all by way of MAD. There's a hilarious stiltedness to his drawings that is all part of the bone-dry, deadpan humor at work in this comic, even as Juresko throws around silly puns. "America Vs History" is a bizarre "visit with an expert" kind of story that fades into a professor who plans to tell the reader about history, but is interrupted by a younger guy who only wants to watch "a movie from today! Need hot special effects. That's tight". As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, another man shows up to tell the professor that the US must stay the course in Afghanistan, only to be gently rebuked by the professor. This strip is a hilarious parody of political comics whose 1950s style art creates a dizzying bit of cognitive dissonance. "Stretch of Road" starts off as a "where has everyone gone" story in the vein of the Twilight Zone that concludes with a perfectly innocent explanation that amusingly deflates all expectations--both in terms of genre and simple plot tension. The comic is jam-packed with such weirdness, with Juresko's tone and line the dominant features of the book. Any fan of humor comics should seek it out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Minicomics Round-Up: Lindo, Milevski

Let's take a look at multiple minicomics that a couple of cartoonists submitted for review.

Little Bear, Acorn Dream, & Uncertain Doe, by Laila Milevski. Milevski is an interesting young cartoonist in the style of Aidan Koch and Amanda Vahamaki, in that she uses a fragile, even tremulous line, simple and sometimes blocky character design, and gray-scaling that acts as kind of smear or cover of her line in some panels. Two of the minis have screenprinted covers and all three are attractive as sheer art objects. Milevski's interest seems to be in juxtaposing the experiences of animals either with the experiences of humans or how their experiences mirror that of humans. At the same time, she doesn't anthropomorphize her animals, and all three of these minis emphasize the primal nature of her protagonists. Acorn Dream is about a squirrel falling in love with an opossum, only to ruin it by worrying about the possum eating it. It's a funny twist on how relationships can get derailed that relies on the very animal nature of its characters for its charge.

Uncertain Doe is the best of the three comics, embracing an Immersive technique as the letters themselves take on both decorative and narrative functions as part of the drawings. The way she uses negative space on many of the pages adds to the awkwardness of this story of a deer who becomes obsessed with a young human male and follows him around. The man doesn't really notice her and it's too late for her to go back to her fellow deer after that--she literally disappears off the page. Her light line is a perfect match for the subject matter, especially as she adds wit to the inherently sad nature of the story. Little Bear (published by Parcell Press) is told partially in color and partially in gray scale and tells of a doomed relationship between a young boy and a female werebear. Inspired in part by a Latvian folk tale, there's an especially devastating scene where there's a celebration in the village where people dress as animals and dance in order to gain the hospitality of the house. The werebear in human form comes to the door where the young man lives wearing a bear mask and dances, only to leave in frustration when she understands that the two of them can never be together. There are some powerful images in this story, like one panel where we see the werebear suddenly on the telephone with words exploding out of the receiver, only to see the phone hanging as she walks away. I'm not sure it entirely coheres as a narrative, and the grayscale is sometimes distracting, but it's still an ambitious, impressive effort for a cartoonist who shows tremendous promise.

Carl Finds Love 1-2, Wall Street Cat and Lobotomy, by Sara Lindo. There is a consistent sweetness to be found in Lindo's comics about cats, anthropomorphic traffic cones and walking brains. They're silly and fun, and it's obvious that Lindo takes delight in the simple act of making marks on paper and creating narratives. Lobotomy is about a brain that gets time off from its frontal (decision-making) lobe in order to have some fun. It's a cute concept that's derailed by sloppy storytelling and rendering choices; the brains themselves meld into the background in ways that make it difficult to discern what's happening in a given panel. The two oversized Carl Finds Love stories show improvement from the first issue to the second, in part because Lindo adds color in that second issue. Her use of color is varied but also restrained, adding depth and substance to this odd little slice-of-life comic about a cone named Carl who's trying to find a girlfriend. Even in the most awkward moments of this comic, there's a central niceness to it as every character is without guile.

Ike The Cat In: Wall Street Cat is the best of these three comics. It's a simple story: a cat gets up in the morning, his owner puts a tie on him, he takes the subway to work in a Wall Street office. His job is to make employees feel better about their day. The concept is clever, and its execution luxuriates in the details: the cat riding an escalator, the cat looking at someone's newspaper on the subway, the cat nestling into his bed at his job, the woes that the workers pour out to him. It's perhaps on the over-rendered side (there's a lot of hatching that doesn't add much to the story), but it's obvious that Lindo wanted to portray the sheer denseness of city life and how strange & silly a cat is in negotiating this environment. I'm not precisely sure what kind of stories Lindo is interested in telling, but I have a sense that she'd be ideal doing comics aimed specifically at children.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Minicomics Round-Up: Nichols, Zwirek, Puppyteeth

I'm still poking through the minicomic riches I received at SPX, and today's batch yields some interesting gems:

! and A Shadow And Its Source, by L.Nichols. There's a restlessness to Nichols' work that I enjoy, as she's constantly flipping between genres and formal elements in her narratives. !, for example is a 24-hour comic that's a sci-fi story about a mad scientist whose experiments defy the ruling theocracy. The comic details the "Shadows" sent to hunt him down and the efforts he takes to retaliate. Nichols uses a fat, bold line that is perhaps meant to imitate a Kirby-style of powerful genre storytelling. This comic is obviously a lark, but it's a successful experiment in that she manages to create tension and depict action in a fluid manner. There are also plenty of drawings that are simply nice to look at. A Shadow And Its Source is the polar opposite of ! in that it's comics-as-poetry. It's a meditation on the work of artist & filmmaker William Kentridge, known for creating images built on erasure and repetition of images regarding his native South Africa. Nichols connects the pain expressed in his work with pain that she feels, both as an individual and an American. Flipping between Kentridge's photorealism and her own more whimsical style creates an interesting tension between the two, as Nichols doubts her own ability to communicate even as she creates striking images.

Blackstar #5 and Leper, by Jeff Zwirek. Zwirek's debt to the Brunetti school of figure drawing based on geometrical structures is obvious, but he goes in a lot of narrative directions with it. This issue of his anthology series Blackstar features a wide variety of genres and formal approaches. "The Lost Plumgrove" is a full-color fantasy story involving shenanigans between a couple of poor travelers and a vicious guard. Zwirek's work really takes nicely to color, and he makes some bold choices here to help tell his story. "Chicago Typewriter" was featured in his own Pinstriped Bloodbath gangster anthology, and it's one of his best stories. It's about the history of the Thompson sub-machine gun and how a weapon designed for American soldiers became the weapon of choice for gangland massacres. The other stories in the anthology are less remarkable; I found his Mario Brothers-inspired story to be difficult to understand and his pharaoh story to be dull. However, "The Reason", an attractive one-pager about fatherhood, was clever because of the use of color to depict the protagonist's dwindling reserves of energy throughout the day--until he got home. Leper is an odd but beautifully-designed mini about being a victim of violence & trauma, how it wreaks havoc on one's everyday life, and how one can help combat this trauma. Zwirek is a bold visual storyteller and his best comics are usually the wordless ones, and this mini is no exception.

Puppyteeth, edited by Kevin Czapiewski and Liz Suburbia. In terms of design and format, this is a bare-bones anthology photocopied somewhat haphazardly. In terms of content, this showcase for young and relatively unknown artists is understandably uneven. Suburbia's story "Our Lady Of The Bridge" opened the book and turned out to be the strongest story in the anthology, detailing two kids and their near-fatal encounter with a shadowy creature. It's a genuinely suspenseful story leavened by a bit of unexpected humor toward the end, and its effectiveness is owed to the expressiveness and clarity of Suburbia's line. Darryl Ayo contributes a handful of strong one-page pieces done with his usual piercing wit and increasingly confident line. Matt Czapiewski's story about an extremely old minor-league baseball player was hilarious both in terms of his thick, exaggerated line and his understanding of the psyches of sports fans. At the other end of the art spectrum, Jess Wheelock's collage-and-pencil meditation on curmudgeonly Statler & Waldorf characters from The Muppet Show was clever and touching. On the other hand, Martinez E Garcias' "Sex Zombies From Outer Space" was one of the single worst stories I've read in a long time. Worse than the hackneyed premise was that Garcias spelled out the entire plot (such as it was) with the very title of the piece! Alex Martin's "Gotcha" was trying to be clever in its attempt at meshing game and story but wound up as difficult to parse. The other stories were mostly forgettable, which is not all that surprising for what promises to be a loosely-affiliated comics collective that will keep roughly the same lineup from issue to issue in an attempt to get better in public.