Friday, March 22, 2019

The Minicomics Of Elise Dietrich

Elise Dietrich is in that cohort of autobiographical cartoonists that includes Glynnis Fawkes and Jennifer Hayden--women who started to do comics as a kind of second act in life. Dietrich has actually done work at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and these minis show how quickly the confidence in her line has progressed thanks to a great deal of work. Looking at the work in Pine Pitch Perfume, for example, one can see that her character design is a little shaky. Balancing space in her panels is also an issue at times, leading to some clutter. That said, she has a keen observational eye and a low-key wit. Her storytelling is also excellent throughout, especially when paired with an interesting conceptual gimmick. For example, "Partial Anatomy Of A Fabric Stash" uses a nine-panel grid with a different pattern of fabric in each panel. Each pattern told a different story, with a different piece of her past by way of clothes she made or wanted to make.

She also told stories about her daughter, her dog, her childhood and traveling to Brazil. Dietrich wields narrative captions pretty hard in these comics, but even her earliest stories have a witty visual vocabulary as well. In panels where her daughter is trying to fool her into staying awake or where she's trying to listen to headphones on a plane and draw but keeps getting loudly interrupted, Dietrich's use of gesture and exaggeration makes those panels effective. Birth Story unlocks and unleashes Dietrich's easy charm as a storyteller in a story that's paced a little like a Summer Pierre comic, only with much more rubbery visuals. Like any kind storyteller, the charm of this piece lies in its details. For example, Dietrich refused to wear any clothing while waiting to give birth. The lactation staff was away when she gave birth because they went to a Jimmy Buffet concert. Those details allowed her to connect the reader to the wave of emotions she felt at different points. Dietrich mostly stuck to a grid in this comic but wasn't afraid to modify it, collapsing rows into a single image or making single panels into a mini-four panel grid.

Key West Diary is Dietrich's longest and best comic to date. Travel is usually good fodder for diary comics, given the narrative aspect of having a finite period of time one's writing about. Dietrich went the extra mile but traveling alone with her toddler daughter down to her old stamping grounds in Key West with old friends. That gave the comic an interesting emotional resonance, as Dietrich revisited not just an old place, but an old way of life. There's also the New Hampshire in winter vs. sunny paradise juxtaposition, which led Dietrich to increase her degree of difficulty by going out as much as possible with her daughter. There's some disconnect on her part with her friends, who rarely think about their scandalous adventures with Dietrich, especially since she was trying to prove to herself that motherhood hadn't changed her that much. This is a rich and detailed comic that sees Dietrich examine her past, present, and future as an individual apart from her marriage. Her line is expressive and loose as spontaneity was a key aspect of the diary, yet there's greater overall control. The ambitiousness of her trip was matched by the ambitiousness of this comic.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Minis: Jennifer Hayden's A Flight Of Chickens

A Flight Of Chickens is a collection of Jennifer Hayden's earliest work on the web, and it's a series of four-panel autobiographical panels. This was not unusual for the time (the early 2010s), but there was a lot that stood out about her work, even early in her career. For one thing, her level of detail, including elaborate decorative flourishes, pain-staking stippling, and intense cross-hatching, was unusual for the average autobio comic. She backed off a little bit on this later in her career, which was all for the better because some of the panels were overly dense. It was clear that she was trying to juxtapose her stylized and stripped-down character designs with those details to give her work a bit more weight, but the panels just weren't big enough to allow her work to breathe properly.

That said, it was still fun to watch her cut loose with her full bag of tricks as she unleashed her acidic sense of humor on the world. Hayden is an inveterate smart-ass in a house full of them, especially her very funny husband. Barbs fly between Hayden and her husband and children, yet there's a powerful sense of warmth and love suffusing the comic. Hayden also has a wonderfully whimsical sense of humor that she explores visually, like imagining herself as Patti Smith or Frida Kahlo. Hayden always draws herself with a distinctively long, conical nose, so seeing that pointy schnozz on Kahlo was especially amusing. There's another strip where she attends a Pablo Picasso exhibit and imagines that he's there, hitting on her teenage daughter. It was an incredibly clever way of working out her feelings with regard to the artist over time.

There's a celebration of her deceased friend Shirley, bringing her to life with her eyes peeking out over her spectacles. Hayden also has a raw, frank, and funny approach to sex, like in strips where she reminisces about the early days with her future husband and about getting a vibrator as a gift from a talk at an "Edgy Mothers Day" event. There were two extended narratives here. One is about a couple of women running a tea shop that doesn't quite hang together on a strip-by-strip basis. Another is about meeting a man who used to live in their house, leading to various reminiscences. One can see the progress made from one strip to the next in terms of pacing and storytelling, as Hayden was figuring things out for her long-form autobio book The Story Of My Tits. Hayden worked on other autobio material as a side-project while working on her book. She's someone who came to comics later in life, and her work has always felt like she's trying to catch up on a lifetime not spent on this kind of storytelling. Her work is restless as a result, as she's trying to tell a thousand stories all at once. It's taken her some time to slow down a bit and focus on what she really wants to do in the moment, but it's thrilling to see her truly unleashed here with this early work.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Minis: Ryan Cecil Smith's Songs Of The Field

It's always a genuine pleasure to get a new S.F. comic from Ryan Cecil Smith, as it may be my favorite genre comic. There's a pleasurable clarity in storytelling that comes straight from certain kinds of sci-fi manga traditions, but Smith is a restless formal innovator who tinkers with visual and verbal structures in fun ways. For example, he loves playing on the "S.F." initials in various ways; this is the continuing story of the Science Fleet, but this particular comic is a Supplementary File titled Songs of the Field. Endlessly reiterating that structure, often in terms of dialogue or narrative, is all part of the fun. Of late, Smith has taken to doing endless Supplementary Files following one of the main characters or a side character on their own long adventure.

This one follows Alward the Lizard, a solo adventurer who has no love for the "lawful" Science Fleet nor for the "chaotic" pirates at war with them. Here, in this meaty 74-page mini, Smith uses the letters L.K. to describe things related to Alward: he flies his low-fuel kruiser into a zone and uses a latch klaw to get fuel. He turns out to be the son of the Lizard King and an invincible outlaw who skirmishes with a bunch of redneck types in a small mining operation. It's fast-paced, funny and vaguely philosophical in a sort of Stan Lee/Silver Surfer kind of way. Alward bemoans his lonely fate and is puzzled at the relentlessly hostile nature of humans while exploring space. The real treat here is Smith's candy-like use of color in this risograph-printed zine; indeed, the production values on a typical Smith comic are well above that of the average minicomic.

What's remarkable is the way Smith saturates each page with color but never loses the integrity of his line nor the clarity of his storytelling. The use of zip-a-tone effects has something to do with that in terms of maintaining structure, but the bigger key is Smith's ability to balance one or two complicated elements with several simpler ones. His line is simple and cartoony, giving it the flexibility to work in a number of different formal contexts. While there are a lot of colors, there are all carefully balanced on a panel-to-panel basis. He's careful to balance no more than three colors against each other in a given panel, but then he might use three completely different colors in the next pattern. The overall effect is kaleidoscopic, but broken down it looks quite intuitive. That cartoony and colorful nature of his work allows him to go big in terms of exaggerations and expressiveness without ever losing control over the page. The overall effect of the S.F. series is that of an extended lark in frothy genre fiction, but Smith's relentless attention to detail is what sets it apart from other such series. He's less concerned about the overall goal than he is in the flavor of the details that support the overarching plot. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Catching Up With Caitlin Cass

Let's catch up with some recent work by Caitlin Cass, one of the most original and prolific artists working in minicomics today. Her Postal Constituency service offers a subscription to her comics, and she puts something out every couple of months. The comics vary in terms of length, size, content, and ambition. However, she frequently writes about history, philosophy, culture, and politics.

Pre-History (Volume 8, Issue #6 of the P.C.) is a nice example of her work. It's a folded, small square comic that makes great use of its format by showing, one page/panel at a time, how various species evolved and were then wiped out by something. Cass has a snappy sense of humor and keeps things moving as she also alternates text and image on some of the pages. On other pages, she uses multiple unfoldings to tell a story.

"Give People Light And They Will Find A Way" (V9, #4) is a more straightforward story done in a standard format. Indeed, the comic was adapted from a presentation she gave at the school at which she teaches. Using a mostly open-page layout instead of a grid, the comic focuses on the women of the Civil Rights Movement. Cass noted that historically, women of color are usually at the forefront of every resistance movement but tend to get less credit than the men. This comic is both a remedy to that and a simple history. She talks about Jo Ann Robinson, who was the leader of the Alabama bus boycott. Using a simple, effective line, she relates the history of Ella Baker, who was one of the key founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That organization would be key in pushing for the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Finally, Fannie Lou Hamer was brought to life in discussing her role in getting people registered for the vote and the violence she faced in doing so.

Rest Stop Brochures For The Not-So-Distant Future (V9, #1) finds Cass working a gimmick for comic effect. This is indeed a group of brochures in comics form, bound by a light cardboard sleeve. This is Cass at her most conceptual, with gags like "Digital Red Tape," which is an app that makes it difficult to use one's phone; it's designed to help with phone addiction. "The Forum" is a brochure for an app that provides a crowd that will cheer you on publicly, no matter what you have to say. It's the ultimate echo chamber effect. "Rainbow Boat Tours" offers people a chance to sail through garbage, picking out plastic stuff one might have some affection for. "Drone Eyes" allows people to see the world through a drone's camera, while "Amazon Truck Share" spoofs the fact that most trucks are half empty, and it offers a free trip to a mystery location. The brochures range from silly to brutally satirical, but every brochure speaks to the ways in which we consume and regurgitate information and resources.

Finally, Myths (V9, #2) sees Cass using a slightly bigger format, slick brown paper and full color in conjuring up modern myths. One story is about a tear in the sky that people tried to sew up, paint over, protest against, and patch over. It turned about to be a funny metaphor for the ways in which crises (existential and otherwise) are treated by those who have money and those who don't. Another story was about people who refused to give offerings to those In Charge, and they were put in a window, depending on the generosity of others for food. It's a clever metaphor for those who choose to live apart from being ruled by capitalism (like many artists) depending on the whims of others for support--until it's all too much and one wastes away. There's a whimsical quality to all of the stories here, but it's ultimately a grim comic that's fatalistic with regard to our fate in society.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Minis: Daniel Spottswood

Daniel Spottswood usually does amusing and fictional slice-of-life comics, but in Son of Nix! and April 2018, he focuses on life with his wife and toddler son. The latter comic is printed on light cardboard stock and folds out like a calendar, with each day's slot containing either a four-panel strip or a single image. Spottswood's cute style is juxtaposed against his frustrations with his job and the difficulties of raising an active toddler. Some days are cute, like when his son gave him a good-night kiss but not for his mom. Some days are filled with emotion, like when he unloads on his wife for being so messy and then is immediately filled with shame. Some days are filled with having to bend to the iron will of a toddler who demands a certain kind of play. Spottswood also manages to read eight books in the month in addition to drawing this strip, finding the energy despite having a job that clearly enervates him. Working as a store dealing with shelving and organizing products is actually made worse by working for a friend as a manager, who is wishy-washy in terms of leadership. Despite all of the frustrations, one can sense a great deal of joy in this work, especially when he sees his son delight in something. The cute, spare line Spottswood uses is ideal for this kind of work when a lot of art is crammed into a small space, though some of the lettering is hard to read.

Son Of Nix! focuses in on Spottswood's son, Philip, in a standard minicomic format. There's a variety of work to be found: naturalistic drawings of his son, four-panel strips (in a size that lets them breathe), single-page gags and expressions of frustration, and more. Some strips are written taking Philip's point of view in mind, like how upsetting it is for your first birthday, surrounded by strangers and your food on fire. There are gags about play telephones that are very funny because Spottswood knows how to sell them both to the reader and his son. There's a lovely silent strip where he comforts Philip when he has a fever, falling asleep with him in his bed. There are more funny expressions of frustration, like when Philip knocks over his coffee in order to play with his cup or when Philip bashes him to wake him up before the sun rises. What I like most about these strips is their sense of being in the moment. There's a presentness in Spottswood's approach, especially in this mini, that focuses on the moment-to-moment life of being a parent. That gives them an almost visceral impact, both in terms of their humor but also their anger and frustration.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

CCS Extra: Reilly Hadden

Somehow, I missed that Reilly Hadden had sent me the final issue of his Astral Birth Canal series when I was covering his work last December. Issue #13 wrapped up some storylines and left some questions open as well, which will be picked up in his follow-up series, Astral Forest. This has been one of my favorite-ever CCS-related series, packing fantasy, horror, slice-of-life intimacy and even women's professional wrestling into a single and often bewildering package.

This issue is subtitled "Ghosts Stories," and it is a self-contained story that also acts as a framing device for last issue's cliffhanger ending. It all sort of hooks together a number of elements present in the series without quite explaining them all the way. For example, it follows the story of Bork, the god-warrior and his lover Valentina, a human pro wrestler. Bork was on earth to capture a "disgraced god-king" but was decapitated by him in the previous issue. This issue follows Bork's rebirth and Val's apparent death. The framing device is a series of stories told by a bird-creature and his apprentice on a boat, sailing the titular Astral Birth Canal. This is the first time that the series' title has been addressed since the 0 issue that brought humans to another realm by way of a video game. The bird-creature is similar to the sort we've seen in the other main storyline of the series, and it's clear that he has some sort of influence over life and death.

What makes this issue so effective is that Hadden doesn't burden the reader much with details and continuity. Instead, the focus is on the bird-creature's storytelling, which is almost folksy in tone. In many respects, this issue recapitulates the running theme for the series: the thin veil between life and death. The Canal actually being real and accessible for travel is a manifestation of the series' many deaths, resurrections, and reincarnations. It's an incubator for myths and legends, but what makes the series fascinating is that Hadden depicts these stories as being terrifying rather than heroic. People are thrown into the middle of a horrifying and inexplicable magical world and forced to attempt to survive. The reader is thrown into the middle of an epic storyline with no backstory, meaning that one simply has to accept the absurdity of the situation when reading it. This issue brought a small amount of clarity while creating any number of new mysteries. Throughout the series, Hadden kept the reader guessing and constantly entertained as he pursued his storytelling whims, and I'm curious to see what the tone of the new series will be like.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Minis: Aatmaja Pandya's Phantom

Aatmaja Pandya's Phantom is a fascinating, autobiographical look at the immigrant experience and gentrification. Pandya's family emigrated to Queens from India, and she was born and raised in that borough, "the most diverse city in the world." Returning to live in her old neighborhood as an adult, Pandya explores her feelings regarding gentrification and young white hipsters moving in. Her anger and frustration are palpable, in part because Queens made her (and other people of color) feel rooted. The young people moving in aren't looking to put down roots, in her mind; they're there for the experience and will move on after a couple of years. She explains that she understands why they're moving in and can't fault them, but she still feels frustrated.

That frustration is related to being a daughter of immigrants and a person of color in America. She noted that being in Queens allowed her to feel "invisible, in the right way." She didn't stick out, nor was she made to feel different by others, because she was one person of color among many. In turn, that helped her feel rooted to this area. It was where she grew up and learned how to ride a bike like any other American kid, but it's also where her mother taught her Gujarati. It's a place that belonged to her and people like her.

The fear is that as Queens continues to change, she won't have a place that roots her anymore. At a certain point, she may be forced to concede that "it doesn't belong to me anymore, either." This is a measured but emotional howl at forces beyond her control and the ways in which spaces that once were claimed by marginalized people can be taken away from them. It's about how colonialism is intrinsically bound with gentrification in ways that are often invisible to those moving into neighborhoods that are suddenly considered to be desirable. Pandya's use of colored pencils (the comic is printed solely in blue) is subtle and expressive, like in depicting the bemused smile on her face when she tells a friend "I like Queens, too." The sequence that ends the book is a memory of learning the alphabet of Gujarati. There's a lovely drawing of young Pandya on a single page, her form taking up the lower right-hand corner of the page. On the final page, she says, "Then we left, and I forgot it all." The same image is repeated, only it's now smudged and partly erased. It's a lovely but bittersweet encapsulation of someone who is trying to come to terms with the ways in which rootedness is often a luxury that immigrants and people of color in the US do not enjoy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Uncivilized: Dash Shaw's Structures 57-66

The Structures series of minicomics from Uncivilized speak to publisher Tom Kaczynski's professional interests as an architect. Of course, the nature of structures--especially man-made ones--has also always been a part of Kaczynski's personal, aesthetic project. In particular, the ways in which we interact with structures and how they explicitly and implicitly represent aspects of the wider culture and interests of capitalism is at the center of his work. The relationship between evolution and civilization vs. humanity's basest instincts also informs everything he does. As such, it's clear that when he assigned an artist an issue of Structures to do, he was interested in seeing how they would interpret the concept. In a sense, it's a kind of anthology series, riffing on a single theme in radically different ways.

Dash Shaw did Structures 57-66, and his take on the concept was surprisingly clear and linear. Earlier in his career, Shaw went heavy on coded symbolism and metaphor in his comics. In more recent years, his storytelling has become more straightforward in some ways, especially his use of line and narrative. His use of color is what's become the interesting wild card for him, using a wildly expressionistic style to convey emotion and meaning. It's interesting to see him return purely to line and not color in this comic, especially since it's so straightforward and even whimsical. Each drawing is a sort of fantasy of a building project outside his house. The first is a "Monument To Jane," his partner. The monuments utilize a thick but simple version of his line, laid out as a kind of sculptural montage. For Jane, we see her from various angles engaged in various activities with an assortment of instruments.

There's a warm and loving monument to his parents, engaged in a hug that merges their faces. There's a soaring monument to Tezuka, a funny and solid monument to Gertrude Stein, a monument to Francis Picabia that mimics that artist's drawings and even a monument to "the kicker of the monument." Shaw's sense of humor can be dry at times because he's so committed to the reality of whatever scenario he creates, but the reality is that a lot of his work is whimsical and sometimes emphatically funny. This comic is a nice workout for him that allows him to explore a number of different shapes and align them with concepts that gently tweak the art world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Minis: Jason Bradshaw's Things Go Wrong

Robyn Chapman continues to release interesting minicomics as part of her Paper Rocket Minicomics publishing concern, and Jason Bradshaw's Things Go Wrong is one of the most recent. Visually, it's in the same kind of rubbery, bigfoot style favored by artists like Sean Knickerbocker and Rusty Jordan. The characters are exaggerated and have odd dimensions; and the main character, James, takes up a lot of space on the page. This is by design: he fills up panels, bleeds over into other panels and essentially forces the reader to really examine him carefully from top to bottom. Though much of the story is done in a naturalistic fashion, Bradshaw's aim is to make the reader aware of the composition of each page. He wants them to see not just a character but also the process of what makes up the character: lines and shapes. The idea is to feel the way the character takes up space so that when he gets sick, the reader's reaction is a visceral one.

All of this is in a story about disease and depression. James is a sign painter and artist suffering from a debilitating parasite. This is a comic about how mental and physical illness can form a devastating synergy, with each affecting the other in turn. James is in pain, a feeling that initially inspires him to do paintings about this experience. However, given a chance at a cure, he opts not to take his medicine and stops doing anything but his work murals. He becomes suicidal by way of self-neglect, wanting to die but not being willing to actually kill himself. He's content to simply stop taking of himself in the hope that he'll be gone at some point. The blue wash for this comic speaks to that melancholy, as the reader is forced to watch him experience intense, unsettling pain along with losing control of his bowels. It's a resignation that's not just lacking a will to live, but rather it's almost a kind of self-punishment. James feels like he doesn't deserve to live because he has nothing to offer as an artist (and by extension, as a person).

The first issue ends with James at a low point, waiting for his death as he does nothing to take care of himself. That said, a future issue is mentioned, which means that this story is not yet over. I'll be curious to see how Bradshaw resolves this story and if James can find a way out. Notably, James has no friends or family to help him; that solitude is glaringly clear as he struggles through life. It's also a commentary on how the lack of human connection can accelerate depression and how our worst self-images and self-talk can bring us down. The slight touch of the grotesque in the drawings served to emphasize the ugliness that James felt.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Minis: Suzy & Cecil

Gabriella Tito and Sally Ingraham's mini Suzy & Cecil is a cute, sincere and low-key series of vignettes about a girl and her dog. Produced by Frank Santoro's Comic Workbook program in Pittsburgh, one can definitely see evidence of Santoro's influence. There's a strict four-panel grid that Ingraham never deviates from. There's also a highly expressive use of color throughout the comic, using colored pencil.  That includes color being extended to the actual line, giving the entire comic a larger-than-life feel that contrasts with the low-key stories and stripped-down pencils. The comic follows the adventures of Suzy and her dog Cecil, as they poke around the city and hang around the diner where her mom works. Cecil is a floor-cleaner, going after scraps when they fall on the floor. The pigtailed Suzy is an adventurer, going on boat rides, long walks, car rides and sojourns through back alleys with her dog. 

The results are pleasantly meandering and remind me a bit of Melissa Mendes' Freddy Stories. That's a comic about a tomboy and her dog, negotiating the world on her own terms thanks to a number of understanding adults in her life. This is similar and despite the expansive use of color, the essence of each strip is rooted in rock-solid cartooning fundamentals. There's an emphasis on the relationship between figures in space, even when the figures themselves are quickly sketched out. For example, drawings of hands and feet are basic--even crude at times. However, the emotional relationship between characters is made clear thanks to body language and gesture. Indeed, Ingraham probably could have stripped things down even further for the sake of clarity, as some lines looked overly fussy. 

Of course, the use of color is the most eye-catching aspect of these comics. In a comic that aggressively sticks to fundamentals in every other aspect of page design, the use of color is strikingly expressionistic. One page is colored all in lavender. Another features a yellow-orange ground and a purplish night sky. Other pages mix pink, blue and yellow. It's fun to look at and provides a great deal of variety. The enliven the small moments of the story, like Cecil encountering squirrels and birds, Cecil or Suzy snoring loudly and ruminations on youth and mortality. This is very much a comic that's about celebrating the smallest of moments of youth and preserving them. It builds a balance between being totally unaware of time, like Cecil, and feeling like you have all the time in the world, like Suzy. In the case of both, there's an awareness passed on to the reader that time's march is inexorable, and so we should particularly enjoy the smallest of moments. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Koyama: Chris Kuzma's Lunch Quest

Chris Kuzma's book Lunch Quest is sort of like Paper Rad decided to do a children's comic. The color scheme is toned down from "visual assault" to "vivid," but the big, black eyes and roundness of the character design are very similar to that aesthetic. The page layout is also quite simple, with a base 2 x 3 panel grid that is collapsed into fewer panels as well as splash pages. It feels like the book is a mash-up of several different ideas, cleverly linked by a framing device that sets up what is non-stop motion.

It's about a hungry rabbit character dressed in a business suit who comes home looking for his lettuce. Kuzma quickly establishes a premise and then exhausts it as he leads the reader around the page, then quickly adds an absurdist premise that turns the story upside down. In this case, it's finding a portal to another world inside of the lettuce bin, which shows him a couple of skateboarding kids getting into a series of escalating challenges with a rabbit master. Kuzma slips between standard panel-to-panel transitions and flattened, full-page open layouts that twist and turn through a variety of distinctive visual cues. The same pattern is repeated in the second half of the book, where the suited rabbit happens to witness an epic dance battle.

Kuzma does a version of Keren Katz's approach to comics here, which is strongly related to her own dance background. Kuzma thinks a lot about bodies in motion and the ways in which they flatten and become distorted. Kuzma seizes on that distortion and freezes it, creating a tension between the relentless motion and that momentary pose that's a slice of that motion. The use of color and the pleasing, friendly character design make that distortion friendly and cool for a young reader, as they lead up to fun resolutions for the frenetic action on the pages. The final part of the book is a recapitulation of the first two sections, as the rabbit frantically searches for lettuce and discovers a half-dozen new worlds that get just a panel each. The final reveal is funny and sweet, but Kuzma also adds a gag on top of it. This comic is a great way of introducing non-naturalistic storytelling to young readers, reconnecting them to basic concepts of shape and showing them how it can tell a story. It's also funny, good-natured and very slightly scatological, making it a perfect read for kids between seven and ten years old.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Minis: Brandon Lehmann's Womp Womp

Brandon Lehmann's Womp Womp is a magazine-size mini that shows off his solid gag chops on page after page. He's at his best when he digs into a subject and then comes at its concept from a variety of different angles. The funniest strip in the book is "Double Dragon," which posits the existential question of what video game flunkies do to pass the time when they're waiting for the heroes to come fight them. In this particular case, I spent a lot of hours playing that game years ago, and so I was familiar with the flunkies in question. There's one guy holding a knife, yearning for someone to throw it at. There's another guy perpetually holding a barrel over his head, who would put it down if he wasn't known as "the barrel guy," where "the pain in my muscles lets me know that I'm truly alive." Lehmann nails the awkwardness of their poses while strip-mining the concept for every laugh he can.

"Bad Veterinarian" takes that titular premise and runs with it. It's not just that the vet, in this case, is bad; but his relentless and clueless cheerfulness is also maddening. After mistaking a cat for a dog, he goes on to ask the customer if he should do some shots and then suggests putting the cat to sleep. The contrast of the increasingly angry and baffled customer and the blissfully clueless vet drives the humor. Lehmann deliberately uses a static character design and layout style in order to create this particular comedic rhythm, with eight panels per page. When the customer's eyes start to bulge in rage and disbelief, the vet's dull eyes heighten the gag.

"True Cat Confessions" is an extended riff on a cat's shame and eventual acceptance in using a litterbox, complete with a desert dream sequence. "Some Random Guy Falls Into An Abstract Nihilistic Misery Hole" is exactly as advertised, complete with a being telling the guy that everything is meaningless. It winds up being a commercial for Subway sandwiches. There's a comic about a cool cop trying to peddle the notion of going back to using flip phones in what winds up being an ad. There's an exaggerated, lengthy story of a stereotypical rich dandy being forced to wash dishes and then recalling the incident. Lehmann's comics border on being shaggy-dog stories at times, which works better in some instances than others. That said, the cumulative effect of those strips makes the comic greater than the sum of its parts, with that relentless but dry conceptual absurdity creating expectations for greater silliness on every page. There's a deliberate stiffness to the art that's off-putting at times, but Lehmann varies his approach enough that it's not a distraction. Lehmann definitely shows the potential to be an excellent humorist in the vein of Michael Kupperman or Martha Keavney.