Today’s entry in the Indie Box is one I have never owned nor even seen in the flesh. But with insane, sci-fidinosaur art from Steve “Tyrant” Bissette and Peter “Ninja Turtles” Laird, who could resist? These pages come from the Mirage Mini Comics Boxed Set, a treasure so long out-of-print that I don’t mind if you post a link to buy it in the comments!
March is a three-issue graphic novel from 2013 that autobiographically tells the story of 1960s-era civil-rights activist John Lewis, who later served as a representative for Georgia. He led one of the groups that helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Through a series of framing sequences and flashbacks, March takes the reader on a journey from an impoverished rural childhood, through times of heartbreaking violence and protest, to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. That moment was a cultural victory for millions of Americans, and reading about it this month puts recent events into perspective.
In January 2021, we saw a different kind of march on Washington. A violent mob of white supremacists and incredibly misguided people who swear allegiance to a reality-TV demagogue and known liar stormed the capitol, claiming their racist hate was patriotism, claiming their attempt to overthrow a fair and democratic election was a defense of democracy, and leaving in their wake a trail of death and destruction in the name of so-called freedom.
March also reminds us that this despicable aspect of America is nothing new. Similar violence and even worse was rained down upon black Americans staging peaceful protests attempting to be served in restaurants, join schools, or ride a bus — and it was accompanied by the same sort of flag-waving idiocy and bible-thumping madness that too many have used to advance an agenda of racial subjugation that has nothing to do with our country’s ideals of equality nor the peaceful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
John Lewis passed away last year, in 2020. But we are fortunate that he left us with this memoir. It is a monument to how far our country advanced in terms of equality in his lifetime and, especially in light of recent events, a reminder of just how far we have to go.
What can I say about one of the most widely acclaimed and influential graphic novels ever published? I re-read Maus this month for the first time since the mid-90s, and its combination of sequential art and novelistic storytelling have held up remarkably well over the years.
Maus tells the story of the persecution of Jews in Poland under the reign of the Nazi Third Reich, framed by sequences where the author interviews his father to get the memories that form the basis of the historical narrative. Throw in some detours such as a short comic-inside-the-comic that deals with the author’s mother’s suicide, and a meta-examination of the work where the author deals with his guilt and ambivalence towards the series and visits a therapist. Maus subverts the idea of “funny animal comics” by making the characters animals but telling a story that is tragic and horrifying.
Maus was one of the first books I can recall that gained national—even global—attention for telling a serious story that did not involve any superheroes yet brought an air of literary legitimacy to the term “graphic novel”. These days, any six-issue story arc about a mainstream superhero can be collected into a paperback and labeled a graphic novel for marketing purposes. Maybe the term has become so watered down that we’ve lost the meaningful distinction between graphic novels and comic books.
But I don’t plan on losing any sleep over it. Categorize them however you want! There’s room in the Big Box of Comics for all of them.
Fran is the female counterpart to Jim Woodring’s Frank, a somewhat traditional “funny animal” cartoon character who lives in a completely untraditional world of mayhem, magical beings, mysterious objects, and massive acid trips. It’s a world where even when Woodring shows you exactly what is happening, you still wonder what the hell is happening! Frank stories are unpredictable and open to interpretation, and the Fran graphic novel is no exception.
Things start out simply enough. Fran and Frank are living in apparent marital bliss, where a morning of play fighting and teasing is just an expression of their mutual affection.
But when Frank and his pet chase down a creep who stole Frank’s sketchbook, they unearth a hole that leads to a subterranean cavern filled with presumably stolen wonders. Frank, being amoral or at least morally ambiguous, loots the cave and takes home the booty.
One of the treasures is a projector that, when worn on the head, projects the wearer’s memories like a movie. When Fran refuses to put it on her head, Frank loses his temper and screams at her.
As a result, she leaves him. When Frank realizes she’s gone, he is heartbroken, and beats himself up for being such a jerk.
The rest of the story primarily concerns Frank’s quest to follow Fran’s trail into the psychedelic wilderness and reunite with her. But there is more to Fran than meets the eye, and we discover several things about her that suggest she had good reason to not want her memories exposed to Frank via the projector. She violently slaughters some creeps who assault her, shacks up with a guy with a freaky face, and ultimately uses a shape-shifting deception to ditch Frank once again.
Frank doesn’t take it well. He lets loose a howl that brings down the heavens… or something!
From there, things get really weird. Frank’s journey takes unexpected twists and turns through a deranged cosmos loosely governed by cartoon physics and hallucinatory horror. Like the previous novel-length Frank adventures in Weathercraft and Congress of the Animals, Fran will keep you guessing about what could possibly happen next, and leave you pondering what it all means at the end.
Action Philosophers uses humor, exaggeration, and sight gags to spice up a subject that many people avoid just because it’s too damn boring. Writer Fred van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey bring much-needed life to the topic in their irreverent yet educational takes on many of the most influential philosophers, from ancient times to modern.
Consider Bodhidharma, an important figure in the development of both Zen and martial arts. Did you think a lesson on Zen was going to be a bunch of boring monks sitting around meditating? Think again!
Then there’s Isaac Luria, portrayed in an homage to the sorcerer Dr. Strange of Marvel Comics fame.
In their quest to make philosophy exciting, the creative team pays other tributes to action-packed comic book styles, including Jack Kirby’s pulse-pounding visuals.
Pop culture references abound, such as imagining David Hume using the old Saturday Night Live catchphrase, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” I’ve read Hume before, and it was nowhere near as fun as this version.
The conventions of comic book art lend themselves to illustrating some abstract concepts, like this page where objects and people disappear because the philosopher isn’t thinking about them.
And why suffer through tedious history books about Francis Bacon when a handy infographic does the trick?
This is a fun series, and I thank reader Ergozen for recommending it a few months ago. The Tenth Anniversary “uber-edition” collects all the material so that the philosophers appear in chronological order, but it’s often out of stock or exorbitantly priced. However, you can find a similar complete collection on Amazon at a reasonable price.
You can also explore more fun and educational works at Ryan Dunlavey’s site, including a lengthy sample of his history of comic books.
My love for Larry Gonicks’ Cartoon History of the Universe goes back almost as many years as this blog, when I first discovered scans of it and later collected many of the original nine single issues. Cartoon History won my heart with a first issue that features some of my favorite topics: the origin of spacetime, the lives of dinosaurs, and prehistoric mammals and birds. From there, the series leaves behind the “universe” to tell the stories of human civilizations throughout Africa, India, China, Greece, Rome, and Europe. It’s a monumental tour de force with a great sense of humor, and it’s way more fun than most history classes.
So, this Spring, thanks to this blog’s readers, I expanded my Cartoon History collection with a few collected paperbacks. Three large paperback volumes collect issues 1–7, 8–13, and 14–19 in almost 1,000 pages of awesomeness that start with the Big Bang and end as Columbus sets sail from Spain in 1492.
On top of that, a paperback collection of nearly 400 pages offers The Cartoon History of the United States, which was originally published in two smaller volumes. Gonick adroitly strikes a balance between giving us history’s broad brushstrokes and revealing some of its complex nuances. For example, most Americans might tell you, “Lincoln freed the slaves,” but the reality was not so simple. Gonick tackles complex topics like this without ever being dry and academic about it.
He also succeeds in unraveling such complexities in a way that someone in sixth grade or junior high school could read and understand, and it’s a shame that these books are not used as textbooks in high school courses—or even college. Stylistically, this collection shows a departure from the crisp panel layouts and inking style of the “Universe” series, with Gonick abandoning his prior preferences for panel layouts in favor of a more open style and adopting a rougher inking technique that incorporates prior period-specific artwork in some of its panels. This style still works; it’s just noticeably different from what came before.
You’d think that after all that history, we might be done. But I also picked up Gonick’s collaboration with Mark Wheelis: The Cartoon Guide to Genetics. Visually, this book looks more like the volumes of United States history, and the material is more scientifically complex. It adeptly delves into not just the history of genetics pioneers such as Gregor Mendel but into the molecular structure of DNA and the inner workings of cells. I’ve read more detailed books on cells, such as the masterful The Machinery of Life by David Goodsell, but this is a book that even your average high-school student should be able to read and understand. It isn’t quite as funny as the “Universe” series, but it’s an enjoyable and informative read that will give you a strong foundation for understanding this topic.
Larry Gonick has done more books than these, but that’s where my store credit ran out! After working my way through all these volumes, I’m left with a profound admiration for his skills at using cartoons as a teaching method, for his ability to discuss complex aspects of history and science in way that renders them comprehensible without sacrificing an awareness of their subtleties, and for his use of humor to turn what could be rather dry reading into an enjoyable and memorable romp through history.
This week’s pick from the indie comics short box is Utopiates, a four-issue black-and-white series focusing on characters who take a drug that temporarily alters their personality and emotions, but with violent and disastrous results.
The first issue opens with a full page of Gen-X angst that sets up what, at first, appears to be a simple tale about a young man who takes a drug to escape the dull hopelessness of his life.
By the end of the first issue, it becomes clear this tale is not so simple. We learn that the drug is somehow giving people specific personality traits because it is composed of genetic material copied from specific people. I don’t buy that bit of pseudo-science at all, but playing along with this central idea of injecting genetics like drugs does make for some interesting developments. For example, the young man in the first issue starts killing people his drug dealer assigns to him, but when he injects some Jack Ruby DNA, he kills the wrong person. This doesn’t end well for him.
The second and third issue tell the story of a different young man who served in a war as part of a private military contractor’s invasion force. We learn that he and all the contractors were constantly hopped up on one of these genetic drugs to reduce their fear and increase ferocity.
This two-part story shows how the soldier does not adapt well to normal society after his contract is complete and he can no longer get his drugs. The robotic psych counselor the company forces him to see is useless, so the young man starts looking for a source of the drug. His path leads him to discover whose DNA he and his troops were injecting.
The fourth issue tells the story of another former soldier, a woman who becomes an assassin for hire much like the character in the first issue. It suggests that the mysterious drug dealer in all these stories is giving out these gene-drugs and manipulating people as an art form. I found that motivation a bit lackluster, but I suspect that if the series had continued, then writer Josh Finney would have given us more depth and detail about what makes the dealer tick.
I love the artwork in this series, with Finney collaborating with artist Kat Rocha to produce moody, dramatic pages that look amazing without color. I don’t know why the series ended, but it feels like it could be a treatment for an ongoing TV series with action, adventure, mystery, futurism, and a bit of social commentary. Finally, it’s possible that Finney took the name of the series from a 1964 book detailing research into why people take LSD. You can read a review and summary of that book in the University of Chicago archives.
The four issues of Utopiates make a fairly quick but thought-provoking read, and you can have them for about $2 a piece.
This week’s pick from the indie short box of comics is the complete four-volume collection Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition. It’s also an entry in the big box of free comics series, because I wouldn’t have this collection if not for this blog’s readers. This espionage thriller featuring a British female spy comes from the mind of crime novelist Greg Rucka and an art team that changes with every major arc, giving each episode a unique look and feel.
The four volumes total nearly 1500 pages, which includes the entire single-issue series and three supplementary Declassified series, plus a slew of extras such as interviews, scripts, and sketchbooks. I loved it, with a few reservations, and it was maybe the third time I read the series.
Years ago, I sold a complete collection, and you can see photos of the interior art and full-color covers in my old post about the collection. I had discovered a few scattered issues in a used bookstore and gradually pieced together the set before selling it. With the Definitive Edition, it was great to read it all again in chronological order.
Still, you will find a few a gaps in chronology. Queen & Country is also a series of prose novels, and the comic-book adaptations sometimes skip a novel. “These events take place after the events in [novel]” comes up at least once. But, you get enough context from each story to follow along anyway, and a helpful flashback or two fills in the important gaps.
With the Definitive Edition, you won’t get the full-color covers, though the black-and-white versions are high quality. The page size is slightly smaller than a typical comic book, which occasionally makes the lettering a little hard to read. It was not as bad as the Tintin collection, which practically required a magnifying glass. I only struggled in a couple of stories, such as the first one where Tara’s thoughts appear in a cursive script that didn’t fare well from being shrunk.
The black-and-white art of the original series still looks incredible at this size, though some of the edges of panels disappear in the gutter — unless you want to test the limits of how far you can force the book’s spine open. A wider blank space in the gutter would have been a good thing. But, each of the four volumes is a sturdy paperback with a solid binding and high-quality paper.
Overall, it’s an awesome way to enjoy the complete series, and way easier and more cost-effective than trying to hunt down all the single issues one-by-one.
The art and writing are top-notch, with a compelling lead character who does some bad-ass spy stuff but has way more interesting internal and emotional conflicts than, say, James Bond. Tara Chace has depth, and she changes over the course of the series, and her world is turned upside down more than once. She has a strong supporting cast, and several merit standalone stories as leads in their own right.
Toward the end of the series, reading it one weekend as I did, I noticed there were an awful lot of scenes of people talking in offices, and pages of people having discussions that made a point but didn’t really advance the adventure. These were interesting for a while in the beginning, but by the end I was way more more invested in what Tara was doing than what some guys in offices were droning on about, and I skipped a few scenes.
You’ll probably feel the same way about the leading lady, and your mind might be blown at the cliffhanger ending of the series, and you might even want to pick up some of the novels afterward!
This week’s pick from the short box of indie comics takes us once again into the world of crime fiction. A History of Violence from John “Judge Dredd” Wagner and Vince Locke really puts the “novel” in “graphic novel”, telling a deeply detailed story in its nearly 300 pages. I read it years ago but didn’t see the film until this summer. The book was more satisfying, especially the ending, which is a visceral punch to the gut in print but completely re-written and watered down for the film.
So, let’s start at the beginning, because A History of Violence opens with murderous intent.
Pretty soon, the murderers stop for a bite to eat in typical, small-town America, where everything is quaint, peaceful, and family-friendly. But when they try to start trouble at the local diner, the dude at the counter decides homie don’t play thatshit, and he totally destroys them.
Diner dude wastes these guys and becomes a local celebrity. There, the story gets bogged down with scenes of his resultant interactions with the yuk-yuks from Anywhere, USA as they fawn over him at little-league games and other scenes I could skip. But this shift in the hero’s calm, daily life gets kicked up a notch when the leader of a criminal organization recognizes diner dude in a newspaper article, and decides to visit.
This scene begins a gradual reveal of diner dude’s past, and how he came to be involved with the underworld in his youth and eventually assumed a new identity so he could live a pastoral life in Generic, USA. The middle third of the book tells that story as a flashback, and it’s almost as much fun as the part in the Godfather novel where we flashback to Vito Corleone’s rise to power in his youth.
The first time I read A History of Violence, I couldn’t put it down. But upon re-reading, I could have done without so many extended, dialogue-heavy scenes of regular folks standing or sitting around while having an interpersonal drama. It often feels like this could be a real barnburner of a tale if we could just cut some of the “normal folks chatting in a mild state of distress” scenes, and get into the absolutely fucked-up criminal world that really drives the plot and drama. And by “absolutely fucked up”, I mean pages like this:
Earlier, I implied I didn’t like the movie, but mostly what I hated were the changes to the ending. In fact, the film did a better job portraying the shoot-out on diner dude’s lawn where his son was involved, and the film had a somewhat tighter pace. Also, Ed Harris as the eyeless criminal guy totally rocks.
I’m a bit ambivalent about the art in this story. The panel layouts and the visual storytelling of both quiet conversations and brutal conflict are top-notch, but I can’t escape the feeling that that I am looking at a sketch of the story instead of the final version. The art is very scratchy, and while it has a visceral power, after a couple hundred pages I started wishing another inker would come along and tighten it up. On the other hand, this is a gritty and compelling story once you get into it, and a gritty visual style suits it well.
Fans of crime fiction should read A History of Violence at least once because, despite its flaws, it is a dramatic and emotional journey that not even the film could match, and it isn’t a story you will soon forget. The original edition is long out of print, but the 2005 reprint will run you about $20.
Today’s pick from the box of indie and small-press comics is Tales of the Cherokee. Let’s have a look at Gene Gonzales’ illustrated version of the Cherokee creation myth in “How the World Was Made.” Dig that splash page featuring the worlds above and below!
Below is another tale, a Cherokee love story Gene calls “The Origin of Strawberries.”
This is Sold-Out lampoons the comic book industry of the 1980s, and no one walks away without a few lumps. It’s too bad the creators never did a sequel satirizing the 1990s speculator craze. Long-time comic book fans will enjoy picking out the altered comic book titles on the racks and the ridiculous hyperbole about the medium we know and love.
My favorite moment might be when a rodent and a turtle use random words from the dictionary to come up with the title of the latest black-and-white indie sensation: The Catastrophic Obsequious Belgian Hibernation Retrieval. Someone must create that book!
This Is Sold Out has an outrageous second issue that concludes the story as the “Color Police” get together to eradicate all competition for the black-and-white madness. Absolute lunacy!
-From Sold Out; 1986, FantaCo. Last we checked, FantaCo was defunct and this title is out of print.
The short-box of indie and small-press comics this week crawls right out of the gutter to bring you the underground skateboard glory of Thrasher!
Thrasher Comics came from High Speed, the publishers of Thrasher Magazine, who also produced the art magazine Juxtapoz. You don’t need to be a skater to dig the artwork in Thrasher Comics, however. Here is a sample: L. E. Coleman’s “Skate Greats of History,” featuring Elvis Presley skating on a guitar, and Julius Caesar skating the Colossuem.
Though it’s unsigned, Thrasher contributor Ken Jones informed us the cover was created by Kevin Ancell. The style brings to mind the work of Rick Griffin. Griffin did freelance work for Thrasher Magazine and even designed several Vans shoes, a brand loved by skaters everywhere.
– From Thrasher #2; 1988, High Speed.
Here to introduce the descent into the dreamworld is a strange and nameless beast who begins every issue of this unique series.
In Rare Bit Fiends, Rick Veitch made his dreams into pages of comic book art. Don’t look for traditional stories in Rare Bit Fiends. You’ll only find the psychedelic language of dreams and the weird workings of the inner mind. Veitch’s artwork is in top form.
Below is a sample of an illustrated dream whose narrative comes from a special-guest dreamer Neil Gaiman and rendered by Roarin’ Rick in ultra-cosmic perfection!
What’s inside the short-box of indie comic books this week? The punk-rock mini-series that glorifies juvenile debauchery and ill-advised life choices as only Brian Wood and Steve Rolston could bring you: Pounded!
Did you ever have one of those mornings when only the F word will do? Heavy Parker has, too! In the third and final issue of Pounded, after getting his ass beat, Heavy makes it through four whole pages of a lousy morning with just one word to describe his feelings.
Pounded from Brian “DMZ” Wood and Steve Rolston is a quick read but a fun one. It’s much more guy-oriented than Wood’s work on New York Four and New York Five. I got the impression those were written for a young female audience who finds drama in texting and… texting… and more texting about texting… PLEASE KILL ME! But in Pounded, we get rock and roll, tough talk, sex and drugs in the bathrooms of concert venues, brutal fist fights in the street, and plenty of profanity! Man out with Heavy Parker today. Guaranteed to improve your fucking morning!
– From Pounded #3; Oni Press, 2002.
– Reprinted in the Pounded TPB (which is more often in stock.)
This week, the indie short-box holds the only issue of Alexis I’ve ever seen. This book is so small-press that it might as well be extinct — which is a shame for a book with bold and exciting black-and-white artwork, boobs, and tentacles.
Individual issues appear sometimes on eBay and Amazon, but with little agreement on the market value. I’ve never seen a listing for a full set of either Volume 1 or Volume 2, and certainly not both together. [This is no longer true! See my update in the Collector’s Guide below.] Each volume was five issues long. Below are my scans of issue #5 of the second volume. It seems like a grand climax to a fun story with awesome art that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’d love to see the other nine issues.
Art & Story by Adam Kelly. Published March, 1996 by Kim Thompson and Gary Groth of Eros Comix, a defunct imprint of Fantagraphics. The inside cover contains this text: “RETAILERS ARE INSTRUCTED NOT TO SELL THIS PUBLICATION TO MINORS.” Compared to some of the publisher’s outright porn comics advertised in the back of this issue, Alexis #5 seems pretty mild.
Collector’s Guide: I have no idea where to find this series. Do you? Leave a comment and enlighten me. UPDATE: I found a store that currently has all issues of Volume 2, and a package deal containing all ten issues of Volumes 1 and 2. Prices are about $10 per issue. See the listings at AbeBooks.com.
Line of Thought by Peter Deligdisch is long overdue for a spotlight here at Mars Will Send No More. For maybe two years now, Line of Thought has inspired me. Filled with complex and often abstract drawings, this completely black and white book gives me an instant trip to an art museum. It’s the cup of ink-black coffee that wakes me up when my artistic spirit is lagging.
Maybe you’ve already discovered Peter’s artwork on YouTube or, like me, on Reddit. Line of Thought collects many of his more polished works alongside a few odds and ends that make the book feel like an intimate look at the artist’s sketchbook. I like that kind of thing, but some reviewers criticized the book for not being print-quality reproductions and for including what they felt were doodles.
I enjoy Line of Thought‘s resemblance to underground and indie comics, and to zines, and to publications like Seattle’s Intruder which is entirely comics and art. (Intruder will soon publish its final issue after a pretty amazing run.) This book fits right in with works such as Rick Griffin’s Man from Utopia. It’s an art book, and I think my fellow comic book fans might dig it, too.
Peter works in several distinct styles, but most of his work fits in with what have recently been called zentangles. They are ornately detailed renderings of the plane along shapes which can be either swirling and chaotic, or geometric and orderly. You can make a zentangle out of something representational, or it can be abstract. And when you see Peter’s ink drawings, you can’t help but imagine coloring in all the tiny shapes.
Although I love this book, it may be a mistake to have it categorized in the coloring books category. It got some negative reviews for not really being a coloring book, and that sounds fair. On the other hand, many of the pieces in Line of Thought could totally work as coloring book pages, with a few alterations to the current format. That might include enlarging many of the pieces currently filling half a page (and thus sharing it with another piece). And, pieces with grey-scale shading could be omitted in favor of only pieces created in high-contrast black and white.
That’s not to say it would make me love the book any more, but it would position Deligdisch more accurately in the coloring books category. I’m perfectly content to pick up Line of Thought and flip through the pages whenever I need a reminder that anything is possible in art, that both chaos and order are beautiful and intertwined, and that it’s possible to create pure magic with only a pen and a piece of paper.
This little frog revisits a 4×6 drawing I did with my first set of fine point pens in March 2013. The original 4×6 sold on eBay. This one is bigger at 6×8, though the image above is cropped to 5×7. It uses more solid black in the background than the original version did, but the frog is pretty much the same.
Psychotic Adventures #2 is the second of three issues by Charles Dallas, published in 1974 by Last Gasp. You only rarely see them in stock at MyComicShop, so we went directly to Last Gasp for our copy. Last Gasp is also currently out of stock, so maybe we got one of the last available copies.
The other two issues of Psychotic Adventures contain several short stories. You can see some of them in our Psychotic Adventures archive. This one, however, features a non-stop, no-advertisements action/adventure story of epic scale, a story that doesn’t stop until the back cover of the book! The hero and his comrades endure the most horrifying tragedies and injustices, pressing on with an indomitable spirit no matter what.
This story earns more than just a spot in our second round of Top Ten Favorite Single Comic Book Issues. Though we had never discovered this title until a couple years after starting this blog, it has risen to the top of our hallowed short boxes of glory to claim its spot as the most awesome comic book we have ever read. Enjoy!
Originally, we meant to tell you all about how we discovered this book, which features a rare collaboration between two of our favorite artists: Jim Starlin + Alex Niño. But as we prepared our lovingly hand-crafted scans for you, we realized we scanned the exact same hair onto at least half a dozen pages. That’s a pretty big scanning fail, especially when you already shipped the dang book. OOPS.
Nevertheless, we went through too much to give up now! We must move ever forward! And so here they are, the complete pages of the awesome Starlin/Niño team-up in Rampaging Hulk #4; Marvel Comics, 1977. “The Other Side of Night.”
Nexus #3, a magazine-sized publication by Capital. This was the last of the magazine-sized Nexus books. Numbering would restart at #1 when Capital made Nexus a regular-sized book in full color. Despite having a playable record in it, the retail price of this comic book is under $10 most of the time. The interior has been reprinted more than once, but the original comes with a dramatic back cover by Frank Brunner and an editorial on the inside cover.