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The Best Laugh Never Leaves Your Lungs

"If I was ever myself/
I wasnít that night."

WILCO, "Handshake Drugs," from A GHOST IS BORN

I just haven't had as much time as I'd like to do lengthy reviews, but there are quite a few books I've read recently that I wanted to discuss, so let's get on with it.

Scooter Girl by Chynna Clugston-Major. Oni Press. $14.95
Clugston-Major takes another creative step forward with this full realized romance, which, for most of it, is actually a pitched battle between the leads, an arrogant, popular womanizer and the tough, cool woman who takes him down a peg, and another peg, and on and on until one really feels sorry for the guy. The author's Anglophilia, surroundings and musical obsessions only enhance what is already a solid story, perhaps even better than her winning Blue Monday work because its six issue story requires tighter plotting. Again, the theme here is of having to make the tough climb to adulthood in order to have an adult romantic relationship, while not losing the essential elements of oneself. With such thematic concerns in her mind, it's no wonder Clugston-Major creates a more adult work without losing the humor and playfulness of earlier efforts.

Tiempos Finales (End Times) by Samuel Hiti. $9.95
Look, decompression as a storytelling technique has become very popular over the years, in degrees influenced by the rising popularity of manga as well as attempts by American publishers to stretch every story into an arc of four to six issues that will then make for a good-sized trade paperback collection. Decompression became such a big deal that now such creators as Grant Morrison are now doing "supercompressed" work in an attempt to differentiate themselves. A given story in an acclaimed work like Lone Wolf & Cub could be told in six pages rather than sixty, but arguably with a great loss in impact. Decompression is not the problem with End Times. The problem is that very, very little happens. Itís about ten minutesí worth of a movie, and a self-indulgent movie at that. Aside from some scenes with a cute, saucer-eyed tot who will know doubt bond with the mustachioed hero, this story seems little different than a Mignola Hellboy tale, the big guy here just being a Latin badass beating up monsters for Jesus rather than the government. But Mignola can create just as eerie and effective a mood with a panel of a dusty old portrait followed by a panel of a frog in repose that Hiti does over twenty pages or so. Heís a good artist, with a style showing hints of disparate artists like Craig Thompson, Paul Pope and Scott Morse, but he needs an editor. I appreciate that this is just ten bucks for over 100 pages of comics, but it seems like much less of a value when one realizes Hiti plans eight more volumes ($80 or more!) to tell this triflingly simple story. Some have praised the book for its Catholic themes, I guess as most comics shy away from any kind of religion, but in reality, the characterís "mission from God" is about as faith-full as The Blues Brothers. So if you were worried, donít be, and if you were looking forward to that old-time religion, look elsewhere. The book is most enjoyable at its least pretentious part, when the guy is destroying an ugly monster, but there honestly isnít anything more to it than that.

The Fast and the Spurious

The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #2 by Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne. Beckett Comics. $1.99.
Only a five minute read for two bucks, but this is shaping up to be a pretty cool Weird West Tale, regardless of its being a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. In fact, the fairy tale elements are completely absent from this issue, and it's pretty much a story of suspenseful chases and revenge. Benson is a page-turner, and Hawthorne's style is well suited to the rough-and-tumble setting.

Belly-Button Comix by Sophie Crumb. Fantagraphics. $4.95.
Being the daughter of a world famous cartoonist, and living in a comics-friendly country like France, Sophie Crumb probably took to cartooning like a duck to water, and these are the first results seen in the U.S. Just in her early 20s, she's already adept at several different art styles here, as well as being comfortable expressing the uncomfortable, embarrassing and depressing moments in her life. One shouldn't hope for or expect work as accomplished and obsessive as her father at this point, but it's smart, funny, touching stuff.

The Lizard of Oz by Mark Bode'. Fantagraphics. $12.95
Bode has made a respectable career for himself as an artist and cartoonist, but now that he is older than his famous father Vaughn when he died, comes to terms with the elder Bode's legacy, producing this graphic novel starring the signature Vaughn Bode' character, Cheech Wizard. Rife with pillowy-breasted whores and foul-mouthed waifs, Bode' seeks to recall the druggy, lewd style of his father in as obvious a setting as can be imagined--a parody of The Wizard of Oz. Cheech Wizard is actually underused here, as Bode' spends a good deal of time setting up characters to stand in for Dorothy, the Tin Man, etc. The art is gorgeous, wonderfully colored and with the fat, sexy line Vaughn Bode' used, but there's no payoff in the story, not even good dirty jokes. For a project that apparently took three years, the vast majority of time seems to have been spent on the art, with the story just kind of made up as Bode went along. It's a shame, but perhaps now that he's gotten this out of his system, he can produce better work, that owes nothing to his father's legacy.

-- Chris Allen



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