good this week

the fade out volume #1 : old time hollywood in the hands of CRIMINAL masterminds ed brubaker and sean philips. this is about as good as noir gets, folks.

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sex criminals volume #2 : what would you do if you could stop time when you orgasm? give this a read, it’ll help you figure it out.

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abigail and the snow man #3 : is anyone better at this kind of innocently sophisticated cartooning as roger langridge? parents and the young at heart, start here and go to SNARKED and the wonderful MUPPET books roger did.

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spider-gwen #1 : this book brings a lot of heat on the heels of the over-the-top fun SPIDER-VERSE storyline. there was a lot of talk about the batgirl costume redo from a few months back, and that was cool, but gwen’s webbed hoodie is one of the best new character designs i can remember in a long time.

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ody-c #3 : whoah. this sci-fi gender-bent retelling of THE ODYSSEY is pure comics.

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the manara library volume 6 : the final volume in dark horse’s fantastic collection of italian master milo manara’s singular work takes off on its own sci-fi flight of fancy. yes, it’s sexy.

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curb stomp #1 : we’ve got the makings of the baddest girl gang since the lizzie’s here…

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django/zorro #4 : matt wagner just flat out knows how to handle these characters, and an improbable pairing becomes a cracking good yarn in his hands.

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–chris

MAPS FOR EARTHMATES Opening Reception

us and we art - teach me to swim map west africaLocal West Philly artist Joey Hartmann-Dow (working under the name Us & We Art) brings her signature map creatures to Locust Moon for a solo show Maps for Earthmates, opening February 26.

As seen at Go West! Craft Fests and occasional First Fridays in Old City, the artist paints and draws directly on maps, making creatures out of the borders of land and water. In her artist’s statement she asks: “Can we see that land as a moving, breathing creature, worthy of love and care? How would we treat the earth differently?”

The work invites viewers to look at the features of our planet in a new light—as living things with hearts and souls.

The opening reception for Maps for Earthmates is 7pm to 10pm on Thursday, February 26 at Locust Moon Gallery. The work will be up through March 28, and digital art prints will be available for sale throughout the show.

Locust Moon Comics is a retail store, art gallery, and publishing company based in West Philadelphia. The store and gallery are open Monday through Friday, from 12pm to 8pm, Saturday 11am to 9pm, and Sunday 11am to 7pm, and is located at 34 S. 40th St, Philadelphia.

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good this week

silver surfer #9 : barreling along in what’s going to be one of the touchstone SS runs, this galactus-ized issue sets up a thrilling 3rd act to this book’s best arc yet. the inimitable art work of michael&laura allred is worth the ticket alone. and this cover has to be an early candidate for cover of the year…

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the multiversity mastermen #1 : grant morrison continues to march across the entirety of dc’s history like adolph hitler thru 1939. wait a minute…that’s hitler on the toilet. thanks, grant.

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she-hulk #12 : so, so sad to see this book go away. if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and check out what charles soule, javier pulido, and co. put together here.

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bitch planet #3 : a world where women can wind up in an off-planet prison for…wanton obesity? but don’t worry, these ladies are about to fight back. another perfectly paced, involving episode of this early candidate for series of the year.

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silk #1 : cindy moon was bitten by the same spider that bit peter parker. what else do you need to know?

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eight #1 : the talented rafael albuquerque throws his hat into the sci-fi ring, with some good-looking early results.

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–chris

More News From Nowhere

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February is a time of death. Not a time of dying — it’s the quiet beyond the grave, a time when long-past deaths persist, through all acceptance and despair. It’s the very bottom of the year, the moment when even the blackest magics have been exhausted. The month the earth stands still. February is what it feels like to be alone.

So come where the hearth and the hearts are hot. Eat with us. Drink with us. Make merry with us. For we have already died, and tomorrow we will be reborn.

On WEDNESDAY 3/18 we will be at the Society of Illustrators for the opening reception of the LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM gallery exhibition.

mailing societyBy THURSDAY 3/19 we will be back, probably a little worse for the wear and still dressed in a rumpled rendition of our finest regalia, huddled together Drinking & Drawing.

The following week on THURSDAY 3/26 we will be hosting MAPS FOR EARTHMATES, a gallery show by Us & We Art (aka Joey Hartmann-Dow), who turns old maps into glorious creatures. Her work is original, funny and fascinating.

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In the meantime, we’re hard at work on the second volume of ONCE UPON A TIME MACHINE (this time it’s sci-fi takes on Greek mythology), a book whose completion beckons ever closer. Seeing the work rolling in by Toby Cypress, Charles Fetherolf and Andrea Tsurumi reminds us that somewhere, there is an eternal springtime waiting to be made new.

Some pencils from my collaboration with surly-but-brilliant Monsieur Fetherolf:

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So come. Sit and read with us. We have thousands of books, and they are full of fire. Warm your hands and your godforsaken soul.

-Josh O’Neill

Angouleme, Je T’aime

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Angouleme. Jeez — I’m not sure what just happened. I dreamt that this quaint little French hillside town with cobblestone streets and half-century-old churches it was descended upon by over one hundred thousand of the world’s finest comic-makers and -lovers for four long days of bizarre and beautiful graphic revelry. I dreamt that the winding lanes that spill down towards the river were thronged until the crack of dawn by a tipsy horde of friends and strangers united by the common love for this glorious and powerful medium of art.

Show Floor 2In size, in stature, in ambition, in variety and seriousness of purpose, Angouleme dwarfs every other show I’ve ever been to. If you could stir together the best parts of San Diego and TCAF in an antique tea cup, maybe you would wind up with something halfway resembling this insane event. And the wildest part is that everyone kept telling us how slow it was. This was apparently the dreariest Festival International de la Bande Desinee in recent memory. Mon Dieu!

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We were at the show as the humble guests of the one & only Peter Maresca of Sunday Press, the finest archival imprint in the business, the publisher of the impossibly beautiful broadsheet-format Little Nemo editions that inspired our own LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM — the bizarre, glorious, star-studded tribute anthology whose coattails we’re riding all over the world. After one whirlwind day in Paris, during which Andrew and I hoofed it all over the city trying to check off the obvious tourist sites (Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Serge Gainsbourg’s house), we somehow packed our gigantic boxes into Pete’s tiny rental car, loaded up on sandwiches and pastries, and headed south through the miserable, appropriately existential rain on a highway that looked less like my cliched vision of the French countryside than it did like the Pennsylvania turnpike en route to Pittsburgh.

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But we were happy to have a few hours in the car with Pete to talk about comics, life and France. And our arrival in Angouleme, despite the awful weather, was joyous. Centuries-old buildings covered in cartooning — the cognitive dissonance of it is shocking and delightful. Hey, there’s Tintin peeking out of an abbey window. Look, the side of that stately manse is covered with laser-blasting jet-propelled robots. Check it out, a garage with a 40-foot mural featuring nearly every Simpsons character.

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It’s too much. The comic-loving mind delights. So what if we had to claim a parking spot near our tent and hoof our suitcases a couple miles across the river to our AirBNB spot? We were here now. Wet and beat and happy. See, look how happy Andrew is.

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On Thursday at the show we heard a lot of talk about slow traffic, as the rain persisted and the heightened security made it kind of a hassle to move from tent to tent. Every 15 minutes or so the loudspeakers would blare with messages which, tranlated into English, took on an unintentionally (?) Orwellian cast: “Please surrender your belongings to the controllers.” “All barriers to the movement will be removed.” Police squads and bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the show floor. It all contributed to a strange, anxious urgency that I think brought out both the best and worst in a lot of people at the festival.

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Friday the weather was worse still, but foot traffic picked up considerably. We had promising meetings with a lot of companies about the prospect of foreign-language editions of Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. Otomo was appointed president, to general joyousness and acclaim. The table that we shared with Peter was awarded the official Angouleme prize for Most Gigantic Books.

Giant BooksWe tried to see Junji Ito speak, but were stymied by the sold-out crowd. We soothed our disappointment with pastries.

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There’s so much at this show that I wish I could tell you about — the talks by Brian K. Vaughan and Brecht Evens, the drawing display by Jiro Taniguchi, the awards ceremony — but meetings and tabling kept us too busy to really enjoy most of the asethetic fruits of this glorious, abundantly programmed show.

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The programming at most American conventions — even the really great ones — feels like a bit of an afterthought, an added enticement to the main offering of the show floor. Maybe it’s the government-funded, arts council-supported nature of this European festival, but the programming — the endless talks and exhibitions and screenings and debates and ceremonies — seemed like the real main course here. The signings, what few there were, felt informal and ad hoc, took place at publishers’ humble tables, and were free of charge. This gathering is a celebration of an art form, not a lucrative exploitation of an ever-burgeoning fandom.

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Was the slow attendance due in part to the fear of terrorist attacks? I’m not in any position to speculate — but Charlie Hebdo and Je Suis Charlie/Nous Sommes Charlie images were everywhere (including all the official festival programs and banners, which must have been hastily rebranded at considerable expense), and the still-fresh horror and sorrow of the events of January 7th gave the proceedings a powerful and intense gravity. Comics and cartoons are no joke. The stakes are high — truth and meaning and freedom of expression hang in the balance. In the US that feels like a fact that we comic folk have to defensively insist upon and constantly, self-consciously reaffirm. In Europe, at least for the moment, that seems to be taken as a given.

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But the seriousness and significance of all this certainly didn’t preclude joy or revelry, as the hundred-thousand-some of us, editors and authors and publishers and readers, flooded the streets of this charming little town, bouncing from bar to bar and hotel to hotel with wine glasses in hand, greeting old friends and meeting new ones. (It seems like all the bars in town must have lost a lot of glasses, as people ordered drinks and treated their tumblers and flutes as to-go cups. But, as folks ditched the glasses wherever they ended up, it probably evened out into a sort of informal glassware exchange program.)

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A 12-piece brass band popped up out of nowhere and blasted out what turned into an impromptu dance party on the cobblestones. We got down with the brilliant Israeli illustrator and Locust Moon contributor Keren Katz, which is an activity I highly recommend to all human persons.

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Angouleme is a place huge, wild and capacious enough to contain its own alt-comics anti-festival, FOFF (short for FUCK OFF — its message to the FIBD), which featured a lot of awesomely porny stuff and turned into a weirdo dance club after hours towards which a lot of the nightlife gravitated, where wonderfully nerdy French rappers presided over roiling mosh pits.

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Saturday at the show the weather finally began to break, the crowds really got crazy, and all of our calves started to get very toned from walking up and down the hill. There were some endless lines to navigate, and the town’s infrastructure seemed stretched to its very capacity. Still, we were told this was a pale shadow of Angouleme years past. Do people get trampled to death at peak Angouleme? Our sales picked up, and by Sunday morning we had managed to find happy homes for all of our LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM editions and wrap up our schedule of meetings, which gave us a little more free time to explore the endless expanse of this bottomless show, including visits to FOFF…

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An eye-opening display of Chinese comics…

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The Jack Kirby exhibition…

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And, closest to my heart, the Calvin and Hobbes exhibit, lovingly curated by Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk from the Billy Ireland museum at Ohio State.

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Calvin and Hobbes was the piece of art, more than any other, that kindled the undying love of comics and cartooning in my young heart. My enthusiasm Bill Watterson’s work has somehow only grown with age, and my only hope as a comic creator and comic publisher is to ever be involved in making something that can impart even a fraction of the joy that reading, re-reading, and re-re-re-re-reading these strips has given me over the last 32 years. Being in the presence of Watterson’s original line art, to see the effortlessly, dashingly minimal brushstrokes that formed Hobbes’s tiger stripes, was an almost comically humbling and moving experience. I had to resist the urge to touch them . There was a moment, when contemplating the beauty of one of my favorite strips, that I began to tear up. I felt silly, and a little ashamed of myself. But I looked around the room and saw a dozen other people gazing at this transcendent work with equally rapt, awe-struck religiousity, and I knew I wasn’t silly. I was Charlie. I was home.

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[Please forgive my terrible photography. All the decent photos here were taken by Andrew.]

-Josh O’Neill

good this week

darth vader #1 : marvel is 2 for 2 so far with their STAR WARS roll-out. this is a vader who is suffering the backlash of the death star’s destruction and feeling the first glimmers of awareness that a certain farm boy named luke might be more than he seems.

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southern bastards #7 : blood, guts, and heart. jason’s aaron and latour have quickly established this series as one of those books you gotta read as soon as you get your hands on it.

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the empty #1 : fantasy books are a tough road to hoe, but jimmie robinson won me over here with pleasing layouts and color work. i can’t think of another book right now that looks like this, and that’s a good thing.

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transformers vs gi joe #5 : now, i’m friends with the mastermind behind this book, tom scioli, and gi joe was the thing i loved most from those golden years of boyhood say 8-12. that said, this is still the most improbably good book since brandon graham relaunched PROPHET. it’s obvious on every page that tom is all in, and there’s a joyous, anything-goes quality that only the best comics have.

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fables complete covers by james jean : you need me to tell you why you need this? well, it is the first time all of james’ storied FABLES covers are in one place.

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ps. this is actually the cover to the original, incomplete volume of jj’s covers. i couldn’t find the new cover online for the life of me.

–chris

 

THE WRENCHIES by Farel Dalrymple

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OK. Listen: great art is a knife that cuts the material universe open, allowing truth to bleed through the gash. But in order to incorporate a vision of the unknowable into our prosaic world, in order to make it manageable, we have to restrict the flow. So our job as readers is to heal the wound, close the gap. In the magical exchange of storytelling, we are the spell-breakers. We kill the enchantments with our understanding and satisfaction. We close the portals that the great knives open. The scars that are left behind form topographies that we use to map our own artless lives.

This is why you can devour some airport pot-boiler with such immense pleasure and then never think of it again — the spell is simple, and you can unknot it in mere hours, drink up its easy magic like it were Jamba Juice. When it’s done, it’s gone without a trace. There’s plenty of value in that — the world needs easy magic. But the best art refuses to die. The greatest treasure is the riddle with no answer. There are worlds that only unbreakable horses will carry you to. There are wounds that will never heal — stories that we’ll come back to for the rest of our lives, trying in vain to decipher and define.

I cannot kill the magic of THE WRENCHIES, and not for lack of trying. After four readings it hasn’t stopped working its strange will on me. I still see the terrible light shining through its bloody cut. And so my task of explaining it to you is impossible. This book’s majesty is so humbling to me, so much greater than the sum of its ink-and-paper parts, that I cannot write about it without sounding like a manic off his meds. So consider this fair warning: here there be lunatic rantings from a baffled brain and a book-addled heart. That, and spoilers too.

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Farel Dalrymple is a good friend, a collaborator and a regular contributor to Locust Moon Press projects, so I am biased in favor of his always-transcendent work. And I was moved by watching him struggle for years to finish THE WRENCHIES — to create, without compromise or cowardice, the exact mind-bending masterpiece that the clamoring synapses of his imagination were demanding of him. It wasn’t easy or pleasant, and there were times, long after every deadline had faded and vanished into the rearview mirror, when it loomed so big and dark and amorphous that it seemed like it might never be done. So while I admit that my enthralled love of this earth-shattering graphic novel is enriched by having watched my friend labor through its difficult, often painful birth, I don’t think I was privy to anything that isn’t etched into the story as plain as day.

Because THE WRENCHIES, behind the scrim of its impressively imagined universe, its byzantine plot and rich, complex mythology, is an act of excruciating love, an outpouring of obsession and honesty and damaged, wishful kindness. Beyond the blood and thunder, underneath its impenetrable genius and forbidding ambition, it’s a book about the longing for communion, the fear of being lost and alone. It’s a tender, achingly sincere story about the desire to connect, and a document of its own joyous & troubled creation. It’s the book where a great cartoonist becomes truly, spectacularly himself, and the book where you can watch him fall apart. THE WRENCHIES isn’t really a book at all. It’s an invocation. A transmission. It’s the best way that Farel Dalrymple knows how to love you.

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But hey — I guess I should get around to telling you what the story’s about. Technically I suppose you’d say that it’s a fantastical dystopian YA adventure, that hottest and most zetigeisty of literary genres. At least it’s being marketed as one. In a wrecked future overrun by the demonic Shadowsmen, children are the sole survivors. They live in abandoned squats and underground lairs, banded into gangs, struggling and scraping to survive. The story follows The Wrenchies, the toughest and noblest ragtag kid-militia out there.  We hop into their tale in media res, as they move through the desolation bickering, bonding, trying to keep their shit together and fighting for their lives.

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Simple set-up. But the primary narrative is just a skim across the surface of a bottomless ocean. Like the rest of Farel’s books, THE WRENCHIES is packed to the gills with mini-plots that go nowhere, brilliant ideas thrown away into the gutters of panels, mysteries that are never solved, whole worlds of feeling, of triumph and tragedy and yearning, suddenly evoked and then immediately abandoned. And while this may be an aesthetic strategy — a calculated attempt to immerse the reader in a chaotic universe and rivet her with disorientation — I choose to view it as a built-in feature of Farel’s storytelling. I think that his worlds and mythologies are so real to him, so thoroughly developed and organically, alchemically alive that he’s not fully aware that we can’t see them too. These stories are unmarked maps: invitations to explore, to play, to root around in this marvelous wreckage. Farel doesn’t ask you to read; he urges you to dream.

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Though the incredible care that goes into the artwork and the immersive thoroughness of its imagined universe are apparent from page one, its not until the third of the book’s six chapters that its breadth of scope and horizon-wide vision start to become clear. Hollis, the book’s most memorable and iconic character, doesn’t make his entrance until page 109, when a set piece of true bravura storytelling cuts abruptly away from the apocalyptic narrative to sweep us into the life of a kid from our recognizable, mundane modern world, and in thirty-six pages that rush by like a series of dreams, plunges us so deeply into his troubles and his naive, damaged hopefulness that he immediately takes over as the protagonist of the book.

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You can’t help but love this chubby, blushing boy in his home-made superhero outfit, and you can’t help but pity him for his spiritual anxieties and his sweet, helpless brokenness. This weird left turn in the story, this little diversion into a strange kid’s normal life swings with exhilarating momentum and emotional verisimilitude through humiliation, triumph, and heartbreaking sadness, and by the end of the chapter you’re so fully absorbed in Hollis’ story that you’ve sort of forgotten about the apocalypse and the Shadowsmen.

So you’re hanging on for dear life when Hollis is transported (via the authorial portal of a comic book) into the terrible beauty of THE WRENCHIES’ futuristic hellscape, and embraced as a hero and brother-in-arms by The Wrenchies gang, who often murmur encouraging things like, “It’s OK Hollis. Everybody thinks you’re cool!”

Because the Wrenchies’ truest and most insidious enemy is despair itself. They huddle together (“I like the nights best because we sleep in a force field,” Hollis heartbreakingly narrates), a human outpost against the horror of isolation that the ruined world itself seems to embody. “The very air out here seems to imbue everything with failure,” one character says, and the moments of violence and terror seem an almost welcome respite from the vacant weariness and gathering quiet that begins to settle around our heroes like a blanket of ash, slowing their slogging quest nearly to a standstill.

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And what is their quest? To kill a man named Sherwood Breadcoat, who proves to be the linchpin and Rosetta stone of this whole perplexing, shrouded mess of myth and magic.

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Outside of his starring role in its opening sequence, Sherwood mostly haunts the corners of this story — in references from other characters, little bits of his history and relevance bubbling up here and there —  through his strange music, crackling everywhere out of mysterious radios. You can tell that his significance is heavy, and that he’s somehow bound up in the DNA of THE WRENCHIES, but he’s always just off-page, lost in the panel gutters, another one of this book’s endlessly tantalizing hints and ciphers.

Until the final chapter, when he takes the story by storm in another sequence of stunning ambition and narrative energy, identical in length and similar in format to the Hollis sequence from chapter three.

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Unstuck in time, we hurtle through the strange and tragic life of Sherwood Presley Breadcoat as it oscillates between the fantastical and the mundane — through stints as a space adventure, an art student, a junior spy, a government functionary, a warrior-priest of the arcanum… and finally, a cartoonist.

Sherwood seems to be a sort of personified sigil linking our reality to the multiverse of terror & beauty that spills out of every corner of this book, and his obligation to keep the world safe from the Shadowsmen weighs heavy and harrowing on his narrow shoulders. He tumbles, damaged and spiritually hungry, through the epic and the enervating alike, always looking for his long-vanished brother Orson, doubting and increasingly hating himself, trying in vain to keep his shit together. Concerns about the fate of the world are juxtaposed against petty, relatable worries and anxieties. (“Oh God, what a creep and an asshole,” he thinks about himself after an awkward encounter with a woman on the subway. He worries about wasting too much water in the shower.) Sherwood is where the obligations of the mythic hero meet the grating, frayed neuroses of a self-loathing modern man, and the confrontation is spectacular, bizarre and heartbreaking.

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After decades of fighting & fleeing, hiding & plotting, a thirty-something Sherwood hits on his big plan. It’s an act that demands every ounce of magic that he can summon and then some, and as the breakneck narrative of his life twists and torques, we see the toll that it takes on him: how badly he gets lost on his quest, how horribly he hurts himself, how slowly and inexorably he gives in to the despair. “The protective spells around Sherwood’s apartment begin to weaken because of all the time he spends feeding his own concept of pain.” Yeah. That sounds familiar.

Worst of all, due to the head-spinningly asynchronous narrative structure of THE WRENCHIES, we know as we watch all of this that odd, brutal stuff that his furious efforts are doomed to failure, that the enchantments in his blood and the formidable powers of his imagination will become the dark engine that dooms the world. This is THE WRENCHIES in its purest form — a dangerous and worrisome collision of playful, childish fantasy with a hard-won adult knowledge of how hard and weird the world is, how deep the dark can be, how lost you can get. How far astray you can follow your own heart.

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What we’re witnessing amounts to a desperate summoning, an act of sorcery beyond the wizard’s considerable means. THE WRENCHIES wants so badly to pull you into its world, even as its world is collapsing. By the time Sherwood reaches the end of his journey, haggard and drunk and disconnected, lost in a haze of drugs and booze and self-pity, having torn himself apart in a desperate attempt to perform one last great spell, he’s bereft of all perspective and hope.

The romance of his great sorcery has become a thwarted metastasis, a black magic of abjuration and annulment. As all the pipes and passageways of the obsessively diagrammed world of the Wrenchies plug back into one another, loop around and bite back down on their same old weary cycles, this huge and dizzying world begins to contract like a python around its prey.

Finally, as the stability of the story’s diegetic reality holds on by the thinnest of threads, it begins to feel that Sherwood is the source of everything — all pain, all hope, all magic, all beauty and hatred and decay. The many worlds of THE WRENCHIES are just a pile a broken glass, looking back in glinting shards at their creator and perceiver. Universes, real and fictional, are only mirrors. They reflect back exactly what you put in. Sherwood put in everything; so did Farel. And they both reaped the whirlwind.

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This bizarre and brilliant book, at its ever-shifting center, is a flight from loneliness and despair. Its most heartbreaking ambiguity is that you never really find out whether Sherwood’s gambit worked, whether his obsessive mesmeric fixation on the beauty and value of this ruined world is an source of salvation or self-destruction. All you know is that this stunning, titanic work is there now, awe-inspiring, maddeningly incomplete, beckoning you back for a second, third, and hundredth reading, looking for the same indeterminate truth that its fictional and actual authors broke themselves trying to  trans-substantiate.

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Look: it doesn’t take the world’s closest reading or a profound knowledge of Farel’s favored sartorial choices to realize that Sherwood the sweater-clad cartoonist is some kind of authorial avatar. And it doesn’t take much knowledge of his religious upbringing to guess that the life of Hollis is memoir of a different sort.

Farel approaches the cryptic autobiography of the Sherwood & Hollis sections, the dual pillars of this story, with a devastating truthfulness, channeling the powerful currents of fear and faith and hubris and failure that went into the making of this, a book that took five and a half years to craft and swelled to double its intended size. I’m not psychoanalyzing here — Sherwood’s great magical struggle in this story is a struggle to finish drawing a comic book called THE WRENCHIES. It’s shamelessly, fearlessly on the nose. “The biggest flaw in Sherwood’s complicated plan was wasting years drawing a comic book. It took him too long to do all that drawing.”

You don’t expect, at the climax of this timey-wimey interdimensional sci-fi epic, to encounter this sort of unadorned self-exposure and emotional nudity, and you aren’t prepared for it. This brilliant cartoonist, in whose sure hands you’re carried, on whose ocean of vision you’re buoyed, is wondering what the fuck he’s even doing — if there’s any point to any of this. It hits you in the chest. In a fantastical story filled with well-executed tricks and brilliantly deployed tropes, you don’t expect the author to reach his hand through the page like a drowning man, begging to be pulled free.

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I think that one of the reasons we read is to practice love. In the safety of our own private homes and our own private minds — both the mind that creates and the mind that receives — we can love without reservation, without fear, without filter through the complex defense mechanisms that protect us by governing our chaotic real-world interactions… the protective spells around our apartments. For a certain bookish sort, this is the truest way of showing who we are — through secret codes and marked-up maps, with sigils and cartoons and inkblots, with wordplay, encryptions, strange punchlines and silent music.

Which brings us back to where we started: to the other side of our role as readers. When we try to break the spell, like I’ve been doing here with relentlessly clumsy analysis and explaining, we are asserting our magic over a story’s, trying to subsume its spiritual energy. Our lust for stories is destructive, wild and hungry. When it swallows a work, the music dies. We cut our connection to its author, hang up the spectral telephone.

But when a story is huge and indestructible, when it draws from a depthless source of internal life and unutterable truth — when its creator hides nothing, sells you nothing, is willing let you ride along in his glorious vast lostness, his fear and confusion — it absorbs our little cantrips and counter-spells as easily as the ocean absorbs a skipped stone. To my awe-struck judgement, the spell easily holds. You can connect to this beautiful book with your whole heart, and yet its power persists. The Wrenchies’ paper universe is as real as ours. Realer, maybe. And we are the lucky readers, spell-breakers turned supplicants, who get to lend it its sustaining magic. That magic is called love, and it’s the only substance stronger than the despair.

It’s OK, Farel. We all think you’re cool.

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– Josh O’Neill