The Hands of the Masters

If you check in here with any regularity than I’m sure you know we’ve launched our Kickstarter for LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM and that the book is done and off to the printer.

Let’s watch a few of the artists involved with the book do what they do best: draw. First up, the man of the hour himself, Winsor McCay.

Bill Sienkiewicz, with a sharpie!

Paul Pope, a few months back…

Here’s Dean Haspiel slinging some ink…

The boys from Brazil, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, at work…

There should be a TV channel dedicated to this. Shouldn’t there?

good this week

big damn sin city : over 1300 pages of frank miller’s hardboiled b&w masterpiece. you can hurt someone with this thing.

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saga #20 : the beat goes on.

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all-new doop #3 : doop!

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batman black & white harley quinn statue : a fine new edition to this classy line of statues.

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-chris stevens

THE AMATEURS by Conor Stechschulte

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The gorgeous watercolor work on the beautiful textured paper of the cover is simultaneously idyllic and eerie — two women wash their clothes in a river, the fabric shimmering yellow, blue and red through the water. Two men, in pure black silhouettes, watch from the foreground shore. It’s an ominous beauty that hints at the unsettling story inside — a sense deepened by back cover blurbs printed on cleavers and hacksaws — but it doesn’t in any way prepare you for this utterly strange, funny, and quietly horrifying reading experience, an intriguing and troubling book-format debut from Conor Stechschulte.

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Jim and Winston are figures more familiar from the stage than from the funny pages. Dressed in identical black suits, hats and bolo ties, Winston is tall & thin with a long, pointed nose, Jim fleshy and round, his features barely disrupting the baby-fat pudge of his spherical head. They call to mind Laurel and Hardy. They arrive one morning, both mentioning that they felt sick and feverish the night before. They enter what they recognize as their butcher shop but it’s empty. No meat, no goods, nothing in the pantry. Slowly they begin to realize that they don’t seem to remember anything beyond their names and professions. They can’t remember how to go about doing their job, or where they are exactly, or how they got here. Then two women who seem to know them arrive — apparently these are regular customers — asking for a pork loin and a pound of ground chuck. Jim and Winston have to figure out how to deliver the product.

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With their broad physical types, squabbling, and comical incompetence, they are slapstick figures forced into confrontation with an existential vacancy — precisely like WAITING FOR GODOT’s Vladimir and Estragon. In fact the whole premise feels theatrical — the empty shop like an unfurnished set, the identical costumes on the men, who don’t seem to know anything more than what you’d read in the opening to a script: Jim, butcher, tall and thin, dressed in black. Like so much avant-garde theatre, it takes advantage of the blankness of its setting — the bare room with false walls, the flimsiness of poor stage craft — to create a heightened superreality of characters on a stage rather than people existing in the world. But this is a comics page, an immersive space where anything can be drawn. The choice to heighten its artifice is disorienting, and pulls you into the momentary nature of the story, the hovering unknown nervous responsiveness in which these characters seem to exist.

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What we’re in for, once we get down to it, is a classic dream trope: the nightmare of unpreparedness. These two are butchers, they’re expected to sell meat to these upstanding women, but they have no idea how. All they know is that failure doesn’t feel like an acceptable option.

The centerpiece of the book is brutal slapstick horrorshow of incompetence and self-harm. Desperately searching the shop, they find a pig and cow out back, and realize their only way out of this is to figure out butchery by the seat of their pants. The lengths that they will go to to accomplish their grim task is funny and frightening; they seem to have a dreamy disregard for their own unsafety.

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On one level, the physical reality is convincingly realistic — you imagine yourself into their shoes, the horrible chaos and mess that would ensure if you tried to butcher a pig with your total lack of knowledge and skill. But what’s unreal, and truly chilling, is their total disregard for their own physical bodies, which they easily sacrifice in pursuit of achieving their meaningless task, undistracted by injury, by the loss of limps or fingers. All that matters is getting this right, so the women inside won’t realize how badly everything is amiss. The most haunting — and laugh-out-loud- funny — image in the book is when Jim and Winston, horribly maimed and mangled, proudly present their customers with dripping bloody sacks of unprocessed meat, filled with teeth and bits of bone.

The final moments of the book are beautiful and baffling, and I won’t spoil them here except to say that they harken back to that tense, striking cover. For all of its visceral, in-the-moment storytelling and its unadorned micron art style, THE AMATEURS is a mysterious, unknowable book, one that refuses to make its intentions clear. But there’s something very human and queasily recognizable in their frantic scrambling, their panic in the face of the unknown, their fixation on keeping up appearances first and foremost. Their only impulse on finding themselves in this bizarre predicament is not to solve the problem or try to understand the situation — it’s to hide the evidence, to make sure that no one finds them out. That’s why, in the near-universal dream of being on stage with no script, we never simply walk out of the spotlight. No one can ever know how confused or frightened we are. The masks must stay firmly affixed, in the carefully wrought array we’ve spent a lifetime designing. The show must go on

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THE AMATEURS features a framing story that seems to come from another genre entirely, one set apart from the minimalist anxiety of avant-garde theatre — the musty, leatherbound timbre of Victorian horror. The story begins with the words “I fear that all my life I’ve been sheltered from some horrible truth, some terrible knowledge that I’ve only glimpsed the remotest edge of,” narrated as an entry from the journal of a young girl at a nearby boarding school. This jarring, fascinating shift in tone bookends the story, and it reads like something out of Edgar Allen Poe or M.R. James, a chilling, overcooked gothic creepfest. Still, its central spectactle of a decapitated, rotting human head speaking from the banks of a river is nowhere near the most frightening thing in this tale. Blood and foreboding can’t compete with with the terror of unpreparedness, of transparency, of being seen for the desperate amateur that you really are.

-Josh O’Neill

good this week

starlight #4 : mark millar, discarding the profanity and shock tactics he has fallen back on for most of the last decade, teams with a spot-on goran parlov to deliver this charming, human space fantasy. this issue sports an all too rare appearance from travis charest on the cover.

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she-hulk #5 : ron wimberly steps in on art duties here and stretches and warps things to perfection, aided by some fine coloring from rico renzi. this book is on a roll.

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lumberjanes #3 : i love the fact that this book brings new faces into the store on a regular basis. we need more books like this!

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manifest destiny #7 : amidst a slew of hit IMAGE books this qusi-historical monster romp flies under the radar somewhat. lots of fun, with gorgeous color work from owen gieni and rising star linework by matthew roberts.

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witzend : wally wood’s self-published anthology collected in its entirety in a fantastic slipcase edition.

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–chris stevens

 

The Locust Moon Top 40: May 2014

40. SECRET AVENGERS

Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Doop be damned — this may be the most fun book that Marvel is putting out. Come for the comedy, stay for the wild sci-fi ideas and propulsively energetic storytelling.

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39. Alan Moore Interview on Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson has had an outsized impact on comics sci-fi as one of the prime influences of two of its major writers: Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Now, as bonus content for the COSMIC TRIGGER theatrical Kickstarter, you can hear comics favorite curmudgeon spend an hour kvelling about the importance of Wilson’s particular brand of visionary oddball sci-fi.

38. SHE-HULK

Charles Soule & Javier Pulido continue making us smile with their latest issue of She-Hulk, taking the jolly green she-giant over to San Francisco to see Daredevil — making for an obviously perfect crossover. The two super-lawyers wonder why they never went up against each other back in NYC, and so do we…

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37. THE AMATEURS

Conor Stechschulte’s graphic novel debut is a strange little incantation, a quietly funny nightmare in black & white — the sort of book that lingers in the back corners of your mind.

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36. KIRBY NEW GODS ARTIST’S EDITION

The unadulterated tiger-force, delivered straight from the tiger-source.

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THIS ONE SUMMER by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

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What exactly does it mean to describe something as a “YA graphic novel?” Does it mean that its primary audience is in their early teens? Because Mariko & Jillian Tamaki’s new graphic novel THIS ONE SUMMER may be a perfectly pitched invocation of what it’s like to be one of those awkwardly in-between kids — it is, without a doubt, a graphic novel ABOUT young adulthood — but it’s so richly layered and sensitive, so thoughtful and weary-wise that it feels like it may take a heart tutored in failure and loss and other grown-up sadnesses to fully appreciate its pains and pleasures.

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Or maybe I’m not giving fledgling adults the credit they deserve for being complex and thoughtful and damaged. In this brave new world where Farel Dalrymple, Paul Pope, Gene Luen Yang and Jillian Tamaki all have their biggest, most ambitious projects, graphic novels with heavy content and profound, often frightening themes, marketed as YA material, whatever “T+” shit DC happens to be slinging looks even more puerile and embarrassing by comparison. The new model seems to be lame retread kids’ stuff for the aging nerds, literary works of deep human truth for the teenyboppers. Maybe the kids can handle more reality, more depth than we can — maybe they don’t know enough yet to be afraid of it.

True to its title, THIS ONE SUMMER is a season pressed between soft covers, on matte paper, in shades of blue ink. Rose spends her vacation in a beach cabin on an idyllic lake shore, wrapped up in quiet adventures with her younger friend Windy, trying with limited success to ignore her parents collapsing marriage and her mother’s bottomless clinical depression. An almost plotless ramble through an aimless, dissolute holiday, THIS ONE SUMMER is a gorgeously illustrated document of a girl clinging to memory and yearning for meaning.

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Awago Beach is supposedly in Ontario, and the cars and film references seem to place the story in the late nineties, but none of that matters: the Tamakis walk a thin line in their depiction of the setting, giving it just enough lived-in detail — the ratty video rental/convenience store where Rose’s acne-flecked older crush works, the reenactments at the tourist-trappy Historic Heritage Huron village — to give it a sense of reality, of specificity, while in fact Awago beach as depicted here seems to float in some archetypal summer-cottage anywhere, a Coney Island of the mind, a place instantly recognizable to anyone bourgeois enough to have whiled away weeks or months at the shore (down the shore for those of us from the tri-state area) with their families as children, exquisitely bored, always tasting salt on your lips, living in bathing suits, your schedule moored to nothing but meal times.

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The environment that Tamaki creates is stunning, rapturous with sensory detail. The pebbles under bare feet, the lush thrum of crickets and frogs, the wide hot sky and cool clean water — they’re all here, unbearably nostalgic, picturesque, perfect. But the underlying darkness of the crumbling family, Rose’s fear and insecurity, her clinging to and rejection of childlike pleasures — her awkward betwixtness, that itchy, uncomfortable young adulthood — are depicted with a devastating and fearless emotional honesty, an utter sensitivity, that never once tugs at a heart string yet denies no pain or longing. This book is tremendously powerful and affecting, but it’s quiet, observant, uninsistent, like Rose herself — it listens more than it speaks.

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The densely wooded shore, the ancient richness of the underbrush, the hot sand, the sky heavy with stars — Tamaki uses a flowing, naturalistic line when drawing the outdoors, and it’s slightly at odds with the elegantly minimal cartoonists’ swoop and gesture that she uses for the characters. She’s at her best out there on the beach among the waves, where she can edge into the abstraction of light on water, a shifting beauty that means whatever we want it to mean — she uses the soft pencil that gives the book it’s cleanly hazy look to shade the murky depths, layered into nothingness, pure sun shimmering through rich blue textures. Her detailed yet iconic sense of the natural world gives the book a dreamy quality befitting its subject matter. Nature’s grace surrounds the worrisome quiet: the blue ink, blue water and blue mood.

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You are there on this beautiful lake, in this bleeding family — you can feel Rose’s father forcing his high spirits, his good-natured cajoling and silly jokes overcompensating for his wife’s grieving joylessness, a sweet-hearted daddy trying to lift his sagging brood on broad shoulders. You’re there in her friendship with Windy, who trails a year and a half behind Rose, spunkily trying to keep pace with Rose’s feigned sexual casualness, the blase shrug that masks her confusion and wayward, unknowable desire. You’re there, in this picture-perfect idyll, with sand between your toes, ice cream smudged on your lip, gentle burn on your cheeks, everything in its place — but blue shadows lengthening, darkness creeping over the water. You can return to the old cottage, to the same beach you’ve been visiting since you were a little kid, but you can’t go home again. And maybe that’s what adulthood — young or otherwise — is all about.

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-Josh O’Neill

TCAFtermath

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The Toronto Comic Arts Festival was, as expected, a beauteous beast, a many-headed hydra of pure comics wonder. It’s the greatest North American convention, bar none — the most efficiently run, thoughtfully curated, ambitiously imagined show that we’ve ever been to. Every second at TCAF is a teachable moment for us, an object lesson in how to create an event worth of the phrase “comics festival.”

We were lucky to share a table with the incomparable Laura Lee Gulledge, who was there promoting her beautifully sincere and personal YA graphic novels WILL & WHIT and PAGE BY PAIGE. We couldn’t imagine a better tablemate or partner in misadventures throughout the weekend. Go check out Laura Lee’s stuff.

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While our sales this year didn’t quite match the insane explosion of commerce that was last year’s TCAF, we still did very brisk business, turned a lot of Torontonians on to ONCE UPON A TIME MACHINE, 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION, and QUARTER MOON, and had ourselves a grand old time.

Seated to our left was the cartoonist and illustrator Renee Nault, whose stunning prints and gorgeous comics we had somehow never seen or heard of before. This is the beauty of TCAF — you’re constantly tripping over geniuses, pushing your way through a horde of visionaries. Renee’s table was constantly thronged by eager comic fans, and sometimes when she would go to the bathroom Andrew & I would sell her stuff, pretending we were the authors of these exquisite watercolor mermaids and comics about witches. Over the course of crappy afterparties at The Pilot House (TCAF! You can do better!) and failed 2 a.m. quests for karaoke, we strong-armed her into doing a little something with us in the very near future.

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Over the course of four days in Toronto we were treated to a mind-blowing lesson in comic shop entrepreneurialism from Alex Hoffman of The Beguiling and a terrifying demonstration of the purposes and iconography of the Australian aboriginal killing stick from Cody Pickrodt. We ate Korean barbeque and okonomiyaki, which is some kind of Japanese pancake that appears to have live fish swimming on top of it. We talked Liefeld with Ed Piskor and watched Tom Scioli scribble endlessly more insane layouts for his face-meltingly weird and original take on G.I. JOE VS TRANSFORMERS. (Tom seemed to be drawing at literally every moment of the weekend, over dinner, at bars, at his table, comics spilling from his mind faster that they could be sketched. Tom is the only person I know who can dominate a conversation with his face buried in a sketchpad. Electricity crackles off this dude like no one I’ve ever met — he seems less a cartoonist than a conduit for comic book revelation.) We caught up with our pals R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg, and Maria & Peter Hoey. (When I broke a pint glass in a bar called the Spotted Dick, Maria helped me hide the evidence.) Daryl Seitchik explained the difference between pink noise and brown noise and gave us a copy of her stunning new book 477 BRIGHT CIRCLE. We discovered that there is a place where the pizza is worse than West Philly, and it is called Toronto. We shared in the rare luxury of Porter Airlines with Maritsa Patrinos and Rebecca Mock one way and our hometown Dirty Diamonds crew on the other. We tipped drinks with cartoonists we’ve long admired but never met, like Luke Pearson, Gabrielle Bell and Jesse Jacobs. We shopped at The Beguiling and lusted after their DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND McCay original. We plotted world domination — pardon me, wider distribution — with Jared Smith of Big Planet Comics. We forgot to take photos. We ate between six and ten pounds of poutine. (Pic courtesy of Laura Lee.)

tcaf poutine

Meanwhile, back at the actual show, we copped books from Taddle Creek Press and Andrea Tsurumi‘s gorgeous new HOW TO POOL mini (to be featured in QUARTER MOON 4), rediscovered Zac Gorman‘s hilarious and heartrending piece of video game-inspired cartoon poetry MAGICAL GAME TIME in physical form, met Christina Ellis (whom I wish we had known when we were putting together our erotica mag), and cracked jokes with illustrator extraordinaire and QUARTER MOON 4 cover artist Steve Mardo. We got really mad at Ben Marra for selling out of TERROR ASSAULTER before we could grab any, then realized that Ben could kick our asses and quickly apologized. We sold QUARTER MOONS and 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION to Peter Birkemoe from The Beguiling, because a comic that’s not in stock at The Beguiling cannot really be said, in the truest sense, to exist at all. We discovered a weird little handmade hardcover book of woodcut porn, and we’re kicking ourselves for (a) not buying it and (b) forgetting the name of it. A little help anybody?

All in all, it was what you expect from this greatest of all conventions: a weekend full of cartoon glory, alternatingly passionate and hysterical conversations, and an ever-widening sense of the constantly expanding breadth and depth of this beautiful, broken industry we call home.

Still, it feels like we were just skimming the surface. TCAF is too big, too beautiful — you’re always in the process of missing out on hundreds of remarkable things. Do we really have to wait another year?

-Josh O’Neill
(& Andrew Carl)

P.S. Whoever’s spreading rumors of the LOCUST MOON COMICS FESTIVAL’s incredible ice cream (Little Baby’s!), please don’t stop. But also, don’t forget the puppy truck.

P.P.S. This is what Andrew & I look like when we talk about farts.

tcaf afterparty

The Locust Moon Top 40: April 2014

40. ALL NEW X-MEN #25

An all-star line-up of creators beautifies this anniversary issue of Brian Bendis’ goofily fun stab at adding to the X-mythos.

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39. Compendium of Comic Maps

Every comic (and every book) should start with a map. Delving into this wealth of literary cartography, it’s easy to imagine that they do.

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38. DARKSEID MINUS NEW GODS

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Remember Garfield Minus Garfield? Imagine that, juiced with the Anti-Life Equation.

37. SEX CRIMINALS

Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky bring an oddball eroticism to this supernatural sex-caper comedy, a generally gleeful creativity that springs from their ultimate turn-on: the expressive freedom of creator-owned comics.

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36. MoCCAFest 2014

Another MoCCAFest, another inspiring celebration of comics & craftsmanship, this one presided over by a Staypuft-Marshmallow-Man-Scale Charlie Brown balloon, and featuring well-deserved awards for Locust Moon contributors and our pals Alexandra Beguez & Dave Plunkert.

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Continue reading

STRAY BULLETS by David Lapham

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Comics at their best represent a direct mind-to-mind connection between artist and reader. The presence of a human hand and human mind in every aspect of text and image brings you as close as you can get to art imitating thought. To read the work of a truly great cartoonist is to be privileged to a guided tour of a private imaginative world.

And so it was a body blow to this remarkable medium when we lost STRAY BULLETS, David Lapham’s self-published oddball auteurist crime epic. Huge in scope and yet utterly personal, driven by twin engines of hope and avarice, animated by a sprawling cast of outlaws, suckers, and irrepressible lowlives, STRAY BULLETS was a ride-along through a wrecked world still shaded with stupid wonder. It was a living world, a tale to get lost in — you wanted to root through these characters’ drawers, raid their drug stashes. And when it abruptly disappeared a decade ago in the middle of a story arc, after forty soulful, disturbing, hilarious issues, the comic shelves were left a diminished place.

Lapham soldiered on as a freelance writer for a slew of books, a job that was surely easier and more financially rewarding than the lonely, punishing slog of life as a self-publishing monthly cartoonist. He was tapped to write books like CROSSED, DEADPOOL and TERROR, INC due to his well-known propensity for Fucked Up Shit, but these dire carnivals of gore and celebrations of violence leave little room for the elements of storytelling that made his earlier work so special — the tenderness and humor which which he illuminates the darkness. Stray Bullets is a book full of doomed people, soul-rotted losers making disastrous decisions, but they have a helpless hopefulness that will break your heart, and a queasy familiarity that elevates these stories above voyeurism. You’re not gawking at the freaks and monsters — you’re relating, empathizing, wondering exactly what separates you from them.

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This is the work of a man who should be creating his own stories, not filling up the margins of other people’s properties with what has become a depressing trademark of vileness and desecrations. We got an astonishing window into the ever-more-active underworlds of Lapham’s imagination with 2009’s brilliantly mind-melting short-lived Vertigo series YOUNG LIARS — which made it even more depressing to behold his status as a gun-for-hire, dispensing darkness and assigning grim fates one paycheck at a time. This guy is one of the best storytellers we’ve got, and we need his vision, unadulterated, in the unflashy yet impeccable brushwork of his own hand. And now, as STRAY BULLETS comes roaring back to life with an 1200 page blunt weapon of an omnibus edition and a new continuing series, we have it once again.

STRAY BULLETS foils synopsis because it has no central conceit, not even a particular setting to tie all these intricately interconnected vignettes together. It unfolds from Baltimore to Los Angeles, between 1978 and 1997, but there’s no end game, no plot point that this thing slouches towards as it darts from future to past, from east to west, dropping in and out of continuing stories with little regard for the reader’s confusion, each issue somehow a part of this stunningly detailed universe as well as a thoroughly satisfying self-contained story. Lapham tells the parts and pieces that he finds interesting, tossing us into already-unfolding crises and letting the chips fall where they may, suddenly picking up shards and strands of stories that seemed long forgotten.

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To describe its plot threads and subject matter is to depict STRAY BULLETS as so much less than it is. The suitcases of stolen cash & coke, the brutal men and fallen women; the upstanding citizens led down paths of corruption — this is the worn-out stuff of lurid crime fiction and rehashed B-movies. It’s the voice that elevates this material above its strip-mined sources. Lapham never affects the world-weary bitterness of the detective novel or the overheated moral fervor of dime-store pulp. Instead he immerses you in his characters’ worlds, in their hard-clung grievances and unmanageable passions, their twitching anxieties and wounded ambition. For all the cartoonish violence, all the avarice duly punished, Lapham never lets you forget that these characters are human, that the roots of their depravity are just standard-issue vices, cancerously ballooned and uncontainable. Their greed and lust are only the broken, wishful yearning of damaged people.

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Though Lapham has almost no regard for chronological storytelling, there’s something cyclical at work here. The story begins in Baltimore, and most of the stories concern relative naifs — upright men, women and children who become mixed up with hardened criminals. By the time everything in Baltimore falls apart and we move westward, for a quiet interlude in the sleepy village of Seaside, NV where a number of the characters go to lay low while the heat dies down. (Seaside, in a perfectly STRAY BULLETS touch of lunatic optimism, is a desert town with a three-mile boardwalk built in anticipation of the moment when California falls into the sea and they become oceanfront property.) The lower stakes stories that take place in Seaside, though still filled with crime and drugs and violence, are as quiet and pleasant as anything in this series — these characters have made their way out of the traps set in Baltimore, but they haven’t reached their final destination: Los Angeles, where so much of the cast washes up, having succumbed to everything, their pasts having caught up with them, their addictions taken hold, hanging on by their fingernails to what little they have left. And then finally back to Baltimore, where Amy Racecar returns home, trailing wreckage and trauma like barnacles and seaweed clinging to her hull.

Which brings us to the greatest character in STRAY BULLETS — the only character who stubbornly refuses to be destroyed, despite all the suffering piled upon her: Virginia Applejack, damaged girl, endangered runaway, avenging warrior, gifted writer, and the ragged, resilient, fucked up soul of this series. We dip in and our of Virginia’s story, following her through the death of her beloved father, her escape from her hideous mother, through bizarre exploits from coast to coast, as she maneuvers herself into and out of trouble, bravely facing up to every new nightmare with resistance and guile, helplessly causing trouble with her vengeful, compulsive need to mete out justice to all bullies, as she finds her way into the margins or center of every major conflict in this gloriously rambling story. By the time we reach the end of the collection, this ensemble piece has clearly become Virginia’s story, a chronicle of how badly her experiences have marked her, how irreparably she’s been twisted by violence, yet how tenaciously she clings to her pride and virtue.

And, in the biggest stylistic departure from the fervid comic hyper-realism of the book, we are privileged to see the science-fictional stories with which she compulsively fills her notebooks on the road, the exploits of the world-beating outlaw and interstellar adventurer Amy Racecar, her idealized alter ego. These windows into the explosive imagination of this brilliant unschooled child are some of the most moving and fascinating moments in this saga. They allow Lapham to cut loose with wildly propulsive sci-fi storytelling and give us our most intimate look at any character in the book.

We don’t get much interiority from Virginia herself — she’s tougher and more self-possessed than the many weaker, more corruptible characters in the series, who tend to overflow with desire and wear their desperation on their sleeves. We watch Virginia move from disaster to disaster, her face always impassive, mental machinery working invisibly, planning her next move. But in her fiction we see the wages of her damage, her longing for safety, power and respect, her fears and defiance, her astonishing fabulistic ability to transcend every weakness by sheer force of belief and invention.

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Amy, the protagonist of her stories as well as the name Virginia goes by on the road, is an absurdist caricature, an ice-cold outlaw with a heart of gold, a world-famous thief with a nation of adoring fans, an infinitely rich crime queen with a strict moral code all her own, who brings down governments, confronts evil where she finds it, plunges into danger unafraid, indestructible, smarter, harder, quicker and cooler than everyone else in the multiverse. For all the silliness in her stories, Amy Racecar is a glowing, iconic presence, and as Virginia’s troubles grow worse and worse we begin to realize that Amy is the wishful icon from which she draws her inexhaustible supply of fortitude. She’s constructed a towering, impermeable myth for herself, and like all the best mythologies it proves to be a well-spring of endless strength and a possible road map to redemption.

 

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Hope and belief are the double-edged sword of STRAY BULLETS. Re-reading the series from end to end, I’m reminded of the inscription on the gates of Hell in Clive James’ translation of the Divine Comedy: “Forget your hopes — they are what brought you here.” That covers most of the stories in this series — muddled men and women, led to Hell down wish-lit paths. But these stories are edged with dreams, full of yearning and sincerity. At their core, these cautionary tales are kind and human. Like all the best noir and crime fiction, they contain enough light to show how deep the dark can be.

-Josh O’Neill

Read more of Josh’s in-depth comic reviews here.

good this week

secret avengers #2 : issue #1 was terrific and #2 tops it with a great blend of action, humor, and intelligence in ales kot’s script topped off by flawless visual storytelling from michael walsh.

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shutter #1 : a book with the potential for a ton of fun, with some killer art from leila del duca.

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all-new doop #1 : i get it, little guy. i really do. i think we’ve all had a crush on kitty pryde at one time in our lives.

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lumberjanes #1 : fun, funny stuff, with some fine cartooning from brooke allen.

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jonah hex shadows west : it’s good to see some of the fine work tim truman did in the 90’s coming back into print, with the release of the masterful HAWKWORLD last month and now this collection of hex mini series with writer joe lansdale. great hard-edged supernatural horror.

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spongebob #31 : spongey and patrick stay up past their bedtime.

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east of west #11 and east of west volume 2 : volume 2 added all kinds of wickedness while issue #11 lays the groundwork for major confrontation between the nation states. consistently excellent.

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–chris stevens