A Big Stack of Small Press Reviews

A column article, Manifesto by: Jason Sacks

This week in my "Manifesto" column I thought I'd take a break from my editorializing and talk a bit about some of the interesting self-published comics and zines that have come my way over the last month, including comics from all over the world. Some of these comics may get longer reviews on CB at some point in the future, but I thought it would be fun to take a look at the amazing diversity of cool small press material that is out there and available for you.


Om and Moe

These two minicomics are from Polish cartoonist Piotr Nowacki, but don't let the fact that they're not in English dissuade you from picking up these two minis. Both are mostly wordless and contain stories that can be understood by anybody of any age anywhere in the world.
Moe is the story of a dog and the ink blot that follows him around and makes his life difficult. The story is literally a giant shaggy dog tale, but it's drawn with deceptively simple lines that display an absurd amount of personality, and the conclusion is charming and sweet.
Om is a slightly longer story about a young dinosaur boy, his pet egg with legs, and the adventures that they get themselves into – which include Sherlock Holmes, pirates, ninjas, an ill-fated sailing trip, and many more unpredictable events. This strip has a more traditional and less stylized feel than Moe but it's equally as surreal and charmingly satisfying. 
For more information on these comics, you can visit Piotr's website and of course use your browser's translate function!

Jakey the Jerk #1

Jakey the Jerk is a quintessential webcomic-turned print comic, a collection of several short and one long comic strip centering around Chris Garrison's two-legged ram, Jakey the Jerk.Jakey the Jerk
I gotta admit, when I saw the cover of this comic show up in my inbox, I was questioning whether I wanted to read this comic at all. I was concerned that it would be juvenile and dumb and plain annoying. But I was surprised to find that this comic has real heart to it. Yeah, it starts out with a couple of two-page strips that have really dumb punchlines about Jakey's bad pick-up lines, but as this book goes on the stories get better and more interesting.
At page 9, Chris jumps into a longer story, a 20-pager that tells the story of Jakey going hiking with a world-famous musician named Sassafrass Vallee, and the comic gets much less predictable and more entertaining. The two main characters have real chemistry, the tight focus of the story allows for a little bit of character development, and the conclusion of the story is pretty much the perfect resolution – both bitter and sweet. This comic suddenly shows some heart and soul to go with the ram horns. I ended up wanting to see more of these characters after that long story's conclusion.
This comic is based on a webcomic called Zoo Laffs, which appears every Sunday on DummComics.com  The POD comic, collecting 28 pages worth, is available on ka-blam.
Jakey the Jerk

Satanic Hell #1

This comic totally took me by surprise. I expected it to be yet another dark, nasty horror comic (not that there's anything wrong with that), but instead it was… well, a completely different sort of horror comic.Satanic Hell
I was completely shocked when it turned out that this book was pretty much the opposite of what I expected. See,  it's all about this rock band called Satanic Hell who are in tour in the darkest, nastiest, most vicious part of America. That's right, they've traveled to Texas.
But it's not the Texas that we know, at least not completely. In this fictional reality, Texas has been taken over by religious zealots , and the whole state is ruled by this kind of all-pervasive religious authority that have banned religions other than Christianity. A full-scale religious authority is in charge of the state, and the three people in this band are hired to do their small part to bring a different kind of energy to this very repressive state.
Yeah, this is a satire, from the keyboard of Grigoris Douros, with art by Kevin Enhart and Newel Anderson and the satire is a bit ham-fisted at times. But this comic is full of energy, and the world seems well thought out, and the art is awfully darn nice, with nicely filmic camera angles, a nice sense of pacing, and some well-designed characters. The coloring by Jimmy Kerast is part of what makes this comic so good, as his very smart use of different palettes helps add to the intensity and horror of the story.
Satanic Hell is a seven issue digital series, released every six weeks, and can be found on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple, and Android devices, as well as on Facebook and the web (Graphicly) and as a PDF/CBZ/MOBI (DriveThruComics). Readers can find the comic for purchase through SatanicHell.com or directly from each platform.
Satanic Hell

Tales of Fantasy #57

Tales of Fantasy #57I've been reading Larry Johnson's self-published zine for about four or five years now, always enjoying my journey into Larry's complex fictional world. Larry has been writing and drawing his own comics pretty much continuously for over 40 years, and has created several wonderfully complex fictional places in which his characters live.
This issue takes place, as usual lately, in Larry's fictional town of Brookston, a place where all types of supernatural threats seem to exist all the time. This issue brings us the adventure of a giant killer spider, mutated at the Brookston Scientific Institute by scientists using the technology of the series' great bad guy. Johnson has created a cast as large and complex as The Simpsons in Brookston, and it's always a lot of fun to spend time watching Larry flesh out his increasingly complex cast. This is what happens when you've been creating your own comics for a long time: the world gets complex and three-dimensional, at least in the creator's imagination.
Backing up this really full package are a dream diary, notes on a previous issue, a short one-pager and a long letter's page. That's tremendous value for your three bucks – a thoroughly satisfying comics experience.
For information on ordering ToF, visit Larry's website.
Tales of Fantasy

Scarifyers #1

ScarifyersThe Scarifyers is a fun little comic, a very British mix of class satire, supernatural drama, secret societies and clever dialogue, combined with some nicely creative art. I really enjoyed the thoroughly dizzying mix of story elements in this comic, which all spun and cycled around each other in a way that frequently made me feel wonderfully off-balance.  
The creators are obviously having a lot of fun with this comic, and because of that fun this comic has a really entertaining sort of energy to it. The creators clearly love the story they're telling, with writer Simon Barnard obviously in love with the clever wordplay that he's created. The words in this comic sparkle and shine, twisting and turning around each other to emphasize the absurdity of the upper class twits in this story.
This comic originated as a BBC radio drama, which leads both to its strong and weak points. I had a lot of fun reading this audio drama transposed onto a comic book. But I didn't have quite as much fun as I had hoped I would. The Scarifyers is definitely a treat for those who love this audio drama, but unfortunately a bit of the coolness of this comic was lost on me.
For more information on this comic, visit the website of Cosmic Hobo.

Ditkomania #88

Ditkomania #88It would be a bit unethical for me to recommend this tribute zine since I have an article in this issue (as I do in most issues of Ditkomania). But if you're a fan of the work of the great Steve Ditko, you should send a few bucks to publisher Rob Imes for a subscription to this zine. Here's the official summary of this current issue:
The new issue is 32 B&W pages long (counting the covers) and includes an overview of Ditko's work as it has appeared outside North America, primarily in Europe. R. S. Crawford contributes an article titled "Ditko in the U.K." which discusses the Alan Class reprints of Ditko's comics. Also in this new issue is a review by John Linton about the newest volume (#3) in the Ditko Archives series, Mysterious Traveler. There's also an essay about Ditko by Jason Sacks, and the usual fun and informative letters page.
For ordering information, visit the Ditko Fever website.


Provider #1

Provider #1This new color self-published comic has a very clever premise: in a world where few people have super-powers, Luke Ryan has powers. So he does what any of us would do if we had powers: he uses them to try to make a few bucks. Luke opens an insurance agency for extremely wealthy people who need protection, giving those people a signal watch like Jimmy Olsen has, and sets out to build his company. Until, that is, an insurance fraud case blows up in his face.
This Kickstarter-funded project is really fun, with a clever execution of a clever premise. Artist Bruno Oliveira's storytelling is especially nice in scenes like the one where an arrogant fat man falls off a roof on purpose, and the action scenes give the book a nice energy that makes them light up nicely. The scenes that take place in a courtroom are a little more awkward, as dynamic action poses are applied to quieter, more interpersonal scenes. But the coloring builds scenes nicely and the character designs are fun.
By the end of the issue, Luke's company has hit the shitter and he's facing imminent financial destruction – a great cliffhanger for the reader if not the best scenario for our hero. Not to mention the hauntingly spooky horror that hits in the last few pages of the issue…
Provider #1

Man of God #2

Man of God #1It's almost a misnomer to call Man of God a small press comic because it's so damn well done. The art in this comic by Yves Guichet is absolutely top-notch professional, with some smart and innovative storytelling combined with expert depictions of people and a tremendous sense of pacing. 
All of this sophisticated artwork goes a long way towards making the more outrageous and strange events in this story feel much more realistic. There are several major shocks in this story, especially on the last page, and Guichet's art makes those shocks feel even more shocking than they would be at the hands of a less skilled or experienced artist.
Man of God is yet another great example of a great Fair Trade Comic. The three creators of this comic came together to create this intriguing book, investing their time and energy and passion to presenting a work that is uniquely their own. Their passion and intelligence shines through every panel. This is fucking great stuff.
For more information on this comic, visit their Facebook page.
Man of God #1

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