Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column
Uptown Girl: Little Adventures
(Brian Bastian / Bob Lipski)
It’s raining today in my beloved native Seattle. Yeah, I hear you thinking, cry me a river. It rains in Seattle, yes, we all know that. It’s like snow in Minnesota or sun in California. You’d better get used to it because much of your life will be spent with rainy/snowy/sunny days and chances are that even if you live in bucolic SoCal, you’ll get tired of it all eventually.
Here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, a lot of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. We miss the sun, crave some natural light and happiness. One of the ways that we can attack SAD is by smiling frequently.
Which is part of why I spent today reading Uptown Girl: Little Adventures, a wonderful collection of sitcom type stories featuring Uptown Girl and her friends having fun, day-to-day kinds of adventures that bring alternating smiles, grins and a few guffaws.
Uptown Girl is a young reporter for the Twin City Times (these creators probably know plenty about SAD and snow) who hangs out with a few of her pals – Ruby is her best pal, a cute, fun girl who has a surprisingly sweet and awkward short in this collection about her and a swimsuit. She’s also friends with Sulky Girl (favorite expression: “This sucks”) and a few other people, but the real star of these stories is Rocketman, a slacker who loves video games and comics, the sort of character who’s always wearing what looks like a bicycle helmet despite the fact that we never see him bike, but he’s too baked or in his own world to worry about such things.
This collection is filled with pieces of all kinds of lengths, from the one-pagers that you see featured with this review all the way up to a longer one about Rocketman running for mayor against a candidate who would ban video games. Those longer stories take on sitcom sorts of plots, as silly lines follow absurd twists, one after the next until the reader is smirking wide at the pure fun of it all. The art by Lipski is just right for this type of cartoony wackiness – light, quick, loose linework that delivers just the right amount of detail next to just the right amount of character design.
– Jason Sacks
Order Uptown Girl from their website.
The journey/quest trope as an exploration of the self-induced garbage we suffuse our heads with to keep us from getting much accomplished is nothing new, nor is comparing our own mishigas to Dante’s Circles of Hell, but somehow in Debbie’s Inferno, Anne Emond’s new book from Retrofit/Big Planet, what is old reads fresh. There’s a child-like lure to this inner monologue that is a result of both Emond’s art and wit. She is able to turn what could easily be a thick slog through the miasma of anxiety into something light, more meaningful, and perhaps, closer to the truth about the damage that we do to ourselves with our brains.
Ok, show of hands, when was the last time you holed up in bed, binge watching Netflix, covered in the the detritus of frozen pizzas and/or Baked Lays? It seemed like a good idea at the time, right, a “little me time”, a “respite from the day-to-day”? Then, as the minutes turn to hours and the sun sets and your lethargy increases and everything needing to be done remains undone still, you start to wonder what has become of your life. Depression, at times, can be self-perpetuating – we drown in the goo of our own loathing when we “wallow too long” in it.
Inertia is a choice and it leads to everything you always suspected about your failures. To reach your potential, you have to stretch a little.
In Emond’s book, this process takes the form of a journey of escape. Led by her talking cat, Debbie goes through it all, from the Land of Cold Fish to the World of Icy Hearts to the Desert for Burnt Out Passion. By the end of this journey through the Inferno of herself, she begins to understand that her limitations are of her own creation, nobody is pulling any strings. Debbie can control what she can and is buffeted about by what she can’t. Ultimately, states of being are transitory, the responsibility is the individual’s, and, really, there is never any end to or escape from the self.
Remember Keith Richard’s question, “Hey, what I doing standing here on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue?” Mick admonishes him to “Get up, get out, get into something new.” It’s easy enough advice, trite but cute, obvious yet easily forgotten. Debbie’s Inferno is ostensibly another chorus to this song, but it’s light-hearted enough to gain a foot-hold on profundity, airy enough to reach some greater heights, and universal enough to be embracing.
– Daniel Elkin
You can purchase Debbie’s Inferno directly from Retrofit Comics here.
Parallel Man: Invasion America #1
(Jeffrey Morris / Fredrick Haugen / Christopher Jones / Ira Livingston IV / Zac Atkinson)
It seems wrong in a way to review Parallel Man in our small press review column because the ambitions are so high for this comic – or should I say, the ambitions are so high for this piece of IP. As the FutureDude website tells us, Parallel Man is “a 7-issue comic book mini-series, mobile device video game, deck-builder game, and animated short film.” That’s cool and all, and it’s always thrilling to see a team of creators who are extremely aspirational, but it’s not quite the hand-hewn work that we usually feature here. But, for the moment anyway, FutureDude is a small press publisher and we’ll discuss them here (and I hope in two years we’ll be talking about them in the same way we do about publishers like Dark Horse and BOOM!)
Because all that said, this is a very professional package: a 32-page, full process color high concept science fiction thrill ride. Imagine a parallel Earth that has conquered eleven other parallel Earths and has its eyes set on another one. Only one man can stop that attempt, and as he flips between dimensions (from the dimension where dinosaurs never died to the super-high-tech Chinamerica to the mushroom world) we get an edge-of-your-seat adventure following him through his never-ending travels.
Until, that is, we get to the final few pages and see the inevitable, hilarious and logical twist. I’m not going to spoil it for you here, but the ending of this premiere issue seems so appropriate, so clever and silly and perfect for the trope, that I couldn’t help but smile.
A book with this level of summer movie complexity requires a quality creative team. I was skeptical about this book as I opened the cover and saw several writers on the book, but there’s a depth and thoughtfulness to this universe that helps to make this story sing. A book like this also requires a slick, professional artist. Christopher Jones delivers a sleek, polished and streamlined style that reads like something from Marvel and DC. One of the tip-offs that Jones is a solid cartoonist is how he varies his camera angles in his page work, moving the reader around the page in ways that accentuate the power of the story. Jones has obviously created professional artwork for years; his professionalism shows through.
Sometimes the small press delivers a comic that is as slick as anything you can find at your LCS. Parallel Man is one of those books. If you want to be able to say that you read Parallel Man before it became big, you’d better pick it up now so you can guarantee yourself bragging rights before the inevitable Netflix series is announced.
– Jason Sacks