Rob Liefeld died for us

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Granted, so much of Bill Sienkiewicz’s work on The Shadow is the fact that it’s he who does it, but unlike Elektra: Assassin, which was published only a year before, The Shadow isn’t painted by the artist. Sienkiewicz strictly supplies pencils and inks, approaching the assignment in a fashion more typical of work-for-hire commitments. Where Assassin bleeds some sense of artistic dedication, The Shadow, while still quality stuff, isn’t as individualistic. The artist handles two-thirds of the work, and the third, and (in Sienkiewicz’s case) crucial step is trusted to someone else.

This someone could have really dropped the ball, colored this thing like any other book on the stands, but Richmond Lewis, colorist behind Batman: Year One and David Mazzucchelli’s wife, didn’t. A painter herself, she comes at this thing with a particular intuition. She’s conscious of Sienkiewicz’s use of blacks, and knows how to work against that in order to attribute color to them and enliven a field of depth in his drawings.

The above image (though poorly photographed) is possibly a cheap example, but is a clear encapsulation of this. Sienkiewicz starts us on the left side of the panel, steeped in solid black, focusing on the Shadow, but it’s Lewis’ hot pink that moves the eye away and over, revealing a character in the background, opening the image up and shifting our focus. It’s the concisest their collaboration can be summed up, showing Sienkiewicz set the ground work for her to capitalize on.

By 1987 other comics were colored with such craft, but this work on The Shadow shows artists still staking a piece of the coming frontier. It’s interesting to see this amount of thought spurred by advances in technology and the companies’ investment in printing. The script on this book, at best, feels like the work of very trying young writer. It has attitude and energy, but is unnecessarily dense. Yet Lewis and Sienkiewicz ease it, give it charm, and despite the flaws have it come across as a special project. You forget the obvious attempt it made to revamp a Pulp hero and look on it to experience the thing only they can create.

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When the door shuts, just know it


Retrofit Comics sent a few of their latest. Here are thoughts on one of them.

– – –

Josh Bayer

I’d originally thought the protagonist of Theth was an abnormally large Yeti, crossing some landscape to escape whatever is over its shoulder, but in actuality it’s the small guy wearing the space suit dreaming below, at the bottom of the cover. His name is Seth. Theth, pronounced with a lisp. He’d like to be a Yeti.

The misunderstood ape fits Seth, an adolescent trapped in his own cage of excommunication. They’re both outcasts, kept on the outside by themselves and their dispositions to what surrounds them. Though they survive, they only survive through withdrawal, pulling into primitive means, or in Seth’s case, fictitious delusions sponsored by comic books. And there’s the difference between them. The mountains in that Yeti’s grasp are at least physical — an external force to conquer. Which is why Seth fantasizes this crypto-counterpart. He, too, would enjoy pushing past the terrain inhibiting him, and though this day dream is of something Seth finds alluring, it’s also telling that his go-to allusion is of someone ultimately lonely and forsaken. The cover, if read as so, summarizes the two-sided perspective Josh Bayer brings to Theth. Where what’s shown is understandable as it is horrific.

In the book, Bayer shows us someone incapable of dealing with reality, yet is still affected by it. The main effect is Seth’s spiral into comic book fiction as a means of coping with parents, bullying and wondering whether or not a girl will ever fuck him. A few comics have dealt with this idea before (Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies is a recent one), but Bayer’s take doesn’t seek sympathy as others tend to, especially in terms of the lead character. Because while Seth is pathetic enough at times to feel for, he’s also a member of a world not entirely terrible or just (much like ours), where John Lennon can be murdered though still mourned. In comparison to our actions, Seth’s appear extreme. His step-mother, though unlikable and rough, is still shown as human rather than a cartoon villain responsible for a teenager’s demise. She wants some sense of a connection to her step-son, and her open remorse for Lennon’s death points to someone alive inside the plump, white case her shitty suburban hairdo hides. The very nature of their relationship explains Seth’s distance from her, yet Bayer’s willingness to stop and place more than a-typical exclamations in the step-mother’s mouth, layering little extra pieces of character, shades their interactions differently. It says Seth is not a helpless victim but a coward who’s unable to confront the imperfection coming for him.  Where Bayer could have oped for the empathetic, though unrealistic, nerd in need of our tears, he crafted someone tough to digest.

Other examples within Theth shine a similar light on Seth, but you can read the book for those. If anything, I find Bayer’s complicated take to be a mature one, and one that I’m not sure many other cartoonists would do. Because Seth’s distance is arguably comparable to that of a cartoonist or someone like myself who’s way too obsessed with this shit. There is an element of Theth that celebrates comics. A drawing published in the back of the book, a splash of famous comic characters like Nancy, Dick Tracy and Garfield charging the reader, holding a banner that reads “Make Comics Forever”, certainly implies victory. Though that victory rings differently knowing the ending Theth has is only on the other side of the page. So the conclusion, overall, is confused. It’s great to love comics — to implant them within your life — but at what cost? Or is there a cost? Comics are more the outcome of all the other shit we’ve seen. Their salvation is both wonderful, yet annoying. Because imagine if we didn’t need them. I think Bayer is giving that some thought.

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And then we drove away


Lately, I’ve found myself geared and ready to spend the money on Marvel and DC super hero comic books. I wouldn’t say this interest is spurred by any deep sense of “giving it all another go.” It’s more like an understanding of what’s available, and yet being interested enough to engage with a system of predictable odds, just to watch men and women of talent rise or fall.

There’s something joyful of when those little, callous hands between the gears slip through and gesture something pure. Even if they get caught in the machinery and bleed, the color red is a sign of life. The job of comics is probably, ultimately, a heartbreaking one, but it must be rewarding when brief moments of success come to and resurrect something cold and dead inside the 9 to 5er. That’s always meant more to me than the lone cartoonist taking all the time in the world to say something calculated; it’s more lifelike to stumble through something. It’s not as if we’re provided forever to sit around and get it together. You have to leave the house by 8 if you’re to make it to work on time, and mainstream grind comics reflect that by they very virtue of what they are. So when something good happens in the scope of all the shit inherently fused to that system, it’s sort of miraculous.

It doesn’t seem that anyone cares about the John Romita Jr. drawn Superman, despite the fact that John Romita Jr. is drawing it. But I get it. Until last week, I really didn’t either. It’s hard to fucking care about a DC comic book when aware of the company’s mostly awful content and treatment of people. It’s also tough to care about any sort of super hero project, currently, when the genre suffocates all others as well as the men and women working in creative industries. Let alone our larger cultural identity, a subject many have thought and written about. But I like the super hero stuff, just as someone may like crime dramas, pornography or Aphex Twin records. It’s a thing. It’s just a thing that’s wildly popular, marketable and obnoxious in this moment, but surely that will pass, taking us to the next obsession. And when that transition happens, I’ll still like the super hero stuff.

Superman from John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Laura Martin and Geoff Johns isn’t something I’ll always remember, but it is good meat and potatoes comics, easing some of the natural, early-20s pain I’ve experienced of late by entertaining me for minutes. It’s also an example of four talented people – talented enough to have found financial and professional success in a system made to exclude nearly everyone – making something unexceptional, though still good. I could sit here and try to decorate some grand reason for this, but in all actuality, it’s a matter of the script these visual artists were given. Johns’ story only calls for so much. A month-in, month-out Superman romp. A fun one, sure, but still a romp. And maybe I shouldn’t even blame Johns. Superman is a DC comic produced for an audience of a particular caliber, sold by a company maintained by consistent product. In fact, there probably isn’t one entity or individual to blame for its regularness. This is most likely a small, left-field detail affected by the world we live in – a world we created in order to always, hopefully, be comfortable.

But if I’m to sit here and type reasons for its faults, I’ll then point to Geoff Johns and say, despite the guy’s ability to write consistent, plot-driven machines (perfect for the market of super hero stories), this one isn’t necessarily very interesting, nor is it uninteresting. Numerous times Superman has met and foiled powerful beings similar to himself. The character of Ullysses marks another addition in that roster.  The only real change in “The Men of Tomorrow” is that Johns drags out the inevitable switch in the character from good guy to bad guy, making you wonder if he’ll keep Superman and Ulysses as allies in order to explore other thoughts. With the end of the latest issue, #35, that doesn’t seem likely, so we’ll go back to the usual program.

The program distinguishes things. Mostly, what goes against or isn’t the program. Romita Jr.’s style and storytelling feels that way to me, especially in this context. At Marvel, despite the objective difference in his work, his contributions come across as something rooted in the company’s history, naturally arrived at through time and evolution. His work is the boiled down effort of Kirby, Miller and his father, Marvel Architects, encapsulated in the plastic figurine of a boy nurtured from day one. But at DC, the antithesis, his work isn’t foreseeable progression but, instead, his own. You can really see it in the way he draws their characters. His Superman, besides the controversial costume adjustment, is still different as this lean and energized version believable in a bar fight as well as outer space. Romita Jr. gives the character a range that’s unfamiliar, that’s against the certain stature of broad shoulders and photo taking Superman usually portrays. Yet the artist never forgets the power essential to this icon. The splash piece above (which in it’s proper form, is actually part of a great layout of panels) conveys exactly the alien force beneath the red and blue carnival clothes, and by covering the pupils of the eyes with solid red, it’s not a moment of lifting a boat to trap a villain, but an instance to release what’s really inside.

You can call this run of Superman a few issues of Romita Jr. doing Romita Jr., and historically, yeah, that’s how we’ll look at this. But that’s essentially why they’re interesting and enjoyable. Because we’re watching an artist simply do his thing, and do it to a highly profitable and recognizable piece of corporate intellectual property. Not everyone in comics gets to this level, and even when the work may feel ordinary for the circumstances, there’s still something amazing about it when you step back and actually look.

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Drunk, with little to add

I wish I could just show you the image. It feels unfair to poorly translate a memory to the lesser of prose. But that’s the circumstance. There’s no such power.

– – –

It’s when the lights fade and whispers hush that I don’t feel so alone. We’re watching the same thing. Our little heads all bobbing beneath the screen, at will to whatever appears on it. Maybe we’re there for different reasons, looking for different things, yet it’s that we are there that counts. For 90 minutes or however long, we’ll share particular space and emote together. Everyone invited. I find that comforting, now thinking about it. It’s nice when something unsaid can still be heard.

“Cliches are the goddamn point, my boy!” he said. “If anything, make ‘em yours.”

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a column that’s really a blog published on a site with “professional” qualities, kinda



I’m writing this somewhat regular column now for Comics Should Be Good. It’s titled ‘The Orange Won’t Peel’.

If you’re at all interested in my thoughts / experiences with comic books, follow that.

It’s been fun so far. A commenter, named Perplexed, once posted “what the fuck is this?” in response, so you know I’ve struck something.

Anyway, click the link below and check back often. I plan to peel the bastard clean.



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Typed out

I place a lot of pressure on myself, especially when writing. Anyone interested in the craft does so, but I’ve reached a point where it nearly encumbers 100% of my efforts. Blame anxiety, hidden beneath the cheap guise of “writer’s block.” Blame the stooge (that’s me) unable to overcome.

I’ve known for some time that my habit of procrastination wasn’t the norm, yet never could admit to myself such difficulty as a possible condition. Until recently. Labeling something a “condition” may sound dramatic, and it is, but I truly believe at this point I suffer an abnormal amount of anxiety when faced with the process of writing. Over the past year, I’ve consistently taken easy assignments (reviews, features and fluff) and changed them into two/three week productions concluding only in first drafts – which is extreme on its own. Yet what tops it is the idea that, while putting off such pieces, I’ve still thought about them over the total course of said time, telling myself “today’s the day,” instead to just fall asleep each night, reviewing a 24-hour cycle full of unnecessary walks, apartment cleanings and conversations – a repeatable occurrence that only contributes to the overall stress and guilt I feel.

There’s something chronic about this, so I’ve easily chartered a pattern, rolling from one project to the next enlisting said procedure, and I truly believe, at this point, it’s hindered the development of my writing and postponed professional advancement through possible new assignments and working relationships – not to mention hitting deadlines. Which is sickening to consider, so I try hard not to.

It’s probably clear to most who have followed me over the years that I possess a bad habit of proclaiming great excitement for a new venture to then only dissipate shortly after. A great example of this would be The Chemical Box, a podcast I co-host with Joey Aulisio. At this point, there exist more “hiatus – we’re back” episodes of the show worth counting, and while on each comeback installment Joey and I assure our absence is due to “busy schedules,” I should retract those statements. Maybe Joey’s been preoccupied by life events, but it’s wrong to claim the same excuse on my end. Yeah, I’m a student, yeah I work … but I could read comics. I could easily squeeze an hour and chat. It’s the same case with writing. The time and want exist, yet hesitation commands.

And why does it? I obviously enjoy these things, and I’m fairly certain at this point writing is the only thing I’d like to do with my life. I should be, at every fucking second, behind the keyboard, pushing the pen, yet, ironically, the thing I love the most grants me incredible discomfort, so I sprint away rather than embrace. And I believe I finally know why: the fear of limitation.

Writing subsists on the judgement of its quality, and writing, no matter who you are, depends on the reading part of the process, in which the judgment occurs. This freaks me out. I’ve never handled criticism well – whether social or professional – and I’ve found, over the years, that I need approval from external forces, otherwise I’m clueless as to where I stand (a juvenile quality, undoubtedly).

With this comes the obvious determination to impress, and for the most part I’ve managed to do so in multiple forms (academics, work ethic, etc.). Writing, though, I stand on uneven ground. As hard as I try, as hard as I want, I still see my own work as average, claiming the same gripes, ripping off the same sentence structures, and it’s more and more a truth with every word committed to a tangible surface. Suddenly, it’s not about a given home run with every attempt, but rather a public trial of small successes and gigantic blunders.

My anxiety originates here, feeding back until the distortion sounds so ripe I believe it best not to even try. Because, without my words externalized, I can still pretend they say more than they may actually. I’m backing into THAT corner; a place where a label means more than real product. Imagine the following conversation:

me: “yes, I’m a writer.”

stranger at a party: “well, what have you written?”

me: “well, this one article two years ago …”

It’s a point at which a person identifies  themselves without actually doing anything to earn the identifier. Like naming your band before learning a G chord. And I’m about there, selling the USA Today brand hard even though I’ve barely written anything in two months, let alone for them.

The goods news comes, though, in the form of my recognition. It’s slowly becoming clear where I stand, and what’s more promising, is that even in the face of this conflict, I still hold a passionate interest in writing. I just need to do it. More than I ever have, pushing out whatever bad, ill-formed thoughts and phrases stand within me until I grow conformable with this unkind process, hopefully to one day contribute at least one thing worthwhile.

But, fuck, man, that’s daunting. I’ve psyched myself out, already, just thinking about it. But that there is my problem. I think too much. I think about whether or not what I’m writing matters. I think about who is reading. I think about how I should edit. I think about how it all sounds. And I think these are all good thoughts, important to anyone writing, but it’s also clear such thoughts have blocked me, keeping all sensors on. Allowing that internal editor full command.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a writer-friend, and he gave me a solid piece of advice: “submit to the process.” That neatly-packaged line clung to me because it’s exactly the action I should commit. I’m at a point where, yes, nearly 99% of what I craft will suck beyond any belief – causing all sorts of readers to smirk, jeer and taunt, or better yet ignore – but without the plunge that 1% of potential will shrivel, gasp and die. It should get a chance, and while it’s likely it’ll never blossom the way I’d love it too, it may still grow into 5 or 10%. I mean, not to gloat, but with the few accomplishments I hold at 21, it does seem I have some sort of talent for this thing. How many kids write for USA Today, anyway?

It’s one thing to know it and another to perform it, so let’s not consider this another “comeback” piece. Those are far too many. Let’s just consider this a letter of acknowledgment, typed out against my gut. Written in the form of exercise.

That’s enough for now.

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My Top 10 – 2012 Edition

R.I.P. 2012

2012 – 2012

It’s over: 365 days of ups and downs. I’m unsure what 2012 signifies in my own personal journey at this point, but I can say it was another year of learning and lessons complete with the expected depression, doubt and general dissidence. Aren’t they all?

I managed to pull it together and figure out a few new personal tidbits, though I haven’t dealt with the negatives yet. I’m aware at least, right? That’s something.

Could I list and heavily describe my insightful discoveries right here in this blog post? Sure could, but why? I know them; that’s cool enough. I’d rather write about comics, anyway (plus, that’s what you care about).


10. King-Cat #73 – John Porcellino

I love this dude. The issue delivered a cuckoo bird. Not short, poetic bursts of emotion or hardy, reflective haikus. Nope. Instead, Porcellino drags us through a lengthy piece on cuckoo birds and his obsession, crafting a better, more real diary comic than the handful I’d read this year. And for someone completely uninterested in birdwatching, the story only has more of an affect. Only then do you realize the dedication and focus necessary to either commit to such a stakeout or draw such a comic. That says a lot about Porcellino, revealing a tendency possessed by our author and sharing something personal while also straying from a more direct, potentially heavy-handed approach. Also, it’s a further example of comics as documentation, and I respect the way Porcellino has made King-Cat such an extension of himself. It lives beyond the page.


9. Zegas #2 – Michel Fiffe

“Slice-of-Life” acting larger-than-life. Beautiful colors. Touching stories. Huge pages. We all love this dude.


8. The Sky In Stereo – Mardou

The saddest thing I’ve read all year, Mardou takes this tale of hometown discomfort and drug use and places her readership right alongside the cast, creating this sensation of universal familiarity (especially proving the point by using a UK township). Through body language, a wash of short, black lines and a general 90s aesthetic, she fabricates a sense of sorrow and grime so vivid it propels the work. The Sky in Stereo may appear a little typical of alternative comics, what with the frowns and self-awareness, but the conflict feels larger than hometown entrapment and youth disarray. There’s something cosmic about the work, and the conflict jabbing our protagonist feels more like a test of fate than self-destruction.

Read it. It sticks with you.


7. Lose #4 – Michael DeForge

After the initial read, I sat lopsided, dumbfounded as to what Lose #4 is. Like much of DeForge’s work, it’s grotesque, oily and pimple-ridden, but #4 was disinterested in some of that visceral immediacy; it works from the inside out after planting its seed. I spent days with the flashbacks, reliving a handful of its images as the disease slowly took root.To translate horror and disturbia in such a way just deserves applause, and like always DeForge’s pacing is sharp and such a component of the delivery.

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6. Prophet – Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis

A beautiful example of visual storytelling paired with an exciting epic. So much has been said, yet words aren’t necessary to understand Prophet‘s genius. You just have to look at it.


5. Incinerator – Michael DeForge

Here’s my review.


4. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #8 – Joe Casey, Mike Huddleston

My #3 pick last year, this conclusion delivered. More so, maybe, than any other conclusion I’ve read of a comic book series. Angry, bulging and a true work of art, Butcher Baker will always represent collaboration, attitude and the true potential of comic books. Fuck, it’s a love letter to the medium, if anything. There’s so much to be said of it, yet I don’t feel like expressing here. So, some links:

Interview w/ artist Mike Huddleston

Butcher Baker, the Statement Maker


3. Injury #4 – Ted May, Jeff Wilson, Mike Reddy

If you are the type of reader who enjoys to watch and witness rather than unravel a mixed bag of plot items, “Songbird,” Injury #4’s main feature, delivers. In fact, it may re-establish your faith in the medium and remind you of the power and control a comic book artist has in their intimate domain. Some may try to write “Songbird” off as more drug-themed slacker fiction or indie autobiography, and while technically it has those themes, May and Wilson’s tone for the story feels more like a war narrative than anything. A crew of teenage metal heads read as if they’re a platoon of soldiers preparing to experience heavy combat, and detention is their no man’s land.

There’s an epic scale brought to this familiar background, yet it’s funny in just the right places.


2. Casanova: Avarita – Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba

Everyone hated it; I loved it. Casanova transforms as Matt Fraction bites back against every pundit and reader who thought they could define his magnum opus. It subverts and destroys itself as Gabriel Ba produces the loudest, decibel-splitting work of his career. It’s fucking bloody and upset. It’s the truest shit he’s ever written.

God damn, I love this book.


1. The End of the Fucking World – Charles (Chuck) Forsman

In which I re-post something I wrote months ago because I’m lazy.


This right here is why I read comics.

Yet, while so won over and ready to spill praise, I’ve sat staring at the previous two lines for, oh, two hours. A few Twitter visits in between, sure, but staring, staring … I’m not sure how to start this one. I think that’s the sign of when you’ve truly enjoyed something, though. It’s easy to be negative or tear something down, but to convey enjoyment or state why exactly something spoke to you … that’s hard. Because you want to get it just right, and ultimately you know you won’t because, well, there’s too much to say.

Charles Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World, like John Porcellino’s King-Cat, represents what I’d love to make if I were an artist, and beyond that, it just exemplifies what exactly it is I love about comics. It’s lo-fi yet stylistic, subtle yet visceral – a version of Bonnie and Clyde bled through the lens of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, and it’s completely been sown into a series of eight page mini comics cut to match the size of your hand.

And even then, I’ve just sold this thing short using a cliche “this meets this” label.

TEOTFW follows James and Alyssa – two teenagers living the classic teenage experience as they sort of face down the impending doom of oncoming adulthood. Forsman tells their story by adopting both character’s perspectives, jumping between first person points of views with each issue, using each leap in narrator to define the other character. So far, five issues deep into this however long saga, we understand James and Alyssa in one, clear way. That they hang onto each other because they seem to be afraid of the alternative: facing the future alone.

The book in general riffs on this nihilistic temperament – something I guess you could say is synonymous with adolescence – and in numerous ways Forsman illustrates, I think, the disdain, fear and existential search the teen years bring about. He may do so through a few extreme examples, like shoving a character’s fist into a garbage disposal, but the idea certainly resides under the, at times, harsh visuals. The comic’s pacing puts me on my ass, though, because Forsman only has eight, substantially smaller pages to accomplish all of this, yet he’s nailed the mission every time. Much of this comes from Forsman apparent understanding of timing and how long is long enough for a scene or moment, and he’s also just aware of what exactly needs to be seen. Every panel has a job, here. You can’t say the same for most other comics.

All together, this great, solid rhythm works its way into your reading. You feel the beat in Forsman’s storytelling, and it all sort of reminds you of how much can be done with less at your disposal. Which is sort of the bigger point here. I love that TEOTFW is printed on plain old white paper any of us could go and purchase at a Staples.  I love that it’s a mini comic. I love that it comes out monthly. None of it says high production or hype. No red tape. No middlemen. Instead, TEOTFW embodies the “let’s do it” mentality and just tells its story without any of the flare around it, as opposed to the gloss paper and PR of mainstream books or the hardback, book tour savvy graphic novels of high art. TEOTFW just goes in the face of all such examples of nonsense and extra and simply revitalizes the idea that, “hey, making comics is something open to every man, woman and child.” The lo-fi mechanics strengthen the ideal perception of comics being these very direct, timely expressions and reflections.

Yet, as I’ve noted, Forsman’s work doesn’t exactly live up to the minimal format, though, which is something else I truly love about this idea of comics being lo-fi and direct. There’s a dichotomy present, a phrase Joe Casey coined as “lo-fi futureshit.” I love that in these simple productions, these pulp mags, these Kinkos pamphlets there can exist ideas or emotions far beyond the grasp of the paper. That even though you may be reading something made on an HP printer and costs a dollar, you can spend a day, or a whole essay, reflecting on it as well as gain inspiration.

Something about such a dichotomy gives me goosebumps, and ultimately it’s kind of why I grow a little sad when I see such a push toward expensive book formats and year long waits for graphic novels. Suddenly, the production cost grows a little steeper, yet I’m not sure the truest impact comes along.

Because, to me, that’s the most amazing part about comics. Simplicity achieving complexity.

And above all the waxing thoughts of teenage conflict, storytelling or Peanuts art style transposed over seventeen year old deadpans (nod to Frank Santoro on that point), Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World hits me hardest because of its faith in lo-fi futureshit. Granted, I’m not sure if Charles Forsman intended any bit of such a thing, but when I read these mini comics, my head automatically goes there and I gleefully clap.

That said though, I would totally double-dip and buy a collection of this work because eventually I’m sure my copies of these comics will fall apart with age. And re-reading. Aside from my crazy beliefs on what comics are and how this series represents them, The End of the Fucking World showcases some wonderful storytelling, and it nails the bleak wonder lying behind the end of youth. I look forward to forthcoming chapters. Who knows what the future holds.

– – –

Also, Shawn Starr drew this comic and made me laugh. Farewell, 2012!

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