Slush Pile: Antiques, Ninety Candles, Tough Love

All books covered are complimentary copies provided by the creators.

Read on to see reviews of Antiques: The Comic Strip, Ninety Candles, and Tough Love: High School Confidential.

Antiques: The Comic Strip

Antiques: The Comic Strip cover
Antiques: The Comic Strip
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by J.C. Vaughn, Brendon & Brian Fraim, Gemstone Publishing, $14.95 US

Even though I’ve known J.C. for ages, I don’t think I would have heard of this strip if it hadn’t been nominated for a 2007 Harvey Award for Best Syndicated Strip or Panel. It was a weekly comic running in Antique Trader, and the hardcover collection contains a complete storyline in addition to annotations and extra holiday and convention strips.

A collector with a massive array of pop culture memorabilia has passed away, and his belongings are going up for sale. Two estranged cousins, one an upscale London dealer and the other from Chicago, find themselves at the auction in Baltimore. (Since it’s set in J.C.’s stomping grounds, there’s more than one strip dedicated to places to visit in the city’s tourist area.) Then there’s Suzie, the security expert, my favorite character and someone both cousins are interested in. (It’s a shame that the ending implies that she’s not able to solve the major problem herself, instead relying on someone else’s goodwill.)

I’ve liked the work of the Fraim Brothers since the first Waiting Place book. Their clear, basic approach is perfectly suited to a comic strip. With limited space, the artist often has to focus on head shots to make room for the dialogue, and the Fraims’ facility with expressions keeps the visuals interesting. They also use blacks strongly to anchor the panels.

It’s slow-paced; I can’t imagine waiting week to week to keep up with auction planning during the setup sections, so I’m thankful to read it all at once. Soon enough, though, everything clicked, and I enjoyed the blend of comedy and mystery. I don’t know antiques, but there are enough comic references — Carl Barks art, collectibles, and a guest appearance by Stan Lee — that I can keep up. There are preview strips available at the publisher link above.

Ninety Candles

Ninety Candles cover
Ninety Candles

by Neil Kleid, Rant Comics, $5.95 US

The appeal of this graphic novella is in the concept: once a day for ninety days, Neil drew one circular panel, representing one year of his character Kevin’s life.

I found that one panel a year wasn’t enough to give me an idea of Kevin as a person. Many of them are stereotypical for the slice-of-life genre: Kevin reads comics. Kevin doesn’t play sports well. Kevin gets turned down for a date. As part of a more deeply illustrated life, they’d be important details, but with so little material shown over so long a timespan, they read as shallow. The art is often illustrative, showing us what the text says, instead of combining with the text to achieve something unique. It’s all done in dark green, which is distinctive, but sometimes murky.

It didn’t help that Kevin was an aspiring comic creator. I’ve seen this story before, too many times. You’ve seen it too: young man works hard, creates something interesting, sells out, publisher keeps the money from the movie, old man struggles with health and money issues. Maybe it’s a story that needs to be repeated, given how many people still fall prey to it. Eh, what do I know — this won an Xeric Grant, so obviously some thought it worth rewarding.

Tough Love: High School Confidential

Tough Love cover
Tough Love: High School Confidential
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by Abby Denson, Manic D Press, $12.95 US

This story of two boys falling in love in high school and the struggles they face was previously published as a series of minicomics, and I think I preferred those to this square-bound graphic novel presentation. The art is so minimal and rough — it looks in some cases as if it was done with a Sharpie — that the book format doesn’t show it to advantage. On photocopy paper, roughly stapled, the story looks like something the artist had to get out to serve as a message; here, it looks amateurish and childish.

The storytelling doesn’t do anything to help that impression. Boy meets boy, boy acknowledges to himself he’s gay, boys date, boys fight homophobia, family and friends are supportive. It’s all told in mostly head shots, often straight on. The dialogue is pedestrian, the challenges predictable and overcome without much struggle.

I agree with Greg McElhatton that it would be a great book for teens. It could serve as a model, both for alternate relationships and for the idea that anyone can make comics. (That idea is supported by the list of gay resources in the back.) Find out more about Denson’s influences in this online interview.

7 Responses to “Slush Pile: Antiques, Ninety Candles, Tough Love”

  1. America Jr. » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] webcomic is at The Fraim brothers also illustrated Antiques: The Comic Strip. Writer Todd Livingston has been interviewed online. […]

  2. Rji Says:

    Nice review of the antiques strip. I’ll definitely be giving it a look see.

  3. Zuda for August 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] the strips this month because of The Adventures of Rocki Gibraltar. I enjoy the work of the Fraim Brothers, but I can see why this strip is running last at this point. It’s flat black-and-white […]

  4. The Big Kahn » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise. Neil Kleid previously wrote Brownsville and Ninety Candles. This is Nicolas Cinquegrani’s first major work. The publisher has posted preview pages. (A […]

  5. Interview With Neil Kleid, Graphic Novel Writer » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Kleid, writer of Brownsville and The Big Kahn and cartoonist of Ninety Candles and various minicomics, has just self-published his first prose […]

  6. From the Slush Pile: Cross Country, Dolltopia, Jam in the Band, Looking Up, Legacy, Experts » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Denson continues exploring the themes of fitting in and coming out she tackled in Tough Love: High School Confidential, only with more […]

  7. Ed Went to New York Anime Festival — Part 2 » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    […] and Dangerous Women), Joan Hilty (Bitter Girl), Kris Dresen (She’s in the Trees), Abby Denson (Tough Love: High School Confidential), and Erica Friedman (Yuricon & ALC Publishing). My apologies to the panel, I got confused […]




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