Slush Pile: Back in the Day, One Model Nation, The 19XX, The Next Day, Hidden, Rise

Back in the Day

Back in the Day cover

written by Dave Dwonch; art by Daniel Logan
Action Lab Entertainment, $7

Everyone’s had the thought at one point or another: what if I could go back and make things work out better? In this short graphic novel, three friends, together since high school, create a time machine and return to the summer of 1987, when their lives still stretched in front instead of behind them. One of them, Darren, is obsessed with what might have been if he’d ever spoken to the girl he had a crush on. The settled married guy wishes he’d played around a little more. The third, the self-declared ladies’ man, regrets not sleeping with a classmate’s mom.

Basically, this is Hot Tub Time Machine done right. The guys are authentically crude, at times, but the emphasis here isn’t on stupid barrel-bottom jokes; instead, it’s about how we become the people we are. What we want, and whether it’s sensible and what it does to us.

The characters are nicely expressive, with emphasis on their feelings and reactions. Although the figures can be a tad inconsistent, Logan has an excellent grasp of body language. He also handles the young/old versions well in their resemblances.

There were only a small number of books, 500, printed, but you can get it digitally for half the print price.

One Model Nation

written by Courtney Taylor-Taylor; art by Jim Rugg
Titan Books, $24.95

The incoherent tale of a German band caught up in politics in the 1970s by someone who really wanted to be there. (Which makes this an interesting book to read right after Back in the Day.) I presume this would make a lot more sense to those who already know the stories and people of the era. I couldn’t have figured out what was going on without the introduction, explaining the premise. The story is flat and boring, so much so I couldn’t finish it.

I would have rather read the book about how this graphic novel came to be, with Mike Allred (who helped this get made and contributed some drawings of David Bowie, a high point of the book) gushing over the experience of meeting Taylor-Taylor, whose Dandy Warhols band is one of his favorites. There’s something strange about how they allude to this being a republishing (it previously came out from Image) without going into any details, even with extras related to the previous version. Perhaps they needed it back in print to sell to CTT fans; that’s the best audience for this book.

The Adventures of the 19XX

by Paul Roman Martinez
The19xx.com, $17.95

I want to call this a steampunk historical webcomic, but since it’s post-1900, I think the preferred term is “dieselpunk”. Anyway, this first collection is titled “Rise of the Black Faun”. There’s a select group of scientists and explorers, formed post-WW I, who know that another Great War is coming and are trying to make sure the Good Guys win by hunting down mysterious inventions and magical relics. A 15-year-old boy is new to the group, and he promptly finds himself in the middle of the action as he meets everyone.

The author’s active, adventure-based nostalgia for the time period shines through, even though the writing is purely functional, without much style beyond informing the reader of the basics. The art is similarly practical, getting the job done. The only time a particular visual image impressed me was the occasional full-page splash, although the costumes and settings were fun in their detail. Panel-to-panel flow sometimes feels stiff and choppy, but that’s not unexpected in a first-time project.

I love the 30s without needing to jazz up the period with mystically powered spheres or other artifacts, but those who wish there were more Indiana Jones stories might want to start following the webcomic.

The Next Day

written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore; art by John Porcellino
Pop Sandbox, $16.95

This spare, black-and-white book is based on interviews with four people who have attempted suicide. The recollections of what led up to it are interspersed, with each page bearing one of the four names in the bottom corner to allow the reader to keep the stories straight. I found the structure distracting. I believe the writers want us to see the similarities among the stories of depression, molestation, and substance abuse, but it was difficult to remember which trauma went with which speaker when you’re only reading a page of their story at a time.

Porcellino’s extremely simple art keeps the focus on the text — this is a book that can be read through the captions only, with the minimal images reinforcing the narration in the subjects’ own voices. It comes very close to not needing to be a comic, but Porcellino’s use of symbolism, such as word balloons filled with hearts and musical notes to show the happy people, enhances the text in a subtle way.

I was surprised at how downbeat it was. Given the title, I expected more focus on what happened after they survived, but the majority of the book is what led up to the decision to commit suicide, with relatively little information on the aftermath. It’s a difficult topic, and I applaud the creators taking it on. I can imagine finding this book may help others know they’re not alone. However, as an artistic creation, I thought the book was flawed, although the intentions are excellent. There’s an interactive documentary online, as well as a book preview.

Hidden

Hidden cover

by Mirranda Burton
Black Pepper Publishing, $20

One of a number of graphic memoirs inspired by the success of Persepolis, but I appreciated the confident blacks on display in the solid art. Burton teaches art to intellectually disabled adults in Australia, and the stories here deal with how it is to work with people who don’t operate the way others do. “Memoir” is somewhat incorrect, since we learn nothing about Burton herself, why she came to this job, or her life outside it.

The first character introduced, Eddie, speaks only in sounds, but his obvious care for others in the face of his own obsessions is touching. Eddie’s verbal tic is illustrated through pencil scratchings in his word balloons, a visual technique that sums him up elegantly. Steve is annoying in many ways, his focus on illustrating the weather report only a small one. The autistic Julie is obsessed by rock’n’roll and literally hides behind her art. It’s not all discouraging, though. One patient, Kate, shows improvement through diet changes and art therapy. Underlying all these glimpses into moments in patients’ lives is a fear of encroaching budget cuts.

If you liked Psychiatric Tales and wanted more, this would be a good next choice.

Rise: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution as Written Shortly Before It Began

by Tarek Shahin
Self-Published, $12.99

The “Al Khan” comic strip ran daily in The Daily News Egypt from 2008-2010. This book collects those comics, and like most daily strips, each one ends with a joke punchline. I found that structure a little off-putting in this collection, with its tie-in to last year’s pro-democracy protests. When people died to bring about political change, it’s weird reading gags about the situation — although that’s also one of the contradictions of humanity, that we need a light-hearted moment to make such nation-changing events more bearable.

The cartooning is good, although many of the references will pass by the American reader. Other strips, those that involve the personal lives of the various journalist characters, will seem more universal. I found those relating to the idea of multiple wives particularly foreign and particularly eye-opening. Many of the strips tackle the roles of women, which I was most interested in.

Rise is an excellent example of international comic-making and how examples of the medium can reflect world events. Anyone interested in modern Muslim culture should check it out.

(Review copies were provided for many of the above.)

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