Monday, January 25, 2016


Hi.Thanks for tearing yourself away from your public holiday comics reading for a little bit. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

ITEM! Zainab Akhtar is back at it again, this time penning a two-part look ahead to comics 2016 that, frankly, makes mine of a few weeks back look pretty pedestrian. Among highlights I missed and had no idea about are works by the tremendous Dilraj Mann, Blutch and Michael DeForge.  Check out Part One here and Part Two here and keep a pen and paper handy. Zainab’s the best.

ITEM! Fans of reading book-books along with their comic-book cousins should think about picking up
David (John Dies at the End) Wong’s latest, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits.  It’s a funny and engaging, if slightly overlong, look at speculative technology and potential superhumanity. I’d give you a plot run-down, but why do that when I can quote from page 361 instead?

“The guy was wearing a camouflage outfit with knee pads, elbow pads, and bafflingly oversized shoulder pads.  The rest was a crisscross pattern of straps and bandoliers full of bullets. Everything else was pouches. So many pouches. His boots had pouches on them…The other four men seemed to be in competition to see who could fit the most pads, blades, and bullets onto their bodies while still remaining ambulatory. Yet none of them had helmets or any other kind of head or eye protection.”

What did that remind you of? Anything like this, perhaps??


ITEM! The last two 2015 issues of Frontier arrived in my mail last week, with Becca Tobin and Michael DeForge and Becca Tobin handling issues 9 and 10 respectively. DeForge spins the tale of a former radical now working for a real estate developer who puts all of her urban insurgency skills to use infiltrating developing communities and ruining them from within for corporate profit. Tobin’s is the bizarre story of a musician who creates a sentient musical instrument from kitchen ingredients, nails and her own blood. Both are excellent and maintain the ridiculously high standard Frontier has set over the course of its run and with Eleanor Davis looking to kick off 2016s set of issues (as mentioned by Zainab), I’d say we’re in for another excellent year ahead from publishers Youth in Decline.

By Jim Woodring& Charles Barnard 
Published By Fantagraphics 

If you’ve spent any length of time staring at Jim Woodring’s Frank comics and wondering why your brain seems to vibrate, you, like me, were pretty excited by the prospect of Frank in the 3rd Dimension. Well, the book has finally arrived and, incredibly, does not disappoint.

Frank, a “generic anthropomorph” who resembles something like Mickey Mouse reflected in a funhouse mirror, can be both cruel and kind, adventuring across a landscape of archetypes and monsters and critters both cute and grotesque in largely silent adventures and in the process tunnelling his way into bits of your brain you normally need sleep to access.

Along with his faithful “godling” companion, Pupling, Frank’s travels frequently beggar belief and defy description, rolling along with their own bizarre dreamy logic, as he faces down not only his foe Manhog but invasive creatures that alter his body in disturbing ways, alternate versions of himself and the demonic, crescent moon-headed Whim, who is always tempting and luring Frank into strange new places and states of being. Reading Frank is like experiencing the ultimate Cheese Dream, a crazed, cinematic unfurling of your subconscious that stunningly, beautifully throws all manner of contradictory information and imagery at you.

The Frank books are the most hypnotic comics ever made in my opinion, and Woodring has been justly lauded as a psychonaut of his own subconscious. Duncan Trussell has called him a “mystic” (and if you’ve never heard Trussell’s podcast with Woodring, you really must) and Neil Gaiman claims Frank will “re-arrange your consciousness.” It’s difficult for me to disagree with either opinion.

The stakes are raised in Frank in the 3rd Dimension, however, with Charles Barnard taking 32 Frank images and making, with between 200-400 layers per drawing according to his acknowledgments, some of the most eye-poppingly realised 3D I’ve ever seen. This is no gimmick, no Batman: Digital Justice or even the far more recent Crossed 3D, where people and objects seek to pop through two dimensional space clutching a badly-rendered Batarang or a fistful of entrails. With Frank in the 3rd Dimension, Barnard clearly seeks to bring the reader even further into Frank’s world, rather than have him emerge into ours. Forget how detailed it is, on that level alone it’s a success.

The gang’s all here – Frank, Fran, Pupling, Whim, Manhog – in moments of happiness or abject terror or just casually ripping holes in the sky to reveal the universe’s goopy entrails. The best pieces are obviously the most intricate, where the illusion of depth is at its fullest but each page is pretty incredible in its own right. A true labour of love by Barnard, the book also comes with its own groovy pair of Woodring-designed 3D glasses for you to wear during the long hours you may find yourself staring at its pages. The book’s a hit in my house, with Mrs Ashley making her way through Woodring’s visions with the kind of excited exclamation I haven’t heard since she finished reading Preacher.

Frank in the 3rd Dimension kicks comics 2016 off perfectly, so put down that triangle of mouldy stilton, strap those glasses on and get comfortable; this book is a shortcut to a grotesque but mesmerising virtual reality that’s destined to sit on your coffee table forever.


By Emily Carroll 

Emily Carroll releases a new webcomic and all is right with 2016 once more.

Stacey sells Alo Glo, an all-natural range of makeup and moisturising products at terrible Amway-style parties. If that’s not scary enough, she’s allergic to the products she endorses and is frequently repulsed by the human body, most obviously her own. Things take a turn towards the phantasmagorical as Carroll putting her own Gothic spin on body horror and Stacey begins to unravel.

Beautiful art and particularly striking lettering (those word balloons!) highlight “Some Other Animal’s Meat” with Carroll also once again doing new and interesting things with the space of your screen. An absolute treat.


Happy New Year 1979! HM kicks this, the last year of the ‘70s, off excellently with the continuation of some old faves and the arrival of some new ones, gamely determined to continue bringing us impossibly high standards of reading pleasure. Chantelle Montellier’s “1996” returns (yay!) but none other than Trina Robbins also stops by this issue, turning in “Exercise In Gold” a lovely – and I mean *lovely* -- piece of work that pre-dates She-Ra: Princess of Power by seven years, yet somehow looks like the slightly fuzzy yet saturated Filmation-made cartoon anyhow.

A fierce warrior woman with golden hair and breastplate armour to match arrives at a seemingly deserted castle. Entering, she’s assaulted by all manner of harpies, serpents and “huge winged horrors.” Robbins’ captions are gloriously purple, simultaneously celebrating and sending up the often ridiculous fantasy cliché that has often been found in HM. Stumbling upon a handsome Christ-like prince, all gorgeous colour leaks from the page and as everything turns black and white, our heroine awakens, attached to a machine that creates dreams. Weeping, clearly tired of the drab, mechanised future future-life, she walks out to continue her sad existence. It’s a little, okay a lot, cliché, sure, but “Exercise in Gold” is just too full of beautiful, rich cartooning to be even remotely annoyed at its conclusion.

The flipside of “Exercise in Gold” is “Only Connect: The Tumor,” by Alias, in which the yearning for romanticism is replaced by a desire to extinguish all existential dilemma, hope and desire. A man has his brain removed and replaced with some cybernetic doohickey that “frees’” him from the “horrors”of life. A touch trite, but inoffensive at only two short pages and it likely made many a reader back in the day pause between bong hits in a moment of self reflection. Interesting that the female in “Exercise...”seeks escape through adventure and possible love while the man in “Only Connect...”seeks to annihilate all true trace of his self, huh? I’ll just leave that one to dangle there for you to pull at if you like.

Sergio Mercado returns with another chapter of “Telefield” which has been away for so long that I totally forgot about it despite digging Mercado’s space hippy adventures quite a bit. So our space hippies hit the city of Metropolis 5 to attend a “para psychic trip.” There they are accosted by street thugs and witness police brutality and ultra-violence by the “robot fuzz.” Never fear though, our space hippies arrive at their event, which features a kind of giant lava lamp connecting to the brains of all attending, creating a super-pleasurable “unified energy field.” I dunno. Sounds a bit nightmarish to me, but let’s turn the page and see. Oh, so “fantastic visions” unfold; a diaphanous, lightbulb-headed being plays an organ transmitting visions that flicker between the utopian and the horrific. Hitler with no pants! An orgy with a guy wearing terrifying clown makeup! I was right – this is terribly unpleasant, and indeed some sort of psychic trap by the organisers. What they are up to, I’ve no idea, but hopefully next issue we’ll find out...

Laseur’s “Station 34-728” continues the downer vibe as factory workers assemble huge robots which, at the very end of the production line, look like real life elephants. These robo-phants are sent out to “Darkest Africa Game Park” for hunting as, presumably, their real life counterparts are extinct.


“...Arabian Nights” continues, as does “Airtight Garage” and “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” and Druillet’s “Gail” concludes with all the nightmarish cosmic craziness you’d expect. Just as well really. I literally have run out of superlatives to heap upon Philippe Druillet, who even pastes in photos of himself and his late wife into this final cataclysmic chapter. We are even treated to double Bilal, who provides the continually lovely black and white art to “Exterminator 17” and also lush full colour art to a short, sharp, SF piece, “Ultimate Negotiations,” which he also scripts. Paul Kirchner’s “The Bus” also arrives, but we’ll get to that in due course.

To close this week, a pair of excellent Woodring-related videos. The first is two and a half minutes of Jim Woodring at work. The peek into his sketchbooks alone is reason enough to watch, but there’s a lot here in such a short viewing time. The second is a nine minute Frank animation that, if you’re an old man like me, might make you long for the days of MTV’s Liquid Television.

Genius Jim Woodring:

Visions of Frank:

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory ( You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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