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Fleen Book Corner: Three And A Half Books

I received some books from some creators for review in the past couple of days, and here is what I think of them.

  • First up, Runtime Error, the first Not Invented Here collection from Paul Southworth & Bill Barnes; this one caught me by surprise. Oh, not that the book was out, or the content — I read NIH four times a week as it comes out — but by how what I had been reading as four gags per week leads to mini story arc, no real interconnectedness strip actually turned out to be an overall arc linking everything strip. Desmond and Owen sprang onto page one, strip one fairly fully formed (yea, like unto Athena emerging from the brow of Zeus), but the entire rest of the strip evolved around them in a way that was much more planned than I originally noticed.

    Reading through 18 months of strips in one go, what I originally took for callbacks now seem more deliberately planned story beats, just waiting for the right time to reveal themselves. The characters and situations Barnes has pulled from his own experiences in the IT trenches will seem familiar (and somehow less annoying than their real-life counterparts) to anybody that’s spent time in the tech industry. Southworth’s clean, assured, cartoony designs tell you everything you need to know about the characters even when they’re silent. Damn good work from creators for whom good work is second nature.

  • Secondly, we have Bacon’s Not A Food, It’s A Lifestyle, the second collection of Calamities of Nature by Tony Piro. Despite doing regular browse-by reads of CoN, I somehow never realized that Piro is a physicist by training, although it does make many of his strips make more sense. These are older CoNtributions, from 2008 and 2009, which leads to a few dated references, but as Aaron, Alp, Harold, and Ferd (joined halfway through by Raymond) mostly exist in a timeless space, these are pretty few and far between.

    Judging from a quick scan of the site, Piro’s more likely to put topical/technical strips into the hands of generic non-cast members or diagrams (and those that he leaves with the core cast aren’t quite so time-and-space specific), so that’s not so likely to be an issue when volume 3 comes out. IN the meantime, CoN features a strong, consistent visual style, with a sharp, character POV-driven humor, and occasional forays into impenetrable truths that are the funniest CoNtents¹.

  • Thirdly, from across the ocean-sea², Good Ideas and Bad Decisions the second collection of Beardfluff by Rembrand Le Compte. I’ll confess that I hadn’t been aware of Beardfluff before Le Compte emailed to ask if he could send me a book, an oversight that I should be ashamed of. This is a journal comic (which has about as much in common with Le Compte’s actual life as Overcompensating has to Jeffrey Rowland’s) that has, as a major recurring character, a sentient floating beard with a sweet moustache. Clearly, this is a strip that was made for me.

    Weirdness and facial hair aside, Le Compte has a style that’s part ligne claire, part Perry Bible Fellowship, and part the result of Belgium’s most beloved industry. These comics are from May 2010 to May 2011, making these the fourth and fifth years of Beardfluff — time enough for Le Compte to grow from a decent cartoonist to one with a much more assured and darker sense of humor, as well as a refined visual aesthetic³.

    Quick note: a production error apparently caused one strip to go missing — it’s in author’s notes in the back of the book, but doesn’t actually appear. Relatively speaking, it’s not one of the stronger strips, so if suicidal pigeons not being included means we get beardy Batman or Edwin the Furry Gnome, that’s a tradeoff I can live with. I’m going to keep Beardfluff in my regular trawl list, and thank Le Compte for sending his book; it’s really enjoyable.

  • Lastly, not a review, but a quick note that Gordon McAlpin’s (my ex-nemesis) first Multiplex collection, Enjoy Your Show, has made it into the local comic shop channel. At least, there were copies on the shelf at Midtown yesterday, and it’s a handsome, heavy-in-the=hand, richly-colored book. Pick one up for yourself or a loved one today.

Edit to add: Oh man you guys, I can’t believe I forgot to include this fact — the envelope that Rembrand Le Compte sent his book to me in was covered (as you might expect) with Belgian postage stamps. One stamp managed to picture both the Atomium and the Manneken-Pis. All that needs to be added to that stamp to completely embody Brussels is the Blake et Mortimer mural. I came across that beauty completely by accident when visiting Brussels, and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

¹ I can never think of Eleanor Roosevelt the same way again.

² Specifically, Ghent, Belgium, home to one of the most badass castles I’ve ever seen; from across the water, it seems entirely designed to look as sinister and oppressive as possible, reminding the locales exactly which foreign princes were in charge and don’t you forget it. Then again, my mind was still kind of blown from staring at the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb for a couple hours, so maybe I was just projecting the menace a little. Still, great town.

³ Also in those four years? Sweet beard.

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