Alternative Comics #4 [Small Press]
Alternative Comics #4 (Alternative Comics): If there’s any loose theme inhabiting the majority of the shorts in this latest anthology offering, then maybe it’s the pride-swallowing, ego-devouring, soul-crushing slap to the face that being an indie artist can sometimes be. You don’t have to ponder the $5.99 price tag very long when you see the diverse list of contributors. There are old favorites like Mike Bertino, Noah Van Sciver, or James Kochalka, along with some names new to me, such as Sam Alden, Grant Snider, or Andy Ristaino. For the most part, they all deliver. After the raucous fun of the Mike Bertino cover, Sam Alden opens things up on the inside front cover with one of the most direct-injection pieces concerning that would-be theme. It’s about where talent converges with insecurities and that converges with audience perception. Alden contributes a second piece, “When I Was 10,” that’s a more circular and contemplative story. Alden has that appealing “thing” that Nate Powell does, the ability to create fluid layouts, but with a much more robust ink line, which I always enjoy. Noah Van Sciver approaches things with a satirical slant, via a pseudo-historical escapade, almost as if he’s excising the last of any lingering demons from The Hypo in his work. Grant Snider quickly grew to be one of my favorite contributors, his one-pagers punctuating the others as brief interludes. His “Incidental Comics” always played satirical, yet somehow still innocent and earnest. “Checklist For An Epic Summer,” “Buried Secrets,” and Frustrated Artists Society” all made me long for a full feature length work from Snider. His art felt like such a light touch, free-flowing from panel to panel, with really attractive figures and fun layouts. Now, don’t get crazy, but I’ve never been a huge Kochalka fan personally (blasphemy!), but he does offer two pieces in this project, one quite long, so fans should be very pleased about that. “Blobby Boys” from Alex Schubert (who some might know as enigmatic “Zine Police”) delivers a story about being swindled by record execs in his trademark minimalist style. It’s followed by the anti-consumerism stylings of “Frothy Beverage Man” from Andy Ristaino, which is also a subversive good time, substituting the big sentient mug of beer for the Kool-Aid man. Alternative Comics will apparently now be incorporating reformatted Inkstuds interviews, this first with David Lasky. It’s followed by a Lasky piece which is an absolutely on-point reappropriated Superman tale, touching the plight of creators operating in commercially unfair work-for-hire practices. It’s got a sharp bite to it and is the type of thing that should have a useful life well beyond this book. We end with one of best bio sections I’ve seen, clearly identifying the creators in a unique and memorable style, with some notes on additional offerings from the publisher. The back page by Theo Ellsworth and Craig Thompson is a great way to end, a sort of manic sci-fi romp that aesthetically reminded me of Hector Mumbly’s Bagel’s Lucky Hat, a book that my kids love. I’m happy to see Alternative Comics back from hiatus; check out any of their promising books available soon. Grade A.