Comic Reviews: December 1993



Written and Illustrated by Dylan Horrocks

Published by Black Eye Productions

Chances are, unless you’re one of those comic fans who goes around digging through the back of the racks in search of obscure stuff, you’ve never heard of Dylan Horrocks. More’s the pity. You see, Horrock’s Pickle is probably one of the best new comics being published.

After a long hiatus (during which former publisher Tragedy Strikes Press folded), Pickle returned recently with a new publisher (Black Eye Productions), better than ever.

In the outstanding second issue, Horrocks gives the reader a wide variety, beginning with the first part of an epic story involving journalist Leonard Batts’ search for comics creator Dick Burger(?!). Sound strange? It is. As Batts sits reading, Burger’s rather attractive young woman in a convertible who offers to take him to Hicksville. But, when Burger’s name arises, Batts’ ride gives him the boot.

From this intriguing start, Horrocks moves on to “Halfway to Heaven, Halfway to hell” which details strip cartoonist Sam Zabel‘s search for a good joke. Does he find one? Read it yourself.

However, the highlight of the issue is Chapter Two in Horrocks’ “Cafe Underground.” In the second part, our hero Abraham bemoans the fact that “longed-for” Patrice has fallen for a mysterious stranger (“a poser” in Abe’s opinion). But there’s more to it than that. Abe waxes almost philosophical as he muses on going “alondo that cold bed.” As Abe sits alone in his chair with the cat, the ominous roar of animals in a nearby zoo can be heard.

Yeah, it’s weird. It’s also quirky, intelligent and charming. Horrocks imbues the work with his personality, and his cynical characters take on lives of their own.Happily, Horrocks is equally strong writing and drawing. There is no extraneous dialogue, as Horrocks prefers to let a few exchanges and well-staged scenes tell the story. Horrocks’ cartoony figures blend with well detailed backgrounds, but the simple faces say much with their expressions. Those looking for help with the concept of cartooning would do well to emulate Horrocks’ approach.

Throw in self deprecating humor in the letters page and you have a knock-out package that deserves more exposure than it’s getting. So, I’d advise finding a copy of Pickle while you can and spreading the word. Pickle is one of those rare gems—buy it now or kick yourself later. 


Grit Bath

Written and Illustrated by Renée French

Published by Fantagraphics Books

Once in a while, a comic book gets published that has you wondering just what the publisher was thinking when they signed that contract. Just such a comic is Renée French’s Grit Bath.

The debut issue of this inexplicable title features a mixed bag of stories, from one-pagers like “Nose Fruit” (in which a young girl puts raisins in the nose of a deceased relative during a memorial service) to the self-explanatory “Fistophobia” to the repulsive “Silktown” (in which middle aged men fondle each other, a raccoon eats part of a boy’s face, and the delights of eclair-eating are graphically depicted).

If the description of this work sounds wearied and disgusted, it’s with good reason. While there are a few good bits here and there (like the “Bunnyman” character), they are wasted among the mire of cartoonist French’s self-indulgent cesspool.

Actually, the hardest thing to figure about Grit Bath is how the comic got published in the first place. None of the stories are particularly compelling, just perverse. Worse, French seems to have no real clue as to how to depict a scene or how to develop ideas. French’s illustrations are roughly comparable to that of a talented eight year old while her story ideas seem to have been filched from bad Eastern European cartoons.

If one were to come up with a theory for how Grit Bath got published, it would concern publisher Fantagraphics Books’ desire to find their own Julie Doucet. Unfortunately, while French seems willing to wallow through similarly ugly ideas as Doucet, she hasn’t got the talent to make it interesting.

If it seems I’m harping on Grit Bath, well … I am. Actually, the toughest part about reviewing the comic is restraining my desire to tear it apart. The only thing saving it is that I’m in a good mood. And it isn’t as bad as Spawn.



Written by Kurt Busiekk

Illustrated by Alex Ross

Published by Marvel Comics

Just when one despairs of finding anything good from the big comic companies and their superhero swill, along comes a surprise. Just such a surprise is Marvels.

Book One (“A Time Of Marvels”) opens in 1939. The world holds its breath as Nazi Germany stands poised to invade Czechoslovakia. But in a ceremony designed for the benefit of the press, scientist Phineas T. Horton unveils the “Human Torch,” a synthetic man with the ability to light on fire, Suddenly, the world is a bit more miraculous for ordinary humans, and when a super-powered, pointy eared man appears in New York and Holds the police at bay, a new era for mankind is ushered in.

All this is seen through the eyes of a photographer Phil Sheldon, an everyman of sorts on hand for the advent of the age of super-heroes. Soon, super-beings are colliding in the air over New York, heedless of the destruction they cause to rain down on the innocent below. And when the world eventually goes to war, the super-beings are there.

Writer Kurt Busiek has latched on to an innovative idea with Marvels and one that captures just what it is about superheroes that captures the imagination of four segments of humanity. To human reeling from the Great Depression and poised for a world war, these beings are astonished in their ability to flaunt human limitations.

Happily, painter Alex Ross outdoes writer Busiek. His super beings look very human, but for their outlandish nature. From the blazing Human Torch to the pointed ear Sub-Mariner and the daunting Captain America, Ross manages to depict beings of immense power who tower over the dazzled humans who can only watch and wonder.

Unfortunately, where Marvel goes awry is in its protagonist, the youthful Sheldon. Busiek has made him too much a creature of the time period, and his self-satisfied patriotism and “male superiority” espousal make him unappealing. Then again, any ordinary human would pale in comparison to these “Marvels.”

So it seems that there may be like in super heroes yet … as long as innovative ideas can be added to the mix traditionally seen in superhero fame. But whether creativity will catch on in the genre remains to be seen. –Scott Vice

Read more of the SLUG Archives:
Movie Reviews: Man Bites Dog
A History of Black Uhuru: August 1993