Comic Reviews: Issue 53, May 1993

Comic Reviews: May 1993


One of the most interesting aspects of following the comic book industry is watching the emergence and development of new talent. In recent years, the genre has seen the appearance of such cartoonists as Joe Matt, Ed Brubaker, and the erratic Julie Doucet.

Three relative newcomers to the field, Carl Belfast, Glenn Wong, and Mark Kalesinko, have debuted in the past few months, and their respective efforts are graded below. 



Written and drawn by Carl Belfast

For those wearied by the dearth of quality in autobiographical comics, Fantagraphics Books and Carl Belfast present Verbatim.

With the cover blurb “Unbelievably realistic,” Verbatim aims to poke fun at cartoonists like Harvey Pekar and the aforementioned Joe Man and Ed Brubaker, who depict their sordid lives in the sequential art format.

Artist Belfast lampoons that idea with a quartet of stories focusing on his upbringing, lack of cleanliness, his boring daily routine, his personal relationships and more. All this, of course, is extremely boring, which is Belfast’s point. As the protagonist (Belfast himself) incessantly whines about his life, the reader is supposed to conclude that such comic work is utterly worthless.

And perhaps the reader would come to that conclusion, were it not for the fact that there ARE quality autobiographical comics around and if Verbatim were at all amusing.

But the simple truth is that VERBATIM is instead annoyingly smarmy, as is the entire premise. Belfast (which may or may not be a pseudonym) evidently forgot that a key ingredient to satire is humor. Worse, by parodying a comic book subgenre, the book’s audience is limited at best to those hostile to the “real life” movement in comics.

The cartooning is adequate if a bit wooden, but fails to make up for the unamusing story.

This reviewer is tempted to serve up a load of bile for cartoonist Belfast, but a good deal of blame also must be aimed at publisher Fantagraphics Books. Fantagraphics does publish the masterful Hate and critically-acclaimed Love and Rockets and Eight Ball, but is also responsible for the worthless Eros line of softcore porn comics. Talk about pandering! It’s hypocritical to crap on others’ products when the self-important and conceited folks prostitute themselves.

Oh, yah, Verbatim bites.

(B&W, $2.75) Grade: F


The Young Cynics Club

Written and Drawn by Glenn Wong

The lives of four young “outsider-type” men are the premise of Glenn Wong’s The Young Cynics Club.

Told from the viewpoint of “sensitive artist” Nathan, the comic explores the tribulations of such young people in American society.

Unfortunately, author Wong paints this table extremely broadly and resorts to cliche characters: there is handsome rebel Gabe, buffoonish jovial Stuey, aimless Nathan, and the worldly Milo.

For example, the stories in the comic deal with the dissatisfaction of the group with Marco’s nihilistic path, the problems that result when Stuey and Gabe move in together, and Nathan’s hypocrisy as revealed by Milo.

Believe me, all this is more interesting summarized than on the printed page. The angst and whining are pathetic and Wong fails to create so much as one sympathetic character. The dialogue is contrived and unnatural, while the situations are overtly melodramatic and forced.

Worse, Wong’s drawings are stiff and lifeless. In the ads for Young Cynics Club, publisher Dark Horse Comics touts Wong as being influenced by Nexus’ Steve Rude and Love and Rocket’s Jaime Hernandez, but Wong evidently picked up only their styles while neglecting to inherit their descriptive abilities. The drawings are lifeless and serve to make the awful stories even worse.

Dark Horse Comics is promoting Young Cynics Club as an example of the up-and-coming talents in the comic book field, but they must have read something other than the comic I bought.

(B&W, $2.50) Grade D-



Written and Drawn by Mark Kalesniko

Artist Mark Kalesniko makes an interesting, if inauspicious, debut with the wordless S.O.S.

S.O.S. appears to be an allergy, with a young woman’s rise to independence. In this case, the young woman is Chloe, the only survivor of a sunken ocean liner. Trapped on a surfboard in becalmed waters, the bespectacled Chloe sends out the proverbial “message-in a bottle” to her family and then find herself in a life and death struggle with a shark (nature?).

What happens? Well, in the course of the story, Chloe learns to fend for herself, and that’s the whole point to the story. Is it compelling, though? To be honest, the answer is a disappointing no.

Kalesniko has chosen an ambitious project here and unfortunately fails. In 22 pages, there is not a lot of room for development of ideas and the ultimate resolution seems all too easy. If learning to fight for independence were this simple, it’s doubtful the world’s populace would be so pathetic.

Luckily, Kalesniko does have an engaging illustrative style, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean. The often simple lines combine for very effective pictures. If only the story were nearly as good.

So Kalesniko’s first work is a failure, but at least it’s an interesting one.
(B&W, $2.75) Grade: C- 

Check out more from the SLUG Archives
Comic Reviews: April 1993
Comic Reviews: March 1993