A pair of anthologies

Side B

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Side B: The Music Love’s Comic Anthology
I was excited to pick up Side B (2009, Poseur Ink). After all, I love music and I do love finding out how other people relate to music. Despite the substantial cover price ($23), I was more than happy to buy this at MoCCA.

While I know, for the most part, anthologies can be hit or miss by their nature, this was more “miss” than “hit” for me, sadly. It is, by no means, a bad anthology. I think I was just expecting something else.

Music is a huge topic and that seemed to be only guideline given here. Some creators used the topic to discuss their favorite band or a pivotal moment that occurred around music. For the most part, those stories worked the best for me. I loved Cristy C. Roads’ “Redemption Day,” which was more of an illustrated story than comic about how Green Day opened up a new world for her. While I’m not a Green Day fan, I could easily relate to the idea of finding that first band that meant something to you. Also great was Dave Crosland‘s wildly sketched tale of awkwardness around a crazy girl he was crushing on at a Modest Mouse show, “The Mouse, The Model, The Horse.”

A few people take a little bit different approach, like in “Torso,” written by Kat Vapid and drawn by Ryan Kelly. In this simple story, a punk singer finds solace at a country karaoke bar after being kicked out of her band. Kelly’s art reminds me of traditional superhero comics, with his crisp lines and strong, expressive faces. Vapid’s characters are quickly and well-defined. It’s a satisfying story, but I’d love to see more of these characters.

Still, Side B has too many meandering stories, like Josh Rosen‘s “Same Old Song,” which is just a Rosen analogue talking about music for three pages. His art is fine, but there’s no point here. And as charming as Katie Shanahan‘s “Musical Misfit” was, with its playful art, I didn’t come away with feeling like it really gave me any insight.

And I think that’s the problem with a lot of the stories in Side B. I understand completely that music is very personal so these stories are going to be personal. But “personal” doesn’t necessarily translate into “interesting.” I think it’s worth reading to an extent, and I certainly don’t regret buying it, but it’s not really an anthology I’ll return to. I think I’m going to end up passing this along to a friend.

First Harvest: Trees & Hills Comics Volume One

Trees & Hills is a network of cartoonists and comic book artists in Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. And for covering such a small geographic area, there is actually a surprising amount of talent there.

First Harvest (2009) collects several of the smaller anthologies the group has put out over the past few years. The diversity of comics here ranges from the simple to the ambitious, from the personal to the pretentious and the whole thing is a lot of fun.

I think I liked this mostly because it was different. When you read a lot of anthologies, you see a lot of the same names over and over again. And if you don’t, at the very least, you see a lot of the same type of comics over and over again (by which, I mean, urban twentysomethings dealing with love and life, although I do think a lot of indie comics are moving away from that). Instead, here, the vibe isn’t so much about impressing anyone with hipness as it is about expressing a personal worldview.

The pair of comics by Megan Baehr are probably among the strongest — they’re both wordless and deal with overcoming adversity and redemption. Colleen Frakes‘ “Space Ninja vs. Zombie” stories are hilarious and her simple art belies her understanding for the medium (I meant to pick up her Woman King at MoCCA, but then I both ran out of money and forgot).

Of special note to me was Tim Hulsizer‘s “House of Freaks, which is an illustrated recounting of one of the most brutal and heartless crimes I know of in recent history. He tells the story of the murders of musician Bryan Harvey and family in Richmond, Va., on New Year’s Day 2006. The images aren’t graphic but the words are and the juxtaposition is effective. As heartbreakingly awful as this story is, I’m glad Hulsizer told it.

I can’t get through this review without mentioning Jade Harmon who is a good friend of mine. We actually did a comic when we were 17 (no, you can’t see it) and it delights me that she’s in this book and I get to point out to everyone I know “I know her! I know her!” I realize I’m biased but her comics are among my favorites here — I love how “La Fenetre” unfolds and expresses the power of music to take us somewhere else (I think this would’ve been a good one for Side B, personally).

I couldn’t find a sale link to First Harvest on the Trees & Hills site, so I hope they have it available soon. It’s a great look at talent that I didn’t know existed.

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