“Amazing Facts and Beyond”
by Dann Zettwoch
and Kevin Huizenga
I have no idea if the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not comic strip still exists in any form at all, but this cartoon collaboration between Zettwoch and Huizenga is a throwback to that, if it took place in some sort of bizarro world of wrong information.
The strip ran in the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, Mo., for about four years and features fictional expert-in-odd-facts Leon Beyond as host, taking readers on a topical and dense journey through the detritus of actual facts that really aren’t, but you wish were.
The central topic always takes surreal, absurd paths — the history of pole dancing will weave a timeline including rain god Xipe Totec and P.T. Barnum.
Or a whole strip might be spent studying ever-changing Assyrian hairstyles or documenting what happened after the explosion of the donut machine at George’s Donuts.
In a color section at the end of the book, some extended strips are presented, including one that tackles a smell crippling St. Louis, based on an actual investigation done by the Times.
The strip seem to have been done with Zettwoch and Huizenga taking turns rather than collaborating on the strips together, and each brings his own style to the artwork, while their sensibilities as humorist are seamless.
Zettwoch is one of the brightest talents in alternative comics and graphic novels, and this book is a great intro to the inventive dynamism of his presentations.
“Little Tommy Lost”
by Cole Closser
Looking back to early Little Orphan Annie and giving it a good, swift kick in the pants, while still retaining some of the qualities that keeps it interesting, Cole Closser is literally rebooting the concept of period adventure comic strips, And his tongue is barely in his cheek while doing it — he understands that while he can make the affectations of the form amusing, he still has to provide a story that will keep you turning the page.
Tommy is separated from his parents on a visit to the big city and hauled into an orphanage by a cop trying to chase him down. There, Tommy has to deal with the evil and mysterious machinations of Mr. Greaves, as well as traverse the hierarchy of the boys, all the while trying to tell anyone who will listen — pretty much no one — that he’s not actually an orphan and, therefore, doesn’t really belong there.
Everything unfolds with a “gee whilikers” attitude from Tommy — you can’t help but love his recurring exclamation, “Hot biscuits!”
Closser’s art is a miracle of time and place, capturing not only the styles of the earlier strips he pulls from, but using the design of the book to make it look as if these were cut out of aging, yellow newspapers, complete with print flaws.
Treated like a daily comic strip, every Sunday gives an extended, color installment that takes its inspiration from “Little Nemo in Slumberland” and uses the opportunity to get deeper into Tommy’s psyche, as well as examine his life before the orphanage.
In the end, a second volume is already announced, and Closser proves he is a master mimic with something original to add, so there’s no telling what a second installment of the work might add.
“Unknown Origins, Untimely Ends”
edited by Emi Gennis
(Hic and Hoc)
If you like the creeps, but want something that pulls from more than just the traditional horror or monster genres — and if you’re fond of campfire tales — micro-publisher Hic and Hoc has released this wonderful anthology of strange. but true tales, rendered in graphic novel form, that I can’t recommend enough.
Some of my favorites of the first section, the unknown origins part of the book, include Nikki DeSautelle’s “The Unknown Man of Somerton Beach,” which covers a very strange death in Australia; Aaron Whitaker’s “The Monster With 21 Faces,” a true crime tale from Japan; Sarah Benkin’s “Somebody Inside,” a nightmarish medical story; and Jackie Roche’s tender though unsettling account of the life of the Leather Man.
Part two, which highlights mysteries revolving around death, murder, missing corpses and such, is a treasure trove of total creepiness, from book editor Emi Gennis’ excellent “The Dyatlov Pass Incident,” which covers the strange fate of hikers in the Ural Mountains in 1959, to Jenn Woodall’s “Aokigahara Forest,” a poetic look at a Japanese suicide legend.
The best part of the book is the revelation it offers for the uninitiated. There’s a phantom world of comics that lurks beyond the mainstream and, therefore, far from the notice of those who encounter the form casually or through its more recent exposure as Hollywood mines the format for material.
This other part of the comics world, though, is populated by cartoonists of an alternative bent, a good number of whom came out of art schools and specialize in hand-made booklets, silk-screened cover art, all sorts of DIY and fine art techniques that have melded with the form of comics to create exciting work that has nothing to do with Iron Man — and doesn’t want to.
Hic and Hoc’s collection is a great way to be introduced with that world, a wonderful primer to the illustrators who are taking the form back from the cash-hungry populists of Hollywood.