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Written and Drawn by Paul Horn
Published by HornCo Press

Three years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, I bought a mini-comic from a guy whose hair was spiked more than a punchbowl at a frat party. His name: Paul Horn. The mini contained a number of his strips, and to my enormous pleasure, they were almost uniformly terrific. Horn demonstrated a sharp wit as a writer, but also serious chops as an artist. The next time we spoke, I badgered him to collect his strips and get a book put together. I continued pestering him about it every time I saw him after that, and now three years later, here it is: the first collection of his work to have a spine on it.

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. COOL JERK’s premise has always been quite simple: Armpit Beachhead, the cool jerk in question, and his strange haircut (even stranger than his creator’s) lives with his girlfriend Puppy Fizgig on Spittle Beach (think San Diego) and has many… odd… adventures. Aided and abetted by a tight (and just as bizarre) supporting cast, Horn uses the characters to take swipes at goths, beachgoers, film and TV. And they aren’t safe jabs, either; Horn isn’t afraid to haul off and throw a haymaker at a deserving target, one of his favorites being the now deceased Anna Nicole Smith. In fact, full credit to him- the strips poking at her here were done in the mid-90s, and he didn’t take the P.C. way out and remove them for a later volume or some wimpy crap like that. They’re here, right where they should be.

Part of the charm of this book is that it collects the earliest strips featuring the characters, well before they graduated high school and made it to Spittle Beach. You can watch Horn grow as a writer and an artist page by page, getting more confident in what he’s doing, and honing his comic timing. It’s great stuff. But he doesn’t stop there; the back of the book contains “director’s commentary” on a large number of the strips, discussing the genesis for gags, fixes made, errors… a welcome look at the thought process of the creator.

To this day, COOL JERK remains my favorite web comic, and for those yet to climb onboard, I encourage you to check it out. And then buy this book- you’ll be glad you did, and then you can pester Paul for a second one for me, and leave me to other things.

Marc Mason

Written by Dion Floyd and Shawn Hilton and Drawn by Abdul Rashid
Published by Graphic Illusions Studios

Cops and vampires versus vampires. That’s the basic idea that IMMORTAL KISS is built upon, and as far as spines go, that’s a pretty good one. A number of grisly murders are cropping up around the city of Chicago, and the vampire families that have worked so hard to keep their existences secret suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to track down one of their own before he can screw things up for everybody. At the same time, Chicago PD would like to find the perp (that they believe to be human) themselves, oblivious to the dangers they face should they find their man.

The good news is that, having missed issue one, I was still able to piece together what I needed to know from what was on the page here. Longtime readers know that I harp incessantly on indy publishers in particular to run inside front-cover recaps of what has gone before, and having one here wouldn’t hurt. As Jim Shooter used to point out: every comic is someone’s first. But again- Floyd and Hilton got it all out on the page, so I can’t rag them too hard on it.

Actually, the book itself is executed reasonably well across the board. The vampire families are delineated well, the human cops come across as likeable and decent… There are some flaws in the art I’d like to see corrected, as Rashid’s pages are professional, but stiff, and could use work on facial expressions in particular. But surprisingly, he shows restraint across the board and never goes for cheap T&A crap, either. I like him a lot for that reason alone.

Taken as a whole: solid indy effort here, and one that has potential over the long haul.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Villard Books

By now, it’s difficult to say anything new about a volume of FLIGHT. Like the three that came before it, this collection of short stories (brought together by editor and artistic maestro Kazu Kibuishi) represents the work of dozens of extremely gifted artists and storytellers. And as with the previous FLIGHTs, there isn’t a single horrific dud in the bunch. FLIGHT has been comics’ best anthology for years now, and nothing about volume four changes that in any way.

The list of names here is impressive: Kibuishi, Michael Gagne, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Amy Kim Ganter, Clio Chiang, Ovi Nedelcu… many folks who’ve been making great comics for quite some time. But that doesn’t discount the many other terrific talents involved. Many of the participants not only make comics, but work in fields like animation as well. Each brings something completely, wildly different to their pages, both in design and style. The use of color also stands out; FLIGHT’s pages burst with life and catch the eye.

Anthologies tend to be such hit-or-miss prospects that I never get too excited about them, with the exception of this one. I look forward to the new volume of FLIGHT every year, knowing it will deliver the goods in a way that the rest don’t. If you’ve yet to check out a volume of this series, what are you waiting for? Pick up this one, or one of the previous releases, and see what the excitement that’s followed these books is all about. You’ll be glad you did.

Marc Mason

Written by John Kovalic and Drawn by Christopher Jones
Published by Dork Storm

Suicidal superheroes that can’t die. Underworld denizens given laughable names. Villains who use his advice to become deadlier instead of healthier. A daughter who goes out in clothing that makes him want to choke. These are just a few of the problems facing Frederick Wertham Blink, psychiatrist to those with superpowers. But Dr. Blink perseveres, even when he’s faced with others trying to horn in on his gig. Of course, it helps that he has a good shrink himself…

Since I’m quoted on the back of the book, you can probably guess that I was pleased to see this cute series make it to collection, and you’d be right. BLINK offers up a potently humorous mix of action and adventure, comedy, pathos, and even a smidge of romance in the four issues collected here. Kovalic counts Bob Newhart and Kurt Busiek as the guiding lights for the book, and he’s right on; the love of superheroes feels very much like the best of Busiek’s work, and the perfectly mined humor from the process of psychiatry meshes well with Newhart’s classic first television series. Hard to go wrong with those two fellows.

DR. BLINK is the type of book that can easily get lost in the treacherous morass that is PREVIEWS each month, so it’s important for it to get the chance to breathe on the bookshelves of your local bookstore or at Amazon. It is a book that easily has a place, a niche to fill, on the shelves of your comic shop, but whether or not it ever gets there is a different story. Do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to it. You’ll be glad you did.

Marc Mason

Written by Mel Krugel and Drawn by Paul Bernstein
Published by Xlibris

BENT is a collection of single-panel cartoons that focus heavily on pun-related images and one-liners. Unfortunately, the hit-to-miss ratio is way out of whack and the book falls short in its efforts to entertain.

Writing-wise, the book at least gets off to a strong start, with a solidly written gag revolving around the classic arrival of a man who has climbed a mountain to meet a man he hopes will have answers to make his life fulfilling. But even then, the book’s primary weakness comes into play: Bernstein’s art is scratchy and unrefined. This weakens the majority of the gags in the book, as even when the punchline isn’t a horrific groaner, the art doesn’t sell the bit the way it needs to. Nothing in BENT jumps out at you as attractive or clever enough to cut out an pin up in your cubicle, which is just about the largest sign of success a panel strip can achieve.

I don’t want to sound down on the creators; they’re obviously having a great time and giving their best effort. And, again, some of the writing here is quite good. So while I cannot recommend this book, I can offer that I believe that there is room for improvement here and that I think these gentlemen can accomplish that improvement. I wish them well as they work towards that goal.

Marc Mason

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