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Friday Reviews: Comic Strip Edition

Today we’ve got a couple of comic strip collections, a compilation of classic strips from 50 years of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and the second volume of Katie Cook’s charming web-comic, Gronk.

Woodstock: Master of Disguise

Writer and Artist: Charles Schulz

WoodstockCoverI’ve been a lifelong fan of Peanuts and have at different times in my life related to Charlie Brown or Snoopy. Every Christmas my parents give me the next volume in Fantagraphics’ wonderful archive of Peanuts comics (which is nearing the end after over a decade of publishing these volumes). And I’ve bought my share of themed collections focusing on Scouting, Writing, Baseball or specific characters.

Perhaps Snoopy’s expression on the cover says it best about this volume. Woodstock may have earned himself a place on Whoopi Goldberg’s chest (weird intersection of Trek and Peanuts trivia), but he’s better in small doses rather than as the main event.

I like the inclusion of the head beagle strips and the scouting strips, but both of these have a lot more to do with Snoopy than they ever do with Woodstock. We also get pieces of strips that would form the basis of Snoopy Come Home and a lot of hockey and football strips where the joke is usually Woodstock being crushed by the football.

Peanuts is a lot about repetition if you think about it. The best running gags are Charlie Brown losing (almost) every Baseball game, missing the football, Snoopy fighting the Red Baron and getting his every literary work rejected. But collections of those strips show the ways in which Schulz changed the gag every time so even though we knew what was going to happen, the joke was still funny. Woodstock jokes, on the other hand, are really all the same.

The one thing this collection brings out is that while Snoopy loves Woodstock, he doesn’t always like him very much. Play a drinking game with this book and take a drink every time Snoopy says “stupid bird.” You’ll enjoy the book all the more.

The activity section might be okay for kids, but doesn’t add much. This is also a bit nit-picky, but I actually prefer the strips in their original black and white form over any recoloring. The Sunday color is fine, but I like the plain presentation Fantagraphics has chosen over this re-colored collection.

(3 stars | There are a lot of great Peanuts collections out there, but this one is just okay)

Gronk: A Monster’s Story Volume 2

Writer and Artist – Katie Cook

GronkVol2It’s probably best to look at Gronk less as comic strip and more as a poster book with a cute loveable character. There are lot of pages here that would make great posters, coffee mugs, mousepads, etc. There are visual gags of movies, art, and even other comic strips like The Family Circus.

We do get a nice prequel story involving an early intersection between Gronk, Dale and kitteh and there are some recurring gags with Gronk discovering the joys and perils of the iPad that are decently funny.

Again this is cute, funny, geeky and a little sweet book and most pages would be great printed on the side of a coffee mug or as a background. It’s just a shame we get so few of these both on-line and in these collections (less than 60 strips here).

I will say that here re-coloring brings a lot of vibrancy to the art. The web-comic is in black and white and often has a half-finished quality. These collections really make these characters come to life and while this book isn’t very long, you’ll still enjoy it.

(3 stars | Probably more of a 3.5 because of the art and geek parodies)

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Friday Reviews: Mega Girls and Mighty Monsters

Every Friday I’ll be reviewing two books (usually comic books from NetGalley). Today’s post is a bit of a change of pace as both of these books are actually collections of ongoing web-comics. We’ve got a girl who fights monsters, and one who lets them play with her cat.

Gronk Book 1

Writer and Artist  – Katie Cook

Ggronkronk follows the eponymous monster as she leaves the big woods in search of a life that doesn’t involve scaring people. Gronk has never fit in with the monster life, and is teased by the other monsters, so she sets out way from the deep dark woods. Soon she finds a young artist who quickly sees that Gronk is not a monster inside and gives her a home with her cat and 160 pound Newfie.

This is mostly a cute gag of the week comic with little narrative thread. It’s appropriate for all ages, with most of the humor deriving from Gronk discovering things about our world, and the particular nerd sensibilities of the artist. Another point of interest are the different shirts that Dale (the artist) is sporting in each comic, often with obscure code or nerd references.

The art is cute and simply colored. Most of these originally appeared in black and white on the site but have been colored for the book. This is a very quick read (I think I knocked most of it back waiting for pizza at Marcos), and at $9.99 60 pages feels a little thin. The site posts on an irregular schedule, and the books that have been printed so far contain about a year’s worth of comics which works out to about 50-60 each book.

That said there are probably a couple of these that you’d want to put up in your cube either for the humor or the extreme cuteness, and if you want to support the artist go ahead and pick up the book. For me this is probably another one of the ones I’ll infrequently check online.

(4 stars | Fun and cute but too short)

Strong Female Protagonist Book 1

Writer – Brennan Lee Mulligan, Artist – Molly Ostertag

strong_female_protagonist_cover_sm_lgStrong Female Protagonist follows the adventures of Allison Green (a.k.a. Mega Girl) as she tries to adjust to post super hero life by going to college and trying to find a way to save the world that doesn’t involve smashing giant robots. In this volume we flash back to the moment Allison decided to give up the mantle of Mega Girl and the impact that has had on herself, and her fellow biodynamics (the author’s term for those with super-powers).

This comic is a bit like Watchmen crossed with John Byrne’s Next Men with a little XKCD thrown in for flair plus a lot of heart. Each page features a wry comment or extra joke from the author (a la XKCD though a technique that’s popular elsewhere). In this world like Next Men, super powers are not always a gift. One villain has blades for hands that are actually cancerous lesions that are slowly killing him from the inside. Another hero, Feral, can heal from any injury, and because she wants to help others has chosen a life of extreme pain and limited mobility in order to give as much of herself as possible. Even Mega Girl who is basically invincible worries that her strength will cause undue harm to those around her.

But the best moments in this story are the simple interactions, whether it’s between Allison and her former nemesis Menace, or her family life, we spend less time fighting the typical super hero fights and more time getting to know these heroes and villains as people. Each chapter or issue of this volume reads like an individual comic book (though more of an annual length than a single issue), with some connective tissue. There are some plot threads introduced in the first chapter that feel a little forgotten by the last (which given the webcomics’ schedule would be about two years later), but the author may pick these up in future chapters.

Another of my favorite comics is MegaTokyo, which has a VERY irregular schedule but tries to do a similar thing in delivering pages of a book rather than just a gag of the week format. It’s a shame more web comics don’t follow this format, though it can be a little frustrating to follow from week to week. We’re about 88 pages into Issue 5 on the website (the book reviewed here contains 1-4), but that’s at a rate of two pages a week. Probably this is the kind of thing you’ll want to check in with once or twice a year and read the whole backlog (or buy the books).

This is one of the best comics I’ve read in a while and is playing on a whole bunch of levels. I even found myself with a bit of a tear in my eye by the last page of Issue 4. But I also found myself laughing like crazy as well (Check out this comic and maybe the one right before it, particularly if you’ve got humor sensibilities like my friend Brian). You owe it to yourself to at least give this one a look.

(5 stars | Highly Recommended)

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