Cold Cut Distribution's Feature Spotlight #14 - May 1996

Ragmop

Publisher:	Planet Lucy Press
Story & Art:	Rob Walton
Cvr Price:	$2.95
Frequency:	Bi-monthly
Print Run:      3000 copies per issue (except issue 2: 2000 copies)

Storyline:

While the secret shadow government of America schemes to get their hands on the all-powerful "O-ring", Pope John-Paul-George-and-Ringo sends out his top agent, Cardinal Assassini to make sure that the Church gets it first. Meanwhile, millions of years ago, a bunch of dinosaurs steal a friendly Seuss-like alien's spaceship to escape their impending extinction - and find themselves on a collision course with danger. Maybe it's because the ship is a stickshift. Or maybe it's because they only have brains the size of a walnut.

Writing Review:

Rob's a talented, wickedly funny writer with an eclectic and wide-ranging sensibility. Reading Ragmop is like reading a novel by Douglas Adams with commentary by the crew from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (who else would even try references to physicist Richard Feynman, cartoonist Chuck Jones, and the movie Wall Street in a single book?). The only trick involved is that it's hard to follow the "plot" when we're following four to five different groups of characters in each issue. Then again, like MST3000, the plot is not really the point of this book, and it is just so fun to read, regardless.

Art Review:

Rob's style suits this book perfectly; the dinosaurs are realistically drawn in "serious" situations, drawn cartoonishly for slapstick jokes. Most of the humans are drawn in the style of 50's cartoons, but then the book feels like a 50's satire, so it all fits into one seamless whole. The art injokes are plentiful, too - a panel is as likely to have the head of a giant hedgehog peeking over a building saying "Dinsdale!" as it is to have the characters suddenly sport groucho mustaches and cigars in response to a moment of broad innuendo.

Audience:

Ragmop is a wild ride, perfectly suited for those into referential, wacky, or vicious humor. Those with gentle dispositions should shy away - Rob takes sharp stabs at such institutions as the Catholic Church and women's lib. But fans of such blackly funny books as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Milk & Cheese (hey, they both have lobotomy jokes in 'em!) will eat up Ragmop, as well as fans of the loopy humor in series like Ambush Bug or the old Not Brand Echh. Even fans of Lobo may take a shine to Ragmop - the same sort of irreverent satirical jokes, and a science-fiction setting to boot. Fans of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 should also give this book a try - they won't be disappointed.

If you like Ragmop, take a look at:


Jar of Fools

Publisher:	Black Eye
Story & Art:	Jason Lutes
Cover Price:	$6.95  (volumes 1-2 available)
Frequency:	Now completed

Storyline:

An out-of-work magician and his mentor hook up with a pathetic con man and his daughter, each dealing with his or her own demons and life problems. As the daughter begins learning magic at her father's request, the dad deals with the social negativity of conning people. The magician agonizes over his brother's apparent suicide from a nearby bridge and his mentor, an aging vaudeville magician with a stage act, wants to escape from the old age home he feels is keeping him trapped.

Writing Review:

Jason is clearly a master of characterization, since this entire 2-volume graphic novel (in the proper sense of the term) is really nothing but a large and fascinating character study of four people examining their lives and their relationships to society and to each other. But it's not as boring as that sounds - it's engaging drama in the best sense of the word - after only a few dozen pages, you begin to really feel for the lead character and the young girl.

Art Review:

The clean lines and dark blacks of this moody piece come across matter-of-fact and straightforward, mimicking the eye of a camera as we watch the lives of these people unfold. The drawbacks include the occasionally cramped panels crowded onto the smaller than normal (6 x 6) page, and sometimes the "scene cuts" are jumpy and disorienting - there's a few pages in volume 2 which are done completely without words which are occasionally confusing. But Lutes' willingness to experiment tends to payoff more than it detracts, and the result is an overall power that reinforces the story.

Sales Overview:

Jar of Fools should appeal to the growing base of fans of "real life" storytelling in comics. The obvious appeal will be to readers of Strangers in Paradise, another fabulous series dealing with characters and their entaglements, both romantic and otherwise. Likewise, fans of Eightball's serial "Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron" will find the offbeat characters in the book intriguing, and readers of Breakneck Blvd will enjoy the "down-and-out" aspect of the characters as they deal with their lives and their dreams.

Anyone who is reading Jason's current series Berlin will want to check out this earlier masterpiece - plus it sells great as a standalone "novel" for those who insist that comics "just aren't literature". Like Maus, this is another book you can hand to nonbelievers and watch as they have to admit that comics truly have matured as a medium.

Jason won a 1994 Xeric Foundation award for Jar of Fools, originally serialized in a Seattle paper, but collected into a self-published trade paperback with the award money from Xeric. He hadn't finished the story at that point yet, though, so he had the strips collected into a "Volume One" edition, intending to put out Volume Two when the story was finished nearly a year later. But the book was exceedingly popular and Jason took it to Black Eye, who reprinted it shortly thereafter with a nice dustjacket, and then also published volume 2 when it was issued a year later.

If you like Jar of Fools, take a look at:


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