Month: June 2010

Murky Depths

If Mallard (reviewed last week) represents one end of the small-press spectrum (the off-the-cuff, in-the-moment, whip-it-out and get-it-done punk-aesthetic, if you will), then Murky Depths: The Quarterly Anthology of Graphically Dark Speculative Fiction represents the other end. Despite its slick appearance, however, Murky Depths doesn’t forget its gritty DIY roots. Part showcase for burgeoning talent and part fanzine, it’s the ideal mix of artistry and fanboy fawning.

Among the more notable pieces in the latest issue is “Dead Girls,” a graphic reimagining of Richard Calder’s novel of the same name. Evoking a strong manga vibe, “Dead Girls” touches on themes of race, sexual awakening, STDs, and eternal life – all in the context of a gothic(ish) vampire tale.

Yet Murky Depths is not just about comics and the artists and authors who create them. It’s also a collection of innovative horror fiction. Recent authors featured in the pages of Murky Depths include Juliet E. McKenna, Matt Finucane, and Andrew Knighton (among many talented others). Their stories, moreover, run a fascinating gamut from gothic horror to hardcore sci-fi. In short, if you can get your work into Murky Depths, you’re in great company.

Mallard 6 (comics, etc.): Your Mum’s a Recession

Imagination appears to be the theme of the latest edition of Mallard, a collection of work by writers and artists “new and not so new” to self-publishing (per the zine’s introduction). The art is a bit of a hodgepodge, but self-consciously so: Jo Billingsley’s untitled piece (in which ducks demonstrate the Doppler effect) reinforces the the mallard theme, while a number of single and multi-frame comic strips featuring stick people engaged in what artist Joe Badelley calls “exhilarating small talk” (e.g., “My favorite things are magnets, fish, tractors — in that order”) leavens the proceedings. Things take a turn for the bizarre towards the end of the issue with “She Sang the Vampire Song” by Iain Laurie — a wordless strip consisting largely of melting faces, bad teeth, runny noses, and vomit. Rounding things out are “Cactus vs. Bird,” which is largely self-explanatory, a short piece about a leaf falling from a branch, and a sketch of a vomiting pigeon.

Would I normally read something like this if left to my own devices? Perhaps not. At the same time, though, I’m glad that editor Tom England is doing what he does. His vision is as unique as the voices of the artists he’s promoting are bizarre. And who knows? The rising stars of the comics universe may well be lurking in the pages of Mallard Press titles today.

Now We Know Why It’s Called a Punch List

In Now We Know Why It’s Called a Punch List, John J. Parrino and Meredith L. Moreland ply the tools of the psychologist’s trade to the often difficult business of working with contractors and subcontractors, particularly with respect to remodeling one’s home. In many ways, the argument of this volume is similar to that of the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus franchise that purported to help the sexes understand each other in the nineteen-nineties. This time around, however, the cultural divide does not fall along gender lines but professional lines, as the basic premise of the book is that those in the home-remodeling profession speak a language of their own and have their own customs and personalities — and that those of us who require their services must take certain steps in order to interact most effectively with them.

That the authors offer a number of unflattering “universal truths” about contractors (e.g., they tend to start jobs later than promised or can be absent from a work site for days without explanation) might seem insulting if not for the fact that… Well, if you’ve ever taken off from work to meet with a contractor who failed to show up, you can certainly understand why the authors might, on occasion, grow frustrated with members of that profession. Additionally, Parrino and Moreland are at pains to point out that their book is meant in good fun. As the authors note, “An entire profession cannot be painted with a single brush.” In this light, the book does, in fact, provide the “satirical, humorous approach to stress management” that the authors intend.

By focusing on a fairly stressful endeavor that many of us have chosen to undertake from time to time, Parrino and Moreland have given us a guide that speaks to the more general issue of stress and how to handle it. The book, moreover, makes for a timely gift to anyone who is A) contemplating B) in the throes of or C) recovering from remodeling a home. Or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you might try buying this book for the contractor you love (or love to hate). But only if that contractor has a great sense of humor.