Howard Chackowicz

Howie Action Comix

I hardly ever laugh out loud at anything I read, but a few nights ago, Howie Action Comix by Howard Chackowicz made me do just that. The culprit in this case was a single-panel cartoon in which a man stands on the ledge of a building contemplating suicide while a police officer shouts up at him, “Don’t jump, you piece of shit loser… We can talk!” If, like me, this kind of thing makes you laugh (or, in my case, cackle), then you’ll love this bizarre collection of comic strips, line drawings, and gag panels. If not, then you might want to forgo this one in favor of the latest Foxtrot collection.

The range of subjects Chackowicz covers in his collection is as wide as it is bizarre. In one strip, a man gets into an argument with his erect member while a commentator in a parallel strip tries to figure out exactly what’s going on. In another, a squirrel lover dons a suit made of bread and lies out in a park to commune with nature. And in a series of recurring strips, Chackowicz turns somewhat autobiographical, depicting himself as a maladjusted overweight ten-year-old who parades around town in his birthday suit.

Beyond being weird for the sake of weird, however, Chackowicz also explores some deeper themes throughout Howie Action Comix. Loneliness is an obvious one in that all of his characters are searching in vain for some way to connect with the world at large. Yet the biggest theme Chackowicz tackles (for my money, anyway) is the meaning of life, a mystery he explores in a vertical strip titled “Sam and Tuna in: Bottomless Pit.”

In this strip, a pair of characters are seen falling, as the title suggests, down a bottomless pit, and Chackowicz depicts them at various points along the fall: two hours, two days, a week, four months, and forty years. Throughout most of the journey, Sam and Tuna are scared speechless, and it isn’t until the last panel that one finally attempts to open up to the other. By then, however, it’s too late: the other has passed away.

The strip, in my humble opinion, is a metaphor for life itself: we’re always in some form of free-fall, trying to make sense of the world around us, and afraid or otherwise unable to communicate with each other until it’s too late. To put it another way, we’re all falling through the bottomless pit that is life — our journey through time and space, through the sliver of eternity that we get to experience — yet we’re so busy chasing our tails (or anything else that the world tells us is important) that we never take the time to appreciate each other’s company.

In many ways, I have to confess that I like Howie Action Comix because it resonates with some of my own work in terms of tone if not style. In relation to more prominent cartoonists, though, I’d say that Howie Action Comix reads like something New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast might write after a night of heavy drinking — or, more accurately, over the course of a month-long binge. It’s fun and weird and crazy and sick, but it also says something about the human condition. All of this is to say that Howie Action Comix is everything an underground comic should be.

-Review by Marc Schuster

The Small Press Reviews Holiday Gift Guide

Once again, the holidays are upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably faced with the conundrum of knowing loads of avid readers but not knowing what to give them because, to put it bluntly, they’ve already read everything. But fear not! Small and independent presses have plenty of great books to offer, and chances are good that the readers in your life haven’t yet stumbled upon these undiscovered gems. What follows is a list of my favorite small presses, broken down by their specialties and genres. Peruse their catalogs… You’re bound to find something for everyone on your holiday gift list!

Novels: Followers of this blog know that I’ve reviewed and loved many titles from The Permanent Press — and with good reason. From mainstream to mystery, they have it all. Specifically, books like The Chester Chronicles and Elysiana offer compelling and nostalgic takes on the 1960s, and To Account for Murder is a noirish page-turner set in the 1940s. Though not a novel, Doris Buffett’s memoir, Giving it All Away, offers much insight into what drives Warren Buffett’s sister to, as the title suggests, give so much of her fortune away to those in need.

Short Stories: Featherproof Books just showed up on my radar, and I’m blown away by the care they put not only into selecting the titles they publish, but also in designing their books. Christian TeBordo’s The Awful Possibilities is a heck of a mind-bender, and Patrick Somerville’s The Universe in Miniature in Miniature has to be seen to be believed.

Poetry: For the poetry lover on your list, you can’t go wrong with Write Bloody Books. Write Bloody specializes in poetry collections from touring poets — so, to paraphrase the theme from The Monkees, you better get ready (if you turn your friends on to any of WB’s poets), they may be coming to your town! I recommend Jeanann Verlee’s Racing Hummingbirds and Robbie Q. Telfer’s Spiking the Sucker Punch.

Graphic Novels: Another recent discovery of mine, Conundrum Press is nothing short of awesome. Line Gamache’s Poof! offers a madcap rumination on the relationship between the artist and her muse, and fans of CBC Radio’s Wiretap (with Jonathan Goldstein) will revel in Howie Action Comics by souvlaki aficionado and longtime Wiretap regular Howard Chackowicz. Speaking from experience, I can say that there’s nothing cooler to a comic book geek than “discovering” a new artist, so definitely give Conundrum a look if you have representatives from this species on your list.

Of course, this list of presses is far from comprehensive, but who knows? If you give a couple of these independent publishers a chance, you might end up a fan for life — and the readers in your life will marvel at your good taste!