Top Shelf #6, edited by Brett Warnock

While in DC over Easter weekend, I dropped by the tres cool Big Planet Comics, known locally as 'Bethesda's Sole Redeeming Feature.'* Also there that afternoon was The Unstoppable Chris Oarr, who had humbly labored there prior to his apotheosis. Before I was able to blink three times, the new CBLDF director had told me about half a dozen of his favorite new books, told me another half-dozen ideas he has for the next SPX, and sold me a copy of Top Shelf #6. SEGUE!!

Edited Lichenstein, maybe? Apparently they're too hip for a masthead. Might also be Brett Warnock
Published by Top Shelf, of course
I'm not gonna list all the contributors. Waddayawant I get carpal tunnel or something?
Price is $6.95.
They don't number the pages, and I'm not gonna count, but I'd guess around 60

I'm not normally a big anthology person. I've never read an anthology where I liked everything, so I generally try to spend my meagre pennies on something I'm more likely to enjoy cover-to-cover. This book was no exception to that rule, and had plenty that was dull, opaque, or both. OTOH, if you're someone who likes being onto the 'next big thing' to come up from minis, this looks like a damn good cheat. The Top Shelf folx have waded through the mire of Kinko's Press for us. Impressively, everything here displays, at least, an attention to detail and a distinctive vision.

More specifically: The design is gorgeous. The slightly unconventional broad and short proportions, square binding, funky Matt Madden 2-color cover design, and matte paper stock make the book a pleasure to hold and look at. Interior design (contents, contributor bios, etc.) is also striking, without sacrificing clarity or readibility (mostly. I could do without that white-on-red printing).

The first story that really caught my attention is Marc Bell's 'My Glasses.' I'd seen his book, 'Mojo Action Companion Unit,' before on the shelves, but the Lynda Barry/Julie Doucet-style art hadn't really attracted me much. His writing, though, if you can make it through his lettering, is peachy keen. His skewed, faintly archaic polyglot syntax delivers a story of down-and-out hardship with whimsy and (almost) unsinkable good humor. I'll definitely be checking out more of his work.

Then comes a few bits that didn't do much for me, including an embarassingly bad Gen-X essay. Sample quote: "I think Sigmund [the seamonster] had a bit of a Cinderella complex."

Then we get to Mister Snowboy by Warren Craghead. I love this piece, and will discuss it further later.

Jenny Zervakas's (Strange Growths) sketchy art looks strikingly out-of-place printed so impeccably.

Pete Sickman-Garner's (Hey Mister) Clowes-influenced art keeps on getting better, and his humor remains pleasingly tasteless and nihilistic. Every once in a while, he will seem to experience a flicker of an impulse to give one of his characters some depth. Fear not: he ruthlessly supresses it.

In general, the editorial aesthetic seems to favor the extremely understated -- aggresively mundane stories of routine human interaction and micro-epiphany. There are some definite counterexamples, such as the juicily Kirbyesque Fort Thunder AdverBattle, but this generation of artists seems to generally owe far more to Harvey Pekar (for example) than Robert Crumb.

* Okay, the Tastee Diner's pretty cool, too.

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