Trade Post: Pistolwhip & Pistolwhip The Yellow Menace

pistolwhip Pistolwhip (Top Shelf)
By Matt Kindt & Jason Hall
OGN

Do you ever read a book or group of books and fall hard in love with them, but aren’t sure if you can quite put into words why? That’s what I’m feeling after reading the three Pistolwhip books by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall. I picked all three up during one of Top Shelf’s fantastic sales after discovering Kindt’s work by way of the excellent Super Spy. I knew nothing about them but figured I’d give them a shot. I actually read Mephisto And The Empty Box not too long ago, but had to give it another read after diving so deep into Pistolwhip and Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace.

Pistolwhip stars a bellhop-turned-PI of the same name who gets embroiled in a complicated and complex whodunit that starts with a shooting and then goes on to explain how each character involved got there and where they went afterwards. Each chapter of the book is told from the same perspective of a different character who was in the room, which nearly all of them interacting with secondary or tertiary characters from the other story. What winds up happening is that you really feel like you’re steeped in this world set in a big city in the 30s or 40s.

I had to flip back through this book to remind myself what happened, but I don’t mean that as a check in the negative column. On the contrary, this book does so much in its 120 pages that I felt like I was put on the tracks and rocketed forward in this roller coaster of a mystery-thriller. As such, I grabbed on to whatever I could, but kept moving forward to find out what was going on. It’s similar to something like The Usual Suspects or Reservoir Dogs — two of my favorite movies — in that sense. And, like those movies, I want to return to Pistolwhip again and again to see what else I can absorb.

The only downside to that style of storytelling (or more accurately, my reading of it, because I choose the speed of a comic) added to the loose, cartoony style of the artwork, is that I was definitely confused in the beginning of the story about who I was following and when. I got it eventually, but that’s not something you have to deal with in a film, usually.

pistolwhip the yellow menace

Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace (Top Shelf)
By Matt Kindt & Jason Hall
OGN

The follow-up book Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace crafts a similarly complex story, but does it in a different way with a whole different thrust. This time around, someone’s committing crimes under the name of the Yellow Menace, the villain on a very popular radio program a a la The Shadow. At the same time the show’s hero Jack Peril has also decided to become a real person and is trying to take down his nemesis. The story becomes a double sided mystery, on one hand Pistolwhip is trying to figure out who the Yellow Menace is and also who Jack Peril really is.

What really impressed me most about Yellow Menace is not only that it keeps the same high quality as the previous volume, but also weaves a similar tale with a completely different end result. I also want to mention Mephisto once again. That is a completely self-contained tale that can be read on its own and also does not need to be read to enjoy either of these books. However, the box does appear at one point in one of the books, so there’s a definitely connection. Even though I’d read that smaller volume not too long before, I still immediately dug it out and gave it another read so I could absorb the full Pistolwhip world. I recommend doing exactly that if you’re going to read these books: catch ’em all Pokemon style, then read them as quickly as you can. You’ll need to go back and catch up a bit, but you’ll also really take in all the small interconnected details (at least that’s how I work).

I also want to take a paragraph and talk a bit about something I tend to overlook and that’s book design. As you can see from the image, the front cover of the first volume is actually a great high-res image of an old timey radio. Parts and schematics can be found inside. Heck, even the back cover looks like an old radio complete with stickers, stamps and notes that aren’t just thoughtful re-creations. The second volume goes a different direction but still offers a really great set of covers that I spent a good deal of time checking out.

Indie Trade Post: BOP! More Box Office Poison, Comic Diorama, Good-Bye Chunky Rice & Mephisto & The Empty Box

bop! more box office poison BOP! [More Box Office Poison] (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Alex Robinson

One of the first larger indie works I ever read was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I remember reading about it in Wizard way back, so when I got to the company and saw a big huge book collecting most of the material, I jumped at the chance to give it a read.  It’s been a long time and I owe it to the work and myself to get my hands on a copy of that collection. Anyway, the series follows a group of NYC-dwelling 20 somethings as they navigate life, oftentimes balancing a desire to create art and pay their bills. It’s the kind of subject matter that wound up being the focus of most of the indie books I read around that time like Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage.

Anyway, somewhere along the way I happened across a copy of BOP! which collects all the Box Office Poison material not collected in that big ol’ book. I’ll admit, my memory’s kind of dumpy and I probably should have held off on reading this book until after I got my hands on the main collection, but it was actually kind of fun going back to these characters, being thrown right in and enjoying these smaller vignettes.

This collection includes a few shorter stories from some of the more peripherally characters as well as some of the one-page strips where several characters would answer questions. I wouldn’t recommend this book to BOP newbies, though it might give you a taste of Robinson’s style. After digging BOP I would go on to check out Too Cool To Be Forgotten which I really dug as well as Tricked which is also sitting in my to-read pile.

comic diorama Comic Diorama (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Grant Reynolds

I’ve said this before, but I’m not super plugged into the world of indie comics. I like them, but they’re not the kind of comics I read growing up which is kind of funny considering how much I got into weird movies in high school. Anyway, I keep an eye on companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, specifically for their store sales. I picked up Grant Reynolds’ Comic Diorama during one of those Top Shelf sales, not because I had heard anything about it, but because I was already buying some stuff, it was only a buck or so and it had a creepy-cool cover.

The book itself is a pretty crazy collection of graphic storytelling. In just 48 pages, Reynolds goes from drawn journal entries and a one-armed, no-headed humanoid creature to a pair of water based stories that really show off the artists ability to use that element to tell a story.

I’m not going to posture and act like I completely understood the contents of this mini-comic. It’s super weird, but I didn’t get the vibe that it was doing it just for the sake of weirdness. I get the impression that there’s a heart and a purpose behind these stories that maybe I don’t fully understand at this point, but am happy to keep in my collection to return to later on down the road. I’ll also admit that I’m not familiar with Reynolds’ other work, what else of his should I check out?

good-bye chunky rice Good-Bye, Chunky Rice (Pantheon)
Written & drawn by Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson’s one of those guys who I’ve heard a lot of good things about but haven’t gotten around to actually reading until recently. I have a copy of Blankets in the to-read pile that I got for about a dollar at a closing Borders a few years back, but haven’t felt prepared to jump in just yet. I recently got a copy of Chunky Rice, though, via Sequential Swap and decided to sit down and read it while I was going through all these other smaller indie books.

Chunky Rice is a turtle who leaves his mouse girlfriend to go on a boat to an undisclosed location to start a new life. Most of the story takes place on the boat with the sneaky captain, his loud wife and Siamese twin women. The captain’s brother happens to be an incredibly sad man who was also Chunky Rice’s roommate back home.

That’s what the book is about, but it’s not what it’s ABOUT, you know? Honestly, though, I don’t really know what it’s ABOUT. Chunky wants the mouse to go with him, but she won’t because she says she belongs in the town. Why? No idea. Is the book about forcing change on yourself to experience the larger world? If so, it’s mostly countermanded by the fact that everyone Chunky meets is kind of a jerk and this journey sucks. Is that supposed to be a metaphor for life? If so, it’s not one I’m super interested. Then again, had I read this at 20 instead of 30, it might have been the kind of thing I really associated with.

Another aspect of the book that got a little under my skin was a perceived intent by the author to subvert expectations by telling this story with cartoony animals and humans as a way to make the reader think they’re looking at a comic strip type story, but instead it’s this heavy thing where young kids have to drown puppies. It felt like my emotions were being purposefully toyed with which is not a feeling I like. I have done absolutely no research about this book so all of this is just what I was left with after reading and might be completely off base. People who love this book, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.

mephisto and the empty box Pistolwhip Presents: Mephisto And The Empty Box (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Justin Hall & Matt Kindt

After reading and really enjoying Matt Kindt’s Super Spy, I put his name on my “check out more of this guy’s work” list which is why I was so excited to see him do Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.. It’s also why I snatched up three Pistolwhip books when I saw them on the cheap during another Top Shelf sale. I’ve been holding off on reading them, but after going through the above three books, I figured it’d be a good time to dive into the pool.

This is a 24 page, magazine-sized issue featuring a magician named Mephisto who we learn became a performer after his wife was called up on stage to play another magician’s assistant and never returned from a magic box. He’s been trying his damndest to get her back all these years, but to no avail.

I really had no idea what this book was about when I bought it so everything was a surprise. I especially liked the completeness of the story which, now that I think about it a little more, reminds me a lot of a really good Twilight Zone episode. I was really taken with the Mephisto’s sadness and how much he clearly still loved his wife. Unlike Chunky which was focused on finding oneself as a younger person, Mephisto is more about trying to get back what you had, something I can relate to a lot more at this point in my life. Of all four books I read on my quick indie spree, this is the one I liked the best because it’s a clear story, it had the most emotional impact and worked so well as a showcase of the creators’ talent.