side b: the music lover's comic anthology is a great idea for an anthology — the experience of listening to music — that presents an interesting challenge for comics, a soundless medium. It does work though and I give a lot of credit to Rachel Dukes at publisher Poseur Ink for her strong selection of creators for this book. Included are some bigger names like Jeffrey Brown and Jim Mahfood and also some names that should be readily familiar to readers here like Box Brown, Lucy Knisley, Todd Webb, Joe Decie, and Mitch Clem. The wraparound cover art by Lucy Knisley is fun – a mountain of instruments fills up an otherwise empty landscape.
side b is a sequel of sorts to side a: the Music Lover's Graphic Novel which Dukes and Poseur put out in 2007. There's been several good reviews for side b this summer and hopefully it's gotten some good attention since it's release earlier this year. It's a big book — over 200 pages — and so in some ways hard to review. I certainly can't give you a sense of every angle on music you're going to find in this book in — there's something like 50 separate comics in here. But it's remarkably interesting and even though every story didn't directly appeal to me, a LOT did. Music is a common experience to all of us; attempting to reflect that back through comics, well while not easy to do, is a subject almost everyone is going to find something for themselves to appreciate, whether its recreating the emotions of life that music is the soundtrack to or remembering some activity central to listening to music like making mixtapes (when you actually used a cassette tape too).
I would guess the decision to go with mostly short comics (many are two pages) was intentional — it helps to make it all feel like a pop album; lots of short blasts of brillance with a few longer ballads and experimental instrumental pieces in the middle. Many of the comics are fairly straightforward odes to the simple pleasures of loving music (and often the musicans that make it). I think I liked many of these the best including the contributions by Jeffrey Brown ("Cat Power Will Save Me"), Todd Webb ("Untitled"), Steve Orlando ("Rock and Roll All Fifth Period"), Lucy Knisley ("The Clean Slate"), Katie Shanahan ("Musical Misfit"), and well I could probably list a whole bunch more. There's a lot like this in the book.
There are also some more tonal pieces, less linear, more driven by the imagery like Brian Butler's "Where Do Shows Come From" and Morgan Pielli's "The First Song". There's something obvious yet necessary about approaching the subject of music in comics this way. Music is something you can experience without thinking about it too much (how many times have you loved a song without really bothering about the lyrics all that much?) and a comic can attempt to create the same state of emotion. It's hard to do but these and some of the other similar comics are worthy efforts.
One particular comic brought back great memories for me. I'm old enough to really appreciate "Play My Song" by Andy Jewett because I too would make tapes of songs from the radio and you would have to just listen and hope, finger poised at the record button. That whole sense of scarcity — having to catch a song on the radio, or beg for money for a record or find a friend to record a copy of their tape… a world without an INTERNET!… that just doesn't exist anymore. I know more… I've seen more (on video anyhow) of my favorite band Oingo Boingo now than at the height of my fandom. It's a technology thing… the world's relationship with culture has completely changed in that regard in my lifetime.
A few other pieces I wanted to highlight. "Remember That Night" by Warren Wucinich is one of the stronger pieces in the book for me; it has a story, but it's dialogueless and relies on the images to convey the feel of music shared between a couple. I also just loved the artwork here, I'm going to keep my eye out for other work by Wucinich. "Torso" by Kat Vapid, Ryan Kelly and Barb Guttman might be one of the more conventional comic book-looking stories in this book but it's brief story is a classic moment of band dynamics. It's like one dramatic moment from a much longer story.
Then there's "Alison" by Tim Hengeveld which is a sweet devotional of love to a singer (Alison Sudol) which is definitely capturing the actual feelings of many of us when we think about our favorite singers and bands (especially those musicians from our pre-teen to teen years when perhaps all of us are most susceptible to idealized love) but on the other hand is a full on love letter to Alison Sudol. So I'm a little torn there and hoping Hengeveld isn't using this comic as the opening gambit in a King of Comedy-style stalking plan. It is a really nice comic. Brown's comic is actually a bit similar in theme to "Alison" but it's more removed than Hengeveld's sort of "you are there right now" approach.
So great theme, good book, LOTS of comics in it of which I'm certain you (yeah I mean you!) will like enough of them to agree with me that side b is a dang good anthology.
Also Poseur Ink has some webcomics on site worth checking out including several from Rachel Dukes herself as well as one from Sandra K. Fuhr.
Note: The publisher provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.