Sunday, March 20, 2011

CEREBUS by Dave Sim

Cerebus (1987) collects the first twenty-five issues of Dave Sim’s independent comic Cerebus the Aardvark, which were originally published from 1977 to 1981. These comics are, fundamentally, Conan parodies starring a bad-tempered, drunkard, anthropomorphic aardvark mercenary.

Cerebus begins with what are more or less straightforward Conan-type sword and sorcery stories with comic elements thrown in. These silly characters and gags don’t always mix well with the more serious/traditional ones, and the earliest issues are fair to middling.

Yet Sim’s storytelling evolves with impressive speed. By the second half of the volume, he is telling multi-issue stories filled with interesting supporting characters. These stories are not only quite entertaining (mostly), but they also begin to contain some political and social commentary.

Sim’s artwork also changes drastically over the course of these issues, especially his depiction of Cerebus. But these changes are for the better, as Sim finds and becomes comfortable with his own style. His art ends up being pretty solid – his faces and expressions are particularly good. He also does an impressive job with shading and backgrounds given the black and white medium. If there’s a nitpick, it’s with his lettering: his P’s often look confusingly like D’s.

On the whole, Cerebus is worthwhile for anyone into Conan stories, and it’s particularly interesting to watch Sim evolve as a storyteller and artist.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

OF THEE I SING by Barack Obama

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters is a 2010 children’s book by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long. Here, Obama affirms his children’s positive attributes while paying tribute to thirteen influential Americans.

The book reads like Obama talks; you can hear him in your head without trying too hard. And the text is a lot like a speech: it extols, in a somewhat general way, virtue, hard work, bravery, and the like, without getting into anything terribly substantial. But for what this book is trying to do, that’s fine.

Long’s art is the highlight of the book. Beginning with representations of Obama’s two daughters, on each left-facing page, Long adds a child version of the notable American spotlighted on the opposite page. By the end of the book, there is a mass of diverse humanity.

Sitting Bull, who made war against the federal government, is, shall we say, an interesting choice here, particularly since he’s saluted as a healer. I wouldn’t say it’s an inappropriate choice, necessarily, but Obama is certainly trying to get the reader to look at American history from multiple points of view.

Regardless of what you think of Obama or his policies, Of Thee I Sing is a lovely little book that celebrates the best about America and the people who made her great. Read it to your kids.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) (2011) is a collection of comics by Matthew Inman from his website, The Oatmeal ( It features a large number of comics from the site plus 27 new ones.

Inman’s comics, in both the art and captions, feature his offbeat and manic sense of humor. He is creative, vulgar, and frequently hilarious, and his work is usually better the more over the top it goes (if you don’t like this book, “I hope a large meteor finds its way across the universe and smashes directly into your crotch while you sleep,” Inman says in the introduction). It’s not for everyone, though; the faint of heart, the squeamish, and the uptight may want to stick with Garfield. For me, Inman’s one of the few comic authors whose work is still funny after multiple reads.

The book itself is pretty high quality, with thick, glossy pages. Not all the comics are in color, but most are. And they aren’t all gems, but the entertainment level here is quite high. If there’s a knock on this book, it’s that some of the best Oatmeal comics aren’t here. Where’s the Gayroller?

The Oatmeal definitely isn’t for everybody, but if you like Inman’s work and style, 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth is a great collection.