Wednesday, January 29, 2014

10 Comics Everyone Should Read or Why I Tried the "Master Cleanse"

Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Living in Asia can be hard on a lazy, fast food junkie such as myself. They deliver McDonald's on motor bikes in less than 30 minutes. No tips necessary. No delivery fee. It's easy enough to stay active in the summer. Busan, South Korea is a city filled with amazing beaches and surrounded by famously hike-able mountains filled with ancient temples.

With a population a little less than the city of LA there is always something happening.

It is a great place to call home; the best place I've ever lived.

Korea is big on the alcohol though, and I am a man with an unquenchable thirst. After four years of partying in the land of the morning calm I decided that I needed a break and some time to reflect. I decided to participate in the controversial "Master Cleanse". Also called The Lemonade Diet, the Master Cleanse consists of nothing but unconventional, homemade lemonade drinks and various forms of laxatives and herbal teas for ten days. No food.

What does this have to do with a blog about comics? I'm glad you asked. With all of the demands of the weekly pull list I wanted to take some me time to re-visit some of my old favorites, one a day to be precise. These aren't necessarily "the greatest books of all time", but definitely ones you're going to love, I guarantee it. Since we're fairly non-traditional at the HCB as well, I decided to throw in a play by play in the master cleanse process as well.

Day One

Weight: 227 LB  Started the day with the salt water cleanse. No crazy cravings or weird side effects yet, but that salt water cleanse, it works. I had to improvise on the Cayenne pepper and replace it with some traditional Korean pepper that is way too spicy, so the first couple of drinks tasted a little off. The smell of freshly squeezed lemon is pleasing to the palate and I found the hand juicing part of the process to be quite cathartic. Huh.

Box Office Poison
By: Alex Robinson 

Box Office Poison tackles post college annui from the comic book perspective. The story follows a cast of different characters through their daily struggles, while taking a few jabs at the big two and championing creators at the same time. It's not the best drawn book on the rack, or the most clever, but it's a great, entertaining read. While it can be pigeonholed into a genre, its a genre that it helped create, not your usual hipster fodder in the slightest. Alex Robinson is a master of great characterization. Each character is interesting in their own way, and each of their vignettes keeps my interest equally, a place where the majority of ensemble books tend to fail. Who wants to listen to "Reek" muttering to himself in a dungeon for forty pages in the middle of an interestingly awesome book? Not me. Get to the good part, guy.

Being from Chicagoland, I'm sure that a New Yorker would appreciate it on an even deeper level. The collected works come in at some 600 pages. Any lover of independent comics, or shows like Lena Dunham's Girls, Reality Bites, or Freaks and Geeks are going to love this book.

Day Two

Weight: 223 LB (-4) Late last night I had some slight cravings, but overall it has not been as bad as I initially thought. The salt water flush and the laxatives are a brutal combination though. Brutal.  I started to get hungry at about noon today after watching the Pacers throttle the Kings, and managing to finish "I,Claudius" by Robert Graves. Pretty productive for a starvation diet if I say so myself.

Bottomless Belly Button
By: Dash Shaw

Bottomless Belly Button is another weighty  tome as far as independent comics are concerned, it comes in at about 700 pages. Keep in mind though that this is merely in page count. The book is pretty sparse when it comes to actual text. There is a really minimalist, spartan-like quality to the artwork, a great use of space, and it is hard to find a better example of a creator utilizing every facet of the medium.

It also has one of my favorite throwaway lines of all time, one sixteen year old girl saying to another: "Beer is the new coffee." I would definitely put this thought provoking masterwork full of richly developed characters in your stack of things to read.

Day Three

Weight: 221 lb. (-6) Pre-Saltwater Cleanse While I am writing these very words it's 7 am and I have not slept at all. I don't even want to think about the salt water cleanse, just cringing right now thinking about that nasty warm water. I feel dizzy, faint, weak, absolutely terrible. I am losing some weight though, about six pounds so far. The weirdest part is that I don't feel hungry, but I feel super, super shitty (pun intended). It looks like the game day I was supposed to host is going to be cancelled, so it will be my third straight day spent alone writing. Considering I've had 24 hours a day to kill while battling this bout of insomnia, a man can only work so hard writing fiction before his mind starts to wander. I can only focus for a certain amount of time on my current projects, so the rest of the time is spent on fillers. Awesome, unbelievably satisfying fillers that I never get to pursue when I'm not on "staycation". I've always preferred books, TV, movies, and most of all comics, to people. I think that most fanboys can sympathize. Yesterday I watched that new Nelson Mandela film (awesome), August Osage County (?) (So depressing, made me want to kill myself), and a handful of classic Simpsons episodes. Only one thing can save day three though...

God Hates Astronauts: The Completely Complete Edition
By: Ryan Browne

I know I've been pushing this book hard, but check the archives, I've bashed a good amount of sub par Image books this year. Considering that comedy is all but dead in comics (aside from a few really good tongue in cheek superhero books), Ryan Browne is doing something truly unique in the pages of God Hates Astronauts. I had the signed, Kickstarter version mailed to me by my sister at great expense. My apartment has no less than two custom pieces done by Browne hanging on my walls at this moment. One of my greatest regrets is leaving the sketch that he did of the Anti-Mugger for me in America...terrible life decision. But I do have the Completely Complete Edition with me, and I read it constantly. I'm more than obsessed with this book and the God Hates Astronauts universe. Just like classic Simpsons episodes, the jokes keep getting funnier each time I read the book. Feature writer Will Dubbeld and I have a myriad of inside jokes going about the comic already. More good news for you, the Completely Complete Edition is now at your LCS. You too can bask in the amazing pin-ups, origin stories, and other minutia nerds like us obsess about. Seriously, buy this book today. My copy is my prized possession. You know that scene in Borat where he has that Baywatch book wrapped up in red felt? It's like that, but way more hardcore. 

Day Four

 Weight: 215 lb. (-12) 

I almost didn't sleep again, pulling a few hours at about dawn. The thing about the Master Cleanse is that I could not see how anyone could do this diet and function normally. Beyonce did it, but her job is to look good. She can sit on her ass for 10 days and eat nothing. It's actually a good career move for Beyonce. It's three pm and I still haven't had my first lemonade yet either. The salt water cleanse, all in, takes a good hour. On top of that, you just lose interest in the lemonade after awhile. It becomes something that is purely for sustenance only, I get no pleasure out of drinking the lemonade at this point. Yesterday was really touch and go, there were some moments where I felt rough, not like quitting, but sick and nauseated and dehydrated. So far today I feel much better, but it was and is almost like my body was going into complete shock. I really hate the salt water cleanse and laxatives too, and I think the laxatives could be contributing to the insomnia. I've lost twelve pounds, but it feels like mostly muscle. I don't really look much different, but I feel very different, for better or worse. From what I've heard most people say that the first three days are the hardest. Cheers to hoping that their theories are correct.

Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story
Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: Gary Dumm
(Author's Note)* Parts of this review are scathing, so much so that I actually sought out Mr. Malice for comment before publishing this review. He was nice enough to answer my questions, and also very interesting and polite as well. I guess you can't always judge a book by its cover, or in this case, its content. After my original blurb, I will provide our loyal HCB readers an unedited transcript of our conversation. Please keep it mind that it was three am in Korea when this conversation happened. Don't judge me on grammar, or do if you want, I just wanted to provide the context.  Needless to say, my opinion of him changed quite a bit after getting the opportunity to ask him a few questions. I kept it in Facebook format because it was very informal and I wanted to give Mr. Malice the opportunity to defend himself in his own words so there was no confusion. *WRDJ

 My fascination with this graphic novel still perplexes me to this day. The late Harvey Pekar was a mentor of mine, and his writing has had more effect on my life than any other writer living or dead. Not only was he one of the pioneers of biographical sequential art and the independent comic, but he was also uncompromisingly honest. I would tell him repeatedly of his effect on my life, and I'm not completely sure that he ever believed me although his many literary achievements, feature film, and almost deification by the industry should of informed him of his impact on comics and readers long before we ever spoke. Harvey Pekar was a good man, a humble man, and a true genius.

The story of Michael Malice is the complete opposite of Pekar-centric American Splendor stories. Michael Malice is a Randian sadist who enjoys nothing more than treating almost everyone he meets as cruelly and inhumanly as possible, a point of pride for him in fact. He narrates his own tale, and this is what makes it a truly interesting read. One must doubt at least some of what he claims. Keep in mind that this book is 100 percent Michael Malice on Michael Malice. In his own words, he is smarter than 99 percent of the population and was always right throughout his entire life. The final page is him telling the audience that he was always right as a child, right as an adult, and ended up with his dream job because he always firmly held to his convictions. He claims to hold integrity above everything else, but this integrity can be compromised at any time to fit the situation. This happens more than once throughout the book. Although Pekar gets the writing credit, I have read  interviews stating that he only served in an editorial capacity (see Facebook Q&A for further clarification). This was agreed upon for marketing purposes, hoping that the American Splendor brand name would help sell more books.

Working as temp by choice out of college, Malice drifts from job to job throughout the second half of the book, insulting almost everyone along the way, and getting himself fired from almost every position due to a self perceived moral conflict with one of his many superiors.  He takes pride in being cold-blooded and cruel. This, in fact, is the centerpiece of the book. When rarely admitting a mistake, it's almost always completely glossed over and accompanied by a justification making his decision correct in the end.

Michael Malice leaves "the only woman he truly loved" after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, almost revels in a childhood friend's suicide, and even disowns his entire family at one point in the story. It is not a very flattering autobiography. The thing about people who are constantly reminding you that they are smarter and better than you, is that usually they're not.

Mr. Malice claims that by bucking traditional, social norms his life has turned out exactly the way he wanted, but you're not rooting for him like you would find yourself rooting for Larry David in Curb your Enthusiasm, who is taking a completely different approach towards doing the same thing, albeit in an attempt at humor. I tried to find research on what he is currently doing today and it seems that he has published a successful humor blog, and has an upcoming autobiography (?) about Kim Jong Il slated to be released soon that was funded by Kickstarter. According to press releases, it is the story of his life told through the use of North Korean myth and propaganda. 

Harvey Pekar had a knack for making the uninteresting, interesting. Somehow he knew that people would want to read Malice's story. It's not the feel good story of the year, but it will keep the pages turning. It's a story of contradiction through the eyes of a flawed human being with extremely strong, controversial beliefs. Before American Splendor no one thought that the life of a VA hospital file clerk would make a successful comic. They were all wrong. Pekar continues this tradition in Ego and Hubris. Most people would have written Malice off within the first couple minutes of hearing his story, mostly due to the tone. Instead Pekar listened, and turned his tale into an extraordinarily interesting graphic novel that I'm sure I will read at least ten more times in my life, minimum.     

Here's the transcipt from our Facebook conversation:

WRDJ: "I write reviews for a comicsite and am currently reviewing Ego and Hubris. It's sort of a quick hit, these books are interesting type thing. I have a short question I hope you can answer for me. 1. Are you comfortable with the way your life is depicted in the graphic novel? Any regrets? Do you still hold the same beliefs today that you held when the book was published? 
Thanks William R. Davis Jr."

MM: "Hey there--make sure you use the "&" symbol, that was key. I wrote the text as two word docs and harvey adapted it, so I am of course very comfortable. Or rather, it's honest so maybe that means it's a bit uncomfortable? I have no regrets whatsoever, it is one of the great accomplishments of my life My beliefs have gone far more in the anarchist direction, politically speaking. or do you mean in general?"

WRDJ:"In general. I think that you've lived a unique life, thats a given, but the tone comes through as a bit scathing to your own character. I was wondering if you had any comments on that. What about compassion? Does that play a part in your life at all?
I'm going to pull up a link to give you an example of a review. I'm not trying to be judgmental at all, but it was a very interesting book, and very shocking at the same time. I actually live in South Korea so while doing research I saw your Fox News interview. Very interesting.
Thanks again."
MM: "Compassion, not really. Empathy, yes. Not sure if I am splitting hairs? Have you read my north Korea piece? i think that strongly addresses this question:

WRDJ: "I'll check it out. Being this close to the DMZ, I try to soak in as much info as I can. Thank you for your time."
MM: "yeah i'm very proud of the piece"

WRDJ: "My friend was over earlier, and I referenced your experiences in our conversation about North Korea. This Irish guy I know went up there recently. Like you said, it almost seems like the last bastion of a forgotten time. But KJU seems unstable so that's obviously worrying to a degree. Checking out the article now. I've read Ego and Hubris about twenty times BTW and used to know Harvey. It's always been an extremely interesting read. I keep going back to it again and again."
MM: "oh wow that's more than I have!"

WRDJ: "Very dense and informative article. Thank you again for your time. I pulled out my favorite passage and shared it with my FB friends. I'll be sure to plug your book as well. Any additional info you want to send that could help move units will be included in the article. Thank you so much."
MM: "thank you!"
MM: "does that answer the compassion question?"

WRDJ: "No, not really to be honest.
You seem callous in the book."
MM: "i mean, i think my view of the north korean people..."

WRDJ: "Is it Randian? Do you feel it's justified?"
MM: "...can easily be described as compassionate, no?"

WRDJ: "The review is focusing on Ego and Hubris so I wanted to confine my questions to that piece alone."
MM: "i'm just saying, you earlier asked if my views have changed
i think that article is very compassionate
but that word has many meanings
so if you mean, would i be kinder
if i were placed in the same situations as I was in Ego
then the answer is absolutely not
if you mean, do I ever care when bad things happen to people, i think the article answers that"
WRDJ: "Ahhh I see. I agree with you there. And that's true. I guess that family and close relations (to me at least), during your formative years carry a different significance than people living under a repressive regime. The "Bob Dole" part, and the "only love of your life" part carried a certain weight and insight that I didn't find answers to in the article.
Please excuse any grammar errors. It's 3am here."
MM: "i have nothing but contempt for bob dole"

WRDJ: "hahaha"
MM: "and the cancer chick had a BF at the time, I was the side piece..."

WRDJ: "Why did you give him a complement at the signing?"
MM:" wasn't my role to stand by her if she wasnt standing by me"
"I liked bob dole at the time
now, it's like give me a break"

WRDJ: "I guess the main theme that I'm trying to explore is that I feel like you're saying that by standing up for your values you triumphed over the ignorant in the end. At times in the book it seemed that those values were comprised for a reason that wasn't explained. You complimented Bob Dole, then insulted him in an aside. Also, the scene in school where your classmate recruited you to help uphold his right to defend racial separation (sic_paraphrasing) seemed rather telling as well. It appeared that you didn't agree with his view, but just fucked with the school administration to aggravate the lives of authority figures you felt contemptuous towards. Any comment?"
MM: "i think confronting authority is the highest possible value
and I do respect bob dole's biography as a war veteran"

WRDJ: "I think I am able to finish up the review now thanks to your help. Your time is greatly appreciated. I'll be sure to get a copy of your book when it gets released. Truly an honor."
MM: "thanks so much!"

Day Five

Weight: 218 lb. (-9) Another night of insomnia but I finally went to sleep at about 8am and slept until 1pm after actually feeling tired. My body has been in full panic mode, and freaking out to the change of not eating anything coupled with an almost sedentary lifestyle. The feeling of being tired was an amazing feeling though. Losing the feeling of being tired or hungry has been really unsettling. The insomnia has been one of the worst side effects of this entire thing. It can feel so bad. It's really indescribable. I've actually felt non-human until this morning, like my body went into panic mode for the first three days. This is the longest I have not eaten in my entire life.Today so far I feel great. I'm basically doing absolutely nothing but writing, reading, and watching movies/TV all day by myself. It gets a little boring, but it has been an interesting experiment so far to say the least.You might have noticed the weight gain. The weigh yesterday was when I felt at my most inhuman, dehydrated, exhausted, and insanely stressed. Today I feel pretty normal, even dreaming about exactly what I'm going to eat when this thing ends.

Comic: You get nothing today. Sorry. I have read some insanely long graphic novels the past four days and need a break. I will give you the short list of my favorite current monthlies that are out right now. I have literally not caught up on my pull list completely in four months, but here are the comics that I read the day they come out religiously.

Larfleeze- The best DC comic out right now. Animal Man had the top spot for me, but the quality has started to slip and it's ending. I love this book and wish DC would take more chances on stuff like Larfleeze. I thought it was the whole point of the entire reboot. Instead, I don't read a single Batman or Superman title anymore and there are about 16 between the two of them.

All-Star Western- Another fringe DC book that has been blowing me away month after month, mostly due to its unconventional approach. Jonah Hex has managed to crawl has way out of the gutter after his shudder worthy feature film.

Flash- I think the creative team is what does this for me. Flash has been the only DC supe book that still blows my hair back. They'll be making the switch to Detective Comics soon. It'll be good to see the Mecca of all superhero titles back on top.

Saga- Ask anybody, it's the best book to come out in a long time.

Three- Really enjoying this Image title. The art, story, and essays that come after are great.

FF- The quality has slipped a little, but not in the art department. I'm a little Fractioned out right now, except for his work on Hawkeye. I think he might be getting a bit spread too thin. Sex Criminals is a book that a lot of people seem to like. I just don't think it's that great. Allred's work on this title has been nothing short of spectacular. I can't wait for his Silver Surfer title to hit shelves.

Daredevil- Another bi-product of a great creative team. I love this book, not wild about this run ending and DD moving to San Francisco.

Star Trek- My guilty pleasure book. I love the reboot. Both films. The art in this book is the dregs, but the writing is good if you like Trek.

God is Dead- I've really cooled on East to West. The Manhattan Projects is still amazing though and it almost made the list, but the best book on the shelves by Hickman currently is God is Dead. Mike Costa is a Chicago guy too and does a great job with the art.

Day Six

Weight: 216 lb. (-11) Annnnd...I quit on the sixth day (technically seventh). Insomnia took hold of me once again. I stayed up all night to watch the NFC/AFC championship games. At about 6am I ate some Udon noodles, a Korean staple but Japanese by origin. Within a few more days I slowly started to slip into my old lifestyle again. This is something that I am trying to fix but it's been difficult. The majority of social interaction in South Korea revolves around alcohol.

I did learn a lot about myself in the process. Not eating or interacting with others for seven days makes one reflect on their entire life, and I am a better man for it. As Harvey Pekar famously once said: "Life is so sweet, and so sad, and so hard to let go of in the end. But hey, everyday is a new deal, right?"

Thanks again to Michael Malice for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. If you have any questions about the master cleanse or comics, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask:

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