Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts : Matt MacFarland’s “More Seasons Of Gary”


Owing to my previous positions as lead critic at the comics website SOLRAD and board member of its parent entity, Fieldmouse Press, I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of reviewing Matt MacFarland’s comics before, given they frequently run on said site, but now that I’m a purely “solo act” again, I have no ethical reservations when it comes to opining on his work, and so I was happy to receive a copy of his latest 48-page mini, More Seasons Of Gary (Zines & Things, 2021) and give it a thorough going-over. Admittedly, I’d already seen some of this stuff, but that’s okay — reading them one strip at a time online is an entirely different experience to reading a print collection of them, and in this case that distinction works to MacFarland’s advantage because this is material that is best consumed in its entirety rather than piecemeal.

Strict formalist work tends to be that way, I think, and in MacFarland’s case in particular his adherence to a classic four-panel grid is absolutely unwavering — he’s clearly quite comfortable with the pacing inherent to such a format and well-versed in its unique storytelling properties and capabilities, so credit’s due him for knowing both what he wants to do and how to best go about achieving it. Finding your footing is a taller order than it sounds on paper, and MacFarland’s not only found his, he’s also committed himself to it. Sub-dividing his strips according to the seasons of the year, as the title of this comic implies, represents a further layer of logical and artistic stratification that, again, he wrings maximum efficacy from, and this also holds the key to why reading these strips in collected form, one after the other, is the way to go — there’s an narrative fluidity that’s part and parcel of MacFarland’s overall framework that’s lost when you’re absorbing his material in scattershot, one-at-a-time fashion.

Anyway, MacFarland’s now-late father, Gary, is the subject of these strips — or, more specifically, the artist’s relationship with his father is — and in that respect he’s not doing anything “new” per se, but so what? The list of cartoonists who have mined their own past, and that of their family, for their best and most resonant material is a long and distinguished one. Efficacy is of primary concern here, as well as overall sequential narrative literacy, and on both of those scores this comic stands as an excellent representative example of graphic memoir done right. Autobio as a de facto “genre” is well past the point where it’s gonna “blow your mind” or whatever, so it’s just as well MacFarland isn’t concerned with trying to do so : his concerns lie far closer to home, as well they should, and there’s a real sense that what he wants to do here is to utilize memory as a tool for achieving a better understanding of both who his father was and what, at the end of the day, the guy meant to him.

Tonally, it’s fair to say MacFarland adds a dash of humor to most of these strips, but it tends to be exceptionally dry and sometimes even borders on the dark — but that’s also the case for many of the reminiscences contained herein, particularly those directly related to his dad’s struggles with the bottle and his parents’ divorce. If this is all starting to sound a bit “warts and all,” well, that’s because it is, but it’s in no way reductive or overly-simplified on the one hand, nor awash in cloying sentimentality on the other. The picture of Gary that emerges is complex, multi-faceted, and at times overtly contradictory, but that’s the case with almost anyone — at least anyone remotely interesting — and the degree to which MacFarland resists the “easy out” of character and emotional uniformity here is admirable. It’s no small task to look at oneself or one’s parents honestly and without flinching — I know I’d never wanna do it — but admitting no one is even close to perfect is only step one in this journey. Finding peace with those imperfections is considerably more difficult than merely accepting them, after all, and while it would be a reach to say some sort of catharsis is achieved by this comic’s end, that’s mostly Hollywood bullshit anyway : all most of us can hope for when it comes to saying goodbye to a loved one is a sense that the things that can come full circle have done so, and that those that can’t are okay remaining forever incomplete. Such is life — and death — and MacFarland’s skill with regard to narrative authenticity really comes though in his book’s final pages, when he’s absolutely counting on it most.


“I dunno, man, sounds kinda heavy” is a fair enough reaction to have at this point, particularly if you’re reading this while high (hey, I know my audience), but it’s not just or only heavy — it’s no stretch at all to say that these strips run the same emotional gamut that life itself tends to, and in certain key instances, while the seasonal demarcation always prevails, strict chronology is temporarily shelved in favor of thematic and tonal linkages between events and occurrences. That probably sounds more confusing than it actually is — assuming it even sounds confusing at all — but it strikes me that this is pretty well in line with how our minds tend to operate : more often than not, we mentally organize things based on how they made us feel or what was going on rather than when they happened, and in that respect, not to get too grandiose or anything, we free ourselves from time’s unyielding (and, according to most quantum theorists at any rate, largely illusory) linear trajectory. This comic works in much the same way our actual memories work, and you need only consult your own memory for proof of that which I speak.

All that being said, as a matter of pure practicality there may be no trickier task in today’s comics landscape than producing a work of memoir or autobio that well and truly stands out from the crowd. MacFarland, however, has managed to do precisely that with this one — and I seriously doubt I’d have said that if I hadn’t read these strips in succession, collected between two covers. I highly encourage you to experience them the same way, even — maybe especially — if you’ve already read some, most, or all of them in serialized form online.

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More Seasons Of Gary is available for $7.00 from the Zines & Things website at https://zinesandthings.com/shop/msog

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Intriguingly Mixed Signals : Isaac Roller’s “Transmissions From Dreamtown”


The recent resurgence of so-called “solo anthology titles” or “single-creator anthologies” has been a welcome development for those of us who literally grew up on comics of that nature (Yummy FurEightballDirty PlotteNeat Stuff, etc.), but there’s no doubt that this latter-day veritable onslaught of them has been a mixed bag — which is rather the point of anthologies in general, I suppose. And yet many of the newcomers to “the scene” are often a mixed bag, conceptually and qualitatively, in and of themselves, as well, irrespective of the broader comics landscape in general. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising — people tend to forget, but not every strip in Eightball was a winner, especially in the series’ early going — but it also shouldn’t be viewed as a negative : seeing a cartoonist finding their footing, establishing their voice, or whatever other cliche you’d like to use in place of “figuring their shit out” is often a damned interesting thing to have a front-row seat to, and one would do well to keep that in mind as we delve into New York-based artist Isaac Roller’s self-published Transmissions From Dreamtown.

Roller’s been at this for two years now, producing four issues to date, and while it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say the trajectory of them has been uniformly upward, the general character of his series is such that things appear to be moving in the right direction on the whole, and he seems quite comfortable with the de facto “self-apprenticeship” that is learning on the job with no boss to tell you what to do — which, for the record, is not the same thing as fumbling your way forward in the dark. It’s a tricky business, this whole “following your artistic instincts for good or ill, wherever they may lead you” thing, and in a manner not entirely dissimilar to that of Brian Canini, whose work we’ve discussed on this site several times in the past, Roller doesn’t seem particularly anchored down to any one way of doing things — tonally or aesthetically.

Perhaps the best example I can give of this is the third issue of this comic, which makes an abrupt detour from the urban hustle and bustle of the first two installments to tell an extremely satisfying self-contained tale set in BF Alaska, where wooly mammoth meat has become the new haute cuisine, and Roller adopts a more clean-lined art style with clear roots in classical cartooning as opposed to the deliberately “rough around the edges” look of numbers one and two in order to more effectively communicate the needs of this particular narrative. The fourth and more recent issue, focused on an alien visitation, returns the focus to the big city, but with the more refined aesthetic approach of number three — so, yeah, you can see him pretty clearly figuring out not only what he wants to do, but perhaps even what sort of cartoonist he wants to be. That doesn’t always make for a “smooth” reading experience, granted, but it does make for an exciting one — after all, any new comic in this series could be about literally anything at all, and may even look completely different to what’s come before.

Does this make roller a genuine artistic chameleon by default? Possibly, but there is a definite unifying overall sensibility in terms of his page layouts, spot use of wash effects, and the like that clues you into the fact that these books are all made by the same person regardless of the obvious differences that are front and center. I’m not sure he’s fully committed to any one “path,” so to speak, but he appears firmly committed to discovering one, and that means everything’s still on the table and the future of this comic is well and truly wide open.

One thing Roller is clearly getting a firm handle on is using his stories to communicate a distinct authorial point of view, usually via allegorical means, and he’s got a really good balancing act going there — he’s not subtle, nor does he clobber you over the head with his messaging, and threading that needle is, more often than not, the mark of a natural storyteller. Some of his subject matter is specific not so much to him personally but to the artistic community as a whole (issue two’s primary focus is on the physical handling of art), while other things he’s expounding upon are more universal in nature (the aforementioned third issue has plenty to say about man’s exploitation of the natural world and the nauseating excesses of so-called “foodie culture”), but there’s a definite sense of passion underpinning all of it that can’t be faked and makes for enjoyable, if again occasionally uneven, reading. It’s earnest stuff, to be sure, but naturally earnest as opposed to self-consciously earnest, and that makes all the difference right there.
Just to remove any doubt, then, I absolutely recommend this series — and Roller’s work in general. I have yet to read his pandemic diary comics collection My Plague Year, but I did come across some of his stuff in Clusterfux Comix (another title that’s due for a review on here soon) and found that to be engaging, as well. It’s too soon to say whether or not we’re witnessing the emergence of the next great cartooning talent or what have you, but seriously — who the hell cares? I’m plenty interested in seeing Isaac Roller become whatever sort of cartoonist he wants to become, and there’s no question in my mind that he’s committed to putting in the work necessary to establish a true auteur sensibility and methodology. Art is a process of experimentation, of trial and error, and the truly determined artist in never content to rest on his or her laurels. How much of the transformation happening before our eyes with this particular artist is down to an evolutionary process and how much is down to simple restlessness I couldn’t really say, nor does it necessarily matter all that much : as long as Roller doesn’t stand still, I’ll be interested to follow him wherever he’s going.

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Issues 1-4 of Transmissions From Dreamtown are available from Isaac Roller’s website at http://www.isaac-roller.com/shop

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very grateful if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

So — Wuzza “Buzza Wuzza,” Anyway?


The short answer to the question posed by the headline of this review would likely be “a self-published comic by cartoonist Jeff Ralston (or, as he credits himself, Buzza Wuzza, which also happens to be both the series’ title and the name of the anthropomorphic cat who is its nominal “star”) presented in a generously over-sized magazine format,” but that’s really only scratching the surface. It’s quite clearly a labor of love, perhaps with emphasis on the labor : Ralston produced no less than 19 issues of Buzza Wuzza Comics And Stories during the recent pandemic-engendered lockdown, and unlike any number of artists who are understandably happy enough to send yours truly a comic or two for purposes of reading and reviewing them, he actually went so far as to send me all 19 of his comics this past August. Hence the still-inexcusable delay on my part in getting this analysis/appraisal written — that’s a big ol’ pile of comics to read, and I never like to half-ass anything. If Ralston wanted me to read ’em all, then read ’em all I shall — and did.

Early on in said reading, though, it became apparent that tackling these in small chunks was the way to go — Ralston has created an idiosyncratic world unto itself here, where only his own made-up-on-the-fly rules apply, and given that none of the strips he’s put pen, ink, pencil, brush and occasionally even magic marker and collage cut-out to have carried over from issue to issue, there was no need to worry about my always-tenuous memory failing me altogether or, less drastically, requiring some sort of jolt or kick-start to get back into the flow of things. Issue, say, 12 is every bit as accessible as issue one, and there’s a kind of beautiful simplicity to that which should appeal to anybody out there either bored to tears with, or simply seeking respite from, long-form comics narratives. Complexity is great and all, but who needs it all the fucking time?

Which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad segue into a discussion about Ralston’s art. By and large this is agreeably simple stuff, done with no particular concern for the trappings of visual sophistication, and while I’m not sure this is down to this being as “good” as Ralston can draw or a deliberate stylistic choice on his part, it doesn’t really matter : what he’s come up with, by dint of either decision or default, is an immediately accessible and utterly cohesive visual language that doesn’t necessarily “impress” per se, but intuitively feels right for the kind of vaguely absurdist humor strips that are, it’s fair to say given the large sample size at my disposal, his stock in trade. Ralston’s ensemble generally partake in what can loosely be described as “madcap adventures,” and as such it helps to not only have them delineated in a kind of free-for-all scrawl by the artist, but also to be in the right frame of mind yourself to absorb this kind of intellectually non-taxing stuff — for my own part, I found reading an issue to cap off a long day at work was the way to go, and while that may sound like me damning this entire project with faint praise, I assure you it’s not : after all, who can’t use a couple stupid laughs after eight or more hours of workplace drudgery?

And so it is that Ralston can accurately be said to be more concerned with doing a particular thing and doing it reasonably well than he can be “accused” of being too overly ambitious. Issue 11 breaks the mold by being a prose and mixed-media affair, and it’s plenty interesting as a one-off, but there’s a definite sense by the time it’s over with that Ralston is perfectly content to return to regularly-scheduled programming for his next installment, and I have a hunch most readers will be on board with that decision, as well : when you’re in a bit of a creative groove, after all, there’s no need to rock the boat too terribly much, and by that point in the series it’s plainly obvious that such a groove has, indeed, been achieved. If I can level any specific criticism at this comic as a whole it would probably be that it boasts little to no progression, either in pure storytelling terms or in terms of the methodology behind the creation of said stories, but again, I should stress that I don’t have a huge problem with that given the project’s aims, which strive for a kind of tenuous balance between unpredictability and consistency, with Ralston more often than not succeeding at delivering both.

Anyway, characters come and go from the revolving door of Ralston’s imagination according to their utility to each issue’s particular story (or stories), but it’s a pretty damn likable bunch of animals (Buzza Wuzza, Judy Moon, Clancy The Cop, Dr, La Paz, Wuv Bunny, Messy Rabbit, Smokey The Cat) and people (Pal, Stressy) as well as the occasional ghost, robot, monster, and devil (among others) that populate the series’ core cast, and if you wonder what all they get up to beyond “hijinks ensue,” it’s generally stuff like going to Mars, solving mysteries, fighting crime, playing in shitty bands, visiting Stonehenge, serving in combat, going to jail, etc. — in other words, yeah, “hijinks ensue.” My favorite issue is of the bunch is probably #17, a full-length story called “Friends Of The Library,” but on the whole each installment isn’t too far removed from every other in terms of both overall tone and overall quality. I’m not sure if Ralston took much by way of breaks when writing and drawing these things, but they very much feel the end product of an artist who got a head of steam to do something quite specific and stuck with it until he’d done everything he wanted to do within the parameters he’d set for himself.

Which wouldn’t, I suppose, necessarily preclude Ralston from spinning more yarns set in his little de facto “universe” should he feel so inclined — after all, “just kinda doing whatever” is about as open-ended as premises come — and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to checking out more if he makes more. These aren’t comics that will turn your world upside down or anything, but they will entertain you, especially if your sense of humor is just a touch off-kilter, and despite what the self-styled “intelligentsia” out there may tell you, there’s nothing at all wrong with cartoonists who want to entertain their readers. In fact, it’s a pretty damn noble goal in our increasingly dark world.

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There doesn’t seem to be much by way of distribution for Buzza Wuzza Comics And Stories, but interested parties are directed to contact Jeff Ralston directly at buzzawuzza1@yahoo.com if you’d like to order up and issue or two — or even all 19, I suppose.

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

TV Review: Dexter: New Blood 1.5 “Runaway” (dir by Marcos Siega)


There was a lot of coincidences in the latest episode of Dexter.  In fact, I would argue that there were perhaps more coincidences than were necessary.

For instance, I can accept that — having killed his latest victim — Kurt would just happen to drive up on Harrison while the latter was trying to run away from home.  And I can accept that Kurt would possibly see Harrison as being a kindred spirit.  It’s not just that Harrison and Kurt both have homicidal tendencies.  It’s also that they’re both people who feel like they’re on the outside of normalcy looking in.  Harrison probably reminds Kurt of himself as a teenager and, by mentoring Harrison, it’s possible that Kurt can try to fix the mistakes that he made while raising Matt.  Either that or he just wants to make Harrison his new partner in his side hustle, murdering hitchhikers.

I can accept all of that.  I mean, this is Dexter that we’re talking about.  Dexter requires a certain suspension of disbelief in order for the show to work.  If you spend too much time focusing on the chances of two serial killers actually ending up in the same small town in upstate New York, you’re never going to have time to appreciate Dexter’s sense of the macabre.

However, the show also asked me to believe that Angela and Molly would just happen to be in New York at the same time as Angel (David Zayas) and that Angel would just happen to be talking about the murders previously committed by the man that Angela now knows as Jim Lindsay.  I mean, it was good to see Angel again and I’m glad he’s still wearing the hat but his sudden appearance was a bit too convenient.  It was also very convenient that, earlier in the episode, a drugged Harrison told Audrey that his father was using a fake name and that Audrey later told Angela, at the exact moment that Angela was having her first doubts about Jim/Dexter.  The episode ended with Angela printing out an old obituary for Dexter Morgan, one that featured Dexter’s picture.

From the start of Dexter: New Blood, it has been obvious that Angela was going to learn that Jim was actually Dexter.  We all knew it was going to happen but I was hoping that Angela would learn the secret as the result of her own investigations, as opposed to just happening to attend the same random conference as someone from Dexter’s past.  Audrey very easily could have just told Angela what Harrison told her and Angela could have then done some investigating on her own.  Having her randomly stumble across the truth felt like a bit of a disservice to the character.  It felt like the type of groan-worthy plot twist that far too often popped up during the final seasons of the show’s original run.

So, yes, I was a bit disappointed.  A lot of this episode felt like filler.  Dexter returned to his serial killer ways to take out a drug dealer but, in another coincidence, Logan showed up to arrest the dealer before Dexter could actually do his full ceremony.  (Interestingly enough, the same thing happened with Kurt when his latest victim refused to run when he ordered her to.)  So, Dexter had to force the man to overdose on drugs before making a hasty retreat.  That was probably for the best, considering that Dexter still hasn’t found a good place to dump the bodies.

Still, there were a few intriguing moments in this episode.  I’m liking the idea of Harrison having to potentially choose between two serial killing mentors and Clancy Brown continues to give a strong performance as Kurt.  And, regardless of how she discovered the information, I’m looking forward to seeing Angela confront Dexter.

One final note: I still don’t think Kurt is working alone.  I think Olsen is somehow involved.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Molly was somehow involved too.  Seriously, if Molly isn’t secretly a killer then she’s just an extremely annoying character.  On a show like this, it’s always better to be a killer as opposed to just annoying.  Either way, we’ll see what happens!