How ‘Bout Them “Apples”?

Desmond Reed is a New England cartoonist whose work I’d been borderline fascinated with since first coming across his self-published debut, Those Dark New Hampshire Woods, some years ago, but it was his later ‘zine The Funnies that pushed that fascination over the border — in fact, it’s fair to say the short-form adventures of his eminently-flexible coterie of lovable goofballs positively hooked me, and so I was gratified to see their return in his latest (also self-published) mini, Apples, which builds on the strengths of its predecessor without in any way appreciably upsetting the — errrrmmmm — apple cart. Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking with formula and tradition, but when you’ve got a good thing going, seriously — what’s the point? And so our fictitious friends Wallace T.J., Mona Gertrude, Ralph Jonathan, Gil Christopher, and Henrietta Susan are back, and doing what they do best, which is to say, serving as lovable comedic ciphers to the shit we all went through at one point in our lives — or may still be going through, if you’re fortunate enough to be a couple of decades younger than your curmudgeonly critic here.

Nominal personal growth appears to have occurred among our cast since their last go-’round, but it’s kinda hard to tell, and not especially relevant either way — which sounds like a “diss” (or whatever) but isn’t, given that it’s their relatable reactions to exaggerated situations and/or exaggerated reactions to relatable situations that give this comic its charm aplenty, so “character arcs” of any sort are rather surplus to requirements here. Quick-fire vignettes about popular themes like drug use, depression, co-habitation, shit jobs, and everyday life’s little highs and lows are the order of the day, then, and while that may not sound terribly ambitious, few do them better than does Reed, so seriously — check your coolness at the door and just relax and have fun.

Ah, yes — that dread word. Some time back certain quarters of the comics community (those who take it upon themselves to police the medium’s general trajectory for reasons known only to themselves) decided that “fun” was an outmoded concept and that cartoonists should be aiming their sights “higher,” but I’ve never gotten on board with myself that since fun is, ya know, fun. I’m pleased to report Reed appears to have ignored this unspoken dictate as well, and has instead honed his comedic chops and gently acerbic sense of timing to its full potential and is now ready to stand as one of the more unique funnybook-makers in the contemporary scene. The self-appointed “intelligentsia” may consider that to be a truly trivial pursuit, but who the hell cares? Around these parts, we ain’t ashamed to admit that good times are a good thing.

Which isn’t to say this comic doesn’t skirt around the edges of “heavier” material, but it does so in a way that’s still designed, ultimately, to be more reflective of the struggles of its readership (and perhaps even its creator) than it is downright exploratory, to offer sympathy and reassurance via commonality of experience rather than to take deep dives into deep issues and deep problems. This is a comic that knows who you are, or were, and is here to meet you on the home turf you share with it. There’s a time and place for taxing and challenging work, absolutely, but when you need a break from all that but still don’t care to be condescended to? You can’t do a whole lot better than this.

It’s no exaggeration to say I’m flat-out enamored with Reed’s squiggly world and hope to have a chance to visit again soon — until then, though, I’m content to re-read this comic whenever I could use a pick-me-up. Even knowing all the gags, punchlines, and twists of fate, a visit with old friends is still, and always will be, well worth a person’s time.


Apples is available for $5.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at

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The National Board of Review Honors Da 5 Bloods

In the past, the National Board of Review were considered to be a big deal because they were the first of the critics groups to announce their yearly awards and winning with the NBR could help to generate momentum for a film going into the awards season.  No one was really sure just who exactly the NBR voters were but they were the first to announce and that was all that mattered.

However, that all changed when the Academy decided to extend the year’s eligibility window and to also hold off on announcing the Oscar nominations into February.  The National Board Of Review followed suit and decided to hold off on handing out their awards until late January, presumably so that they could continue to be seen as Academy influencers.  As a result of bunch of regional critics got the jump on the NBR and now Nomadland and Promising Young Woman have so much momentum that it’s kind of hard to really care that the NBR honored Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods instead.

(That said, it is kind of interesting that Nomadland is kind of underrepresented as far as the NBR rewards are concerned.  It won for for Joshua James Richards’s cinematography and it was included as one of the “top films of the year,” but otherwise, it was pretty much ignored in favor of Da 5 Bloods, Promising Young Woman, Minari, and Sound of MetalNomadland didn’t even pick up the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, instead losing out to News of the World, a film that otherwise really hasn’t been a huge factor in 2020’s extended awards season.)

Anyway, for what their worth, here are the winners from the National Board of Review:

Best Film: “Da 5 Bloods”
Best Director: Spike Lee – “Da 5 Bloods”
Best Actor: Riz Ahmed – “Sound of Metal”
Best Actress: Carey Mulligan – “Promising Young Woman”
Best Supporting Actor: Paul Raci – “Sound of Metal”
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung – “Minari”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Greengrass & Luke Davies – “News of the World”
Best Original Screenplay: Lee Isaac Chung – “Minari”
Breakthrough Performance: Sidney Flanigan – “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Best Directorial Debut: Channing Godfrey Peoples – “Miss Juneteenth”
Best Animated Feature: “Soul”
Best Foreign Language Film: “La Llorona”
Best Documentary: “Time”
NBR Icon Award: Chadwick Boseman
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: “One Night in Miami”
NBR Spotlight Award: Radha Blank for writing, directing, producing and starring in “The Forty-Year-Old Version”
Best Ensemble: “Da 5 Bloods”
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Joshua James Richards – “Nomadland”

Top Films (in alphabetical order):
First Cow
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Judas and the Black Messiah
The Midnight Sky
News of the World
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order):
Dear Comrades
The Mole Agent
Night of the Kings

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order):
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Boys State
Dick Johnson is Dead
Miss Americana
The Truffle Hunters

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order):
The Climb
Farewell Amor
Miss Juneteenth
The Nest
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The Outpost
Saint Frances