Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters

By Jef Czekaj
128 pages, color
Published by Top Shelf Productions

The genre of serial adventure fiction primarily lives on through comics, but it used to be much more widespread. People would go to the movie theatres and discover what was going on in the latest installment of “The Perils of Penelope”, for example, as each segment would get Penelope out of the previous cliffhanger, while bringing her promptly to a new one to keep audiences wondering what would happen next. It’s that sort of feel that Jef Czekaj brings to Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters… except that here, you don’t have to go back to the movies a week later to see what happens next.

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American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka

By James Kochalka
520 pages, black and white, with some color pages
Published by Top Shelf Productions

In 1998, James Kochalka started keeping a daily “sketchbook diary”. Every day he draws a little comic strip (usually four panels) about what he did. Sounds easy, right? What began as just a humorous little side diversion turned into something much larger, though, and five years Kochalka’s sketchbook diary has turned into a phenomenon of its own right.

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Dead Herring Comics

By the Actus Group
120 pages, color and black & white
Published by Actus Independent Comics, distributed in North America by Top Shelf Productions

Every time a friend of mine goes to the Angouleme comics festival in France, he brings back a copy of the Actus group’s new book. A five-person Israeli comic collective, their releases are always odd and intriguing, and even if I don’t like all the entries, I never feel like I’ve wasted my time. This year’s book, Dead Herring Comics, has both some familiar and new guest contributors added into the mix. The result? It’s mostly a good thing indeed, this dead herring…

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Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer

By Andy Runton
160 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

One of the high and low points of reviewing is looking through books by creators you’ve never heard of. You’re always hoping for the next big surprise inside the cover, that it’s someone you’re going to be keeping your eyes on. More often than not, though, your hopes are far too high and it’s disappointing when the book is merely good (or perhaps not so good). But when you do strike gold… it makes all that digging through strange books worth it.

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Van Helsing’s Night Off

By Nicolas Mahler
112 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

Ok, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. This has nothing at all to do with the Van Helsing movie starring Hugh Jackman that’s about to hit movie theatres. No connection at all other than the idea that Van Helsing is a monster-hunter. No, this is something far, far different. For starters, I suspect that Van Helsing’s Night Off takes itself a lot less seriously than the upcoming movie does.

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Less Than Heroes

By David Yurkovich
152 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

When I was first planning on writing this review, it was going to be a bit of a strange review. I hadn’t read the first half of Less Than Heroes, which collects four comic books by David Yurkovich. I’d only read the second two-issue story in the volume… but based on that and the other works by Yurkovich that I’ve read, I was still more than ready to whole-heartedly recommend that you buy this book. Quite frankly, I’d told myself, even if the first half of the book was blank you’d still be ahead. But then Top Shelf sent me a preview of the entire book, and I got to read the first half of the book… and you know, it’s just as good.

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Things Are Meaning Less

By Al Burian
160 pages, black and white
Published by Microcosm Publishing, distributed by Top Shelf Productions

When I first opened up Things Are Meaning Less, I felt like I’d somehow read it before. It took me a minute to realize that this wasn’t true; what I’d mistaken for the actual material was instead a similar mood that other material had also evoked. It brings to mind books by creators like John Porcellino, who tell stories about everyday life with a certain wistfulness that quickly infects the reader. Needless to say, I think this is a good thing indeed.

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Same Difference and Other Stories

By Derek Kirk Kim
144 pages, black and white
Published by Small Stories, distributed by Alternative Comics

Don’t trust editors. I should engrave this on the top of my monitor or something, because every time I ignore this adage I end up spending money. I first got suckered by Matt Wayne from Milestone Media, who promised me that if I didn’t love Maison Ikkoku he’d give me my money back. Fourteen volumes later, I was happier if a bit poorer. Ever since then, I keep getting sucked into new books by editors saying the same thing. When they haven’t published the book themselves, I figure it must be sincere, and it usually is… and my wallet ends up a bit lighter. This time the blame goes to James Lucas Jones from Oni Press, who did the whole, “If you don’t like it I’ll give you your money back” thing with Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference and Other Stories. You’d think I would have seen the end result a mile away.

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Jennifer Daydreamer: Oliver

By Jennifer Daydreamer
56 pages, black and white
Published by Top Shelf Productions

Years ago at SPX I picked up a bunch of minicomics with the name “Jennifer Daydreamer” on the cover. Soon afterwards, it was almost like she’d vanished off the face of the earth, and I found myself wondering if we’d ever see Daydreamer and her self-titled comics again. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when earlier this year Top Shelf released Jennifer Daydreamer: Oliver. The nicest surprise for me was probably the discovery that she’d spent her years away from comics getting even better.

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Clumsy: A Novel

By Jeffrey Brown
232 pages, black and white
self-published; distributed by Top Shelf Productions

It takes guts to have a cover like that of Clumsy. It’s easy to pass it by with its “brown wrapper” look; even the text on it (the title, author’s name, price, and parental advisory) hardly grabs the attention for more than half a second. And yet, somehow, there’s something about it that made me come back. Maybe it was the confidence of the book that is determined to succeed by sheer talent, or maybe it was just the hand-drawn “Parental Advisory” label. What I do know, though, is once I started reading I simply couldn’t stop.

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