Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script/Art: Jeremy Bastian
Olympian Publishing, $4.95

Yeah, the premise, this sort of whimsical pirate fantasy featuring kids, reminds me of a lot of things: children’s stories, Peter Pan, even more recent fare such as Ted Naifeh’s Polly and the Pirates. But the difference is in the execution; Bastian does a wonderful approximation of Winsor McCay, if McCay was inclined to draw 19th century political cartoons or maps for the Navy. It’s reminiscent of stuff people like Tony Millionaire and Dame Darcy are doing in their respective little corners of the world, and does not take a back seat to either of them. In a very small nutshell, the C.P.G. of the title is looking for her true father out of a limited sample set of pirates that sail the seas called the “Omertas”, and in this issue she encounters one Captain Holly, who gets her parrot shot and tosses her down into the hold to help the ship’s cook, who turns out to be friendly after getting to know her better. She’s contriving to get to walk the plank, so she can get off the boat and reunite with the rest of her odd company, including two floating knights and a talking fish. There’s a lot more going on here, both storywise and artwise, than I can describe without rambling, and I’m sure I’d get more from this if I had read the first two issues, but they’ve kinda flown under the radar under the aegis of Olympian Publishing, with whom I’m completely unfamiliar. If you’re averse to the sort of straightfaced whimsy that Bastian brings to this, then move on, it will be like fingernails on a blackboard. This is not for everyone, I freely admit- but if you’re like me, and are usually always entertained by a freewheeling imagination wedded to a delightfully retro approach to the material and a impressively detailed art style, then you’ll want to get caught up with this.

Script: Jeff Smith, Tom Sniegoski; Art: Smith
Scholastic Graphix, Softcover, $10.99

Smith’s long-running fantasy series, which has seemingly been out there forever, but which I have managed to avoid (for no good reason) until now, has lots of fans out there, and for good reason- he has an appealing, lively art style and has created a host of characters that stand out, even the Bone guys, who remind me a lot of Schmoos. This is a collection of short stories, all framed with a campfire tales motif, and providing a spotlight for a scoutmaster Boneguy to relate tales of the Davy Crockett-esque “Big Johnson Bone” (lotta sexual metaphors to go right over the heads of the young’uns, wouldn’t you say, or am I just a mind-in-the-gutter sort?) to his trio of young Huey, Dewey & Louie-type campers, including the story of his birth, fights with monsters, etc., in the process of establishing “Boneville”, which I assume is a very important settlement in Bone lore. I would imagine that if I was a preteen, or perhaps even a bit older, kid I would get a kick out of these high adventure stories, with all the intricate worldbuilding that Smith has done. As an adult, especially one that has read Barks Duck comics, I am somewhat less impressed, though these are done with maximum craft and commitment. It’s not that I’m unreceptive to Smith’s gifts- heck, I thought his Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil series of GNs for DC was among the best books published the year they came out in. But it’s all a little cutesy to me, and for what its worth I’m not all that crazy about Barks Duck comics either. Perhaps if I had been in on this from the beginning, my impressions would be different, but alas, that isn’t the case. As I understand it, this is part of Scholastic’s effort to reprint, in color, the whole of Smith’s Bones to date, and it’s a wonderful job- the coloring (not that I’ve seen these in black and white, mind you) by Steve Hamaker is well done, with a variety of  hues, a bit muted in a lot of places but no less pleasing to the eye. If you’re already invested in Smith’s world, you’ll be getting this no matter what I say, and it’s a good-looking re-presentation (and yes, some of this is new as well) as far as I’m concerned…and by all means, pass one along to that 5th or 6th grader you’re trying to get to like to read. (A review copy was provided by the publisher)

Script/Art: Joe Pimienta, Lindsay Hornsby; Art: Pimienta, Hornsby, Lauren Affe
Slave Labor Graphics, $14.95

Two bored young kids discover a dead mouse caught in a trap, find themselves fascinated, and eventually begin to kill and dissect various dumb creatures in ascending degree of size, ascribing points for each kill, as they get older. Eventually, one of them grows a conscience and draws the line at killing a puppy; his partner in cruelty doesn’t take it well, and soon is trapping and killing bigger game, much to the horror and reluctance of the other. Despite being a bit on-the-nose and declining to take the opportunity to really get to the bottom of what is causing the kids, especially the one that gets into the game a bit too fervently, to behave this way (we get some vague, unsatisfying looks at their parents, nothing consequential until they take their intended place as possible victims), this story does become quite involving in a B-movie psycho-thriller fashion until wussing out in the end, and leaving me with the distinct impression that I was supposed to have some doubt in my mind as to which of the pair was in the wrong. This feel is enhanced by the black-and-white art, which makes up in mood what it lacks in actual drawing skills- I’m reminded of work by people like Alex (Tricked, Too Cool to Be Forgotten) Robinson or Mike (Freddie and Me) Dawson, except they’re not quite at the same skill level yet. They draw a cute puppy, though, or perhaps I’m just getting soft in my advancing years. (A review copy was provided by the publisher)

A few random comics I’ve read since last week, collected under the category Short Takes:

STUMPTOWN #4 (Oni Press): Satisfying finale to a crime fiction story that almost let its plot get away from it, but was always grounded by its lead character Dexy Parios, who deserves a long rest, a professional massage, and a lot of aspirin. Matt Southworth turns in some outstanding art, in that Mike Lark/Sean Phillips style- keep an eye on that guy. A-

SCARLET #2 (Marvel/Icon): OK, I think David Brothers has a point when it comes to this series, but I still found it interesting as Bendis and Maleev are able to get across the damaged personality of his titular heroine, and regardless, I want to see what happens next. A-

THUNDERBOLTS #147 (Marvel): Jeff Parker continues to play to his strength, which is characterization; the back and forth between all these diverse characters elevates what is pretty much otherwise standard-issue superheroics. B+

Pretty much your standard review-writing music list: Led Zeppelin- III and Physical Graffiti; Yes- Tales from Topographic Oceans; Frank Zappa- Hot Rats; Jimmy Webb- Archive.

As always, thanks for reading. Review requests, love letters, horse racing tips: johnnyb AT popdose DOT com.