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Good Read Column for July 6, 1998

Oni Double Feature

Edited by Bob Schreck
32 pages, Oni Press, $2.95

(of a possible five)


You won't often see me bothering with Editor credits, much less giving one at the top of a review without either writer or artist being mentioned, but although I'm focusing on the latest issue in this series (#6), in fact I'm reviewing the series as a whole, and the only single person who can be said to be responsible for that is the editor, Bob Schreck. He's the one who convinced a whole lot of people, from unknowns to legends in the field, to provide him with stories for a quirky little magazine from an upstart young publisher.

When I first saw this magazine solicited, I was skeptical, to say the least. Indeed, I was resentful of its "gimmick," each issue giving the first half of one story and the second half of the story that debuted last month. Obviously intended to make us pay for material we might not otherwise purchase, in order to get, say, Bill Sieniewicz's latest work. Also providing a constant cliffhanger, so that once you buy one you have to keep buying them all. A crass mercenary ploy, I thought.

Except, there hasn't been a single thing in any of the half-dozen issues so far not worth the money. Oh, sure, not everything's been to my taste, but I could recognize the quality of the work, nonetheless. And yes, I have been "forced" to buy a few things I might not have otherwise purchased - and thereby enriched and enlarged my awareness of new talents. Thank you, Mr. Schreck.

I was totally unaware, for instance, of the art of Troy Nixey, who is the first person, I believe, to appear in this comic twice (well, everybody appears twice but I mean in two separate pieces). His own story, "Bacon," was an extremely disturbing nightmare worthy of Hieronymous Bosch (did I spell that right?). His artwork for P. Craig Russell's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's short story, "Only the End of the World Again," is more subtle, but still disturbing. It's hard to say exactly what unnerves one looking at these drawings, but there is a tension there. "Bacon" was not at all my cup of tea, and I can't say that Nixey is my favorite artist, but he's good for a story that makes your skin crawl, either the subtle or in-your-face kind.

Bill Sienkiewicz is, of course, a comics legend who has been all but silent lately, and getting "A River in Egypt" from him was a major coup, as was the "Jay and Silent Bob" story in issue #1, by noted independent film director Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy and Clerks), who is now doing an ongoing series featuring the two misanthropes who show up as bit characters in his movies. Smith not only did a screenplay for the upcoming Superman movie (since rejected, according to Internet rumor), but has signed on to do a couple of Marvel's superhero comics, so despite his official status as a newcomer to the field he is already a Big Name.

On the other hand, one of my favorite stories so far is "Zombie Kid" by Jim Mahfood, who is not quite an unknown (Marvel tapped him to do the "Underground" X-comic), but certainly not a Big Name. Indeed, I probably would have passed up "Zombie Kid" altogether if I saw it in a comic all by itself. I've found out since that Mahfood originally hails from St. Louis, and probably would have bought it if I'd known that, but at first glance it didn't look like the kind of thing I'd be interested in.

But by sneakily putting it right up front, before I got to the second half of Sienkiewicz's story, Schreck got me to read it. The crass marketing ploy is in fact an ingenious device for giving newcomers a break. By alternating between Big Names and Nobodies, Oni can keep folks reading the Nobodies in order to read the Big Names. And sometimes the Nobodies are better.

I personally liked "Zombie Kid" MUCH better than I did "A River in Egypt." I found the Sienkiewicz story hard-to-follow and lacking in originality, and I felt especially let down by the ending. Mahfood's piece, on the other hand, was hilarious from start to finish, an exuberant explosion of cliches turned inside out and coventions overturned.

The latest issue, #6, has the second half of that "Zombie Kid" story in the back, and in the front the first half of P.Craig Russell's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "Only the End of the World Again." I'm not sure why Russell agreed to "adapt" the story but not do the art himself, but as I mentioned above, Nixey's unsettling art is well suited to the tale. There is also a supposedly funny bit on the inside front cover - the bonus in "Double Feature" is always this third feature, which is usually quite good (the Ed Brubaker piece in #5, for instance, was a nice, tight little one page story). This one is called "Snackulon" and all I'll say about it is that fat jokes are seldom funny, and usually offensive. I don't mind offensive humor when it works, but mean-spirited jokes have to be hilarious to make up for the rudeness. This doesn't even come close.

I really liked the way Mahfood handled the ending of his "Zombie Kid" story. He could have opted for letting the villain destroy the world, just to show us how he wasn't bound by stereotyped stories of the hero saving the day. But actually, that sort of reverse cliché has been done before, and it certainly precludes using the character again in the future. What he does is much better, with his jealous girlfriend going after the beautiful demon that brainwashed him and . . . but you should read it for yourself.

The first half of the Gaiman story has me intrigued. I haven't read Gaiman's short story collection, so I don't know if this one is in it or not. It seems to be about a werewolf living in an H.P. Lovecraftian town, with an important visitation by the Elder Gods looming on the horizon.

This semi-anthology series is one of the best ideas that has come down the pike in a while. I take back all the negative thoughts I had about it. I've added it to my monthly pull list, and I applaud Bob Scheck and the rest of the folks at Oni Press for bringing it out. Indeed, it's one more example of how Oni Press is quickly positioning itself as one of the premiere alternative publishers in the business.

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