Josh Sullivan's top 10 underground comics

Tampa's comics king makes his picks

1. Hectic Planet #5 and #6 by Evan Dorkin, Slave Labor Graphics 1992-1993

I included both issues as my top choice because they hold the two parts to the story "The Young and the Aimless." Halby Durzell is depressed, once again, because of his once-love Elsie LeGrande. He keeps going on and on about things in his life and how much he misses her and what could've been done to make their relationship work. Halby's best friend, Renensco P. Blue, is sick of hearing about it and the two of them decide to head out on the town.

These tales of despair, love, and hate take place in the year 2074. Once a "space opera" involving violence, aliens, and aimless missions, the comic Pirate Corp$ was renamed Hectic Planet to show the shift from all the science-fiction material to the more sympathetic turn the book took. It started to deal more with relationships, hanging out and going to shows as opposed to the old days of the book seeming more like a disjointed Star Wars. Ren and Halby run into friend Tigger Levy and the three wander around with little money and a whole day to waste. They steal some hot dogs and, later on, skinheads threaten to beat up Hal and Ren. Halby punches a cop after he harasses one of the female characters and ends up in jail with Ren. They're separated and issue #6 concentrates more on Renensco's thoughts and how angry he is with his best friend for getting him arrested. This book is also an excellent showcase of many of the characters that have appeared in the previous issues of the series.

There was a proposed seventh issue but that never happened. The closest thing was a collection of stories called The Bummer Trilogy that starred characters from Hectic Planet. Three trade paperbacks collecting everything under the Hectic Planet banner have been released through Slave Labor Graphics. "Your planet, my planet ... 24 hours a day ... it's always a hectic planet."

2. Schizo #1 by Ivan Brunetti, Fantagraphics Books October 1995

This is one of the funniest and most disturbing comics I've ever read. I ordered a reprint of this book from the comic shop I worked at in high school and fell in love with it immediately. My friends did, too, and I ended up ordering another 15 copies to give out to them.

Schizo focuses on Ivan's huge lack of self-esteem and he puts his thoughts down very clearly on paper by using his many different styles of art to help convey them. He talks about everything from his personal life to his views on the state of people, and continues on to discuss his hate for the world. Ivan has a section in the book entitled "1,784 Things That Make Me Vomit." He only writes about 50 because of "space considerations," he says.

There are some great four-panel comic strips that are made to look like those in the daily papers, but they are definitely not. The strips include titles such as "Drink My Piss, Motherfucker", "Please Hurt My Oversized Testicles" and "The Nun with Two Dicks." If you hate all the bland humor that is out there and the comic strips that are afraid to take risks, then this book is very much for you. An even more hard-hitting book of Ivan's work called HAW! was put out by Fantagraphics and it featured nothing but hilarious one-panel cartoons.

3. Acme Novelty Library #1 by Chris Ware, Fantagraphics Books Winter 1993

The whole Acme Novelty Library saga starts out with a one-page strip starring little Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on Earth, getting sick of living on a farm and he throws a rock at a chicken's head. Then, there is a highly complicated, intricately drawn story spread out about Jimmy Corrigan switching back from his life when he was older and his adventures when he was a child. Some of the pages have tons of panels drawn on them and the detail is breathtaking. Most of this book is in color and it requires many re-readings to even begin to understand anything about it. Older Jimmy is alone and sad while his younger adventures presented him many ways to fill a day. The back cover features the pieces to build a cool little toy robot model out of paper. There's a single-page strip featuring "Big Tex" and the first of the many fake advertisements. This time you can buy a Telephone Pole:

"What a bargain. Bring one of these home and won't the neighbors talk. Tremendously heavy, nearly impossible to fit in the front door. Treated acidic wood, will corrode most any material, eats holes in hands, clothing. Some still have wires attached. Put in backyard to confuse the workmen, or to add a 'nostalgic' touch to the scenery." That's a small example of the sometimes-subtle humor you can expect to find in Acme Novelty Library. A collection of most of the Jimmy Corrigan strips was also released as Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and can be found at nearly any bookstore. Ware has contributed to many publications including The New Yorker and Chicago Reader, and he recently did an animation sequence for the television version of This American Life.

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