So Buttons by Jonathan Baylis
So Buttons is described by author Jonathan Baylis as ‘the newer magazine of weird auto-bio’. In the spirit of Harvey Pekar and David Robertson, the book has several autobiographical stories by Jonathan, illustrated by a variety of artists, many of whom are well known names in comics.
Jonathan’s tales of old comic shops, celebrities exceeding expectations and obscure Jack Kirby creations doesn’t seem that weird to me. However I am probably operating on the same level of weird as he is. For those squares out there who never hunted down Jack Kirby collectors cards on eBay, who probably don’t even research where the comic shops are before they visit a new town, well maybe it might seem a bit weird.
The cover of So Buttons certainly sets a tone for the standard of the stories within, with a wonderful Jim Rugg illustration picturing the author in the style of Mad Magazine’s Basil Wolverton (who also did some work for Topps, adding to one of the themes of this book or so wikipedia told me at least.)
The book kicks off with ‘So…Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch’. A tale of a trip to a whiskey shop in Edinburgh. Now, I have the advantage of being in Edinburgh and have a good idea of exactly which shop this is. The visit sets the author on a quest to find a fabled 15 year old Laphroiag. The Laphroiag is a bit too peaty for my tastes (although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it) but the quest, which involves the unlikely participation of Joan Rivers and Prince Charles is an optimistic tale with suitably low stakes. November Garcia provides the art which features striking colouring. Also, I know I’m a pedant but the Islay t-shirt doesn’t rhyme (which is probably the joke).
The British isles feature throughout the book and this rainy collection of nations seem to be a strong influence on the author. John Cleese puts in a heroic turn in a strip beautifully illustrated by creator B.Mure whom many will know from his series of Ismyre books for Avery Hill. With soft lines and warm radiant colours which reflect the theme of the story this is a lovely strip which would bring a tear to a glass eye, as they say.
There are also two single page Python themed illustrations, A.T. Pratt (very pythonesque name) creates a tribute to the king of silly walks that would look good in stained glass whilst it is to Robert Crumb that Garret Gilchrist tips the hat with his Keep on Silly Walkin’.
British comics legend Phil Elliot is the illustrator for a tale of the author’s time in London with the suitably English name of So… Home is Wherever the Bollocks I am, apparently. Any strip by Phil is a real treat and this tale of old comics shops, unlikely connections and a comics world featuring the likes of Escape magazine and Shaky Kane does not disappoint.
There is similar nostalgia to be found in So…I Guess You Can’t Go Home Again with art by T.J Kirsch. A sad tale of a bookshop turning into a bank. Now the banks are all shutting I wonder what it is now? A Starbucks probably.
And so to the highlight, which is what a visit to the world of the Topps Kirbyverse must always be! One of my lockdown pursuits was discovering awesome Kirby creations like Captain Glory, Night Glider and Bombast. So it is a genuine thrill and pleasure to see them illustrated by Fred Hembeck a bona-fide comics legend.
So…You’re the Topps looks at the authors time as an intern with said card and comics company. This tale of the industry, and the influence of Star Wars is an educational journey through a particular period where pop culture was beginning to flex its muscles and to become the behemoth of today (for better or worse). The art from Jeff Zapata has a real Spain Rodriguez vibe.
The book is rounded off with a couple of short poignant tales. So…Patchy is a sweet tale of bubble gum cards and a tribute to a friend. So…Happy Birthday to Us is blessed by art from Maria and Peter Hoey of Coin-Op fame. This homage to Carol Channing is a treat for the eyes. The book closes with a softly penciled piece by Miss Lasko Gross which shows what a fungi Jonathan is.
So Buttons was a real treat with a nice variety of art styles but a consistent theme of a comic book life. Highly relatable for many of us and I would like nothing more than browsing in a small comic shop on a warm afternoon in Lewisham. Reading this book makes me eager to seek out the other issues. As the Simpsons comic book guy would say “life well lived!”.