I hadn’t finished reading this book before I'd recommended it to a couple of friends, which means it lives up to its tag line, “Comics and Stories That Will Make You BLAB!” Anything that features essays on cryptids and UFOlogy goes a long way to endear itself to my heart. If comics are involved, even more so.
While this is billed as the Premiere Issue, it’s hardly the first iteration of BLAB!, which has existed since the 1980s in various forms from various publishers, including Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics and Last Gasp. However, a new issue hasn’t come out in 11 years, so kudos to Dark Horse and Yoe Books on reviving this publication for 2023. In this volume you will find 18 different entries by 9 different creators, including a few pieces from BLAB! Founder/Editor/Art Director Monte Beauchamp and frequent collaborator Ryan Heshka, whose gouache illustrations can be found throughout (he’s the one who came up with the anthropomorphic gumball cluster with sexy gams on the cover). Heshka’s paintings are prevalent enough to provide a network of visuals that hold the issue together amid its delightful gamut of visual styles and niche storytelling.
It’s hard to say what, if anything, defines BLAB! History seems to be at the top of its mind; that and weirdness. This volume contains six comics or illustrated prose-format biographies, several vintage strips, stories and comic book ads, and plenty of monsters. BLAB! is equally interested in comics and the story of comics, which is why you will find bios for Superman creators Siegel and Schuster (by Heshka & Beauchamp) and Crime Does Not Pay creators Bob Wood and Charles Biro (by Noah Van Sciver). Rather than navel-gaze or falsely glorify the history of the medium, BLAB! daylights stories worth knowing in lively and often grim, detail.
It also avoids a slavish need to stick to comics at all times, which is why you’ll find stories about Beatrix Potter’s unusual upbringing (Giselle Potter), a behind-the-scenes tale about German film director F.W. Murnau on the set of his groundbreaking Nosferatu (Sasha Velour), and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legendary drunkenness (Clarke and Beauchamp).
There are reproductions of older comics like Fletcher Hanks' "Fantomah" and the many illustrations in Beauchamp's apeman-themed "Gorilla Gallery" which are just beautiful to look at. Then BLAB! goes even further into the past, with an excerpt from The Freethinkers' Pictorial Text-Book by Watson Heston, which presents a skeptical view of Christianity’s worldview, sanctity and authority, with text and images originally published in 1890.
BLAB! takes you back in time and shows you things you (probably) didn’t know existed, to bridge the gap to more familiar comics imagery that you (probably) know well, without the need for explanation beyond simply looking at the work. The wonder of BLAB! is the wonder of a ten year-old tearing into a fresh issue hot off the rack. Anything could await you on the next page. It is fun to hold, fun to look at, fun to read, and I have no doubt that it was fun to make. My main criticism of this issue is that the text-heavy sections like the ape-themed "Engé-ena", while interesting to read, are presented in a way that feels a little slap-dashed, alternating pages of full text with pages of full illustration. My greedy eyes, primed by the feast they’ve been enjoying, crave at least some art on every page, or at least a more interesting textual presentation (this is less a problem with with other text features, like the UFO-themed "From Another Universe", which benefits from more illustrations throughout and a smaller text font). Big pages full of words feel like placeholders for something more polished to come.
But don’t let that trip you up on the way to the comic store. Something this refreshing and bizarre deserves your attention and your moolah. This volume is well worth the cover price. And I didn’t even mention the other Noah Van Sciver story, about turn-of-the-century kitty artist Louis Wain, or Greg Clarke’s brief, esoteric detour into one dog man’s deep obsession with typeface and pomposity I didn’t know I wanted.
The question is, what will future volumes of BLAB! have in store? Will it continue to be a love letter to the past or will it mutate into something else entirely? I for one think it would be exciting to see BLAB! turn out to be a chameleon, changing its look and feel with every issue, and putting new and distinct creators on display in the process. To me, that would be a welcome addition to the comics landscape, and one well worth blabbing about.