4 out of 5
Birdcage Bottom Books is an indie comics imprint which caters to a lot of DIY / diary style works; Too Tough To Die is a 300-page anthology of comics by punkers – current or lapsed; musicians and / or fans who now dabble in art – detailing their experiences with or feelings toward the scene. Anyone who did their time with punk rock beyond the casual can probably spot how this is a good combination of publisher and concept, and that same demographic will likely appreciate this well put together collection of strips, which ranges over the whole comics stylistic lot of collage and notebook style scratches and professional, panel-ized art, some entries one page, some legit short stories. Editors Haleigh Buck and J.T. Yost encouraged entrants to make their tales more personal, and while I’m generally not a fan of confessional stuff of that nature, I do think that was for the best – while I don’t know how many variations of “…and then I grew up!” I could take, reading all these variations on people trying to reconcile their pasts with their presents proved to be pretty intriguing, even when I wasn’t necessarily in to a narrative style.
Being an anthology, though, there are going to be strips that work better for some than others, so I normally rate such collections on how well they meet their stated or supposed intentions, and on the presentation. Too Tough rates really high in both regards.
Going to presentation first, the cover and page stock of this are, for me, just about perfect – the covers are sturdy but flexible; the page-stock is similarly thick and a good tone / density for reproducing the most detailed or the most loosey-goosey works – and the 6″ish x 9″ish size is great for single-handed reading, but also big enough to appreciate the art. Yost and Buck both include intros which help set the tone for the book, there’s a table of contents (and page numbers!), and then alphabetical bios in the back. I also loved how the design is set up like a set list, and punk flyers – it’s a very consistent vibe that speaks to the passion of putting the project together.
As to how well the collection achieves its goals, as stated, Yost was after tales that dug beneath the surface a bit, and we really do get there. Some of it’s pretty brave, picking apart what drew one to punk, and whether or not they’ve maintained those ideals; some of it – to white, cis me – was very eye-opening, seeing how exclusionary the scene could be; and some of it’s pretty funny, and entertaining; and some of it, of course, mixes those groupings. You do end up with a couple strips that don’t get too far beyond the shallow “I used to dress differently” type of commentary, and there’s a larger struggle for diary comics to arrive at conclusions, and not just, like, end, but by and large, these were well considered, interesting pieces from some equally interesting folk. And the bios do exactly what they should in these setups – they give you the most direct way to check out whichever artist’s other works if you’re so inclined.
I’d also commend Yost and Buck for the sequencing: no two back-to-back strips are repeats in look or length; long stories are split up, and more cartoonish stuff is separated from more realistic or surrealistic works. Again – all of this speaks to something that had a lot of care and attention put toward it.
I went into this for some very specific entries, and was honestly not expecting to get too much out of the rest, but I was surprised by how immersive the book was, and how much I actually related to some stories, while only having spent a small amount of time in the punk scene m’self.