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AUGUST 4, 1997:  FLAMING IGUANAS: As a matter of principle, we take exception to microbrews, New Line Cinema, Inc., any box employing the word "homestyle" to sell a product, and the type font "Grungeone." These are all gimmicks employed to repackage the same, mass-marketed crap under some sort of individualized label: the wolf in genuine imitation sheep-skin seatcover clothing, dyed to look like a Jersey cow (because that's "in"). So as a matter of principle, we almost cast aside Erika Lopez' Flaming Iguanas, which is packaged to look like some scrappy, small-press publication when it really hails from publishing giant Simon & Schuster, whose demographic surveys obviously indicate that printing books by almost-30 Latina cartoonists on brown paper bags may be the cusp of the Next Big Thing.

Well, more power to them...the almost-30 Latina cartoonists, that is. Because Flaming Iguanas--while neither the On the Road sequel its press release claims it to be, nor "all the best parts of Alice and Wonderland and Easy Rider"--is unequivocally inspired. And Lopez' is a fresh voice amidst a barren landscape of faux individualists, so there's no sense and no need to compare her to dead, male literary archetypes, even if they were "best-sellers."

The author's real-life adventures riding a cheap motorcycle across America in search of the perfect post office and a half-Puerto Rican Quaker bisexual role model have been translated into tantalizing fiction narrated by her street-wise heroine, Tomato Rodriguez.

Together with requisite made-to-look-like-it-isn't-computer-generated type, and that Gen-X convention that just can't say no to stencils and iconographic symbols, it certainly fits the bill as "an illustrated all-girl road novel thing." We're sure Lopez has been toiling away in relative poverty and obscurity as a cartoonist for The San Francisco Bay Times, so we're happy for her big break. Buy her $18.50 book--it's hardcover, made to last! Unfortunately, there aren't enough almost-30 Latina writer/cartoonists out there making a splash in the publishing world for us to be cynical about their success. We hope someday there will be. Until then, keep an eye out for Flaming Iguanas, and a collection of her cartoons titled Lap Dancing for Mommy, also due out this year.

GOT MILK? One of our all-time favorite Far Side cartoons of many moons ago was the one of a skulking carton of milk, peeking out a third-story window with the barrel of a shotgun, while a reasonable cop with a bullhorn and a passle of squad cars stood at the ready below. The caption read: "When milk goes bad."

Well apparently, after his release, he took up with a wedge of cheese (and a different cartoonist) and has been wreaking havoc on comic-book readers ever since. Let's be upfront about this: Milk and Cheese, by Evan Dorkin (Slave Labor Graphics), isn't new. It's been around for as long as the devolving pop-culture attention span can remember. (In this case, that seems to be since at least 1992.) But we're pretty sure there are a lot of potentially loyal readers out there who've never heard of them. In fact, we know the majority of you have never set foot in any of the local comic-book stores, because if you did we'd recognize you, on account of that there's ever only, like, two people in there at a time, and they're always the same people. Anyway, we don't feel bad or "unhip" or like we didn't have anything better to write about than the antics of a couple of dairy products gone bad--even though some have insinuated as much--just because Milk and Cheese aren't "new and improved," or "cutting edge." Peeshaw with your Nintendo and your virtual reality!

Milk and Cheese is funny! Just like a good, old-fashioned comic should be: "A unique blend of satire, wordplay, alcoholism and charismatic violence," in the pair's own words. They bring new meaning to the term "lactose intolerance." (Although, "intolerant lactose" might be more accurate.)

In the "first second issue," also identified as "No. 5," which is in its fourth printing (there's no significance to these numbers, other than to give you the impression this is all very complicated and therefore of greater significance), Milk and Cheese visit the San Diego Comicon, open a tattoo and piercing business, and celebrate "ridicule and embarrass the French" day (it's on their calendar of Things To Do). Their basic motto is, "If you can't beat them, exploit them...THEN beat them."

A dozen pages of madness and mayhem, of beer-guzzling, head-busting food for thoughtlessness...can you think of anything better to do? Probably. But at $2.75, it's cheaper than a six-pack and far less likely to land you in jail. Go ahead, live vicariously through Milk and Cheese!

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