I have a tendency of--and this is possibly a problem--ordering comics and stuff off Etsy sight unseen. Now, I’m not a crazy person. I tend to stick within a budget (two to six dollars a pop), but if it falls within that range I’ll pick it up. Sometimes that can have the most interesting results, because I never thought I would end up reviewing a comic which took its name from a popular tattoo commonly used by people I actively try to avoid; and yet, here we are! Luckily, the title is just a play on words and instead of a comic populated by a bunch of people explaining the intricate details of “shredding” to me while I try to buy a taco, the comic is actually an incredibly charming collection of comics from cartoonist Kate Leth, with Ultimate Kate or Die acting as both a sampler of her work and a showcase of her skill.
Ultimate Kate or Die reads as a sort of 'greatest hits' collection, with various web comics, pinups, gag strips, and samples from some of Leth's mini comics. As a sampler of her work, it's great. You really get a good idea of her as an artist and as a person, as the main strips tend to be either very personal or analytical in nature. The personal stuff can be as light as dealing with social anxiety associated with going to a party, or just shopping for jeans, but can also be fairly serious as she gets into her history dealing with the misconceptions of her bisexuality and her history with self harm. What’s amazing, though, is that she’s able to contextualize these topics in such a way that it comes off as very relatable. That’s nowhere more apparent than some of her more analytical strips as she tackles various LGBT issues. Talking about that stuff tends to rile people on both ends of the emotional and mental spectrum, and engaging those issues can be tricky, but the strips where Leth talks about bisexuality or general feminism are done in such a calm and considered way that it all comes off like talking with a knowledgeable friend instead of a lecture.
Look, if you need context think of it this way: I’m a twenty three year old straight dude from New Jersey, and I completely understood where she was coming from. I don’t mean understanding in that dumb “I’m a white male in the 18 – 32 demographic and I approve these funny books” sort of way, I mean that if you are a human being you will appreciate Leth's comics because they come from a place of emotional honesty and manages to be funny at the same time!
This work is also a good representation of her progression as a cartoonist. Her style is very slight, but she’s able to do a lot with very little. At her best she utilizes a very clean line but her real strength is in facial expressions and what that can convey to her characters. Now the facial expressions aren’t hyper detailed or rubbery, but instead Leth is able to add a few changes to her character's facial features, and she’s able to convey quite a lot. This collection really highlights her progression as a cartoonist, although interestingly I don’t think it shows that progression linearly. It doesn’t need to do that, that isn’t a prerequisite for this sort of anthology, but the way the art changes can be a bit jarring. His is especially apparent in the samples from her minis, which use a very simple style and a twelve panel grid. Those pages come off as a bit squished together, and compared to some of her other strips which show her having more control over her panels it makes for an interesting dichotomy. Overall though, it’s a small complaint, and the book's overall expressive style and color work give it a very distinct visual feel which compliments the writing nicely.
Leth is a cartoonist that has the sort of comedic sensibilities that work equally well for day-to-day misadventures and also arguing against small-mindedness and larger issues that utilize humor which allows her to drive her points home. She’s not a satirist, she’s just an artist who views the world through a specific lens, but she conveys those views in a very accessible way while being both passionate and very funny. Simply put, these are just good comics.
TL;DR: Ultimate Kate or Die is a good representation of Leth's abilities as a cartoonist and well worth your time either online or in print.