Monday, June 22, 2009

Work Ethic: Ghost Comics

Reviewed is GHOST COMICS, the new Xeric-supported anthology edited by Ed Choy Moorman and published by his own Bare Bones Press.

When I first became aware of the lineup of talent in Ed Choy Moorman's ambitious new anthology GHOST COMICS, I could hardly believe my eyes. Zak Sally? John Porcellino? Warren Craghead? Jeffrey Brown? Allison Cole? I wondered if the contributions of the bigger names would be strictly perfunctory, but (happily) for the most part, this was not the case. This anthology deservedly won a Xeric grant for its publication, and its stated purpose is as a benefit for RS Eden, a "multifaceted agency" that assists with chemical dependency and "correctional residential programs".

Its noble aims aside, Moorman put together this anthology around the theme of ghosts. He really managed to strike a nerve, because this topic evoked a startling range of interpretations. From the funny autobio recollections of Corrine Mucha to the straightforward myth-making of Sean Lynch to the comics-as-poetry of John Hankiewicz, I've rarely seen a themed anthology with this much variety and quality. One thing that no artist did was actually try to tell a scary ghost story, which I thought was interesting. The other interesting thing about this comic is how Minnesota-centric it is. This makes sense, given Moorman's time as a student at MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art & Design), but this book just goes to show how deep the roster of talent is running in that state. It's giving the cartoonist-rich cities of New York, San Francisco and Portland some serious competition for the best region crown already, even as much of its talent is still incubating. Fourteen of the artists in the book have direct connections to Minnesota, and a number of others are based out of another cartooning hotbed: Chicago. In particular, it was nice to see Will Dinski's "Mind-Mapping" as part of this anthology; I previously reviewed it in its original minicomics form and it's yet another solid effort from the artist who introduced me to the Minnesota scene.

Some other highlights of the book include Toby Jones' darkly humorous account of the death of his partner's mother and all the familial weirdness that insued; the ever-delightful Lucy Knisley's sharply amusing story of the dubious joys of capitalism; the welcome return of Allison Cole as she detailed popping ghosts like balloons; Hob's tale of a brontosaurus' ghosts staying on earth, looking for something mysterious; Moorman's own touching tribute to his family; Kevin Cannon's funny mash-up of architecture and the Transformers; Tuesday Passen dying happy; book designer Jenny Tondera's clever text/visual experiment with a ghost in the snow; and most especially the piece by Warren Craghead.

I greatly erred in omitting Craghead's name from the list of Immersive artists in prior articles on the subject; that is, those that play upon and around with the formal qualities of text in combination with image to force the reader to think about each letter of text and how it relates to both the other letters around it as well as the images. Indeed, Craghead was a pioneer in this regard. He also shares much in common with comics-as-poetry cartoonists like Hankiewicz, where the visuals form their own sort of rhythm and language that's meant less to be looked at than engaged by the viewer/reader. Craghead is distinctive because of the way he uses so much white space, using a small number of distinctive drawings to face off against the void. Here, the text, (spilling out on the page) comments on the way we see and experience ghosts as a sort of manifestation of memory and identity. The way images "rhymed" across pages and feelings were grudgingly exchanged created a delicious tension, forcing the reader to take in each detail as they were presented. The reader strains to try to get glimpses at that which is hidden as the cascading text has to be teased out a bit to understand--which is the whole point of the piece.

Moorman wisely kept it simple in this volume. It's a nicely-designed (Jenny Tendura was the graphic designer for this comic) book, but not distractingly so. The author isn't given a lot of bells and whistles, which mean that some pros came over their tables and gave them some ideeas. He ordered the stories well, always managing to balance longer stories with shorter ones that served as palette-cleansers. He balanced humor with adventure, lighthearted flights of fancy with grim drama, pondering the afterlife and mocking it. There's a healthy mix of just-graduating students and old hands here, and what's remarkable is that neither side suffers from the juxtaposition. My only regret is that Zak Sally didn't contribute something more substantive than a single page that was really just an illustration. I thought his page was poorly placed with the actual stories in this book, rather than as a spot illustration (like the David Heatley frontispiece). It's a forgiveable enough misstep, especially given that Sally was one of Moorman's teachers at MCAD.


  1. Apparently, Minneapolis is the Seattle of the Midwest and Omaha is its Portland. Or so I've heard.

  2. I already knew Omaha was a big indy-rock nexus, but I had no idea this carried over to comics as well...

  3. Thanks for the close reading and nice words about my piece.