Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Comics Journalism of Josh Kramer

Cartoon Picayune #2 by Josh Kramer. Kramer, like Dan Archer before him, had journalism on his mind when he went to the Center for Cartoon Studies. Unlike Archer, whose comics have a political bent, Kramer seems to prefer human interest stories. The second issue of his journalistic anthology series finds him including other correspondents, but all of them are subject to his rigid rules regarding sourcing and quotes. Even if the stories are drawn as a narrative with dialogue, Kramer makes a point of making the reader understand that his stories are "rigorously reported". The Cartoon Picayune reminds me most of Brendan Burford's Syncopated anthology, which features similar first and second person reporting styles. Unsurprisingly, Kramer's reach is a local one, with stories about a local high school ski jumping team, a gubernatorial primary, a day camp for rock, and the evolution of a local brewing company.

"Fly By Night" is hampered by being the second part of a story about that ski jumping team. The angles he was approaching did become quickly evident, however, like the young rookie girl and the team's star who was trying to beat the best jumper in the state. When Kramer is drawing diagrams or depicts motion, his art is certainly up to the task of getting across his ideas. His major flaw as an artist is depicting different faces. In this story that features so many different characters, this is a significant problem. I think Kramer is cognizant enough of this problem to get around it by emphasizing emotion through using lettering and body language. Kramer is admirable in that he doesn't try goosing the results of his story to make it more dramatic, which is especially unusual for a sports-related story. Instead, Kramer is more interested in the mechanics of the sport, how the kids got into it, and the minutiae of how a ski jump meet is conducted. In terms of the action, Kramer is best at drawing sharp angles, which made him perfect for depicting the actual jumps.

"School's In For Summer" sees Kramer change some of his approach a bit, giving his characters tiny white circles for eyes. There are still some awkward drawings of characters in some panels, but there's generally a better balance between character and background. The story itself is a quick but thorough examination of a "school of rock" summer program, going through the program's goals and interviewing some of the kids. Kramer also did a separate mini called One Place, One Cheese, which details the process two local cheesemakers go through in creating their product, as well as providing other details about their lives. In each of his stories, Kramer has a way of letting his subjects speak for themselves without adding his own editorializing as to why they're interesting or significant. The simple choice he makes to write about them indicates that he thinks they're worth of reportage.

Bill Volk's story about the history of Iron City Beer in Pittsburgh, "'arn", suffers a little from letting the new CEO talk at length without really challenging any of his premises. Volk's cartooning is quite lively, however, and the slightly grotesque touch he added to his character designs was an interesting choice. The folksy reporting style of James Sturm and the delicate character drawings of Katherine Roy were a perfect match in the depiction of a day in the life of a candidate for the governorship of Vermont, "Honk and Wave". Given that this was a story consisting entirely of talking heads, it was to Roy's credit that she made it so interesting to look at. Kramer certainly did a nice job as an editor, balancing three different kinds of stories in the sort of anthology that's quite rare. Kramer's rock-solid standards as a journalist and his editorial eye are a great foundation for his work; it will simply take time and experience as a cartoonist to bring that aspect of his work up to the rest of his standards.

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