In my first wide-ranging review of Fantagraphics' anthology MOME, I compared the structure of the anthology to that of a minor-league baseball team. That comparison has become even more apt with the six most recent volumes, as many of the original contributors of the anthology have quit and new, young cartoonists have taken their place in the lineup. Of the original group of eleven cartoonists that included Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen, Paul Hornschemeier, David Heatley, Andrice Arp, Sophie Crumb, Kurt Wolfgang, Martin Cendreda, John Pham, Jonathan Bennett, and Gabrielle Bell, several of these artists have moved on due to having so many other deadlines. That includes Brown (who just had a book published by Simon & Schuster), Nilsen (several books from Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly), Cendreda, Pham and Heatley. I suspect Bell's output might be restricted to very short pieces in the future, while I wouldn't be surprised to see Hornschemeier move on after he's finished serializing his story "Life With Mr. Dangerous".
One of the initial goals of the series, to take a group of young cartoonists and bring them to public attention with a high-profile anthology, has been quite a success. That probably has as much to do with the book market snapping up cartoonists left and right and the expansion of publishers like FBI and D&Q, but MOME certainly hasn't hurt in that regard. In discovering new talent, another stated goal--making the anthology accessible to the general reading public in a way that something like KRAMER'S ERGOT isn't--has started to become less of a priority. The loosening of that priority has only made MOME a better series, since it's not only allowed for a greater overall diversity of approaches, it's also made room for off-beat artists such as Ray Fenwick and the great John Hankiewicz.
As in my prior entry on MOME, I won't review them volume-by-volume; instead, I'll look at them artist-by-artist. In MOME 6-11, the roster of participating artists has ballooned up to over 30, which has allowed editors Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth a lot of leeway in assembling a given issue. The series has also continued to anchor each issue with a heretofore unseen work (in English, at least) by a heavy hitter from the world of comics. David B was the first such star, while the latest issues included stories by Lewis Trondheim, Jim Woodring and Killoffer. Having more diverse and challenging material has made those well-known artists dominate the anthology a little less noticeably, which was a problem with David B in one issue. Overall, the anthology has really hit its stride and found a proper balance as it continues to nurture and showcase young talent.
Paul Hornschemeier: Hornschemeier has been one of MOME's stalwarts, contributing to nearly every issue. His serial "Life With Mr Dangerous" is done no favors by appearing in dribs and drabs, and I sense it will read much better when it's reprinted in one place. Having had a chance to reread the published chapters all in one sitting, it's Hornschemeier's most restrained and nuanced story to date. There's less of his usual formal exploration and pyrotechnics (exemplified by the remarkable THE THREE PARADOXES) here, instead focusing on the inner life of his protagonist Amy. This makes sense, because she's consumed by her own inner life and obsession with the cartoon character Mr Dangerous. As we get to know Amy, it becomes increasingly clear how very broken she is. This plays out in the way she clings to relationships that have ended but can't communicate with those around her. I do love the fantasy sequences that pop up here, as Amy's fantasy life merges with that of the cartoon, but usually in ways that go horribly wrong. It feels like the serial is starting to wind down, and I'm eager to see where the emotional narrative is heading.
Hornschemeier has also contributed some other pieces, including a couple of short stories. I enjoyed "The Guest Speaker", a sort of Updike-esque account of an artist who gives a speech at his alma mater, and MOME is a place that makes sense for this sort of thing from Hornschemeier. His strip "Now Then" in MOME #7 is a fun philosophical lark that touches on free will and moment-to-moment continuity, cleverly told with panel-to-panel transitions and the language of comics. As noted earlier in the article, I'd guess that Hornschemeier will move on to other projects after he completes "Life With Mr Dangerous"; I believe he'll be relaunching a solo series soon.
Sophie Crumb: I was critical of Crumb's lack of direction in her MOME contributions to date in my first overview of the anthology, but much of her more recent fare has been of greater interest. The exemplar is her whacked-out serial "Lucid Night-Mare", drawn in what appears to be ballpoint pen. The series has a sort of ghastly beauty in its depiction of a trio of street losers on the run from even more unsavory characters. Crumb's interest in street culture sets her apart from the other artists in MOME, but I still can't help thinking that she has incredible talent that she hasn't quite figured out what to do with as of yet. Her funny-animal work is actually some of her strongest, like the drug-soaked "Zozo and Zaza" strip in MOME #7. Her "Lust Ain't Just" strip in #8 is even better, a clever walk through a series of sexual fantasies of several individuals that circles around back to the originator of the chain in an amusing way. Her one-pagers in #10 went back to talking about street culture and were amusing but instantly forgettable.
One of the lingering problems with Crumb is that despite her obvious talent, chops and unique point of view, she still hasn't found her voice as an artist. Her strips have a familiar feel to them, as though Crumb is still cycling through not only her influences but her interests. The question that I'm left with after reading her strips is: does she have a burning need to do comics and contribute stories to this anthology, or does her commitment to the anthology force her to sit down and draw? Three years into her tenure on MOME, I'm still not sure how she's answering that question.
Wolfgang's command of the comics language is remarkable. His page design is clever, drawing the eye to his expressive, exaggerated figures that remind me a bit of Peter Bagge. Tom's blank eyes betray his essential innocence despite his tough veneer, and the sheer density of each panel gives the strip a certain weight. Even his lettering and his panel lines have a certain thickness to them, adding to its bleakly comedic power. The contrast between the heaviness of the subject matter with Wolfgang's smart-ass humor is perfectly mirrored by the dense cross-hatching and rubbery character design. I'm curious as to how Wolfgang will resolve both the main character's arc and the overall plot.
Tom Kaczynski: Kaczynski's stories in MOME have felt like part of a larger cycle of stories. They combine elements of cultural & economic critique with the paranoia and rawness of a JG Ballard story. His stories address aspects of modern civilization and the ways in which they break down. "100,000 Miles" in MOME #6 employs a sickly green background in its fantasy about the end of the world in the form of a worldwide traffic jam ending society as we know it. He takes that idea further in #7 with "10,000 Years", about a man in therapy who becomes twisted by the idea of creating a utopia on Mars, a dream held as a reaction to extreme alienation. Alienation is a key point in the brilliant "976 Sq Feet", about a couple who are driven insane by a high-rise condo built in their neighborhood. (The line the man utters when he calls 911 for his now-insane girlfriend [babbling about "double paned windows"] is priceless: "Uh, I need an ambulance...or an architect.") Kaczynski implies that the construction was less built than conjured or summoned, as though it were some sort of hideous otherworldly intelligence brought in by the nameless, faceless forces of global capitalism.
"Phase Transition" in MOME #10 involves a man devolving into a sort of reptile-brain state as a way of throwing off the yoke of technology. Kaczynski implies here that primitivism is its own form of false utopia, as the man becomes a megalomaniac at the end. Kaczynski tops himself in #11 with "Million Year Boom", about a brand expert who winds up working for a bizarre "green" company, trying to come up with a corporate logo as it prepares to go public. This is one of the top stories I've read in MOME to date, an insane stew of paranoia, devolution, corporate messiahs, and global capitalism fused with a tribal, scatological mindset. The final panel, where the protagonist's blood spewing across a door gives him the inspiration for the logo, was a stunning moment. Of all the cartoonists in MOME, Kaczynski has perhaps raised his game the highest to match the competition in the anthology. Every entry has been simply remarkable, drawn with a certain looseness in its line and modified either with simple color or effects like zip-a-tone. These strips are dark, unsettling and thought-provoking critiques layered with multiple meanings. He's exactly what MOME is all about: providing a platform for developing artists to grow and excel. What he brings to MOME is a point of view unlike anyone else's, a crucial factor for an editor trying to avoid repetition.
Tim Hensley: Hensley is the sort of 20-year overnight success that comes along rarely in comics. I've seen his work here and there over the years in various anthologies, but his dizzying "Wally Gropius" strips in MOME #6 were some of the most hilarious, dadaesque comics that I've ever read. Hensley's style of art is reminiscent of Harvey comics, Archie comics, and old-style cartooning and yet is its own entity. The flat 4-color art almost almost disguises the crazy eye-pops in almost every panel, much like a Will Elder. There's a twisted internal logic at play here, as we follow teen millionaire Wally Gropius and his various adventures. We see him with his rock band, the Dropouts, (looking like the Beatles in their cartoon show, and yet different), getting wowed by debutante Jillian Banks (who impresses him by singing the national anthems of Laos and Lithuania) and ignoring the scores of teenage girls who attempt suicide around him. There's a pitch-black streak of humor that pervades these strips, juxtaposing sometimes horrific acts (like the out-of-nowhere, John Stanley-esque argument between Jillian and her father that escalates into rough sex) with the almost painfully cheery and stylized character designs.
Above all else, Hensley's strips are funny. There are sight gags in every panel, non-sequiturs that are flogged and pursued to their logical ends, and a demented series of one-off strips that nonetheless are building a sort of forward momentum into a greater narrative. There's a lack of pretension in these strips, a lack of a sense that Hensley is being weird for weirdness' sake. This simply seems to be the way Hensley approaches the world and creates gags; there's a natural flow to reading his strips that sneaks up on a reader, which is a big part of its initial impact. They're even better on subsequent readings, because his economically-designed pages nonetheless have an enormous amount of detail and information packed into them. The familiarity of the style (though it's impossible to place exactly what that style is) subverts reader expectations, throwing them off as Hensley throws in a weird detail here (like eating a can of caviar) or bizarre concept there (like Wally titling an essay answer "Huey Lewis: Epistemology and Praxis"). He's only done a few strips since his big splash in MOME #6, and I hope that we'll see another outpouring soon.
Emile Bravo: The French artist has contributed four excellent stories to MOME so far. He takes an interesting approach to expressing language, using pictograms in his word balloons to get across his points in many of his strips. He's also sharply political without being didactic, like in "Frustration Land!" in MOME #6. A funny yet horrific take on a pair of Palestinian boys and the Intifada conflict, Bravo's expressive and cartoony pencils remind me a bit of Wally Wood crossed with Sergio Aragonnes. The story manages to sympathize with and condemn both sides simultaneously, culminating in a dark ending.
"We Are All Equal: The Equation" in MOME #10 is another grimly amusing strip about race & the effects of imperialism, while "A Question of Human Resources" in MOME #11 deals with the impossible puzzle of navigating global capitalism. His masterwork in MOME was "Young Americans" in MOME #8. This postmodern tactical nuke of a comic starts as a 4-page story about a jock teenager in 1950s America dealing with his blacklisted alcoholic of a father, aided by his girlfriend. The story ends tearfully, as the father embraces the son and the son promises the father that he was going to get educated. Bravo then throws a monkey wrench into the story, and repeats the same story with the same art, but this time its entire meaning becomes repurposed thanks to new, depraved dialogue. It's a hilarious mirror image, cleverly designed and perfectly delivered. Bravo's approach to making comics and his particular interests make him part of a continuum of politically charged artists, one that didn't have a particular representative in MOME. His humanity, his cleverness and the way he solves problems on the page make him yet another great choice for this anthology.
Lewis Trondheim: Trondheim is one of my favorite cartoonists in the world, so it was a special treat to see his story "At Loose Ends". This 75 page story was serialized in MOME #6, 7 and 8 and worked surprisingly well getting split into three parts. The story is autobiographical with a particular but personal focus. Trondheim had just turned 40 at the time he was creating the strip, and had just decided to end one of his long-running series and stop drawing another. This led him to wonder about the relationship between aging, creating art and depression. The story consists of a long series of ruminations and interviews with other artists about the creative process, and if there's a connection between being a cartoonist and winding up miserable. Trondheim's autobiographical stories always have a great deal of wit and playfulness mixed in with his observations and ruminations--both in his visuals and his ideas.
For example, he debates his ideas with an imaginary audience--and then kills them in brutal ways when they disagree with him. His line turns from realistic to cartoony to hyperexaggerated in the space of just a few panels, keeping the reader off-balance. There's also an amusing sequence where we see him confront Lapinot (McConey in English), his franchise character that he just killed off. Lapinot is resentful that he was a victim of Trondheim's mid-life crisis, but the artist is terrified of getting into a rut, a safe routine that would reduce his work to mere craft, not art.
Trondheim not only doesn't really come to a definitive conclusion, he also builds in every critique imaginable against this endeavor. He acknowledges that the whole exercise is self-indulgent and bourgeois in that many artists would love to be in his position--having a long & successful career. He acknowledges the possibility that there's no connection between age, depression and cartooning through the arguments of many others, even if he can't quite shake the notion himself. He acknowledges that while he raises and discusses important points, his exploration is incomplete and doesn't apologize for it ("I'm not a sociologist").
"At Loose Ends" by its very nature wasn't as funny as the LITTLE NOTHINGS collection that NBM published, but if anything the art is even freer and looser. While Trondheim alludes to it briefly, it's drawing from life and nature that keeps him going as an artist. There are many pages where he abandons his cartoony style to focus in on a countryside or animal, and it's clear that the pure act of drawing still brings him pleasure. While the trappings of being a professional storyteller can be draining, the mere fact that he felt compelled to publish a meditation on the possibility of creation as a comic proves that he has a lot more to say as an artist. For Trondheim, drawing and writing are equally important parts of an inseparable process. He feels compelled to participate in that process simply because he looks at, lives in and interacts with the world.
Al Columbia: Columbia is a phenomenal talent who has only published a tiny handful of his work. As such, it's a treat to see bits and pieces from his deranged imagination. He's always combined cartooning chops that are second to none, capable of drawing in any style, with disturbing, nightmarish imagery that has a visceral impact. MOME #7 features a series of drawings called "Chopped-Up People", which describes them to a T. Some of the figures are realistic and others are 20's style cartoon characters, but they all are flayed, maimed or disemboweled. "Fucking Felix" in #8 is exactly what it sounds like--a cartoon character walking into a room where he has rough sex with Felix the Cat. The juxtaposition of the familiar cartoon cat in this truly awful position (especially since he initially was in love with the long-necked, pear-shaped man who walked in) is almost painful to read.
"Pim & Francie" in #9 featured the cartoon children getting ground up and eaten in a Hansel & Gretel scenario as Francie is trying to stay as cheerful as possible. #10 has a creepy kitten on the cover that he drew specifically for that issue, while #11's "5:45am" is perhaps his most disturbing contribution of all. The reader silently moves from room to room in a house where that weird early-morning light is starting to infiltrate it. The reader is slightly taken aback when we see a length of rope attached to a headboard, and then stunned when we see a woman on a couch who has clearly been strangled by what looks like a scarf wrapped around her neck. Who did this and why this happened is left as a mystery. Columbia's solo comics have never exactly been my cup of tea, but seeing his enormous talent on display in an anthology like this adds a completely different dimension to the proceedings. An anthology editor wants a variety of styles and viewpoints, and there's no question that Columbia brings a singular talent and perspective to MOME. Like any good team, Columbia makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Eleanor Davis: Davis is one of the youngest cartoonists in MOME, but one can sense the enormous amount of thought that goes into her comics. They have an earthy quality to them, favoring browns, yellows and reds when she uses color. The subject matter is also earthy in its own way, dealing with sex, death and mysteries. Davis' stories are often situated in a fantasy setting of sorts, but more along the lines of the Brothers Grimm than what we think of as genre fantasy today. There's a certain creepiness and menace that pervades her stories, and they contain a subtext that ranges from ambivalence to something far more unsettling.
Her debut story in MOME #6, "Seven Sacks", introduces us to her imaginative and expressive character design, which often borders on the grotesque. A ferryman takes assorted awful-looking creatures across a river, each more horrific than the next. Each creature carries a sack, some of which are still moving. We never learn exactly what they're doing or what's in the sacks, but it's implied that there's some kind of mass human sacrifice. The clearly disturbed ferryman tries to talk himself into thinking that it was just rabbits in the sacks, but it's clear that he can't stop thinking about it. In #7, "Stick and String" sees a guitar player seduces a wild woodland woman-creature to follow him home thanks to the music he plays, but he soon realizes that she is more creature than woman when she scratches at the window later that night. Davis moves subtly here--the woman doesn't devour him or something obvious like that, but instead Davis shows the man with a dawning understanding that he's gotten himself into a situation he can't handle.
"Thomas The Leader" in #8 is another unsettling tale that gets at the heart of how brothers interact and roughhouse, with an ending that finds both brothers understanding that things went a little too far. Once again, Davis has an ambiguous ending where the main character has undergone an experience that changes the way they look at the world and themselves, and not really for the better. How exactly each character will ultimately process this is left unsaid, which is why her story endings have such a quiet power. "10,000 Rescues" is a comparatively light-hearted effort, putting two girl adventurers through all sorts of amusing peril as Davis only shows the climactic scenes of their escapades. I've followed Davis' career since her art-school days, and her strong sense of character, setting and the language of comics have made her one to watch for quite some time. Like some of the other younger cartoonists in MOME, she's definitely risen to the occasion and has contributed some of the very best work of her career.
Ray Fenwick: I've reviewed the Fenwick collection HALL OF BEST KNOWLEDGE, but I was introduced to his "calligraphic comics" through MOME. His earlier efforts are like little comedic sneak-attacks with ornate decorative touches. "Tough and Shocking Love", for example, uses a repeating motif of offering love to a kitten ("tough and shocking love") and then using a "surprise attack" by saying boo to it. There's also some pathos to his work as well, as in "The Saddest Wizard", a one-pager where a magician summons spirits because "I, your fleshborn master, am going through a real tough patch right now and could use a bit of a boost!" His strips in MOME #9 look like they were drawn on the back cover of old cloth-bound hardcovers; one strip, printed on a sky-blue background, is entitled "The Message". A floating balloon carries a note that simply says, "Fuck You And Your Blog".
MOME #10 has "The Five Oracles of Gossip", another sardonic piece combining ancient folklore with supermarket tabloid headlines ("In a river of flowing lava, the Moaning Skull of Kilauea draws strength from the searing wind and provides updates on the failing relationships of b-list celebrities.") MOME #11's "The Truth Bear" is yet another dadaesque entry, this time as a more traditional comic strip. A bear debates a talking truth stick, with both parties trying to convince the other to help them with their respective quests (eating everything in sight, seeking the truth), with the stick fibbing in the end in an attempt to get what it wants. Fenwick is a unique talent whose comics in MOME operate as sort of interstitial pieces that act as breaks between longer strips, brief shocks to the system that are funny, weird and beautiful.
Anders Nilsen: Nilsen's comics have been some of my favorites in MOME, using mixed-media in some strips and a totally stripped-down approach in others. They've been some of the most challenging strips in an anthology whose initial aim was accessibility for a general audience. His last couple of stories focused on ontological concerns, simultaneously engaging in the struggle to come to grips with the concept of being and mocking that effort. In "The Notary" (MOME #6), Nilsen's blank-faced figure does a monologue set against a world atlas about belief and doubt, checking "calculations" to see if his scheme can work. In "It's Okay, You Have Everything You Need" (MOME #7), we see two of Nilsen's blank-faced figures. One is haranguing the other about not being able to get over something and asks what he wants--until the scene is flipped and we realize that the first person is the one who needs help. There's a certain desperation in this scene as we see the first figure vibrate with what appears to be grief and anxiety, while the second figure stoically and quietly waits to give his solace. There's an emotional rawness to his work (especially everything he's done since DON'T GO WHERE I CAN'T FOLLOW) that he is able to bring into sharp relief with his blank characters. Nilsen is one of the most versatile artists in comics today, fully integrating his background as a conceptual artist with a strong understanding of the language of comics.
David Heatley: The bad news for Heatley fans is that he won't be finishing his "Overpeck" story in the pages of MOME and will instead be publishing the whole story with a book publisher. The good news is that he finished strong in MOME #6 and #7, which featured more of his disturbing dream comics. In #6, Heatley employs his cartoony style in dreams about Iraq, his father and his wife. In each, Heatley is dealing with fears of being judged, the nature of his relationship with his wife, and the warped logic of his father in a dream. In #7, in "Office Building" and "Uncle Tom's", Heatley grapples with disorder and mayhem in his life, which both dovetail closely with sex and sexuality along with a fear of aging. What sets his dream comics apart from others is the sense of how bold he is in presenting even the most disturbing or perverse images from his unconscious, all while presenting them as narratives that are entirely successful on their own terms with their own logic. Heatley's perspective is a uniquely skewed one, and it's unfortunate that he's moved on from MOME.
Jonathan Bennett: Bennett has a story in MOME #6 ("Dupes") and MOME #8 ("Meditation On The Grid"). Of all the cartoonists in MOME, Bennett's strips tend to be the most inward-leaning. He's very much living in his own head here, whether he's perturbed by discovering what appears to be a doppelganger of himself in a subway car or trancing out on grid patterns. Bennett's interior monologue is interesting because there's almost no possibility or interest in the possibility of communication or interaction in these meditations. While there's a scene where he's talking to his wife, that's only in flashback. Bennett's stories are about a particular set of moments, a particular set of observations in a given time and place. There's an awareness of self and setting that Bennett describes in detail so fine that it takes on the trappings of a phenomenological study.
In my last review of MOME, I wondered how long Bennett could mine this particular storytelling style without repeating himself. I had compared him to a young pitcher plucked off a farm who can throw a 98 mph fastball and noted that he'd need to vary his style somewhat to become a true great. What I've seen from him in his latest contributions is that young fireballer shaking off the signs for a curveball and instead delivering a 105-mph heater. Bennett was successful in these stories by going even further inside his head, removing all trappings of fiction and storytelling expectations and focusing even more on the moment and how it makes him feel. At their essence, his stories focus on his own emotional narrative--how Bennett not only sees the world, but feels about it. Those feelings drive the story as Bennett strives to let the reader crawl into his head as far as they are able, seeing the world through the point of view (in every sense of the phrase) of another.
Andrice Arp: Arp had stories in MOME #7, 9 and 11, all of which are completely unlike the other. "The Hollow Leg" in #7 is a funny dream comic done in what's her loosest, most immediately expressive style. What's funny about this comic is that it's about a dream where she's about to receive some very important information, feels like she's woken up, gets put back to sleep by her partner, wakes up again but is still unable to figure out what the message was. However, she finds the whole experience amazing and vows to do a comic about it, but feels like she can't express that thought out loud. Then she wakes for real and realizes "I guess it's not all that amazing"--but the fact that meaning was so elusive to her compelled her to transcribe it into comics form.
"To The Delaware Pilots" in #9 is more of what we've seen from her in earlier issues--adapting colonial America-era broadsides into comics form. This one, from "The Committee for Tarring and Feathering", implores the locals to give that treatment to a certain sea captain for double-crossing them. This story is a quick trifle of a read, but it's always amusing to see Arp run through the paces of creating imagery (often fantastical) that's evocative of that era. The most interesting of her three submissions came in #11, in the form of 4 single-page strips that are discrete yet related. They all involve a humanoid character either in or out of a giant bottle, being confronted by creatures or specters. The first image, titled "The Question Is, 'How Did This Happen?'" sees the character trapped inside a bottle for example. The images are grey and gloomy, but don't evoke dread so much as they do laughter--especially when combined with their titles. The changing nature of MOME makes Arp's approach stand out a little less than it did before, so I've enjoyed seeing her change up what she's doing. I hope to see more experiments like she attempted in #11.
Joe Kimball: Kimball's stories in MOME 8 and 9 are some of the most unusual and visually striking in the anthology to date. I confess that they kind of washed over me after a first reading because of their ambiguity and denseness, but there's certainly a lot to unpack here. Kimball is another rookie to comics, with "Hide & Watch Me" and "The Lifer" being his first published works. He mixes a feathery realistic style with 1920s style cartooning, making heavy use of black & white contrasts. There are also a lot of fantasy elements, like what appears to be time travel and possibly vampirism in "The Lifer" and all sorts of weirdness in "Hide and Watch Me". The latter story is silent, with a sort of narrative table of contents at the beginning. It involves a sorceress in a backwoods cabin, bizarre family relationships, her transformation into a bird, eventual death at the hands of a young boy and the consequences to the world as a result.
Both stories merit repeated readings, as the images start to make more sense as one is able to connect them and see details that were unclear earlier. Kimball's stories have an unsettling quality to them that's different than the sheer visceral fear that Al Columbia inspires; one gets the sense that there is magic and wonder in the worlds he's describing, but that it all comes at a terrible price. His work certainly merits the time needed to fully explore it. His presence, along with Dash Shaw, John Hankiewicz and others, signals that the editors have pretty clearly abandoned the tack of making MOME easily accessible to non-comics readers with standard narratives. It's not quite at the level of KRAMER'S ERGOT-style near-abstraction, but it is much more in line with Fantagraphics anthologies of the past like ZERO ZERO.
Jim Woodring: Woodring's story "The Lute String", published only in Japan prior to this, was serialized in MOME #9-10. This story is a must for any fans of Woodring's characters and it features Frank's friends/pets Pushpaw and Pupshaw. Woodring creates a strange, vibrant world full of cartoony creatures that don't really have a human analogue. That allows him to create his own sense of vibrant, hallucinatory logic in his stories. This story is actually pretty straightforward--Pushpaw and Pupshaw ignore Frank, who needs help digging up an offensive weed. They run off together to create all sorts of mischief, including picking on a smaller animal. They are observed by a powerful but childlike elephant god, who appears on earth to pull the same kind of stunts with them. They are not amused and chase the god, who trips on a rock and falls. A bit piqued, the god deposits the duo on "our" Earth, where they are frightened out of their wits by everything they see, including two children. The god then puts them back on their own world, where they gratefully help out Frank. Back on earth, the two children are inconsolable! Woodring's imagery is so well-designed that it looks less like a drawing and more like a set of photos from an alien world that popped straight out of Woodring's head and onto the page. The only problem came in running it in consecutive issues, because that disturbed the flow of the story, but there really wasn't a better alternative.
Sammy Harkham: Harkham was slated to be one of the original contributors to MOME, but editing KRAMER'S ERGOT and his solo series CRICKETS prevented that. He did manage to contribute a strip to MOME #6, a funny account of an anti-semitic cab driver telling Harkham that Jews control the world and started all wars, and at the end of the ride says "That'll be six bucks, you fucking war-monger". It's the kind of small incidental strip that he's pulled off so well in CRICKETS, but with his own spotlight comic MOME isn't a place that makes sense for him. The irony is that his comics are actually fairly straightforward (especially in terms of narrative), even if his own anthology pushes the limits of what comics can be--and that more straightforward approach was exactly what MOME was going for in its early days.
R. Kikuo Johnson: Johnson is one of the most interesting designers and draftsmen to contribute to MOME, and his oddball contributions have been missed. He'll hopefully be back in the anthology at some point. In issue 6, he contributed four single-page strips, each of them a takeoff on lurid romance comic covers, the funniest being "Love Gazebo". As her "heart pitter-pattered in coital anticipation", the clenching couple's tongues are sloppily (and hilariously) splayed across their faces.
Martin Cendreda: Cendreda got the cover spot for MOME 6, and his story "Hopscotch" was one of his best. This nighttime story of two kids who live in a dumpster was given atmosphere with its midnight blues and deep purples sweeping across each panel. Cendreda's flat, thin line is of the Clowes/Tomine school, though his subject matter and approach was frequently much more whimsical and less distant than those two artists. His particular aesthetic approach will be missed, though Eleanor Davis and Tom Kaczynski both have storytelling concerns that are in the same stylistic ballpark.
Jeffrey Brown: Brown's last story, "Everyday Terrorists" (MOME 6), was typical of his MOME contributions in that he tried to do something a little different from his usual fare, both in terms of the story and its visuals. Brown uses browns and thick blacks in this story in an attempt to heighten its tension. The story is a deliberately melodramatic account of street crime, involving a guy breaking up a purse-snatching and his struggle with the mugger. Brown of course is plenty busy with other projects, putting out books for multiple publishers. Most of his MOME strips weren't his best work, but I did like seeing him experiment and step outside of his comfort zone. Brown's career had already taken off when he started contributing to MOME, so it made sense that he viewed the anthology more as a lab than as a way to showcase himself.
Mike Scheer: Multimedia artist Scheer contributes something that's not exactly comics but is very interesting to look at in MOME #9. They're intricate, detailed ball-point pen drawings that are sort of Jim Woodring-meets-Renee French. They share Woodring's warped, fantastical character design, all twists and turns and bends. They have the same nearly graphomaniacal intensity of French's drawings, giving a sense of extreme realism to a series of subjects that have an almost alien quality. At the same time, these drawings don't inspire the same kind of dread that Woodring and French often create in their readers. Indeed, there's something almost warm and comforting about his cast of characters and a lot of whimsy in his descriptions, like "Conical, scaled creature attempting to will itself into a nineteen seventies television commercial..." This is one of the nice things about an anthology like MOME--it's the perfect place for works that don't otherwise have a real home for publication.
Zak Sally: Sally is mostly concentrating on longer narratives these days, but his adaptation of Brian Evenson's psychological horror story "Dread" is thick with atmosphere. Sally creates that atmosphere ithanks in part to his lettering, which makes sense since the narrator of the story is driven to insanity by the phrase "He no longer resembled me." Sally works in shadows, silhouettes and contrasts, seamlessly meshing word and image to transform its original text into a reading experience that creates a visceral feeling of the title feeling. Sally is a high-impact cartoonist who has a way of grabbing a reader by the shoulders and shaking them--or else punching them in the gut. This piece was much stronger than his first MOME entry, so it's unfortunate that he hasn't been able to contribute to the anthology more often. Between running his publishing concern La Mano and his Ignatz series SAMMY THE MOUSE, he does have a lot on his plate.
Dash Shaw: I've reviewed a number of Shaw's comics here, having followed his work since he was at the School of Visual Arts and had his mini series LOVE EATS BRAINS available at Jim Hanley's Universe, and I'm proud to say that I've had a chance to publish his work in Other magazine. Shaw is an interesting mix of aggressive formalist experimentation and an emphasis on the struggle of being human. As such, identity, sexuality and mortality are frequently his running themes, along with the difficulty of communication. In MOME, Shaw has dipped into the genre well a bit with science-fiction trappings for his stories providing a slightly broader but perhaps easier to digest canvas for some of his ideas.
In #10's "Look Forward, First Son of Terra Two", Shaw produces a stunning effort that's one of the best stories ever in MOME. It's a time travel story of sorts, where a man lives his life in reverse, arriving dead at the doorstep of a girl but then springing "back to life" as he ages backwards and everyone else moves forward in time. Shaw's use of color drives the narrative, as the man is in blue and everyone else is in yellow. The man is the Other in the most literal sense in this story, and the completely incompatible communication between the peoples of Terra One and Terra Two, running on reverse timelines, leads to inevitable tragedy. The tragedy comes about strictly because cause and effect become hopelessly mangled as the two peoples attempt to interact. There's a deep sadness and tenderness to this story at its core that anchors Shaw's huge bag of cartooning tricks.
Shaw's "The Galactic Funnels" in #11 is another story tinged with pathos, as a young man is inspired by a particular natural formation in the future (conical funnels in space), is strongly influenced by an artist who creates paintings inspired by them, and later disavows that artist when he starts his own career. The breaking point comes after the young man, Stan Smart, becomes the lover of the artist in question, Don Dak. Dak rejects him after being threatened by his lover's own talent along with a fear of loss of identity--Smart's stealing the ideas that have made him famous. Smart reacts to the rejection by pretending Dak meant nothing to him, both as an artist and person, finally rejecting his own aesthetic point of view later in life. Once again, the wrenching emotional core of the story is augmented but not overwhelmed by Shaw's pyrotechnics with color and composition. Shaw has backed off some of his more oblique past storytelling tendencies but hasn't sacrificed his desire to explore the limits of the comics form.
Robert Goodin: Goodin's work has yet to really grab me for reasons I can't fully articulate. He's a solid but unremarkable craftsman, but his actual stories have left me cold. That said, "The Ten Fools" in MOME #10 was a very funny interpretation of an old legend from India, about a king who sends an adviser out to find ten fools, since he's constantly surrounded by wise men. The adviser then quickly finds eight idiots engaged in a variety of stupid activities (my favorite being the man who buried his gold in the ground using a cloud as a marker), and then brings them back to the king. There's a funny punchline where the adviser proves to be too much of a smartass for his own good. I'll be curious to see what kind of story Goodin has in mind for MOME #12, because this one did have a certain amount of charm.
John Hankiewicz: The inclusion of Hankiewicz's often enigmatic comics is the most direct indicator of MOME's sea change since its debut. Hankiewicz is a true innovator in comics, creating strips that have a rhythm and logic to them that bears a greater resemblance to poetry than conventional comics. His cartooning chops are simply remarkable, going from an almost painfully realistic style to a highly stylized iconic approach sometimes in the same panel. His images are charged with hidden meanings and his stories often require multiple readings to fully absorb.
In MOME #10, his "Success Comes to Westmont, Il" combines narrative captions indicating the narrator's disquiet with the gentrification of his small town with imagery that supports, warps and otherwise provides a different way of thinking about the text. The grotesquely grinning, iconically-rendered couple represents the banality of what he sees, and they seem to have a connection to someone he loves who is hopelessly scarred but in motion (represented by electricity). "Those Eyes" in #11 interpolates an anecdote from the life of jazz vocalist Anita O'Day with an evening spent by that same banal, smiling couple. O'Day's struggles with life outside of music are juxtaposed with the visual shorthand of the couple, dismissing an impassioned but desperate performance. Hankiewicz's stories could not be told as anything but comics, and he's in the rare position of adding to the medium's visual vocabulary in stories that are impossible to classify but demand multiple (and fruitful) readings.
Nate Neal: Neal's first contribution to MOME in issue #11 was quite a debut. "The 5 Simple Cosmic Do Dats" weaves in sex, sitcom tropes, classic comics conventions, underground comix overtones, politics, Jack Chick style tracts and religious crackpots in a series of discrete but interlocking strips. The whole thing winds up coalescing in an explosive but hilarious finale that features a breakdancing tract-peddler. Neal's intricately ridiculous story is a nice complement to creepier fare in this issue like Killoffer's tense black & white story or Al Columbia's still-but-unsettling entry. Neal's line is loose & lively, and it looks like he used colored pencil to create a simple palette (with the exception of one strip deliberately designed to look like a 50's sitcom). His earthy raucousness and sense of humor is also a nice balance to the more reserved strips in the anthology.
Conor O'Keefe: A true comics rookie, O'Keefe's first published comics came in MOME #11. "Shoes" and "Fly" both have a certain Winsor McCay sort of quality to them, containing certain fantasy elements with a deadpan delivery and a clever use of color. Layered on top of this whimsical world full of odd companions and creatures is a certain modern desperation. "Shoes" is an advertisement disguised as a narrative fable, with the title objects breaking into the narrative in a sort of product placement that actually winds up driving the story. "Fly" interpolates scientific diagrams with the hero of the story talking to a fly trying in vain to escape out of a window. O'Keefe is yet another great find for MOME, and I hope to see him contribute to the anthology extensively. The addition of cartoonists like Shaw and O'Keefe brings a very different kind of aesthetic viewpoint to the anthology, one that isn't afraid to explore genre tropes and rework them to new ends.
Killoffer: Known as a co-founder of French comics collective L'Association, Killoffer has little work published in America. His brutal and visceral self-examination 676 APPARITIONS OF KILLOFFER was a stunning work, and his entry here in MOME #11, "Einmal Ist Keinmal" is along those lines. Killoffer is a master of black and white contrasts on his pages, giving them a stark and immediate impact on the viewer's eye. The story concerns a woman who keeps seeing the same man's face on every male she happens to encounter. The face is nasty and loutish, even threatening. Interestingly, the only time she sees another kind of male face (an attractive one) is in a dream. There is quite a memorable sequence where she's about to give the dream man a blow-job; as he gets erect, we see that the head of the penis is the head of the man she's been seeing all along! After being called into a police lineup to potentially identify a killer (who all look like the same man to her), she winds up finding his dead body in her bathtub. There's a good bit of ambiguity to this ending--did she murder a lecherous, dangerous man and repress it? Did someone else find the body and put it there? Her lack of surprise at seeing the body and her subsequent reaction (calmly putting on lipstick even though she was nude) seems to indicate something along the lines of the former. It's quite an affecting story by an artist who will return for MOME #12.