Friday, August 2, 2013

Out With A Bang: Mome #22

The final issue of Mome is understandably all over the place, as Eric Reynolds wanted to encourage as many of its contributors as possible to submit a piece for the finale but also had a gaggle of new cartoonists he wanted to include as well. Given the new roster of cartoonists he published in this issue, I could have easily seen Mome go on for another dozen issues, replenishing its talent pool as older artists bowed out. I hope that Reynolds sees fit to do an occasional "Mome Annual" in the future, especially since Fantagraphics doesn't have a flagship anthology at the moment.

The last issue sees several more episodes of serials, many of which unfortunately did not get a chance to finish up. Kurt Wolfgang hilariously addresses that problem head on with his latest installment of "Nothing Eve." Right in the middle of this episode, Wolfgang (inexplicably depicted as a talking dog) yells "cut" and sends his characters home since Mome is ending. It goes on from there: dog-editor Reynolds informing Wolfgang that Mome was being cancelled because no one likes his comics, dog-publisher Gary Groth demanding zombies and hookers to liven up the series, and (best of all) Jordan Crane being brought in to write exactly the ending that Groth wants. Wolfgang is finishing up the real ending now for a Fantagraphics book, but this ending reminded me a bit of his Low-Jinx days, when he would cleverly savage everyone in comics (especially himself).

I don't have much to say about the other serials in this issue, like the Michael Jada/Derek von Gieson "Devil Doll", Ted Stearn's latest Fuzz 'n Pluck epic "The Moolah Tree", T. Edward Bak's "Wild Man" or Josh Simmons/Shaun Partridge's "The White Rhinoceros". I've discussed each of these at length in prior reviews. Bak completely reworked "Wild Man" into a book that will be out in the fall of 2013, and he notes that "it's a completely different work." I really hope someone picks up the demented Simmons/Partridge story. Speaking of Simmons, he also contributes a lovely one-pager that's essentially a series of happy endings about a group of friends meeting their maker.

At nearly 250 pages, Mome 22 must have been an enormous challenge for Reynolds to whip into something that had any kind of flow. Thanks to its size and variety of material, this issue indeed lurches back and forth, with some of the serials providing particular screeching halts. Reynolds clever gets around this to an extent by using a series of Steven Weissman strips as interstital material, giving the anthology a number of rest stops to cleanse one's aesthetic palate. These strips, featuring the members of Guns N Roses working in a deli, are some of the funniest comics I've ever seen by Weissman. With titles like "Chinese Chicken Salad Democracy" and "Appetite For Delicatessen", Weissman piles on the crazy in strip after strip, especially with his star character, the guitarist Slash. I could read a book's worth of these.

Many of the returning regulars turned in some of their best work for this volume. Eleanor Davis' "Nita Goes Home" stands as one of the best five or ten stories published in Mome. It fits snugly into most of her themes, involving family and the ways in which women relate to each other, transplanted to a futuristic setting. The colors are bright and deliberately stylized, reflecting a future where the air is toxic but family relationships are still a matter of push-and-pull. There's a wistfulness to this story that reflects a woman coming back to where she was raised after having rejected it for a life as an artist and natural farmer, a bittersweet quality that reflects the experience of dealing with her father dying. The scene where the titular Nita and her sister, each wearing a cocoon-like anti-toxicity suit, spread their father's ashes out across the land and then weep wracking sobs into each other's arms. It's both absurd and totally heartfelt, a reflection of the way humanity can trump technology. I'm hoping this and her other excellent Mome contributions will make it into her upcoming Fantagraphics collection.

The other top-notch submissions by returning artists included stories by Joseph Lambert, Laura Park and Tom Kaczynski. I reviewed the Kaczynski story, "Music For Neanderthals", elsewhere. Lambert's "Lists of Lasts" continues his considerable leap as a storyteller, taking the intensely detailed and hyperkinetic stories about kids and once again transplanting that concept into a darker, deeper setting. In this story, two young boys suddenly have total freedom in their house and decide to make lists of things they have, as Lambert slowly reveals the apocalyptic reasons why they have this freedom. Lambert's creative use of lettering takes on an especially crucial role in the story telling. Park's "George" is a delightfully creepy little noir story about an unassuming man who secretly blows up movie theaters as a sociopathic way of lodging his protest against modern civilization. As always, her character design and sheer drawing skill are impeccable.

There were nearly a dozen other stories by past and recent Mome regulars that were also quite good. The always dependable Nate Neal's "Death" was his cheerfully morbid take on the end, focusing on the absurdity and inevitability of it all through the use of randomly named characters. Sara Edward-Corbett's "The Fanciful Companion" was typical of her melding of childhood whimsy and cruelty, drawn with her delicate line. Lilli Carre's "Into The Night" is another of her mysteries; she loves spinning yarns about unexplained and strange compulsions that appear without warning; This time, it was a sound in the middle of the night that had a slightly different effect on everyone, but it was something that could not be entirely ignored. There's a delicacy to her line as well, though it's put to slightly more abstract ends. Tim Hensley's "Sir Alfred" is a series of hilarious strips about the late, great film director Alfred Hitchcock. Hensley really gets after the gossipy side of Hitchcock and his many sexual obsessions, along with his impotence. I could have read a book's worth of these, and I was delighted to see Hensley return after finishing up his amazing "Wally Gropius" serial. When Noah Van Sciver was first published in Mome, he was just starting to build up steam as a cartoonist. Now he's entered into a more mature phase of his career, and it's remarkable to see how assured and funny his "Roommates" is. Van Sciver loves depicting toxic, disgusting and generally reprehensible relationships, and this short & sweet story really gets at that essence. Joe Kimball's story was another bizarre and immaculately drawn bit of visceral weirdness, while Sergio Ponchione provided another of his rubbery and fun Dr Hackensack adventures. Tim Lane's "Belly Gunner" abandoned his usual interest in life on the American road and instead flashed back to the possibility of instant death as a plane gunner in World War II, drawn in his usual naturalistic but fluid style.

Three of the original Mome artists returned for the finale (along with Wolfgang, who never stopped contributing): Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen and Paul Hornschemeier. Hornschemeier's main contribution to Mome was his serial "Life With Mr Dangerous", which was later collected. In #22, he contributes an interview with Amy, the main character from that story, revealing influences and generally finding ways to talk about the story. It's a little gift for long-time readers of his. Nilsen contributes one of his funny and philosophical photo comics, the kind that make up his "Monologue" books. Bell, who was another MVP of this series, contributes a funny fantasy comic called "Unlucky", which sees her unable to get into a club where a party held in her honor was being staged. Things just get worse from there, as her evening and fortunes unravel bit by bit. It's a fitting final story for the anthology, as she was on the cover of the very first issue.

Eight artists made their debuts in this issue of Mome. Chuck Forsman's story "Francis", about a young man dealing with his own insecurities and his inability to cope with the fact that his mother was dying, was typically excellent. It's in turns crude, heartfelt and bubbling over with barely-contained and confusing emotions for its main character, who doesn't quite know how to express them. Forsman nails that feeling of being close to losing a close family member where that relationship is strained. Most of the newer artists worked in a more fantastic fashion, like Jesse Moynihan's excellent "Simon Magus". Moynihan has a knack for staging big, dumb battles between godlike beings who nonetheless have all the emotions and frailties of a human, but does it in a deliberately stiff and color-drenched manner. Malachi Ward's approach is a bit more restrained, but he also likes to use science-fiction settings to depict man's essential savagery, showing that the line between man and savage is a thin one indeed. James Romberger's "Loving Bin Laden" is reality based tale that quickly veers into fantasy, as a woman dreams of having an affair with the notorious terrorist after 9/11. Romberger is an incredible artist who makes great use of color in this bracing, bizarre story. Finally, Victor Kerlow's "Oh Man" is one of his fantastical stories of a man being devoured by invading vines, Nick Drnaso' "Keith or Steve" is a curiously flat story about a nobody who nonetheless takes on great significance for the narrator, while Jim Rugg's one-pager pokes gentle fun at serials by being an "original page" from a comic called "Suburban Love Tales".

Eric Reynolds managed to publish over 2,600 pages of comics in six years, and he did a fine job of recruiting new talent and shaping each issue in order to keep it coming out on time. For any serial publication, even one aimed at bookstores like Mome, keeping a regular schedule is key to it lasting any length of time. I think the key to Mome surviving was the combination of Reynolds' singular taste as an editor and flexibility. I know that the comics by David B and Lewis Trondheim may not have been in his particular wheelhouse as a reader, but he listened to the advice of Kim Thompson and published them in Mome because they would draw in readers and provide a home to material that would not otherwise appear anywhere else in English. He was a tough editor who could demand that young artists step up their game when submitting material, though there were times that some of his veteran artists didn't always submit their best stuff. I found Sophie Crumb's presence in Mome to be especially frustrating when she half-assed a story, or when Jeffrey Brown didn't seem to be saving his good stuff for Mome. On the other hand, he greatly nurtured the careers of Gabrielle Bell, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Lilli Carre', Tim Hensley and many other cartoonists who made it a point to really do their best for each issue. Mome wasn't necessarily avant-garde in the way that Kramer's Ergot is, but it reflected the rise of the alt-comics scene from its new blossoming around 2000 to the explosion of young talent present today. Reynolds was the steward of much of this talent, as so many cartoonists aspired to be in Mome, and the comics scene now lacks a similar guidepost for young artists. That's why I hope Reynolds will consider going back to producing a new anthology that returns to Mome's roots and rotates in the best of the younger cartoonists on the scene today. Even if he doesn't, he produced a body of work that is lasting and produced some of the best short stories of the past decade.

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