All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009 (Fantagraphics)

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sundry-header.jpgThis collection of works by Paul Hornschemeier is half-short stories, half-sketchbook, and all worth reading.

 

 

208 pages FC; $29.99 hardcover

(W / A: Paul Hornschemeier)

 

Paul Hornschemeier excels at a sort of cryptic-cute comic that is better read than described. It's a blend of darkness and sharply delineated perfectionism that, whether he likes it or not, sometimes brings to mind his Chicago contemporary Chris Ware.

What he knows, though, is that he can go places Ware can't—Hornschemeier's style is every style. His drawings alternately channel Danny Hellman, "Schoolhouse Rock," Lucian Freud, B. Kliban, and Arnold Roth. Not unlike Dan Clowes, he particularly excels at drawing schmucks, and by this, he makes us feel that we are all schmucks (and of course, we are).

Click for a larger image.His diversity of styles is most apparent in All and Sundry: Uncollected Work 2004-2009, a collection of book and magazine illustrations, posters, T-shirts, CD covers, and work for ‘zines, art shows, and comics. The second half of the volume is sketchbook/journal/convention reproductions, and here is where the reader truly sees his mind at work. Drawings of absurd creatures, dream images, Cubist experiments, people sitting near him in restaurants, caricatures, friends, etc. float around philosophical musings about films, comments overheard, family memories, etc. It's just a stew of stuff that, like the best sketchbooks, offers an intimate invitation to spy on the ramblings of a formidable creative.

Much of it is very tightly controlled. The experimentation that resulted in these visions would seem to have been left on the cutting-room floor, or erased, maybe. The same measure of exacting control is part and parcel of the book's first half, the finished projects. This guy's id is reined in by an unyielding superego, or, his right-brain is not unfettered by his left-brain, if you prefer. It's a level of self-control and perfectionism worthy of Martha Stewart. (For an example of this, compare Hornschemeier's journal to the recently published journals of Art Spiegelman. The latter lets the messiness of his mind run riot.) 

When his writing and art are clicking, as in "U.S. Grant," a strip shown at a Parisian gallery, it's just terrific. It imagines General Grant faced with a decision that will likely cost the lives of thousands of Union troops. Pondering what to do, the future president has a boozy fever dream of a giant two-headed horse god that judges him, among other phantasms. It's rendered just as sharply as can be on Bristol board, which adds to a certain inchoate vibe.

Another highlight, a surprisingly funny account of accepting a less-than-ideal honorarium to speak at a college is reprinted from Fantagraphics' always-intriguing Mome quarterly. In Hornschemeier's suspiciously autobiographical-sounding tale, the guest speaker has his revenge when he delivers a brief, improvisational speech to the students about a meaningless dream, punctuated by an exhortation to drink and screw as often possible during the remainder of their college experience. The illustrations are minimal, but the tale's focus on matters pelvic—farting, bowel movements, and sex—puts the whole guest-speaker racket into its proper perspective.

As satisfying as these pieces were, the collection's sketchbook-page reproductions were a richer experience for me, a sort of shotgun blast of random fun, as opposed to the precise rifle shots of the other half. The whole package will have a particular appeal for artists and comics creators. It's awfully professional. | Byron Kerman

Click here for more information and a 12-page excerpt from All and Sundry, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

 

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