MOME Summer 2007 (Fantagraphics)

momeheaderThe latest volume in Fantagraphics' avant garde anthology series continues its surreal streak.

 

 

120 pgs. B&W, some color; $14.95 softcover

(W / A: various)

 

The new MOME anthology of avant garde comics from Fantagraphics is out. Here are some adjectives to describe it: primal, surreal, cryptic, self-reflexive, vulgar, confusing, clever, and blue.

 

That's blue, as in a stand-up comedian unafraid to go to a sick, dark place. That's where Frenchman Emile Bravo goes in "Young Americans," a strip that pulls the rug out from under the reader and buggers him while he's lying there stunned. (Here comes the SPOILER, kids!) Bravo draws the same 4-page strip twice. In the first telling, the balloons relate the tale of a high-school baseball hero with an intellectual girlfriend, and an alcoholic father. The girlfriend has a heart-to-heart talk with the father — it seems they're both frustrated liberals drowning in the McCarthyist mores of the 1950s. Together, they agree to work on the baseballer to give him culture and sensitivity. Then, boy oh boy, the story is told again, only this time the balloons tell a tale of nonstop blowjobs, orgies, porn and violence. It's not just a clever feat to use the same panels twice, it's a savage blow to the reader who takes sustenance from witty, thoughtful comics. It's the comics equivalent of the John Goodman character in Barton Fink suddenly showing his true colors, setting fire to a hotel hallway, grabbing an axe, and bellowing "I will show you the life of the mind!" Bravo lets us navel-gaze, and then he lets us have it.

 

Much more to the point is Al Columbia's one-off riff on Felix the Cat. A whistling dandy saunters up to the grinning cat, unzips his fly, and proceeds to violate the feline's every hole. I won't reveal the punchline except to say that it's a joke inspired by the Felix cartoons. The comic reads like a Tijuana Bible, but a genuinely funny one.

 

The cover to MOME Summer 2007. Click thumbnail for a larger image.MOME caters to comics creators themselves, and that's especially apparent in "At Loose Ends, Part 3," in which Lewis Trondheim goes a-questing for an answer to the question "Why do cartoonists age badly?" He interviews a score of legendary European cartoonists, including Heavy Metal's resident geopolitical maven, Enki Bilal, and Tintin creator Hergé, and reports back — at length — in graphic form. "At Loose Ends," like the interview with gifted young artist Eleanor Davis, may be largely of interest to fellow comics-makers.

 

The comic by Davis, however, shows off her yen for a kind of primal, reptilian-cortex storytelling that cuts to the quick. In "Stick and String," a minstrel wanders through the forest, idly plucking his guitar, when he comes upon a firelight ritual of sylvan creatures dancing and making odd noises. His winsome plucking leads a mute dryad to follow him to his cabin. She suddenly gets scared, but once again, he calms her with his music, and soon they're in bed together. The story is entirely pre-verbal, with the deep, animal power that implies. Davis has an almost naïve way of toying with sex, violence, and death, and joining them in a hell of a tale that belies her young age (24).

 

Other highlights include Jonathan Bennett's "Meditation on the Grid," about a topic I've never seen addressed in a comic before: the quiet thrill of dropping into a mental fugue state, and Tom Kaczynski's clever, grim dystopia, "10,000 Years." There's also a Sophie Crumb piece inspired by a violent dream that has a juvenile, drawn-in-study-hall look.

 

As is the case with such other anthologies as Buenaventura Press' Kramers Ergot, MOME can be oblique and cryptic. Like intriguing poetry, it benefits from repeated readings. As with any anthology, your mileage may vary.

 

It's worth noting that my copy of MOME came with a postcard insert explaining Fantagraphics' take on Harlan Ellison's latest lawsuit / attempt to bankrupt the comics company, with an appeal for donations. The lawsuit was settled in August of 2007, and Fantagraphics is no longer accepting donations for what would have been a costly legal battle. That's great news. | Byron Kerman

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