As the thaw comes...

MOME Vol. 7 (Spring 2007)

If all goes right in the world, you should find this book on store shelves today.

This is a transitional issue of Fantagraphics’ fixed-roster anthology, in that the ‘fixed’ roster has become even more unfixed than usual. Some contributors have departed entirely, including Martin Cendreda, Jeffrey Brown, Gabrielle Bell and Anders Nilsen. The latter two present final stories (indeed, Nilsen is this volume’s feature interview subject), while the former pair simply vanish. There’s also the expected delays in the regular serials - Paul Hornschemeier’s Life with Mr. Dangerous and Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius are promised to return in the next volume, while David Heatley’s Overpeck is now set to conclude in Vol. 9, although Heatley does contribute a few of his typical dream comics and Hornschemeier delivers a short piece of reflective comics (and a two-page prose story so twee as to border on unreadable).

Other serials do continue, like Kurt Wolfgang’s Nothing Eve (an increasing pleasure of observational comedy, even considering the end-of-the-world premise), and Sophie Crumb’s Lucid Nightmare. The centerpiece continues to be Lewis Trondheim’s At Loose Ends, now in part 2 of 3, in which the artist continues to interrogate his peers and colleagues and predecessors about growing old in comics. A handy glossary of names and terms is provided, which most readers will probably need, but having to flip back and forth to a text supplement does remarkably little to disturb Trondheim’s affectingly churlish anxiety over life’s inevitabilities.

But the new material in this edition of MOME -- which is to say the material from new contributors -- is actually quite fascinating, quite diverse, enough so that the book takes on more of an air of renewal than anything. Heaven knows the mere presence of Al Columbia in the book is likely to catch some people’s eyes, and while he doesn’t offer so much of a story as a collection of themed drawings (Chopped-Up People), there’s little denying that Columbia’s mixed-approach, animation-inspired frenzies of joyful bodily harm, big smiles on every face as knives are brandished and entrails spill from bellies, are completely his own.

In terms of storytelling, this volume’s other new contributors are similarly effective in their uniqueness. Eleanor Davis wouldn’t be the first MOME contributor to delve into fantasy/mythical storytelling -- both David B. and Andrice Arp have explored that ground in prior editions -- but her Seven Sacks is far more quiet and subtly menacing than the works of prior contributors. It’s a simple 12-page tale about a ferryman in a seemingly enchanted wood taking his passengers from one side of a river to the other, beginning with a little talking fox-thing bearing a strange sack. But the passengers, and their identical sacks, become gradually more menacing (though they never menace the ferryman), and the situation more ominous, although the ferryman can never totally understand what objective he’s helping to accomplish through his tiny contribution. His anxiety is never stated, but it’s visually made evident through the increasing size of his passengers, threatening to capsize the boat as he presses forward.

It’s a lovely little story, understated yet highly potent. Davis’ art is delicately shaded in autumnal, rusty hues, her character art somewhat reminiscent of Sammy Harkham’s in its emphasis on the fleshiness of the human form, the apparent pliability of people in both a physical and (impliedly) emotional sense. Her monsters are imaginative, even cute, though always just creepy enough that we always understand what those grinning teeth and long arms are for, and they work in successful contrast with the doughy texture of Davis’ ferryman. If he’s become part of a morally questionable system, the art never loses sight of the conditions that would make his compliance possible, perhaps necessary. A very nice demonstration of what can be said without saying anything.

And on the other side of things, we have Tom Kaczynski (this is amusingly made literal - Davis opens the book and Kaczynski closes it). In many ways, his eight-page 100,000 Miles seems typically semi-autobiographical and descriptive. But Kaczynski isn’t so much interested in presenting ‘scenes from life’ or disarming dialogues so much as crafting a visual essay about highways and cars and cities, and what they represent to the human condition on a symbolic level. A non-stop narration plugs itself atop every panel, as we glimpse scenes from a man’s drive to work, as well as his own memories and wide views of his surroundings.

The narration is booming and direct as to its message. We are conditioned to see the car and the road as metaphors for freedom and exploration, but that’s an illusion - most roads lead to consumption and dehumanized toil, the vehicle more effectively an icon for prison, or perhaps a coffin, the city centers and suburban flight of mankind growing across the land like warts on the skin, “The lungs of the city infected by the agents of its creation. The car virus masquerading as panacea.”

In this city everyone has a terminal condition.”

Some might feel it’s a bit much, but I loved the hectoring, Sgt. Friday tone of the narration, perfectly joined with Kaczynski’s sickly green, ink-tight visuals, his human figures nearly as stiff as the metal that clogs the roads, all the better to demonstrate the dehumanizing element of men made machines. It’s polemical, but its careful interplay between word and picture makes it a sharp, intuitive, entertaining lecture.

All of this bodes well for MOME's future, although you don't have to wait for future editions to get more of Davis and Kaczynski. Besides their individual sites, both have several minicomics in stock at the USS Catastrophe Shop. Explore around.

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