Still Addicted to the Primary; Still Posting the Next Day

MOME Vol. 11 (Summer 2008)

This will be out soon. It's the Fantagraphics house anthology, 104 pages in b&w and color, $14.99, etc. The title's lineup has gotten big enough that contributors now seem to drift in and out at will. No Tim Hensley again this time, although Joe Kimball is due back for Vol. 12, as is David B. with another of his (thus far excellent) mythic/symbolist fantasy tales. Plus: the North American debut of Olivier Schrauwen!

The present Vol. 11 of MOME seems a bit more inclined toward 'pure' visuals than average, perhaps owing to a pair of wordless contributions from otherwise text-friendly artists (not that these pieces make them text-unfriendly, mind you). Eleanor Davis presents The 10,000 Rescues, a four-page suite of panels, four to six of them per page, depicting plucky schoolgirl adventurers Dot and Louisa saving one another from certain doom; whether it be chasms, pirates, imprisonment, large beasts, hypnotism or an oncoming locomotive, every frame is a new salvation.

It's very funny and visually impressive -- I could sure go for Davis drawing entire action sequences now -- and offset nicely by a quartet of full-page Andrice Arp illustrations depicting the weird imprisonment and liberation of floppy-eared wraiths from a glass jar. That's not all - Al Columbia has a beautifully-illustrated (if thematically obvious) four-page study of the banality of a death scene, while Émile Bravo offers another of those icon-laden 'message' stores I never seem to warm up to.

But perhaps the most striking of the wordless pieces doubles as this volume's obligatory 'seasoned veteran' story, the 12-page Einmal Ist Keinmal by L'Association co-founder (Patrice) Killoffer (I think he's the one that popularized Venom, while Trondehim re-launched the X-Men). It was kind of stunning to read in the Notes From the Editors section that Killoffer still has only one book released officially in the US, Typocrat Press' 2005 edition of 676 Apparitions of Killoffer, although I surely haven't helped matters by not reading it yet.

However, I've heard enough about the book to know that Killoffer's story here is somewhat related in style, depicting a woman who struggles to get through her life, despite seeing literally every man she encounters as the same guy: Killoffer. Her co-workers are Killoffer, her boss is Killoffer, a local bum is Killoffer, the President of the United States is Killoffer; even when she dreams, the cute guy she tries to hook up -- a fellow wearing her face -- has Killoffer's head at the tip of his penis. Never has the authorial male gaze been so overt!

Killoffer the artist makes the most of this self-insertion, beginning his story by playfully suggesting via mise en scène that he simply can't draw differing male characters very well, then gradually ratcheting up the surrealism of his concept until aspects of time and space are called into question. The whole thing ultimately convulses into Poe-like horror, with Killoffer's solid whites glaring against solid blacks to feign a universe of duality: male and female, artist and muse, oppressor and oppressed. But nothing's that simple, and the piece thus proves itself as rich as it is attractive.

Elsewhere, some expected features and featureds pop up. Ray Fenwick is interviewed by Gary Groth. Paul Hornschemeier's and Kurt Wolfgang's serials continue; the former remains an ambling excercise in twee melancholy, while the latter, fun as it may be, feels crowded in a five-page drip. Dash Shaw has another nice sci-fi short in pulsing color, this time a parable covering artistic growth and anxiety of influence. The reliably excellent Tom Kaczynski whips up the 14-page Million Year Boom, a fantastical brew of corporate branding, the 'green' economy and wallowing in shit and piss to affect a paradigm shift in marketplace paternalism. This man is going to collect his stories into a big book one day, and heads are going to split open.

But it's maybe a little interesting that the future of MOME, as embodied by this edition's new contributors, seems turned firmly toward the past. Nate Neal won a September 2006 Xeric Grant for his series The Sanctuary and co-founded the anthology Hoax (which featured Eleanor Davis and Dash Shaw in various issues), but his 10-page The 5 Simple Cosmic Do Dats is the first of his work I've seen.

It's one of those things where you appear to be reading a bunch of seperate comic strips at first, but then faces begin to recur, plots line up, and the whole thing finally ties together into a single story. Characters include all sorts of cartoon figures, ranging from humanoid figures to talking animals to odd, company mascot-type entities, all of which walk and talk and have troubles in their lives.

It struck me as very '60s underground-styled, from its 'dirty' takes on gag strips and pop Americana (though much less dirty than a lot of actual underground comics of the time, which may be something on its own) to its well-worn themes of social revolution and spiritual enlightenment. I like Neal's visual style, full of cute cartoon designs with a nice grasp of color, but I can't say the story did much for me. It seemed more a pretty arrangement of familiar elements than anything of unique insight, almost aloof in its study.

More compelling is a pair of works by Conor O'Keefe, a painter making his published comics debut. O'Keefe works in long stretches of panels, evidently in homage to various early 20th century newspaper comics, with stage-bound visual compositions and an often mannered, stiff cadence for dialogue. Most of it is delicately colored in soft tones, save for specific locations or isolated design elements blasted through with bolder hues; it's an intuitive use of color.

A two-page story, for example, doubles as a fake advertisement for shoes, in which a young lad strives to win a girl's heart by giving her a gift - romantic interactions are a faded gray and green and yellow, while the boy's chats with his roommates take on a bolder, franker palette. The opening and closing 'hard sell' bits are a deep, burning red, with an incongruous logo emphasizing the intrusion of capitalism into the story.

O'Keefe's second, one-page story mixes things up even further, juxtaposing panel tiers of poetic musings by the same boy with alternating tiers of omnisciently narrated animation-style frames of a bug romping around and crashing against a window, his dialogue rough and direct in the manner of a spicy Fleischer brothers short. As the two storylines join, it's no wonder that the bounding verve of the bug wins more joy than the boy's handsome sadness.

Again, it's an arrangement of favored techniques from a bygone era, but O'Keefe's work displays a keen understanding of the emotive charges each of his favored elements carries (the 'gay utopia' of fluid animation, perhaps), and he sets them against one another (and outside intrusions!) to comment on the broad strokes of his character motivations. That's the kind of wordless narrative I like to see, and MOME does well as a forum for it.