I got tasty popcorn and coffee for the holiday.

*My presents are opened, so Christmas is over. Reason for the season - GONE.

MOME Vol. 6: Winter 2007

Obviously the big draw for this new issue of Fantagraphics’ ongoing anthology series, with a semi-fixed roster that seems markedly less fixed with every new volume, is the new Lewis Trondheim serial, At Loose Ends, which will run through Vol. 8. Well, I guess ‘serial’ is not entirely accurate, since L’Association released the project as a single volume in early 2005 under the title Désoeuvré (reviewed by Derik Badman), but if you can’t read French it’s both new and a serial to you. And while the too-few contributions of one David B. remain the gold standard of MOME special guests handily outshining the regular contributors -- probably an inevitable situation when you pair up a bunch of mostly young and/or less-exposed creators with one or two seasoned, acclaimed veterans -- Trondheim’s contribution nonetheless emerges as the high point of this particular tome.

But I’d have a few reservations about recommending Trondheim’s 20-page contribution to just anyone. At Loose Ends is a very particular type of sketchbook-style autobiographical comic, one entirely fixated on its author’s other works and his overall career in comics. It’s essentially a self-exposé on why Trondheim stopped drawing Dungeon (Donjon) and concluded his McConey (Lapinot) series, and why he’s been saying he’s ‘retired’ from comics since 2004. As such, a preexisting interest in Lewis Trondheim comics would be very helpful, as would a working familiarity with some of the more common bande dessinée authors of note (though Fantagraphics kindly includes a bonus glossary of names for those less familiar, complete with info on who’s been published in English by whom). It may, however, prove compelling enough to hook entirely unacclimated readers through sheer force of craft and disclosure and comedy, if those readers are generally interested in comics artists fretting about their work and having conversation with other artists about aging and becoming irrelevant. And if they want to see Lewis Trondheim crush a man’s head under his boot.

There is certainly a high level of craft present. As I noted above, this is a loose, sketchbook-type story, one without panel borders or an excess of gloss. But Trondheim is too talented to let that get in the way of a few impressive landscapes and gorgeously expressive character art (everyone is drawn in a ‘funny animal’ style, in case you didn’t know). Plus, it gives him extra freedom to play with icons and such, which is necessary since the story is set up as a lecture/rant in which Trondheim presents to an occasionally-seen audience his theories on how comics artists decline as they grow old. A somewhat world-weary, even rueful tone is at work; Trondheim killing members of his audience is a recurring motif, and the specter of irrelevance is prominent throughout. He composes a list of creators who met with bad ends or fled the art in their latter years, takes a gratuitous jab at Alejandro Jodorowsky, literally turns his back on his most famous creation (who rises from the grave to nag him), and at one point tears down one of his own theories mid-explanation, finding it suddenly unsatisfactory.

The scent of improvisation rises from the work; part of the comedy is that Trondheim’s day-to-day accounting of events can’t quite keep up with things like setting (“Huh. Now we’re on the train.”) while the author is busy raving about artistic decline. One gets the feeling that the work is at least partially intended as self-criticism, the outside elements rising up to confront Trondheim prominent enough that one can’t help but feel he realizes that he’s being a little silly. Regardless, he’s undeniably compelling at silliness.

The rest of MOME is the usual mixed bag, generally striking in visual skill while sometimes lacking in storytelling flavor. Of the self-contained stories, Gabrielle Bell’s is probably the best, a sweet little set of associations between nature and parenting. Anders Nilsen does one of those arch, illustrated monologues that I believe his book Monologues for the Coming Plague is composed of. Émile Bravo applies some impressive visual storytelling skill to a wordless story that serves to make some of the most crashingly obvious points about the Israel/Palestine conflict one can possibly imagine, though at least the jokes are good. I’ve basically given up on following the serials volume-to-volume, though Kurt Wolfgang’s Nothing Eve does sort-of work as a single chapter, and promises better things for the completed project. There’s other stuff that largely failed to register.

Except, of course, for Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius, a continuing story composed of quick bursts of pages scattered between other features (Hensley is also this volume's interview subject). It’s basically a non sequitur-laden evocation of old ‘teen’ comics (the art is evocative of John Stanley’s Thirteen Going on Eighteen), and... well actually that’s kind of it. But I just loved it; Hensley’s got a great ear for stylized dialogue (“I know the type -- combs his hair with a fork, all halitosis and premature ejaculations.”), and he’s willing to take a questionable joke or routine as far as it can possibly go. And I learned so much about the national anthems of foreign lands in the process! Thank heavens there’s educational comics to keep us all edified while waiting for the next special guest to cruise in to MOME. Next issue: the return of Al Columbia! OMG OMG OMG!