The Late Shift

MOME 8: Summer 2007

I liked this edition. Let me isolate six points of interest, six stories. And some stuff surrounding them. I liked all of these, in some way.

1. God bless the return of Al Columbia. I was really hoping his return to active comics publication would result in unexpected deviance cropping up more often in the pages of MOME (on a related note, it’s conceded at the top of this edition that David Heatley’s Overpeck is officially on “hiatus”), and just like magic, this issue we’re treated to nine big pages of a flawlessly-drafted Felix the Cat performing graphic sex acts on some goofy-looking guy, complete with big, bouncy, old-timey cartoon sperm burbling from the cat’s maw at the end. Every page is lovingly tweaked and smudged and scratched until it resembles a frame from a vintage animated short. It’s a convincing record of lost pornography, noteworthy for the sheer craft it invests in such grotesque frivolity. Perfect!

2. Meanwhile, the big debut this issue is Joe Kimball, whose comics have never before been professionally published. His twelve-page Hide & Watch Me (apparently Part 1 of a serial) does suffer a bit in comparison with Columbia’s piece, in that the two seem similarly inspired by Depression-era song-and-dance animation as filtered through the gaze of Armageddon, though Columbia is more focused, cutting, and gleefully vulgar. Kimball’s style, in contrast, is baroque with twirling lines and diving points of view, symbols piled atop icons in a fury of humankind’s destructive consumption. A worm in a hat sings an ominous song, homes burn, a chubby-cheeked sun brandishes a pistol, etc.

The story’s enigmatic captions and strange dialogues are entirely segregated from the art, presented in outline format on the title page, perhaps to keep the iconography as immediate as possible. Unfortunately, the excess of visual detail detracts from panel-to-panel clarity, enough so that one gets the feeling the story’s obscurity may not be fully intended. A lot of raw drawing skill and frenzied imagination on display, though.

3. Speaking of skill and frenzy, Eleanor Davis’ contribution is again marvelously subtle and creepy, her fable of adult concern both as thumping as it needs to be to succeed on that primal folktale level, while remaining illustrative of the insecurities inherent to sharing intimacy with a romantic partner. Just look at that guy’s eyes in the last panel. Davis is also the feature interview, and there’s some interesting stuff about her time in the sequential art program at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Best tidbit: she started out as the only female in many of her classes, only to see the program’s female population explode to near-equality in just a few years, a phenomenon she attributes exclusively to the boom in manga. Ah, to see the future…

4. Émile Bravo has another story this edition, one of those simple formal games in which the same four pages of art are repeated twice, each time with new dialogue, ultimately forming two completely different stories. The alchemy of words and pictures, folks. Story #1 here sees sweet lil' Jenny helping to bridge the gap between sensitive Billy and his politically-aware father. Story #2 is an impossibly trashy porno comedy/melodrama, complete with Tijuana Bible-ready lines like "Fuckin' a! I b'lieve the two of us're gonna have us a ball."

I do get the sinking feeling that Bravo may be attempting some sort of American critique -- an illustrated slide from tortured political awareness to plain idiocy, as glimpsed through the same social interactions (and the same art) -- and there certainly seems to be a sneer plastered all over the piece, with even the first 'chapter' resonant with tongue-clucking ironic detachment. But that second go-around is so joyful in its dirtiness (and some credit has to go to translator Kim Thompson), that it effectively moots the impact of anything beyond pure comedy. So, your own laughter will drown out the story's laughter toward you.

5. Far easier going down is Lewis Trondheim's At Loose Ends, which woozily drifts to a close, circling around theories of keeping art fresh and stories of artists growing old. An appropriate tone for as gentle a sketchbook report on things as this. Conversations between friends, leafy landscapes - the intermingling of serentiy and anxiety in sitting and thinking about where it's all headed. The rotating 'established guest' slot goes to Jim Woodring for the next two issues, as a once Japan-exclusive Frank saga unfolds for the West. You can bet on some people buying two issues of MOME just for Frank; I know I'm interested.

6. But in the present, I'm utterly fascinated with Tom Kaczynski. He's maybe the hardest to digest of the 'new' cartoonists to be found in MOME, in that his stories are narration-heavy, his thatches of ideas are dense, his plots are stolid and essay-like, and his visuals gleam with icy geometry and stoic character expressions. But his 10,000 Years is nonetheless bracing in its anxious, eccentric, cerebral feel.

A man visits a psychic, feeling like he's not of this world. He's mesmerized into an arch-capitalist future much like the arch-capitalist present. He watches and enters his television at the same time, and stars in the show as the visionary leader of Zombie Martian Communists intent on saving the red planet from the spectre of consumerism. "Consumers of the solar system, save your receipts!" He wakes up, dreams again, lives in various realities at once, gazes upon the "protoplasmic capitalism" of evolution at the dawn of humankind, and witnesses a secret tainting of the gene pool. Dinosaurs fight, businesses profit. Metaphors are stretched to nail-biting lengths. "The entire space-time continuum became suspect. The zodiac was an alien bestiary. Civilization was an ancient burial ground with unfamiliar funerary rites."

It's immediate in a way that feels like imaginings are being transcribed into comics form at impossible speed, yet so richly considered that its spontaneity seems superhuman. It's beautiful in its careful mix of white and black and its jumps from visual metaphor to stark drama. It's bananas, and I love bananas. It's just the sort of thing I'd hoped MOME would promote when it started out, and now it's in my hands. Very fine.