Kramers Ergot 5
Sammy Harkham, Ron Rege Jr., Mat Brinkman & Neil Burke, Souther Salazar, David Heatley, Chris Ware, Elvis Studio, Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Gary Panter, Jordan Crane, Leif Goldberg, Paper Rad, Fabio Viscogliosi, J. Bradley Johnson, C.F., Marc Bell, Dan Zettwoch, Tom Gault, writers/artists
Sammy Harkham, editor
Gingko Press, 2004
Can anyone here tell a story? You bet your ass. Unlike the preceding, breakout volume of Kramers, where narrative and non-narrative work were on more or less equal footing, the conventional comics hold pride of place in this installment. I mean, that’s a judgment call, obviously. Maybe it’s just me not liking the way a lot of the fine-art-inflected work here–the humor-strip-via-collage by Souther Salazar, Leif Goldberg’s paintings–look on a two-dimensional printed page. Or maybe it’s just me thinking that the more far-out sequential art–J. Bradley Johnson’s non sequitur-laden gag (?) strips, Fabio Viscogliosi’s T. Rex-quoting series of epigrammatic illustrations, even work from the usually reliable and hilarious Paper Rad and Marc Bell–is sort of unfocused and not quite up to snuff. Heck, Gary Panter’s contribution is just thirty seemingly random pages from thirty years’ worth of his sketchbooks–an impressive achievement, to be sure, but the sort of thing that would be just as interesting as a blog post as it is in an avant-garde anthology.
So the spotlight is stolen by the storytellers. Two contributions in particular are real world-beaters, strips that leapt right out at me during my first flip-thru of this book years ago and continue to set a standard for my appreciation of short-story comics. The first is David Heatley’s apocalyptically revealing “My Sexual History,” a complete rundown of every embarrassing/erotic/both detail of Heatley’s sex life from his childhood through his marriage (excepting some stuff with his wife he chose to keep private). I’ve seen this dismissed, by Johnny Ryan’s parody strip for example, as mere exhibitionism, but that ignores the sophistication of Heatley’s approach to designing the strip: the uncomfortable avalanche of intimate details is conveyed through an eye-oppressing 48-panel grid (!) on each page.
The second hall-of-famer here is Kevin Huizenga’s “Jeepers Jacobs,” the story of a preacher grappling with both the concept of Hell–which he’s defending the literal truth of against less orthodox theologians–and how to deal with his new golf buddy, non-believer (and Huizenga’s trademark everyman) Glenn Ganges. Huizenga handles the sort of suburban-fundie character that 99% percent of his audience presumably loathes on sight not just with sympathy, but with intelligence, setting up his arguments and weaving his faith throughout his daily routine in a fashion we’d recognize from our own political or aesthetic pursuits. The ending’s a killer too; I know others had a different experience, but I didn’t see it coming at all.
And there’s more. Jordan Crane starts down the road of violent morality plays he’s still fruitfully pursuing today; Chris Ware’s segment from Building Stories feels a bit too much like a chapter from an ongoing serial but it’s still, you know, Chris Ware’s Building Stories; comparatively linear work from Elvis Studio and Mat Brinkman alternately tickles and horrifies; Tom Gauld has a series of knee-slapper vignettes involving the writing habits of famous authors; Dan Zettwoch’s lengthy story about a church-group field trip that may or may not end in disaster doesn’t hold interest for its duration, but I kind of appreciate its ambition. Overall, the avant garde tag means less for this volume than the more apt description of “very good.”