Paul Lyons, Jim Drain, Michael DeForge, Michaela Zacchilli, Brian Ralph, Chuck Forsman, James Kochalka, Jim Rugg, Peter Edwards, Andy Estep, Oscar Estep, CF, Brian Chippendale, Blade, Keith McCulloch, Mike Taylor, Roby Newton, Edie Fake, Leif Goldberg, Keith Jones, Dennis Franklin, Jo Dery, Erik Talley, Beatrice McGeoch, Tony Astone, Mat Brinkman, Nick Thorburn, Melissa Mendes, Aaron DeMuth, writers/artists
Paul Lyons, editor
self-published (I think), October 2010
Buy it from PictureBox
They’re gettin’ the band back together, man! From out of the rubble of Fort Thunder rises the surprise 2010 revival of the gigantically influential Providence underground-art institution’s house anthology, featuring mostly-about-monsters work from all six of the Fort’s core cartoonists — Brinkman, Chippendale, Ralph, Drain, Lyons, Goldberg. Plus Andy Estep, Peter Edwards, Roby Newton, and a lot of other people you’ll see listed as having lived/worked/played in the Fort. Plus fellow-travelers like Providence’s CF and Jo Derry and Highwater’s James Kochalka. Plus Jim Rugg and Michael DeForge and Chuck Forsman and other leading lights of post-Fort alternative comics. And a reunion tour is exactly what it feels like.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s fine comics in this beautifully printed navy-blue-and-white package, many of which take advantage of its unusually large trim size. (We’re not talking Kramers Ergot 7 territory, but the thing is big. Think the Wednesday Comics hardcover.) Brian Ralph uses his comparatively clean cartoony style for a hilariously violent giant-robot comic, “Voltron from Hell,” basically, with huge panels and splash pages taking perversely pretty delight in mass destruction and death. The final panel of CF’s weird tale about an ambulance driver-cum-cat burglar who sneaks into the house of a woman with a mysterious disease actually made me jump — just a beautifully done little scare. Brian Chippendale’s story ties in with his Puke Force webcomic and gives him a chance to draw some villains at full splash-page size. I thought Chuck Forsman cut himself off at the knees a bit with his punchline ending, but until then his contribution was a creepy little thing that reminded me favorably of the urban legend my Delawarean wife recounted to me about the zoobies, the inbred mutant children of the DuPont family who would roam around the woods waylaying passers-by. There are insanely METAL full-page illustrations from Brinkman (who’s by now made a wonderful career of such things), Tony Astone, and Dennis Franklin — I mean, I laughed out loud at how fuckin’ devil-horns they were. And Lyons’s wraparound cover portraits of various barfing beasts is breathtaking, one of the most impressive single comics images of the year.
But in a way, the Fort Thunder aesthetic is a victim of its own success. I lost track of the number of good-to-great comics that came out this year bearing its influence, and those apples-to-apples comparisons make it hard for the work here, which I think all parties involved would admit was done more for fun than for tear-down-the-walls boundary-pushing, to stand out. In terms of anthologies alone, you could stand this one right between Studygroup 12, Closed Caption Comics, Smoke Signals, Diamond Comics, and Mould Map. Fort Thunder and the Providence scene’s DNA is now deeply embedded in an array publishers, including not just the late and lamented Highwater, Bodega, and Buenaventura, but also PictureBox, Secret Acres, Koyama, Nobrow, Pigeon, Gaze, and even the mighty Drawn & Quarterly. Moreover, whether you call it fusion or New Action or simply slap an alt- prefix in front of horror or SF or fantasy, Fort Thunder’s pioneering jailbreak of genre from the mainstream American comics prison has subsequently allowed it to become almost inescapable in smart-comics circles. Finally, Chippendale, Brinkman, Forsman, DeForge, CF, Fake, and Rugg are all in direct competition with work they put out elsewhere last year, most of which was more ambitious. And understandably so! Seriously, I’m not complaining — Monster is what I think it set out to be. It’s seeing Floyd get together for an awesome Live 8 gig, rather than seeing Waters and Gilmour working together again, and as such it’s more a treat for the fans than documentary evidence of why we became fans in the first place.