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Kramers Ergot 6

Sammy Harkham, editor
Buenaventura Press/Avadoh Books
336 pages, $34.95
ISBN 10: 097668487X
ISBN 13: 9780976684879

At right: Image from Shary Boyle's contribution, "The Porcelain Figurine," ©2006 Shary Boyle.

To anyone who's already purchased and enjoyed either of the prior two volumes of Sammy Harkham's amazing anthology, the latest edition reviews itself. All I really need to say is, "There's a new Kramers Ergot out — go!" and be done with it.

For newcomers just picking up a copy, however, a bit more explanation is in order. Kramers Ergot is that rarest of rarities, an overdose of comics. It's an explosion of styles, running the gamut from Raw alumni to Fort Thunder cartoonists to some of the brightest stars in the minicomics firmament. At first glance, its contents seem almost random, with polished strips sitting side-by-side with work that looks like it was drawn by a twelve-year-old in serious need of Ritalin. Sit down with a copy and drift slowly through its pages, however, and you begin to understand the method to Harkham's madness.

The range of works available here in the latest volume is nothing short of stunning. There are carefully crafted, traditional-narrative strips from the likes of Dan Zettwoch, Chris Cilla, Fabio Viscogliosi and the inevitable showstopper strip by Harkham himself. There are artists whose works push the edge of narrative without ever quite falling over into incomprehensibility, such as Souther Salazar, Tom Gould, Jason Miles, James McShane and Jerry Moriarty's dreamlike strips, or the vignettes by Ron Regé Jr., Martin Cendreda, Gary Panter and Vanessa Davis. The aesthetic pioneered by the Fort Thunder crowd will probably never get as straightforward and accessible a presentation as found in these pages; Christopher "C.F." Forges' contribution in particular, "Out to Bomb," is an eyepopping burst of weirdness that is both technically precise and utterly surreal. This volume contains paintings and illustrations by Shary Boyle and Jeff Ladouceur that I can almost guarantee will bring you back to examine them again and again.

 

Panel from Suihô Tagawa's strip, originally published in the 1937 collection Norakuro Volume Seven.

 

Two archival strips deserve special mention. The pages by Mark Smeets presented here fairly ooze of the sort of meticulous attention to craft typical of the claire-ligne tradition embodied by Hergé and Joost Swarte, yet the stream-of-consciousness leap from panel to unrelated panel suggests a slapdash, improvisational approach that makes the craftsmanship seem almost contradictory; it's the Eurocomics equivalent of a Gary Panter/Russ Manning collaboration. The Suihô Tagawa Norakuro story and related art reproduced here is even more mindboggling, a pre-WWII Japanese funny-animal strip designed to inculcate Imperial militarism into the minds of elementary-school boys. Reading the showcase strip with 21st-century hindsight is like discovering that Carl Barks drew stories glorifying the rule of Adolf Hitler.

I haven't even scratched the surface. Kramers Ergot is the best introduction you'll ever find to the fin-de-siècle funnybook avant garde, a full-color buffet of artistry run amok. There's a new Kramers Ergot out — go!

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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