Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crogan's March

Crogan's March
by Chris Schweizer
Oni Press 2010

Hillary Brown: So we reviewed Chris Schweizer's first entry in this ongoing series, Crogan's Vengeance, some time ago, and I have to say that either Crogan's March is a significant improvement or I'm getting more slack in my assessments or (and this most likely of all) knowing what to expect from these things tempers both hopes and criticisms. This time we're in the French Foreign Legion in the early 20th century, with another member of the Crogan family, and the narrative has been simplified and framed. I don't seem to remember a frame tale in the previous book, but then I didn't go look at it again, so it could very well be there. At any rate, it's a good decision, as it provides some context for why, exactly, we're getting this story and supplies set-up for the inevitable books to come. It's also nice to see visual elements from the frame narrative pop up in the main story, as with the appearance of one of the kids as a character. (Sidebar: I'm not sure that's what's going on here, but it seems to me that, rather than the youngest soldier being unfathomably young, Schweizer's using one of his two kiddie leads in the frame narrative to portray that character, yes?) I think this second effort is more focused than the first, and while elements of its story are a bit too derivative of Futurama (Captain Roitelet is pretty much Zapp Brannigan, only a few feet shorter), the balance of information and action is pretty well done.

Garrett Martin: I love your thought about the young soldier being one of the kids in the framing device. It feels right, and would fit the book perfectly. I don't think it's true, though. The kids definitely look similar, but the soldier has light hair and tiny ears, whereas the boys in the intro are like half-elephant, or something. That could've been a nice bit of visual continuity in a series built upon family ties, but also maybe a little hackneyed. That's a pretty common device, right? Not that either Crogan is fantastically original, but high adventuring will never go out of style. Neither will pirates or foreign legionnaires.

I agree that Crogan's March is a better book. It helps that the subject matter isn't as played out as pirates, but it's also just structured better. The pacing issues of the first book are gone thanks to a relatively clear-cut timeline. The setting is more fleshed out and thus more fascinating. The comedy and action mix smoothly without the slightly jarring tonal shifts of the first book. The art remains delightfully cartoonish and no longer feels incongruous with the more violent or stressful momes. Schweizer's more confident all around.

Also of note: apparently former Atlanta Braves outfielder Gerald Williams (or perhaps a like-named ancestor) is one of Crogan's fellow legionnaires.

HB: Oh, left fielder/utility man Gerald Williams, I have not thought of you in literally years. That's the kind of detail that makes me wonder how much research Schweizer does on these things and whether there really was a Gerald Williams somewhere that far back (it's not exactly an old-timey name) or whether, being an Atlantan, he merely remembers the speedy, low-paid, not-really-all-that-good baseball player with affection. I appreciate your doing the visual comparison I failed to, and I think you're right, but I'd also contend that the child soldier is still there to promote identification on the part of the kids within the story and on the part of ostensible readers, which is a smart move on Schweizer's part. Like it or not (and I'm not suggesting you don't like it), kids identify with other kids. I can't, for the life of me, think of another reason that character exists, unless the Legion historically looked the other way on age limits (according to Wikipedia you have to be at least 17 1/2 to join these days) or the visual depiction of his age is some sort of a metaphor for his relative greenness compared to the other soldiers in the unit. Do you feel a little bit like we're being condescending to Schweizer for having improved in this second volume? Should we worry about that?

GM: How is it condescending for a critic (or two) to note that an artist has improved? I think that's part of the job, if by job you mean a thing we lose money on. In fact (I'm about to aggrandize ourselves) but when I talked to Schweizer at the New York Comic-Con last year (in a brief interview that will never exist outside of a [not actually] broken microcassette) he mentioned how certain reviews of Vengeance impacted his plans for the rest of the series. He said our review was really helpful, and I wonder if the scene in March where Crogan very specifically points out how much time has passed is a direct result of reviews like ours. But no, I don't think it's condescending to share an opinion, especially ones arrived at after literally minutes of consideration.

But let's talk about the book again. Maybe it's just because everybody's wearing those legionnaire hats, but several moments in March give off a strong Sergio Aragones vibe. One secondary character, the guy who goes off with Williams, looks so much like an Aragones drawing that I assume it's intentional. There's another character that reminded me of a Don Martin drawing, and for a few minutes I excitedly thought Schweizer was working in references to various MAD artists. He's not, but I gotta believe that Aragones reference is a real thing that exists for real.

I hope that kid soldier isn't there to promote identification from other kids, since (SPOILER!) he gets kinda dead after a point.

HB: Okay, you're making me feel very good about the role of Internet jackasses like ourselves, so let me move on to your two other points. First, I totally agree that there's an Aragones-esque feel to the drawings this time around, and maybe it's just because a) they're kind of loose and b) there are a lot of mustaches, but I doubt it's that coincidental. I'm sure Schweizer is a fan. Heck, who isn't? As far as why that influence might be present, I have fewer ideas beyond "because it's cool" and "mustaches," but I might suggest that the adventures of the French Foreign Legion are often painted in the same kind of madcap spirit that Aragones's drawings impart, so there's an appropriateness felt in the choice of style. Also, along those lines, I know Schweizer's talked about wanting to include a real sense of death and peril in these books, despite their being aimed to some extent at young readers and (I'm not sure he mentioned this) their cartoony style, so I'm not sure the eventual fate of the young soldier is necessarily a point against his inclusion for identificative purposes. Does he succeed at that, do you think? I'd say he comes closer than in volume 1, but I'm still not sure he's quite there (although the end was kind of surprising).

GM: Between the expanded framing device and the kid, I assume it would be easier to identify with Crogan's March. Honestly, though, I'm not the best judge of that. I usually hated the child characters in books and movies when I was young. That might have more to do with bad execution than any inherent hatred for my fellow children, and Schweizer avoids much of what would've annoyed young me by not making this kid that focal of a character. He's there, he's useful as an excuse for Crogan to explain the Foreign Legion, and then his death makes a perfect (if a little too obvious) emotional stinger. So I guess I'm saying kids might identify the hell with him, but the character serves a few other purposes, too.

What did you think of the ending?

HB: It's a little abrupt. I don't mind (Spoiler alert again) killing off major characters or even the main character, but I think it can be done slightly more effectively. Again, this book is better than the previous one, but I still wouldn't call myself emotionally involved in any real way. While the cartoony quality of the drawing isn't a distraction this time, it probably still takes away from major heft to some extent. That is, I'm trying to think of an example of something that's both emotionally weighty but as cute and cartoony as this book, and I can't. On the other hand, I am notoriously hard-hearted and hard to reach, so it's quite possible it's my problem!

GM: Go read some manga. Japan's cornered the market on emotional hefty comics that as cute as a button. Also they're not comics obviously but that's kinda Pixar's thing.

Should we embarrass ourselves and talk about colonialism or the Middle East or anything genuinely worthwhile like that? I could maybe dredge up some academic horseshit I read ten years ago.

HB: Okay, you're totally right that there are good examples. So it may just be a small failing, still, rather than a hazard of the approach. I tried to think about colonialism etc. as I was reading, actually, and that's an area where I feel like Schweizer does a good job skirting a lot of very sensitive issues. Neither the Legionnaires nor the folks who live in the area are painted as saints, and, on the whole, if I had to sum up the text's stance, it would be "it's complicated," which is fair. It may be a touch on whitey's side, but that's also hard to avoid, especially when your main character is, you know, whitey. And I don't think Schweizer falls into the Edward Zwick/Dances with Wolves trap either, if only because his protagonist doesn't achieve all that much.

GM: Right, he doesn't romanticize or beautify the locals too much, but he doesn't ignore that both they and the whiteys hate, fear, and totally disrespect the hell out of each other, until they're put in a situation where they have to just be people and help each other out. It's easy to be pandering or offensive when dealing with colonial issues but Schweizer deftly avoids that without completely ignoring the issue. So Crogan's March isn't just fun and cute but also kinda smart, too. Yes sir.

Monday, April 26, 2010

High Soft Lisp and Other Lives

Hey you there, just a quick link: my reviews of Gilbert Hernandez's High Soft Lisp and Peter Bagge's Other Lives ran in the Boston Herald last week. Those are comic books, which is what we write about here (and elsewhere.)

A standard Shazhmm coming at some point in the future. Pretty sure of that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

King of the Flies Volume 1: Hallorave

King of the Flies Volume 1: Hallorave
by Mezzo and Pirus
Fantagraphics 2010

Hillary Brown: Reading this slim but seriously illustrated volume was a pleasurable experience in disorientation. I'd never heard of Mezzo (Pascal Mesemberg) or Pirus (Michel Pirus) before, and even if you try to find out more about them, it helps to read a little French to get to their various Wikipedia pages. I didn't know jack about this book or the project or whether it was even American. In fact, I totally assumed it was, and in many ways it reads as an American comic, which makes the occasional reference to Euros all the more startling. The Fantagraphics website says it's "set in a suburb that is both nowhere and everywhere," which I guess is as accurate as anything else, and when I think about some of the darker European films set in the suburbs that I've seen, I suppose the tone translates between countries (and continents), but it's still... strange. The touchstone is, of course, Charles Burns, down to the art, which makes use of a similar coloring palette (garish, but not too much so) and woodcut-type style of shading, but also because of the content, which is heavy on weird sex and mind-altering experiences. Really, I'm not even sure if I liked the book or not as a whole. It's as though the things I liked and the things I didn't like can't come together and agree on a compromise, but it gets inside your head regardless. There are plenty of easy criticisms to make here--it relies on shock value, too many panels have the same visual set-up, who cares about these jerkwads anyway?--but it seems to me to end up being a bit more than that. I'm really curious to see what you think.

Garrett Martin: Our thoughts might align on this one. Hallorave is beautiful, but tries too hard to be hard. The sex and drugs are a little overblown, too often coming off as cheap and obvious "shock" value. But it's not as simple as that, as sex is also vital to the vignettes that do work, like the piece where the girl loses her virginity and afterward feels just about every single human emotion possible at the same time. There are a few believable and genuinely touching character moments within Hallorave; they're not subtle, but I know I was never particularly subtle in my teens. I am perhaps a little troubled by how the two male authors basically define every single female character by her sexuality, but then that's true for the male characters, as well, so I'm probably just being a dumb uptight prude again, and a very American one, at that. I'd probably like it more if all the sex was replaced with machine guns and soaring eagles. And then you also have the clear David Lynch inspiration, which normally is the kiss of death for me (even with a lot of Lynch's stuff); the fact that Pirus and Mezzo are able to evoke that obvious comparison without immediately alienating or angering me is a sign of how talented they are, even if I'm not completely in love with this book.

HB: Right. There's an ability they have to poke you in the eye or make you uneasy that's genuine, even while it's obviously out to do just that. Another comparison I was thinking of that didn't come up when I first wrote you about this because I hadn't seen his most recent film yet is Lars von Trier, who spends a lot of his time trying to piss off his audience and say things about America, but he succeeds a little better than these guys because he has a wider range of things to say. I don't think you're being a prude. I think that you could probably justify Mezzo and Pirus's repetitive focus on sexuality by talking about the other things that repeat in these pages, which seem at first to be made up of unconnected stories before they're revealed as part of a web that we just haven't pulled back far enough from to grasp in its entirety, but they're not exactly feminist either. The thing is, every female character drawn from the boobs down, recumbent, in a frame we see over and over, looks exactly the same, and that may signal a problematic outlook, one that has more in common with superhero comics than the book would seem to otherwise.

GM: The women pretty much are interchangeable, aren't they? And it doesn't help that every male character can basically have sex with any of the females whenever he chooses. Apparently Hallorave takes place in a Europe where every man is R. Kelly. And yes, Von Trier might be a better comparison than Lynch. The light surrealism and blue collar Americana of the bowling alley definitely owe more to Lynch, but that European tone and the final moment of graphic yet banal violence feel more like Von Trier. And speaking of film, how Sundancily shitty was that Rolling Stones-worshiping story?

HB: Yeah, if I had to pick out the weakest one, it's definitely that story, which just feels jammed in, like it was part of an assignment ("Draw a comic about your favorite band"). Speaking of which, were these published previously and separately? They're pretty graphic to show up in most things, but it might lend to the slow-building realization that the narratives are interrelated. And it might account for the vague feeling I have that, while all the stories overlap, there may be some missing pieces or some parts may be told twice but contain slightly different events. I haven't gone back to the book because I'm not sure that there's an answer, especially when everyone involved is out of his or her mind on some substance. But this is sounding like I don't like the book. I like aspects of it, but I'm also cognizant of its weaknesses, and I suspect that pickier people than I might like it less.

GM: Right, I also liked it more than this makes it sound. Like I said, I love the art, with great layouts, nice thick lines, and coloring that's somehow both rich and muted. Even when I don't like the characters or find their actions believable I still love the way everything looks. And the elliptical structure was a smart choice because it adds at least a little bit of mystery; instead of just reading to see what happens next you keep going to better understand what's already happened. I don't know if the stories were published individually anywhere, but Hallorave is basically the first book of King of the Flies, with two more on the way. I'm interested to see how closely they intersect with each other.

HB: Yeah, I'll read the next one, too. It's successful at very least in that!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

other stuff in other places once more

I have reviews of Mome Volume 17, Hotwire Comics #3, and Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s in today's Boston Herald. Newave's kinda fascinating, but Hotwire's one of the most enjoyable books I've read lately.

More stuff coming soon, COUNT ON IT!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg
AdHouse Books 2010

Garrett Martin: Hey, Afrodisiac, I am not too troubled by you. I am instead entertained by this send-up of the utterly ridiculous level of racial discourse in the genre comics of the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and ’80’s (and beyond.) This is not a “graphic novel” in any sense of the horrible term, but a collection of scenes from a hypothetical comic book that apparently dallied with every possible mass market popular comic genre of the last fifty or so years. The title character pops up in each excerpt as the most stereotypical blaxpoitation character possible. It wouldn’t be too hard to accuse Maruca and Rugg of some kinda racism, be it intentional or unintentional, but I don’t think that’s the case. Afrodisiac is obviously commentary mixed with a little bit of nostalgia, albeit one tempered by realizing how wrong-headed and offensive the past could be. It’s basically just a single punch-line with a couple dozen different set-ups, but Maruca and Rugg pretty much nail the tone and look of each different genre so well that that doesn’t even bother me. Perhaps they should’ve been more pointed in their satire, or take a stance other than “man, shit was goofy back when”, but Afrodisiac’s a clever piece of low-stakes pop culture tweaking. I don’t know, is this problematic? Can we really say?

Hillary Brown: Well, of course we can't. You're a white dude, and I'm a white lady, and we come from relatively privileged backgrounds, so anything we might conclude, whether it's that this book is or isn't racist or problematic or whatever is inherently going to be wrong. And that's okay. People can take this with plenty of salt. All of which is to say that, basically, I am as untroubled by this book as you are and probably equally entertained by it, despite my lesser knowledge of the history of comics conventions. It makes an interesting comparison to something like the two Fletcher Hanks compilations we took a look at or, perhaps even more so, the Zak Sally comp Like a Dog, in that it's a mish-mash of full stories with isolated art pieces, and it shows a lot of development over the course of a career. Of course, this one's entirely a joke, and it's more enjoyable for it. I think your use of the phrase "low-stakes" is especially warranted. Yes, people still get upset when a bunch of fratty idiots throw a "pimps and ho's" party and some of them decide to show up in blackface, and they should get upset about that, but this is a very specific target and it's a fairly loving parody at that. Plus it's really pretty. The coloring and the linework throughout are just about as clean as they can be. The covers are particularly nicely done, but even the panel layout is clear and a pleasure to read. And it's short! If this book were 200 pages, it might be a lot easier to get tired of it, but Maruca and Rugg have a pretty good idea of when to cut off a joke.

GM: For real, being quick and breezy is key. I hit the last page just as I was getting tired of the joke.

I feel like there's not a whole lot else to say, which is ridiculous, as we've barely said anything. How about this: this kind of high-concept nonsense could easily be a disaster without the proper follow-through. As much as I love comics with robots, Draculas, and Richard Nixons, the Internet is this close to permanently killing whatever joy I used to find such winking Silver Age homages. Afrodisiac's hijinks stick though thanks to hilarious art and comically awkward captions and dialogue. Afrodisiac wouldn't work at all If it was just a bunch of goofball ideas being ticked off a list.

Man, whaddya got? Say something brilliant. That's your job.

HB: I suppose I could make a Tarantino analogy here, in that this book is smart enough to be sort of educational at the same time as it's a genre parody, which means you don't have to know a ton about the genre to get a lot of the jokes, and it's entertaining enough and smoothly done enough to pull the less knowledgeable along for the ride without making us feel like idiots. That's really no small achievement, and I feel like I've seen this kind of thing done badly far more often than well. Okay, here's another point: is a parody like this often better than the real thing because it's more self-aware and because it's more committed to entertainment and is more flexible in what its goals and methods are? How do you like them aesthetically philosophical apples?

GM: I'd say it's better than something like Marvel's original Luke Cage / Powerman / Hero For Hire comics from the '70's. Unlike Cage Afrodisiac is neither boring nor blissfully unaware of its own racist under- (and occasionally over-) tones. One reason those comics are ridiculous is because they try to be poignant and work in social commentary while also serving up the mindless violence and reductive stereotyping that make superhero comics so awesome. Instead of Luke Cage's frightening mix of offensive "Pay It Forward" pathos and unwittingly semi-racist boomer patronizing Afrodisiac is a pure piss-take on the entire damn concept. That might keep Afrodisiac from being genuinely great, but it also keeps it from turning into a drag.

HB: Right. In other words, there's something to be said against sincerity. The best art is often sincere, and a fear of being so often keeps much art (and, indeed, human interaction) from achieving greatness, but the worst art is also deadly sincere. Do those "Christian Side-Hug" kids mean what they're on about? You bet they do, and it's horrifying! So let's say Afrodisiac stands as a fine example of both the benefits and the drawbacks of parodic art and leave it at that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nomad: Girl Without a World

Nomad: Girl Without a World, issues 1-4
by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon
Marvel 2009

Hillary Brown:Oh my god, Sean McKeever, I have missed you so much. If I had to pick the one comic book I continually buy for people more than any other, it would probably be Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, which we've discussed in passing on numerous occasions, and his Teen Titans stuff was delightful as well, so it made me really happy to see him continuing not to fall on his face with the miniseries Nomad: Girl Without a World, which consisted of four issues and now is going to run in the back of something else (Captain American?). I may have only gotten through the issues in bursts, but that's due to my crazy schedule of late, not due to a hint of boringness or lack of skill on McKeever's part. Even the recaps that appear inside each issue are cute, snappy, and an admirable combination of information and entertainment. The story's pretty smart, the action not bad, and the art, by David Baldeon, is well-tailored to all of the above. Gush gush gush. I'm sure I could pick out some flaws--you're welcome to take this in that direction--but mostly this stuff just makes me happy. My daughter will read McKeever's writing if I have to force her to.

Garrett Martin: I’m shocked they actually used that Liefeld drawing of Cap in the first issue’s recap page. If you’re gonna bring back a character from one of the most reviled comics ever you might as well go all in. I have no idea how Rikki Barnes was written in the old Loeb/Liefeld comics, if she was some kind of bright spot in what’s otherwise considered a massive failure, but McKeever wastes no time making her likable and relatable. No other guy at Marvel or DC is better at writing teenagers that feel genuine and not like barely disguised rip-offs of Gossip Girl or 90210 characters. I like how, as in Gravity, the stakes in Nomad start relatively low and locally oriented, but with grave larger ramifications. Whereas Gravity has to rescue Washington Square Park and NYU’s campus, Nomad needs to free her high school from the Secret Empire’s mind control. Sure, it’s not at all rare for superheroics to serve as an extension of a character’s personal situation (see Runaways or the first 600 or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man), but McKeever is a burgeoning master of that balance. The two threads come together seamlessly.

HB: That's true! I didn't even notice the Liefeld drawing, but even I, still a relative comics newbie, know the horrors of Liefeld. Still, as you say, it makes the achievement all the more impressive, especially as I'm sure Rikki Barnes was mostly a brokeback pose excuse more than a well-rounded character back in those days. Also, I managed to miss Gravity entirely, which is clearly a big oversight on my part and one that will be remedied shortly, but your point is still relevant. You wouldn't think loneliness would make such a compelling theme, but, just as Joss Whedon makes the whole "high school is hell" thing a compelling metaphor, McKeever's choice of a girl who's literally in the wrong universe manages to be completely clear as an analogy for how every teenager feels isolated (it's a symptom of growing self-consciousness) without ever stepping over the line into heavy-handedness. The literal plot, too, has intelligent things to say about responsibility, conformity, and herd behavior versus individual action. It's close to being a straight up statement about the current state of political discourse, but it's slipperier than that, which makes it much better. I've been trying to pin down some of the things that make McKeever's writing so good, and it's hard to come up with much because he makes it all look incredibly easy. Anyway, here goes: 1. Commitment to the story. It's easy to have your superheroes spend all their time moping and chatting, but McKeever's often think and do at the same time, and the plot chugs along at a good pace. 2. A lack of overwhelming pop culture references. While his stories are always set in the present, he clearly knows enough teenagers to know that throwing in, say, a sexting reference isn't going to do anything but annoy his audience and date his writing. 3. He tends to work with artists who aren't distracting, whose drawings are clear and simple or whose coloring skills aren't overly digitized. Add to my list.

GM: 4. Archetypal Marvel themes. Okay, "superhero with personal problems" (this time of the teen variety) has basically been that side of the industry's default setting for decades now, but it'll always be connected with Marvel. Like we've said, Nomad has that early Spider-Man feel, and no matter how prevalent or cliched that set-up has become it'll always work when done well. It'll also always feel like an intentional tribute to Marvel's past, which as a pathetic nostalgist will always appeal to me.

This gets me wondering: have you read the most recent Blue Beetle series? It's not by McKeever, it's not about a teen lady, but it's another pretty good comic about a relatively believable teenager coming to grips with his new-found superlativeness.

HB: I haven't, and I've been meaning to forever, largely because of Eddie Argos's repeatedly professed love for the book. And hasn't Baldeon done some drawing for it, too? I need a good compilation to hook me, and I've been lazy about looking for one. So here's the big big question: If it's so easy to do this (and our list of components isn't long or complicated), why can't or don't more people do it? Are these books unpopular because they need more boobs and punching?

GM: Yeah, pretty much, except replace "punching" with "disemboweling". It seems like anything that has a young protagonist or a light-hearted tone will be written off as baby stuff by most superhero comic fans. Even by the low standards of the day stuff like Nomad, Blue Beetle, and even Runaways doesn't sell that well. Even Amazing Spider-Man's sales are down despite running some of the best and most archetypal Spider-Man stories in decades (granted there are a ton of other issues involved with that one, from the weird semi-reboot to the three-times-a-month schedule.) You can say books like this don't sell well because kids don't read superhero comics, but kids don't read superhero comics because they've been written primarily for teenagers or adults for at least two decades now. I don't know where the tail ends and the mouth begins.

At least Marvel might give Nomad an actual shot. They're releasing the collection as a full-sized trade paperback and not just a digest, and a piece of Coover art from the upcoming Girl Comics title includes the character alongside Spider-Woman and Storm. Speaking of which: is Girl Comics exciting, depressing, or both?

HB: Totally both. Actually, the only part that's depressing and discouraging is the name, and only that because it might turn a lot of young boys off from reading what are sure to be some pretty smart and well-rounded comics that just happen to be by some very talented ladies. Sigh...

GM: Right. I don't know what's worse, that female creators are still so uncommon in superhero comics that Marvel feels the need to bring special attention to them, or that it'll probably be a massive commercial bomb in the direct market because of the name and marketing. All I know is there'll probably be a Shazhmmm about it four to six weeks after release.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

space filler

We're busy Shazhmmming a thing, but until that's ready you can take a look at this other stuff I've done. My reviews of Then Unwritten Volume 1 and Jason Starr's Vertigo Crime book The Chill are in today's edition of the Boston Herald. One's really good, the other's kinda good, but only one has a lady freezing dudes with her business. That is an observation, not an endorsement.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MOME vol. 17

MOME #17
Various artists/authors
Fantagraphics 2010

Garrett Martin:
How have we never done a MOME before? Better question: how have I never read a MOME before? If tony pedigrees were moral posturing, Fantagraphics’s quarterly anthology would be David Stern. I guess it doesn’t help that reviews for previous volumes tend to diverge wildly, or that my budget for escapism is greater than what I am willing to spend on comics that don’t insult my intelligence. Blogger snark’s made me wary of MOME, and I kind of regret that. Not that Volume 17 is fantastic, but my biggest problem is starting in the middle or at the end of the most interesting stories, and obviously that wouldn’t be an issue if I was a regular reader. The value’s reduced with a solitary MOME. Have you read one of these things before?

Hillary Brown: I haven't, but I, like you, find myself impelled toward escapist tripe more than comics that will improve my brain. Which is dumb! There's much to like here. I sort of assumed MOME would be more like Raw, in terms of pushing the envelope and extreme artiness and so on, but it's much more readable than that. Nuts to me for assuming, I suppose. I could have been enjoying these things for years. Not that it's all fantastic, as you point out. It would be nice if the continuing series took a page from the non-art comics world and provided a brief summary of what happened previously in the story, for example. Paul Hornschemeier's piece is great, but it's clearly part of something much bigger, which I guess means I should go back and find earlier issues (all of them, apparently). Anthologies are always uneven, but this contains fewer stinkers than most, clearly a testament to Fantagraphics's editorial eye. I have to say I wasn't a big fan of Derek van Gieson's story, which was either over my head or just too messily drawn, and while I loved T. Edward Bak's drawings and thought his documentary subject matter was interesting, he seems to have a tendency toward confusing panel layout. What did you see as highlights?

GM: Pretty sure Hornschemeier's total thing will soon be available in its self-contained totalness thanks to a kindly book publishing concern or another. It makes sense to lead off with that guy, even if it's the last of a whatever-part series; visually and thematically it's the most accessible thing here, easily sidling alongside Tomine and Clowes in the young-ish white person ennui rotunda. Although for some reason I get less of a fusty privileged New Yorker vibe from ol' Horny, which is a dumb thing to say, as I am a privileged New Yorker subscriber and long-time fan of fust. Still, I want to know who the guy with the beard is, meaning I want to read the first umpteenth parts, meaning Hornschemeier and MOME did its jobs.

I also want to read the first part of Ted Stearn's Fuzz and Pluck story, which visually has that skewed classicism commonly found in early underground comics, like EC Segar characters gone to seed. Thankfully Stearn doesn't try to be transgressive just for the hell of it. I might be disappointed with part one, though, as I mostly want to learn more about this put-upon fishermen couple.

I also love how Olivier Schrauwen's "Congo Chromo" looks like a 19th-century editorial cartoon, even if the wordless story is a little too opaque.

Van Gieson made absolutely no impression upon me. I don't even remember reading it. I'm pretty certain I've never seen this page before, even though I've read through the book twice now.

The biggest disappointment comes from Tom Kaczynski and your buddy Dash Shaw. "Resolution", their slice of '80's cyberpunk / computer paranoia nostalgia, is an ugly, unoriginal bore. Did you like it?

HB: Welll... not really. I think he's done some very strong things lately, and this still has some interesting ideas, and I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but everyone has to fail sometimes, even Dash Shaw. It's just a mess, right? It's hard to understand, and the art's not so great, and, yeah, it's not my least favorite piece in the book, but it's definitely the biggest gap between expectations and reality.

I, too, liked the Ted Stearn piece, which is cute and weird, and Schrauwen's thing grew on me. There's something about the visually simplified stuff, with no words, that ended up making me see it positively. Maybe it's the color?

Is Van Gieson's the underwater dragon fish thing?

GM: Van Gieson's strip is that one-pager between Bak and Kurt Wolfgang's "Nothing Eve." The dragon fish is called "Zzzzz" and is by Sara Edward-Corbett. It reminds me of the beginning of Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga, that long extended bit about an evolution-based computer game that had to be a reference to Spore even though that hadn't been released yet. Like Huizenga's thing, I love the intricate design of "Zzzzz" but the story is far too abstract. Speaking of which - how have we not Shazhmmed a Huizenga yet?

Do you think MOME might be too much of a random grab-bag? Rick Froberg's various page-length doodles did nothing for me; I could see them making sense as buffers between longer pieces, but I don't think that's the point, based on their distribution throughout the book. It's like listening to a comp where every fourth track is a twenty-second song by the same band.

HB: Oh, yeah, I just looked back at Van Gieson's and I can see why we missed it. Edward-Corbett's dragon thing is pretty but, yeah, I don't really understand what's going on in it. Pick a Huizenga, and we'll do one. I don't think I've read anything by him. And let me add, almost parenthetically, that I also liked Kurt Wolfgang's piece. With regard to your last question, I dunno... I mean, I do think it's a grab-bag, and it might be a bit all over the place, and I didn't love Froberg's one-pagers, but I like that MOME makes room for pieces that are neither narrative nor multi-page. Maybe that's because it makes it a little more like an art magazine. I'm not really sure that explains it for me adequately, but I'm going to stick up in favor of twenty-second pieces interspersed with a mix CD.

GM: I'm sure it wouldn't bother me if I liked Froberg's stuff. At least they're brief and easily skipped over.

So, overall, did MOME #17 satisfy you?

HB: They are indeed, and yeah, I'd say I was pretty satisfied with this as a compilation. Maybe not quite as happy as I would have been with another book of comparable length that retailed for $15 (it's a pretty good deal), but much more so than with many another collection of stuff by random people. I'd keep checking it out.