Almost Colossus

Kramers Ergot 7 is a product of colossal ambition, it is of colossal size and it was published to colossal expectations. Is it any surprise that the result is less than colossal?

There is no doubt that this is a rare achievement in comics production, and it is certainly also a high-quality anthology containing some great comics, but editor Sammy Harkham and the stellar line up of cartoonists invited to contribute have set the bar so high in their previous work that much of what they offer here nevertheless fails to reach the high water mark of contemporary comics that the book could have been.

In addition to many of the artists who contributed to earlier issues of the anthology and helped make Kramers the statement in contemporary comics art it has been, Harkham this time around invited some of the heavy-hitters of past generations: Ivan Brunetti, Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, Matt Groening, Jaime Hernandez, Ben Katchor, Seth, Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware. In contrast to earlier such “guest appearances”—Ware, for example, seemed conspicuously out of place in KE5—the uniqueness of the present project and the sheer number of very different cartoonists contributing overrides any concerns one might otherwise have had about artistic dissonance. Actually, the book’s sheer eclecticism is a strength in that it adds to the feeling that this could potentially be a kind of Pioneer Plaque—or an Ark, as Tom Gauld would have us imagine with his gorgeous contribution—of early 21st-century comics, one day to bring four-coloured fun to Morlocks.

Harkham exhibits what seems like self-ironic awareness of this with his front cover. It depicts the Fairfax, LA street in which he and his brothers run a book store, Family Books, evidently decorated by Ron Regé. Only, the setting is post-apocalyptic. Nature has reclaimed the streets, shared in harmony between mostly herbivorous animals and nude women. It is night, but a new day is dawning. Water runs from the broken storefront, puddling around a discarded comic book.

Picks of the Week


The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Times Literary Supplement: Shakespeare (Unfound(ed)? Katherine Duncan Jones offers a strongly argued dismissal of the recently publicised alleged portrait of Shakespeare.
  • London Review of Books: “Is it Art?” Great article on video games as art by John Lanchester.
  • François Ayroles: Nouveaux moments clés de l’histoire de la Bande Dessinée Brilliant, and hilarious, illustrations of a number of key moments in both North American and French comics of the last couple of decades. (Thanks, Dirk).
  • Savage Critics: “The Politics of Smurfing”. Joe McCulloh on what is arguably the best of the Smurf stories, the classic King Smurf — or Le Schtroumpfissime — by Peyo and Yvan Delporte. Read this especially if you are unaware of the Smurf comics and how great they are.
  • Daily Crosshatch: MOMEntum address by Eric Reynolds. This is a bit old, but what the heck, it’s good: the head of marketing and publicity at Fantagraphics and co-editor of the Mome anthology offers his considerable insights on the development of the market for alternative comics.
  • Pre-Hype: From Wonderland with Love

    fromwonderland.jpgThis August, Danish art comics publisher Steffen P. Maarup will be publishing an anthology featuring the cream of Danish comics in a collaboration between his publishing house Aben Maler and leading American art comics publisher Fantagraphics!

    The anthology, From Wonderland with Love — Danish Comics in the Third Millenium, will feature short works of 19 Danish cartoonists: Zven Balslev, Vibe Bredal, Simon Bukhave, Allan Haverholm, HuskMitNavn, Peter Kielland, Ib Kjeldsmark, Johan F. Krarup, G. R. Mantard, Søren Mosdal & Jacob Ørsted, Julie Nord, Signe Parkins, Mårdøn Smet, Jan Solheim & Maria Isenbecker, T. Thorhauge, Nikoline Werdelin and Christoffer Zieler.

    That’s a lot of talent for one book! The cover, by the way, is by the Bunker’s very own T. Thorhauge.

    The book will debut at the MoCCA Arts Festival (June 6-7) this summer, and several of the contributors will be present. It will be in bookstores in August.

    What’s Wrong with this Picture?

    shakespeare_portrait.jpgIt seems to be the season for the discovery of sensational portraits. A few days ago The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust announced having found an authentic, contemporary portrait of none less than Shakespeare himself. Its persuasive provenance and resemblance to a number of portraits, most presumably copied from lost pictures, that carry traditional identifications to Shakespeare, has convinced the Trust’s Chairman, the distinguished Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells that it is almost certainly the only authentic image of Shakespeare made from life.

    shakespeare_portait_cobbe.jpgThe attractive portrait belongs to the Cobbe family and has called Newbridge House, outside Dublin, its home for centuries. It was supposedly painted around 1610 when Shakespeare was 46 years old. As mentioned, several pictures assumed to be copies of lost paintings from that time, most notably a panel in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, carry traditions identifying their sitter as Shakespeare dating back within living memory of his life. Equally important to its pedigree is it provenance, which can apparently be traced with reasonable certainty to Shakespeare’s only literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. All of this is very convincing.

    Not having seen the picture in the flesh and not being an expert on either Shakespeare or 17th-century portraiture in Britain, my opinion carries little weight, but I would nevertheless advise caution here.

    Tegneserien får officielt råd

    Det er med glæde, at undertegnede nu kan bringe følgende pressemeddelelse:

    Aldrig tidligere har der på verdensplan været skabt og udgivet så mange spændende, vidtfavnende, vitale og iøjnefaldende tegneserier som nu. Tegneserien oplever en veritabel guldalder. Alligevel står tegneserien svagt i Danmark blandt kritikere, boghandlere, tegneserieskabere, forlag, læsere og myndigheder, og hvad der engang var et massemedie er nu en marginaliseret kunstart. Derfor har en gruppe af danskere, som beskæftiger sig med tegneserier, besluttet at stifte et nationalt råd, der kan højne opmærksomheden på mediet, som fx Det Danske Akademi gør det for litteraturen, eller Seriefrämjandet gør det for tegneserier i Sverige.

    Dansk Tegneserieråd stiftes 26. marts 2009

    Dansk Tegneserieråd vil arbejde for:

  • At højne både den almene og den specialiserede viden om tegneserier, og således styrke både formidling af og forskning i tegneserier
  • At bidrage konstruktivt til skabelsen af, vilkårene for og alsidigheden af danske tegneserier og danske tegneserieudgivelser, samt tilgængeligheden af udenlandske tegneserier i Danmark gennem bl.a. publikationer og udstillinger
  • At skabe kontakt mellem og fungere som fælles forum for alle med privat såvel som professionel interesse i tegneserier
  • At samarbejde både nationalt og internationalt med organisationer og institutioner, der beskæftiger sig med tegneserier og relaterede medier/kunstformer
  • Vi ønsker bl.a. at fokusere på fraværet af en egentlig tegneserieskaber-uddannelse og det forhold, at landets eneste tegneseriemuseum er henvist til 20 m2 en måned om året. Vi ønsker at diskutere, hvorfor danske boghandlere ikke som fx franske, amerikanske og japanske boghandlere har et repræsentativt udvalg af aktuelle tegneserieudgivelser. Og vi ønsker at undersøge, om de forskellige mediers holdning til tegneseriestof er præget af antikverede forestillinger.

    Stiftende generalforsamling i Dansk Tegneserieråd finder sted:
    Torsdag 26. marts 2009 kl. 19.00 i Den Gule Villa
    Dirch Passers Allé 2
    2000 Frederiksberg [se på kort]

    Alle er velkomne

    Yderligere information:

    Den komplette pressemeddelelse kan downloades her (PDF)

    Funking Up Watchmen

    The first thing I remember hearing director Zack Snyder say about his film version of Watchmen — at that time still in the works — was that that they were going to change the Nite Owl character’s costume to make it ‘cooler.’ That seemed to me pretty much to say all about his take on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comics masterpiece (1986-87).

    Nite Owl as he appears in the comic is meant to be a geeky superhero, slightly overweight and way out of touch with any concept of ‘cool,’ but apparently the director did not regard this concept as fully workable for his purposes. Having now seen the film, this prejudice has been largely confirmed. This is a ‘cool’ take on Watchmen, almost entirely superficial, although I hasten to add that it thankfully is not the disaster one might have feared.

    Watchmen Resources — Updated!

    Your picks of the week this week will be all Watchmen. Just in case you’re not already fed up. (Sorry!)

  • Reviews of the film. I basically read two stand-out reviews: A. O. Scott’s for the New York Times and Tom Spurgeon’s at the Comics Reporter. For a really asinine and ill-informed one, check out Anthony Lane at The New Yorker, but make sure to chase it with Jeet Heer’s commentary.
  • Watchmen Roundtable from Fantasy Advertiser #100 (1988). Great interview with the creators, hot off the runaway hit that was Watchmen, the comic book series!
  • What is Watchmen About? A plethora of comics critics and readers try to answer a deceptively simple question, asked by Tom Spurgeon. Also, this criticism of Watchmen by Steven Grant is excellent.
  • The Annotated Watchmen. I remember these old, extensive annotations by Doug Atkinson as being fairly useful. Check them out.
  • Saturday Morning Watchmen. Picth-perfect. A must-see!
  • Likeness of Leonardo?

    Last weekend, the discovery of what is claimed to be a new Leonardo drawing was announced on Italian TV. With the help of digital imaging, it has emerged from behind the text of the “Codex on the Flight of Birds”, held at Turin. The proud discoverers suggest that it is actually a partial self-portrait, citing its likeness with the famous so-called Self-Portrait of Leonardo (we actually do not know who it depicts), also at Turin. The likeness is striking and its appearance on an original a manuscript sure makes it sound bona fide.

    There is every reason to be sceptical, however.