Arts : Framed 

New talent travels in packs

Ever since the thrilling days of Raw magazine, when Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly realized that an unusual format could get work by cartoonists into the hands of art-world hipsters, anthology titles have been an invaluable way to discover new talent. A good comic store may offer more unfamiliar titles than you could possibly afford to sample, but fifteen bucks or so spent on the right collection can often buy a peek at an entire art movement’s freshman class.

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For quite a while, the Drawn & Quarterly publishing house has partly filled Raw’s niche, though the presentation has evolved. In the mid-’90s it was magazine-format; later it re-emerged with sturdier bookbinding and an unpredictable release schedule. A little while back, D&Q hatched a Drawn & Quarterly Showcase, which kept the nice production values but pared the focus down to two-or-three artists at a time. Number four should be winging its way to stores as I type this, but the impatient should grab volume three now — where they might be intrigued enough by Sammy Harkham’s work to pick up his new series, Crickets, which boasts even more striking visuals and is the first chapter in what appears to be a supernatural Western.

Fantagraphics’ Mome is close enough in age to Showcase that they could be twins. Volume 3 (aka “Winter 2006”) lurks right around the corner, but Volume 2 is still fresh. Alongside the few familiar names there — Sophie Crumb and Jeffrey Brown are some of the best known — are Martin Cendrera, who makes existentialism cute in “The Magic Marker,” and John Pham, with the second installment of his intriguingly weird “221 Sycamore Ave.”

Cendrera and Crumb also pop up in Issue 4 of the hard-to-find English import Sturgeon White Moss, which I recently discovered online (see Whitemosspress.com). The mag includes enough high-profile talent to attract readers — a spin through the first half-dozen issues offers Dave Cooper’s lush paintings, a bit of Daniel Johnston, and “some random drawings” by Charles Burns. But the emphasis is on artists — some offering sketchbooks or collage instead of actual comics — who are relatively unknown, at least on these shores. San Antonio-raised Matt Broersma does a lonely, almost spooky take on “Goodnight Irene” and a wordlessly eloquent lament about urban noise; Marcel Dzama offers the “Superhappyfun Comics” page, in which surreal illustrations surround really funny single-panel gags; and Neo Mashigo & Jason Masters contribute a realistically drawn look at violence on Soweto’s streets.

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Stretching the theme just a bit is Partyka, in which the publishing venture as a whole is a kind of comics-drawing anthology. A collective founded by four friends (one of whom, Sean McCarthy, is originally from SA), the group has attracted some attention by posting “daily drawings” — sometimes dashed-off, sometimes intricately worked out — at Partykausa.com. But they balance the digital sterility of web delivery with an inventive array of self-published comics that are often delicious as physical objects.

Some, like Matt Wiegle’s, are straightforward DIY mini-comics: black-and-white photocopies stapled within a cardstock cover. Sara Edward-Corbett’s endearing See-Saw, a sort of contemporary Little Rascals, ups the ante with a hand-stitched binding and an odd felt pocket on the back cover containing a little papercraft novelty I remember making as a schoolkid but am hard pressed to name. But Shawn Cheng’s are truly gorgeous, especially Vengeance at Cackling Mountain, in which a nocturnal story is told via moody color blocks silkscreened onto black paper. The wordless story is a bit opaque, which is fine with me, because it’s so lovely to look at that I won’t mind reading it multiple times to make sense of the action.

Also of note this month:

Dylan Horrocks, whose Hicksville is a favorite of mine, works way too slowly for my taste. But he has delivered the second issue of Atlas (Drawn & Quarterly), which continues the title serial and begins a second one starring Sam Zabel. Zabel’s a cartoonist with writer’s block and a case of depression; for Horrocks’ sake and that of his fans, I really hope the story’s not autobiographical.


More by John DeFore

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