"Kramer's Ergot" number 4
"Kramer's Ergot" number four (Avodah Books; 324 pp.; $24.95), a mammoth example of these new books, gives strong competition to high-end museum catalogues but at one-quarter the price. Avodah Books boils down to one man, Sammy Harkham, a big, bearded guy in his twenties who means to knock you out with aesthetic overload. "Ergot" is not a book to take on a plane to lose yourself in a great story. Many of the contributions couldn't even be called comix and most of the rest have nonsensical, free-associative narratives. Collage and full-page illustration mix with the likes of Jeffrey Brown's "Don't Look Them in the Eye," a recollection of every encounter he's ever had with a vagrant. Of the 25 or so contributors, others include Renee French, and Marc Bell, author of "Shrimpy and Paul" (see review) whose sense of color is revealed as equal to his delightful sense of absurd humor. Huge, kaleidoscopic and indulgent, "Kramer's Ergot" number four is like a jawbreaker for your eye.
On a somewhat smaller scale, but with no less attention to detail (dig those beveled corners!), "Project: Telstar" (AdHouse Books; 184 pp.; $16.95) features robot and space stories by a group of cartoonists not normally associated with science fiction. Gregory Benton creates a credible New York during the last days of Earth. Gigantic floods aren't enough to make some people move: they still buy toilet paper and pull giant worms off each other. Other contributors (there are over 25) only tangentially refer to space. Mark Burriur's "Piano Music" tells of a lonely piano teacher and the painting of outer space that distracts a talentless student. With an excellent variety of stories that go from cute to existential, editor and designer Chris Pitzer has put together one of the best-looking and best reading anthologies of the year. Printed in black and white and silver, the aesthetics of "Project: Telstar" ingeniously tie the stories together with a cool, sleek look.
"SPX 2003" (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; 290 pp.; $9.95) continues the series of SPX anthologies that have become comix' greatest annual bargain. You can even (maybe) write it off on your taxes since it's published by the non-profit CBLDF an organization that provides legal assistance to comix professionals with First Amendment troubles. The book appears in tandem with the Small Press Expo (SPX), an annual convention for alternative comix publishers that takes place every September. (It's happening this weekend in Bethesda, Maryland. See the SPX website for details.)
This year the book has travel as the theme, and while not quite as satisfying as last-year's biography-based book, there are some strong standouts among the contributions from over 40 different artists. Jessica Fink's "Baggage" tells a harrowing autobiographical tale of being kidnapped by her deranged father when she was in middle school. The story of moving around from empty movie theaters to dumpy motels ultimately becomes the story of being able to move on in one's life. On the opposite scale, R. Sikoryak pulls off another of his perfect-pitch satires, this time of Tintin, Herge's adventuring "boy reporter." "Prisoners of the Red Planet" finds Tim-Tim stranded on Mars where his can-do attitude encounters an untenable circumstance of radiation, insanity and death. "SPX 2003," with its wild variety of styles and stories by mostly unheard of artists, is like an AAA farm team for the majors. There are a few hits and several misses, but it's cheap and fun to scout out the next big player.
"Kramer's Ergot," "Project: Telstar" and "SPX 2003" all offer different kinds of delights. "Kramer's" indulges your aesthetic sweet tooth, "Telstar" makes for a satisfying treat, and "SPX 2003" provides the condiments. Enjoy the feast!
"Kramer's Ergot," "Project: Telstar" and "SPX 2003" can be found at superior comic stores.