Sunday, November 12, 2006

Well, the whole Lucid Thoughts idea has mostly not panned out, due to only having the energy for such things when I'm really tired, where my mind can't really handle such things. But I'll try to articulate things.

Kramer's Ergot is this anthology of arty comics that's been pretty much the premier of the aughts. It's expensive, but it's big, in full-color, and prints a lot of stuff that wouldn't otherwise get such exposure, a lot of minicomics people, but working in full-color so it's all very pretty. Daniel Clowes called it an heir to Raw, which was the big art-comics thing in the 1980s, but says that with the reservation that no one in Kramer's Ergot is as good as Gary Panter or Charles Burns. Gary Panter has actually had stuff in volumes five and six, but that was arguably half-assed and not the point anyway. The point of the book is that it features new people.

Alex has bought volumes four, five, and six. These are the ones that matter, basically, as the first couple were smaller, black and white, and... well, no one cares about anyone in the first two, which were basically just the size of normal comics.

The thing that's most important is that the quality hinges on the longest stories, whoever gets the most chance to shine. The longer stories are the high points. Part of this also comes down to who is getting the longer stories. In volume four, it's Souther Salazar and CF, both of whom are kind of awesome.

Souther Salazar's stuff is actually completely amazing. He does these collage-comics, that he prints himself. (although I don't really get how, due to the high-quality that seems evident) There's a lot of emphasis on pen and ink drawings, but there's a kind of collage texture at work. He's in all three books, but gets decreasing pages each go-round. His stuff is great- It seems to go back and forth between this stuff that's kind of poetic sensitive-boy comics and this stuff that has this really funny, childlike edge to it. Five and six have more of the latter, with the creation of these characters Fervler and Razzle, who are minimal stick-figure animals, but- There's a lot of texture and a lot of jokes per page, on different colors of paper so it comes off beautiful even in the simplicity. Issue four he's got a bunch of comics, at least one of which I know is a reprint of a minicomic. It's called Please Don't Give Up, and it's words of encouragement accompanied by drawings of kittens. This might sound awful, but that's because I'm consciously selling it short. It works because of the variation of the lettering, and the quality of the drawing, and the ability to sell that type of really direct writing. It might seem weird and art-objecty, but I feel like the appeal's the same as that found in Craig Thompson's comics.

Marc Bell's in all of them too. But I hate his comics kind of a lot- I think they're stupid, unfunny, and really dense with this wordplay-writing that's exhausting in its attempts at cleverness. I've seen it a lot and have never liked it.

CF's stuff is good, though. He's a noise-rocker guy, who put out an album on Load Records I've been listening to. His noise stuff is just kind of there and existing, but sometimes, like on half of the eight tracks on the album I have, he does this singing over just a strummed electric guitar with a good tone. That stuff works a lot for some reason. It's noisy, but human. I wish I could say his drawing was a parallel to it, but it's not. He does these kind of simple pencil drawings, sometimes watercolors over them, and tells stories. The thing in 4 isn't as good as the bit in 5 in a way that I'm just willing to chalk up to progress. In both 4 and 5 he gets a while to do his thing, while in volume 6 he and Souther Salazar (who holy shit has an amazing name, in case you'd noticed it and didn't think I did, how could you not) both get five pages so it's not really satisfying as an aesthetic swim.

CF founded Paper Radio with Ben Jones, before Ben went on to do Paper Rad with the Ciocci siblings. I really like Paper Rad, I think their stuff is funny. They're in Kramer's as well, and are superstars. Their piece in issue six is fucking crazy-It starts off as a Seinfeld riff (Paper Rad are really into shameless copyright violation) where Kramer trips on drugs, peels the skin off his couch to find 90s indie rock CDs contained within, which he then listens to, being so inspired by Smog that he draws a comic where Bill Callahan takes out his huge dick. It's funny and it's obnoxious. All their stuff is good though, basically.

Okay I shouldn't just run down all the content. There's a lot of it. Most of it has its charms. But not all of it.

Anders Nilsen does a great thing in issue four about Sisyphus and a Minotaur.

The stuff I like is mostly stories. Some of it isn't. Some of it is drawings and collages. This stuff doesn't grab me so much but it really helps add to the overall next-level vibe.

Issue five is the best on the whole, essentially. It has lots of people given extended chances to work through their ideas. Chris Ware gets four pages. It's the one most likely to throw out traditional comics stories that work as narratives. (Kevin Huizenga!) Issue six is mostly short work, but some people get extended chances. Matthew Thurber comes off as funny and impressive with a comic that has a narrative that's just really weird in how it develops and what it's about. It just seems ridiculously fully-developed for someone I've never heard of, as a complete and total voice. Oh, and Shary Boyle gets a showcase for her paintings, which are completely great. Although I'm not certain how good the printing is- The watercolor stuff just gleams on a flat-screen monitor, better than the printed page. There's a lot of good people who just do short work though, and it ends up being pretty unsatisfying.

What's weird is the nature of the arty comic though. Daniel Clowes was talking about Raw being better, and what's funny there is how piss-poor comics were in the eighties. Even the good ones, what was hyped at the time. Like, I downloaded some Chester Brown Yummy Fur comics- Chester Brown is a creepy weirdo, for one thing, and this is the era before he did autobio comics about him being a loser, where he just did surrealist stuff. Totally critically adored at the time. It's interesting, but just- Not literary, is how I'd best put it. Not like that's necessary at all for something to work, endings, but it's so much about the tone. It doesn't work as literature. That shouldn't be a prerequisite, but it's just not even an issue in most eighties comics, having an ending with emotional weight and a point behind it.The precedent just isn't there- It's all ongoing serials and comic strips or underground comics drawn while high. Or slice-of-life auto-bio which never really ends or has a literary arc. That stuff isn't here as well, for the most part. But I feel like Clowes' point probably has more to do with the higher standard that exists now, that he kind of helped to create. But then, I haven't read Raw and Charles Burns is pretty fucking great.

Anyway these comics are expensive and I didn't buy them. But I've read them and they have their appeal even if on the whole they don't add up to my favorite shit, which is just kind of the nature of the anthology.

One cool thing about the new volume is it gives dates of birth for the artist. A lot of them aren't thirty yet. But only one was born in the eighties, and that's the editor/curator, Sammy Harkham, who appears in each but who I haven't mentioned. His stuff isn't very good. It's encouraging in its vision of youth who are older than me but have a bead and now seem to know what they're doing. What's funny is how relatable what they're doing is to someone younger. I read an interview with Sammy and he, in talking what he liked and put in, talked about the sincerity of all of it, and how, even though it might seems arty, it really is either totally comics or coming from that worldview and set of aesthetics.

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