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Hi-Horse Omnibus Volume One
posted July 2, 2004
Various; Edited by Howard John Arey, Andrice Arp, Joan Reilly and Bishakh Som
Hi Horse Omnibus offers the reader a pile of very mediocre mini-comics playing trade paperback dress up. The reader should definitely say "No thank you." Dissecting the volume further quickly becomes like slicing at a wall of gelatin with a scalpel. Nothing here pushes hard enough to be pushed back. What maddens is that many of the contributors – Martin Cendreda, Bishakh Som, Jeff Roysdon – seem to be appealing artists with styles from which all sorts of interesting stories could be built. In fact, except for the really dull, flat approach utilized by Olivia Schanzer and Howard John Arey's channeling old comic strips via Robert Crumb so bluntly it would make a young David Collier cringe, all of the artists in Hi-Horse have the tools to make work that could hold its own in grander company: Karen Sneider can tell a joke, Dan Zettwoch has a fine sense of pacing, and so on.
Why then did so many submit and/or allow the use of such dull, lifeless stories? Why did the editors accept and/or cull them? As uneven as anthology efforts like Non #5 and Kramer's Ergot 4 could be, and each could rip the bottoms out of automobiles passing over them, none of the work in their pages felt tossed off or mailed in. Except for Brad Johnson, nobody here has the cartoon chops to make something compelling from incidents that read alternately like rejected high concept throwaways at a studio meeting and some bit of "real life dialogue" overheard at Denny's. Time is of the essence in anthologies. No one in a book like Hi-Horse is going to receive the prolonged exposure necessary to allow the reader immersion into the ambience of a specific visual world. Anthologies like this are a first date, not a twelfth: ditch the sweats, put on a jacket. The cartoonist Hob comes closest to displaying a grain of ambition in "The Supervisor," using a four-panel strip structure threaded with dialogue that leads to a summary point different than the ones that build through most of the page. It's a nice effect, feels more dense than indulgent, and the structural play reinforces the final, ironic point. Would that anyone else tried anything half as impressive.