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Mome Volume One
posted July 7, 2005
 

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Creators: Gabrielle Bell, Kurt Wolfgang, Martin Cendreda, Jeffrey Brown, Paul Hornschemeier, Gary Groth, Anders Nilsen, Jonathan Bennett, Sophie Crumb, John Pham, David Heatley, Andrice Arp
Publishing Info: Fantagraphics, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 1560976500 (ISBN)

Despite this mostly disappointing first volume, the idea behind Mome remains sound: get a group of young cartoonists and give them a place to publish, together, over a period of time to see how they grow and change -- sort of like Zap, just without the staggering talent of R. Crumb skewing things a bit (although not as much as some people think) and helping to draw attention to the publication itself. It should be a fun book to follow, and even this first one is a handsome collection, the size of literary journal, mixing color and black and white all in service of throwing the spotlight on a lot of the more interesting young cartoonists. A Gary Groth interview with Paul Hornschemeier in this issue gives hope that more will be done, giving reader recurring insight to the contributors -- it's touches like that that will make the project stand out over the long term.

Very few of the cartoonists make good on the promise of the inaugural platform. The best piece in the book is Anders Nilsen's extremely odd but affecting cartoon monologue over photographs, "The Beast." It's one of those comics where you're certain you've never quite seen a story like it but you're not sure why no one has done one before. The backgrounds in particular are fascinating; I found myself scanning them for clues even though I think their greatest effect is one of mood, something I haven't done since the first few "Multi-Force" comics in Paper Rodeo. If "The Beast" is continued or future works from the cartoonist end up paying off with as considered an effect as this great first impression, Nilsen could become the book's primary draw, albeit a peculiar one. John Pham and David Heatley smartly take the first issue to shift emphases in their work, skipping ahead several steps in the complexity of their stories to engage a wider variety of narrative effects by layering the information each reader receives. Each story may end up being very good (I assume each will continue), but neither one is quite up to speed yet; Heatley's comic is the more affecting, with its graphic tableaux and jittery, uncomfortable close-ups. I remember liking a visually assured contribution by Kurt Wolfgang and a suite of scattered-about single-pages from Martin Cendreda without being able to recall a single detail of either effort, which makes me think each was accomplished but slight work.

The bulk of the cartoonists provide solid primers to their work as seen to date. I felt like I've already read Paul Hornschemeier's installment in a dozen different comics magazines from a half dozen different cartoonists. Nothing about its phone call drama really stands out, although admittedly, Hornschemeier tends to work in a visual deadpan that leads up to more considered effect deeper in his stories. Andrice Arp's comic was oddly affecting, a surprise as it deals in the kind of folk tale that can frequently bore; the art was more fluid than the last thing I'd seen from the cartoonist. Gabrielle Bell's work featured some really strong, instinctive formal play, used to convey complexity of some really conflicted, hard to define feelings rather than the cartoonist doing it for the sake of doing it. Jonathan Bennett's story of falling into a reverie while trying to score some records was the second best and maybe the most accomplished in the volume; it also loses a few points for, again, being sort of familiar. Sophie Crumb's work in the book is uneven and not of real high quality in general. There's a cartoonist in Crumb somewhere, or at least I saw one in Bellybutton #2, but her drawing talent isn't going to be enough to sustain bad conceptual choices. I'm not sure how thoughtful a cartoonist Crumb is, but it's like she knows just enough about comics to get stuck in an unsatisfying gray zone between purposeful ambition and freewheeling personal expression. Hopefully, she'll continue to improve and will eventually find an approach that flatters her voice. It might be fun to see Crumb adapt something in order to develop storytelling strategies that might suit her more autobiographical work, but I imagine she'll take the longer road. Jeffrey Brown's short story about not knowing what to draw will give readers a sample of his aimlessly fun way of telling stories but is otherwise an incredibly disappointing first contribution, surely the least interesting work of the last half-dozen Brown has published.

I'm bullish on Mome because of the solid concept and the presentational strengths; that only one, maybe two cartoonists really ran with it this first volume isn't a sure sign that others will avoid answering the call in later issues. The danger, I imagine, and it's a huge one, is whether this becomes a primary focus for the cartoonists' abilities or just another job. Nobody published here is good enough at this time to be consistently worth reading handing in anything but their most ambitious, accomplished comics.