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The Comics Journal #301
posted February 18, 2013

imageCreators: Gary Groth, Rick Marschall, Donald Phelps, Robert Stanley Martin, Jeet Heer, Tim Hodler, Alexander Theroux, Kenneth R. Smith, Jim Woodring, Warren Bernard, Tim Kreider, Stephen Dixon, Marc Sobel, R. Fiore, Rob Clough, RC Harvey, Chris Lanier, Gene Deitch, Tom Crippin
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, 600pages or so, June 2011, $30
Ordering Numbers: 9781606992913

As the latest issue makes the rounds I wanted to look at the first of the post-issue #300 Comics Journals, the magazine-as-brick era, if only to mark in my mind when it came out. I thought this was a very solid issue of the magazine, and a handsome object besides. While part of me still wishes for a bi-weekly print strategy, a true magazine of record and a doubling-down on print in an era where that itself would be a statement, I realize that's not viable. This will more than do. The best parts of this first attempt at a wieldy, bookstore-ready tome came from Gary Groth and Tim Kreider. Publishing Groth's big interviews in print like this is an effective use of one of comics' most versatile thinkers and aiming a very good and only intermittent writer like Kreider at something as odd yet Journal-appropriate as the entirety of Cerebus seems to me fine editorial planning. The rest of the material cascades a bit in terms of editorial acuity, at least to my personal liking, with Jim Woodring, Joe Sacco and John McCutcheon settling in at the second tier. Nearly all of the writing is of a high quality; this was a fine book to keep on the back of one's commode along with the Clive James and Ron Rosenbaum the year it came out. Mine's still in there. I also appreciated some of the subtle design touches, such as using shifts in the fonts employed to suggest the back and forth of an editor, which makes the more blunt solutions of my day at the publication look crude and over-the-top. I enjoyed the heck out of the whole package. I wish it hadn't taken so long to see publication, but given the length of time between this issue and #302 I suppose that's what we're in for.

If I had one complaint it might be that the content itself is almost proudly old-fashioned, which is nice in that we don't get stab in the direction of relevance but is also not-so-nice in that there's a slightly musty feeling to the whole affair. It feels a bit like a CBS prime-time television show. That's not a problem for me, but one wishes for something this good to engage on as many levels as possible, including younger readers. I'm also not certain how the print publication fits within the wider mission that includes the web site. Except for the Groth and maybe the Kreider and Fiore, nearly all of this could have appeared on the site first -- or instead of -- in this book. That may be unavoidable, and the distinction may be the writers used and the relative prestige of the offerings. That's something for future volumes to better negotiate, and there may be only a dozen people to whom those issues of choice with this publication even matter. I look forward to more of this Journal, and have already enjoyed a good chunk of the latest.