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April 11, 2011

Anthology MOME To End With Volume 22, Due At CCI


Editor Eric Reynolds confirmed to CR today his decision to end the Fantagraphics anthology MOME with its 22nd squarebound volume. That issue, which the cartoonist and Fantagraphics vice-president promises will be "extra-fat" and feature "many contributors, past and present" will be released in conjunction with this summer's Comic-Con International. All the work for that issue is apparently in-house, and being sent to the printer in the next several days. The publication's contributors have been informed as to the decision.

imageMOME was from its 2005 start primarily but not entirely known as a young cartoonists' anthology. It arrived on the scene at at a time between the alternative one-person anthology comic book revolution of the 1990s and the full flowering of today's current webcomics and original graphic novel model. This was a moment in comics publishing history when younger creators might not conceivably have as many easy avenues for publication at a time in their artistic development where publishing opportunities could be a real key to their becoming better cartoonists. MOME also provided an opportunity for comics readers to start learning about a difficult-to-grasp new generation of arts-comics makers at the point they really began to distinguish themselves as considerable artists.

One of the unique elements of MOME's history is that many of its original roster of contributors -- Gabrielle Bell, Kurt Wolfgang, Martin Cendreda, Jeffrey Brown, Paul Hornschemeier, John Pham, David Heatley, Anders Nilsen, Jonathan Bennett, Sophie Crumb and Andrice Arp -- went on very quickly to different projects in a way that limited their ability to contribute to the magazine on a regular basis. This forced Reynolds and co-editor Gary Groth to continue to bring in new talent at perhaps a slightly faster clip than originally intended, making MOME one of the places to watch for rising cartoonists at every early and intermediate stage. Appearing in later issues were such cartoonists as T. Edward Bak, Tom Kaczynski, Sara Edward-Corbett, Ray Fenwick, Nate Neal, Laura Park and Jon Vermilyea.

For many of those creators, getting published in MOME was not only a valued avenue to publication and widespread bookstore distribution, but was a professional high point. Original contributor Gabrielle Bell said, "I'm very glad to have been among the first in Mome, and Eric was the best editor I've ever worked with. It was really stressful, though, coming up with a new comic every few months. I think I had a nervous breakdown about it at some point."

"Working with Eric and Fantagraphics has really been a tremendous honor," the cartoonist T. Edward Bak told CR. "It was an honor to be asked to contribute, and it has been an honor to see my ridiculous drawings appearing alongside the work of so many fantastically creative, genuine artists."

Another young cartoonist on the contributor rotation, Lilli Carré, told CR that the anthology's production values and the structure it provided were useful. "I'm quite sad to see MOME go -- it's an impressive series that I'm of course honored to have been a part of. I think the best part was that it offered a venue for full-color work where cartoonists could build upon stories and ideas that wouldn't otherwise have a home. It was very helpful to work towards the MOME deadlines and have a relatively immediate place to put a short story. It encouraged me and I'm sure others to make pieces for it that wouldn't exist otherwise or wouldn't get seen."

MOME also published more established North American cartoonists: Gilbert Shelton, Al Columbia, Jim Woodring and Ted Stearn all had work featured in its pages. MOME also carried work from both established and young cartoonists from the European tradition. Many readers became acquainted with the work of Olivier Schrauwen in the pages of MOME, while one of Lewis Trondheim's best works of the past decade, "At Loose Ends," was published in MOME over the course of three issues. That story and a piece by Emile Bravo in the same issue received Eisner award nominations for work published in 2007. The series was nominated for best anthology at the 2007 Harveys and the 2008 Eisners. Still, it was the work of younger cartoonists that made MOME go -- that Tim Hensley's 2010 effort Wally Gropius work was eventually published in a critically lauded stand-alone album might have been particularly gratifying in that the work might not have been possible without MOME as a place to carry individual portions of that work as they were created.

imageFor editor Reynolds, the series driving force and primary editor, it was simply time. "It's been a good run, longer than just about any anthology I can think of," Eric Reynolds told CR. "But the simple fact is, as much as I love putting it together, I felt like the time has come. It wasn't simply a sales decision; though not very profitable, MOME held its own, if modestly. But for a company with finite resources, four volumes a year of a mostly full-color book ultimately means that there are around four other books that aren't being published in a given year. And as my editorial and publishing duties have broadened, not to mention fathering a child since MOME was born, I'm ready for a change and don't want MOME to calcify into something that I'm not actively passionate about or putting together by rote. As it is, ever since Clem was born and I took on more responsibilities here, I know I've become increasingly less efficient as an editor, which is another factor in my decision."

"MOME was an honorable experiment and a successful one, creatively," critic Christopher Allen said in a note to CR. "I don't know Gary Groth or Kim Thompson except through their writing, but I know Eric Reynolds enough to recognize his sensibility, heart and humor in some great Fantagraphics projects, and Eric should be very proud of a substantial run of diverse, high quality comics in MOME. I'm not a 'one door closes, another opens' kind of guy, but I hope any cartoonists who worked in or hoped to work in MOME will find other venues."

One such future venue might be a Reynolds anthology, still very much in the someday stage. "I love anthologies and absolutely believe I'll start another one eventually," he said. "I hope I will learn from the mistakes I've made in MOME and it will be better than MOME. Which is another reason why I think I need some time to sit back and reflect and not face another deadline every three months."

Reynolds had originally thought of ending the book with its 25th volume, but as a big fan of the number 22 -- the calendar date of his birthday, his wife's birthday, their anniversary, and a day after his child's date of birth, he decided 22 would do, and that Comic-Con would be a fine place to bring out that final issue. He plans to use the extra time to work on other Fantagraphics book projects, some with MOME contributors.

posted 11:40 am PST | Permalink

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