Michael Dowers, ed.; Fantagraphics; 892 pp. (yep, you read that right); $24.99; B&W with color section;Â hardcover (ISBN: 9781606993132)
A while back, I stumbled upon Abstract Comics and finding it continually engrossing, I pronounced it forthwith the most eye-opening and surprising book of the year. O, impetuous youth!
The chief surprise with Newave! is the vitality and merit it sustains throughout its length and not so much in its content, although there is a lot of content â¦ well over 70 complete minis from the day. This is altogether riveting stuff, a host of guerilla comics from so many different hands offering an astonishing variety of visual experiences.
The book comes with a decadeâs subtitle but editor Michael Dowers is less exacting in his purview, wisely so. He begins his selections with the withering of underground comics publishing, as the demise of head shops dried up the commercial possibilities for counterculture and alternative funnies. Undaunted, creative talents took to expressing themselves in the mini format, personally photocopying and printing sheets to be folded by hand, trimmed by hand to form pages and stapled together. By hand. Or else artists would draw their material and send it on to someone else whoâd compile and assemble a book in much the same process. Everybody was scratching a very individual itch, one that was almost always totally divorced from economic viability.
Dowers ends his survey at the time when âNEWAVE had turned into something different â¦ tastes changed and mini comics became more socially accepted and easier to find.â Subtitle notwithstanding, comics prior and after are included, which suggests that the hefty tome tries to get a handle not on a chronological decade but on a state of mind, a subculture vibe.
Thereâs no pretense that this handle should be mistaken as the definitive one. The material came into being laterally, as an end run around tradition, resisting parameters and shedding any notion of groupthink. The âmovementâ thrived, defying order and corralling. Dowers estimates that some 60% of all the minis of the era have âfallen into obscurityâ and that it would take â50 or more books like thisâ to cover the subject adequately. His own table of contents, as organizational life raft, dutifully notes the known and available information, but it is far too casual for academics or archivists. It doesnât even mention the bookâs own embedded section of color cover reproductions.
Thereâs no index, so no way to easily track down all the Clay Geerdes inclusions but even this seems in keeping with the non-reined-in nature of the material. However there is a list of artistsâ website addresses to further your own foraging. Selected creators are interviewed and contribute essays; the former tend to be crisp and revealing, the latter rambling, indulgent and no less irreplaceable. But historical treatise this is not.
Nor does it make claims to a âgreatest hitsâ aesthetic. Dowers offers âjust a brief overview of some of the best work that has been created by obsessed nutballs.â Thereâs no compelling reason to believe, for instance, that Dale Lucianoâs Dada Gumbo #5 and #7 are worthy of inclusion and #6 is somehow shy.
The form of the book at 5âx 6â is perfect in that it mimics the most common mini size. Itâs like a really big Big Little Book of freedom funnies on steroids and other fortifiers. Immediacy and intimacy are sensational still, as if defying any trace of hardcover entombment. Transmission feels direct, however delayed, and itâs striking how vital the communiquÃ©s remain.
Reflecting their origins and formats, pieces are uniformly short, hit-and-run, spur-of-the-moment distillations of what was on creatorsâ minds as of the very instant. Brief strips, miniature pin ups, sketchbook leafs and compressed ideas predominate. At 14 pages, The Pizzâs Clyde is a veritable epic.
Clydeâs intensity survives intact. So too does that of Dennis Wordenâs Suburban Teens On Acid. Likewise the gallery of Crazy Men in Michael Roden and Jim Ryanâs fifth issue, everything by XNO and all the other pieces too plentiful to single out. Thereâs work here from such luminaries as Mary Fleener, Gary Panter, Rick Geary, Hilary Barta, Ed âBig Daddyâ Roth, Sam Henderson, Peter Bagge, J.R. Williams and, as they say, a host of others (promotional material for the book drops the name of Daniel Clowes and thereâs astonishment all around as I cannot at this moment recall, amongst this august multitude, what exactly he contributed). Some of their material is of interest as fledgling efforts, but more often their work is enjoyable on its own merits.
Dennis Wordenâs Suburban Teens On Acid
Youâll have your own personal discoveries and favorites (Wherefore art thou, Molly Keily?) while I myself remain an abject sucker for humor. I probably laughed most heartily at Jim Siergeyâs cover to Nart #2, âThe Kielbasing of Caesar,â and at Steve Willisâ character Morty gone missing (possibly forced to compete in dog toaster races) although there were many other very close competitors.
Today, anyone trying to pay the least attention to mini, DIY, self-published, handmade and small-batch comics soon learns the field is dauntingly vast and grandiosely intractable. The more you see, the more such work proves creatively expansive, egalitarianly opportunistic, organically infectious and a relative mechanical and technical breeze. Its frontiers are everywhere, a nexus nowhere and any stance on whatâs âcutting edgeâ probably says more about personal parochialism than the state of the art. Newave! proves tâwas ever so and maybe even then some.
all images Â© their respective creators