Sweet Spot: Mome Vol. 19

Posted by on October 7th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Mome Summer 2010 (Vol. 19); Various, Eric Reynolds, ed.; Fantagraphics; 120 pp., $14.99; Full Color, Paperback; ISBN: 978-1606993491

Cover by Josh Simmons’ and Shaun “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” Partridge’s “The White Rhinoceros”

The last two volumes of Mome have been wildly uneven, a testament to just how difficult it is for an editor to sustain the quality and focus of each individual issue of an anthology series.  Almost every one of Mome‘s original lineup of creators has gone on to other projects, leaving series editor Eric Reynolds in the position of juggling up-and-coming talent, short work by comics veterans and new serials.  Mome Vol. 17 and Vol. 18 showed the strain of putting this material together in a manner that made sense and flowed smoothly for a reader.  In Vol. 19, Reynolds shifted gears and used fewer but longer entries to put together perhaps the single best issue of the entire series (only Vol. 12 surpasses it in my estimation).  Beyond its quality, Mome Vol. 19 also seems to be the issue that best reflects Reynolds’ taste as an editor.  Reynolds has always been more on the underground side of the fence than in the literary fiction camp when it comes to comics.  This issue’s mix of the transgressively funny, pulpish noir, surrealism, scatology and innovation was sequenced in such a way that every transition from story to story was nearly seamless.  More importantly, the stories frequently complemented each other in a way that acted as a form of editorial storytelling on its own.

“The White Rhinoceros”

This issue begins with a devastating 1-2-3 punch of brilliantly distinctive stories, all of which explore the nature of reality as a kind of consensus cultural force.  Josh Simmons’ and Shaun “A Partridge in  a Pear Tree” Partridge’s first segment of “The White Rhinoceros” is precisely the kind of deadpan transgressiveness at which Simmons excels.  It’s a Wizard of Oz-style quest in which a woman named Rosie wakes up from a nightmare of being creeped out by a Raggedy Ann doll into an even weirder scenario: a magical place called Racelandia.  She meets a number of delightful and frightening creatures based on hideously awful racial slurs, none of which have any meaning in this world other than a literal one.  The Baby Pink Polack is simply named that, stripped of any subtext of racism or ethnic hatred.  The last quote from Rosie this issue, “Stop being so offensive and run quicker!” had me laughing out loud, because as a reader one can’t help but cringe.  Simmons’ use of color is stunningly beautiful, creating a world so bright and cheery that you can practically taste it.  This has the potential to be the greatest original serialized story in Mome‘s history, which is saying something considering that Wally Gropius originally appeared in these pages.

From Olivier Schrauwen’s “The Imaginist”

Olivier Schrauwen’s “The Imaginist” follows, which is a fitting choice due to the way in which color is the dominant storytelling tool.  It’s a story about a catatonic man who is affected by his environment such that sounds, shapes and colors all take on different and vastly more dramatic meanings for him.  The brightness of the colors in the early part of the story reflect the man’s imagination as he’s able to bend reality to his will, up until he’s moved by his nurse.  Even the schmaltziest pop song becomes an invitation for ecstatically rapturous dancing with his imaginary girlfriend.  Schrauwen switches to an oppressively dull reddish-brown hue for the scenes in real life until a female relative comes along to take him around the neighborhood in his wheelchair.  The scenes in which the brightness of the outside world creates delight for the man are heartbreakingly wonderful, and the final panels of fantasy leaking over into reality (blurring entirely into abstracted color patterns) create a pitch-perfect ending.

From Gilbert Hernandez’  “Who Are Your Heroes, What Are Your Heroes?”

That sense of reality blurring was a prime component of the next piece, a Gilbert Hernandez story involving his character Roy in “Who Are Your Heroes, What Are Your Heroes?”  I’ve always thought of Roy as Beto’s version of Herbie “The Fat Fury” Popnecker: a nearly invulnerable but naive innocent plowing his way through the world.  In this story, Roy explores becoming a hero, monster, martyr and idol — all at the same time.  The story concludes with Roy doing the one thing that can stop him: posing as an idol until he becomes petrified, a childlike grin permanently etched on his face.

From DJ Bryant’s “Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt”

The next two stories build on the black-and-white naturalism of Hernandez and create pure pulp.  DJ Bryant’s “Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt” is a twisted homage to a Steve Ditko story, involving a man in a submissive relationship with his oversexed and abusive wife.  Bryant goes to extremes in presenting a warped, paranoid morality tale, with blatantly pornographic scenes reflecting the heightened drama of the relationship depicted.  At the same time, his characters have a playful, almost rubbery quality to them, despite his use of a naturalistic style.  This is a story about dominance and submission gone to extremes, depicting the ways in which the abused husband is constantly aroused at being so submissive to his beautiful but icy wife.  It’s unclear whether the final scene is a final mind-fuck on the part of his wife or proof that the protagonist was unbalanced all along—or perhaps both.

From Tim Lane’s “Hitchhiker”

Using the same naturalistic, noir-inspired style but fostering an entirely different tone for his story, Tim Lane’s “Hitchhiker” is a creepy story where the reader expects the other shoe to drop in gruesome fashion, but never quite does.  Indeed, it turns every noir cliche’ about picking up a hitchhiker on its head, as both driver and passenger wind up touching emotionally in a surprising way.  It’s a story about love lost and connections being broken, and how important it is to patch up those differences if it’s possible.

That through-line of emotional connection provides a suitable link to the latest dreamy story by Conor O’Keefe.  “Vote Lily At The Dog Show” is his best effort to date in Mome, using his Winsor McCay-inspired characters to craft a story about killing in self-defense, being misunderstood in a society that’s loud, crass and delusional and the ways in which a single emotional connection can buttress one against these ills.  O’Keefe’s use of pastels and his soft line create a soft and inviting page that looks both like a long-lost reprint from the turn of the 20th century and a set of pages from a well-worn children’s book.

From Robert Goodin’s “The Spiritual Crisis of Carl Jung”

The only slight misstep in the volume was placing Robert Goodin’s “The Spiritual Crisis of Carl Jung” after this story.  It has a child as its main character, but the tone and content are so radically different as to create a jarring shift for the reader.  On the other hand, this was by far the most interesting story I’ve read by Goodin, whose endless fascination with scatology and sex in his cartooning is a bit limiting.  He’s quite accomplished technically, but I’ve always found his stories juvenile.  This is a story that winds up using scatology as a punch line, but in an extraordinarily clever way, depicting Jung as a teenager, trying to keep a sinful (but hilarious) image of God out of his head.  It was that thought that acted as a battering ram against his fealty to the church on an organizational level, and led him to explore the connections between other religions and cultures.

T. Edward Bak

The issue concludes with the latest bit from T. Edward Bak’s Georg Steller saga.  As beautiful as it is in Mome, I can’t wait to sit it collected and printed big.  Bak’s use of blue on black, the scratchboard style, and comics as maps all coalesce into a story about gender roles and secrets.  Secrets and mysteries are at the core of every story in this volume, and Reynolds expertly put together this jigsaw puzzle of styles and visual approaches to create a coherent, deeply affecting book.  It’s certainly on my short list of best comics of the year.

all images ©2010 their respective creators

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