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Guest Blog: Eric Reynolds on the End of Mome

MOME promotional art by Ponk.

The most recent issue of Previews announced that the 22nd issue of Fantagraphics’ flagship anthology MOME would be its last. Conceived initially as an incubator of sorts for a group of youngish cartoonists by editors Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds, it quickly mutated and also became a home for short work by established cartoonists, short translated work by European cartoonists, and eventually any number of bizarre one-offs. That initialstrategy was abandoned because many of the earliest contributors, including Jeffrey Brown, David Heatley, Anders Nilsen, and Gabrielle Bell, no longer needed the exposure or this particular publishing outlet.

As contributors started dropping out of particular volumes and then the anthology altogether, it became convenient to print short works of established artists like David B, Killoffer, Jim Woodring, Lewis Trondheim, and Gilbert Sheldon. As Groth dropped out of actively editing and curating the anthology, it took on more of Reynolds’ more idiosyncratic tastes, culminating in the magnificent nineteenth issue, which featured the comics of Josh Simmons, Olivier Schrauwen, T Edward Bak, Gilbert Hernandez, Tim Lane, and others. During the course of the anthology’s run, Reynolds went from being in charge of Fantagraphics’ publicity to becoming the company’s associate publisher. I briefly spoke to him regarding his decision to end his anthology’s run.

Rob Clough: Why did you choose to end MOME with #22?

Eric Reynolds: I knew I was facing the end at some point soon, I just couldn’t quite decide when. At first I was thinking 25, which seemed like a good, round number. But then I kept thinking about 22: it’s a personally resonant number with me. Myself, my wife, and my sister all have birthdays on a 22, and my wife and I got married on one. My daughter was due on my birthday, and although she decided to come a day early and was born on a 21st, I consider her an honorary member of the ’22 Club.’ Anyway, once I got that idea in my head it just felt right.

RC: Why did you feel like you were facing the end?  Were sales actively dropping or were they just flat?

ER: Just flat. It was breaking even or perhaps slightly better. Gary and Kim seemed happy to let me continue because they knew it was a labor of love, but I felt like I didn’t want to let it get to a point where Fantagraphics was subsidizing MOME just for the sake of it. Like I  said, it just felt right to do it now. I know how many books we publish, how narrow our margins are as a company, and as much as I love MOME, my first obligation is to Fantagraphics and I felt like this was the right move, right now.

RC: Was the time investment too great for you at this point? Or was it  simply a matter of burnout after doing this for five years?  (Or some combination thereof?)

ER: Not quite either, really. I wasn’t burned out on MOME, but I was slightly frustrated by my own inability over the last year or two to be as proactive an editor as I’d like to be. So if anything, it was that I couldn’t put more time into it. If I could work full time on MOME and put it out monthly, I would love that. It has never been a  huge time investment for me, as a quarterly. I was pretty conscious from the get go of creating MOME as something that I could edit and put together without it becoming too much of an investment of my time, with the relatively consistent design template and a limited editorial voice.

RC: What has been the reaction of the artists you’re currently publishing?

ER: They’ve all been great. I don’t think I could take any pride in MOME if I didn’t think most of the artists enjoyed the experience. Maybe they’re just being nice, but I’ve been very flattered by the reactions I’ve received.

RC: How did they react when told the anthology was ending?

ER: They seemed bummed, but happy that it lasted as long as it did. They  were all very kind, that’s the best way I can put it. It made me feel good.

RC: Which of the serials running in MOME do you foresee being collected by Fantagraphics?

ER: Well, hopefully most of them.

RC: What’s your take on MOME‘s legacy?

ER: That’s not for me to say. I hope it has a shelf life beyond the present, but I am in no position to say. I hope my daughter can read it one day and see what her old man was once up to.

RC: MOME really seemed to hit its stride again recently; do you regret ending it now?

ER: Ha! Well, yes and no. Doing this last issue is bittersweet, it feels like the strongest issue to date for me, and does make me second-guess myself a bit. But really, I’m pretty comfortable with the decision. It just feels like the right time.

RC: How do you compare MOME to other alt-anthologies that had significant runs, like Zap, Arcade, Weirdo, Raw, D&Q, Non, and Kramers Ergot?

ER: I don’t know. It seems absurd to me to compare it to something like ZapArcade, Weirdo, or Kramers, which all seemed like such perfect representations of the art comic zeitgeists of their time. I’m not sure MOME ever had the sheer focus of any of those anthologies. Which is fine, but different.

Panels from Tom Kaczynski story for MOME 22.

 

Filling In

MoCCA did Dan in, so I’m stepping in to deliver the news.

First, we are publishing frequent Journal contributor Matthias Wivel’s first story for the new site: an in-depth interview with the French artist Fabrice Neaud. I was not previously familiar with his work, which is not easy to find in translation here, but still found this to be a fascinating conversation. We hope you will too.

In other Journal news, the panel discussion at the Strand Friday night seemed to go well, or at least well enough. It’s hard to tell from the microphone side of the table. But Gary and Kim Deitch were both in fine form, and the audience seemed happy. My favorite part came the first time it was mentioned aloud that Dan and I had taken over the website, when I could have sworn I saw a giant light bulb literally appear over Kim’s head—he had apparently been too good-natured to ask what we were doing there earlier.

Several people inquired beforehand about the possibility of the panel being recorded, and they should rest easy, because by my count there were at least three devices capturing the whole thing for posterity. Thanks to all of you who attended.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Drawn & Quarterly had a limited supply of Chester Brown’s instantly infamous Paying for It at the MoCCA Festival, and there are already three reviews online—from Tom Spurgeon and TCJ.com contributors Chris Mautner and Sean T. Collins—all worth reading later, or now if you can’t wait for the actual book. Following the reaction to Brown’s book may well end up being almost as much fun as the work itself—which, incidentally, it seems like I may have enjoyed more wholeheartedly than any of these three writers. (Why do I feel creepy saying so?) Then again, I haven’t needed to take a publicly stance on the more polemic aspect of the book, which is the hard part. We’ll have more coverage of Brown on the site closer to the book’s release date.

Bhob Stewart investigates (with a little help from Jay Lynch) the possible origins of the term “Hoo-Hah!,” a bit of slang frequent readers of early Mad will remember well. Was Harvey Kurtzman influenced by T.S. Eliot? Considering the mutual admiration society Eliot set up with Groucho Marx (one of the comedian’s letters to the poet can be read online), I wouldn’t put it past the realm of possibility.

Finally, via Tom Scioli, I learned of a Wired article that claims to have discovered a 1953 Otto Binder article that provided the secret inspiration for every nuclear-radiation-mutated superhero from Spider-Man to the X-Men. It’s not true, unfortunately—the mutant superman has been around since at least the early ’30s, when a writer named John Taine wrote a whole slew of “mutational romances.” And Lewis Padgett’s famous “Baldy” series of the 1940s, gathered in Mutant!, featured a race of persecuted bald telepaths, and provided an obvious reference for Professor X as well. But anyway.

Finally—Not (or at least only tangentially) Comics: Over at the great film site Mubi, our own Joe McCulloch writes about Frank Miller’s The Spirit and Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Check it out.

 

Go Time

The great Tim Kreider turns in an editorial/essay on the state of the cartooning profession. Despite a small amount of shared territory with a recent controversial Voice story (including a particular Ted Rall joke–it is a funny line, so I see why Rall likes to use it), this piece was written before that issue of the Voice was published. Not that it matters, since they’re sufficiently different, but just so you know.

Also, Rob Clough contributes a review of the international survey anthology Gazeta.

Finally, of course, any Journal readers in the New York area tonight will want to come to the Strand bookstore, to see Gary Groth and Kim Deitch in discussion with Dan and myself about the magazine’s history and legacy. It starts at seven, and comes after a full day of store appearances by cartoonists such as Ben Katchor, Jillian Tamaki, Pascal Girard, and Dash Shaw.

Elsewhere:

The 2011 Eisner Award nominations have been announced. It’s going to take a little time to absorb the whole thing; there are definitely some good and deserving nominees in there, but a few surprising oversights as well. That’s par for the course with awards all over, of course, but in comics, the whole thing sometimes seems especially perverse. More on this later, I am sure.

In news of more lasting importance, Bart Beaty sums up the latest state of the troubles at L’Association. Highly recommended.

Also on the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon reflects further on the Voice non-payment issue.

I don’t think we’ve yet linked to this interview with Anders Nilsen yet.

And here’s a very short Q&A with the Journal‘s debut diarist Vanessa Davis.

 

Short and To the Point, Man.

Hello there. We’re looking forward to seeing you at The Strand Friday at 7 pm. Watch me and Tim grill Gary Groth, while Kim Deitch valiantly defends us against his taunts. It will be a ball. Bring your questions about arcane TCJ history and we (by we, I mean Gary) will attempt to answer them.

And now, your links for the day:

* I’m pretty sure this means that Frank Santoro has finally been tapped to star as Batman.

* Tom Devlin reports back from WonderCon. Tom looks healthier and more distinguished each year while I grow haggard. Is it Montreal? All those John Stanley comics? His loving partner and children? Oh, whatever. I don’t like it. Not one bit.

* Burp the Twerp. Yes. A reason to go on.

* Dan Zettwoch almost makes me care about baseball via these awesome buttons.

* Over at the Village Voice we learn about comics and money. It’s about as depressing as you think, but also oddly… incomplete. However, it provided a nifty handout for my Cartooning major students yesterday. D&Q snagged a since deleted response from Mimi Pond, which is priceless.

* Barely comics: Mark Newgarden alerted me that our beloved S.S. Adams novelty company building has gone up for sale. We visited it long ago, when there were still remnants of fake doggy do to be found. Hard to believe a place so beautiful gave the world such unrelenting mania.

On the site:

-Jeet Heer returns with more thoughts on race and comics.

See at MoCCA, though I’ll be wearing my other hat.

 

When All Else Fails

New to the site: Hayley Campbell joins the Journal team with a review of Kiki de Montparnasse.

Also, five new issues are up for viewing in the archives. Check them out now before they go up behind the subscriber paywall.

Issue 42 features an interview with Stan Lee.

In issue 43, Gary Groth meets Neal Adams.

Issue 44 finds Kim Thompson talking to Marv Wolfman (and an enjoyable pan from Gary on Sabre–funny how having standards can pay off in unexpected ways thirty years later).

Issue 45 features Marilyn Bethke interviewing Joe Staton.

And in issue 46, Will Eisner talks to Cat Yronwoode.

Dig in while you can.

Elsewhere on the webonet:

“Lichtenstein did no more or less for comics than Andy Warhol did for soup.” I don’t remember coming across that Art Spiegelman quote before, but it’s nice in that it does a lot of work in not so many words. Ernesto Priego dug it up for a traditional (but not philistine) comics vs. pop art post.

The cartoonist, editor, and, um, enthusiast (?) Sammy Harkham is good at pretending to be excitable and aggressive during interviews, and his recent Comix Claptrap appearance is no exception. It’s all an act, folks. Honestly, what I really appreciate in Harkham’s public appearances is his willingness to be candid—a surprisingly rare trait among cartoonists, as you’d think it would go hand in hand with a talent for the form. (The Claptrap is also one of a very small handful of comics interview podcasts worth following, so get on it already.)

Jeremy Sheldon wrote an online essay for the “Aliens” issue of Granta — as far as I can tell, it’s the only content in the journal about, like, real aliens (meaning the outer-space kind). Otherwise, it’s all immigration issues and such. In the essay, Sheldon discusses the deep meaning of science-fiction book covers, and draws much inspiration from the fact that the big alien monster at the end of Watchmen looks like human genitalia.

Our own Kristy Valenti writes about the artist Mike Kelley’s take on the bottled city of Kandor here. If you don’t know Kandor, that was a shrunken city from the planet Krypton that Superman kept around in his house. Whenever he got really lonely, he’d occasionally shrink himself down and hang out with the little people inside. Most comics theorists will tell you this is a metaphor for something or other. Schizophrenia?

For CCCBC members only: The occultist Kenneth Grant, whose work played a key role in Alan Moore’s recent Neonomicon series, has died.

As has been mentioned a few times here on the blog (and in the site’s comments), former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter has recently published a series of rather dubious claims regarding the infamous Marvel/Jack Kirby artwork debacle. For those of you unfamiliar with this history, Rodrigo Baeza has gathered together much of the relevant information into one place. Is it depressing that this recent Shooter activity is sparking so little discussion?

The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction recently held an industry day, and there are three big reports online about it: here, here, and here. (I particularly recommend Tom Spurgeon’s.) It still amazes me that the CCS exists, even now that it’s nearly reached the status of a institution.

 

Last Night on Gossip Girl…

Just kidding, I’m writing this before watching the new Gossip Girl, and it’s a repeat anyway. But if demand warrants it I can try to convince Tim to let me run weekly recaps. If not, well, I’ll just do so on my own time.

Well, well there is much to discuss, isn’t there? For one thing, new to the site are full length interviews from the archive with Aline Kominsky-Crumb (from 1990, and by Peter Bagge) and Lynda Barry (from 1989 — before many of you were born!). So go enjoy those, my friends. Spend the day, even.

Let’s take a trip together around the internet, OK?

* Steven Heller calls our attention to a new traveling project from the great British pop artist Peter Blake.

* From WonderCon comes news that IDW will be releasing oversized editions of classic Marvel comics reproducing the original art. This is good news, I think, and points to a much-needed recognition by Marvel of the aesthetic value of this work and willingness to hand over material to a smaller publisher perhaps better equipped to handle this kind of project. The series begins with Walt Simonson’s Thor. I’m curious where it’ll go from there.

* Speaking of IDW, it’s also releasing a deluxe edition of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker material, to which I have a severe allergy. That said, This is a pretty wonderful memoir of hanging out with Donald Westlake, aka Richard Stark, complete with photos of men with beards.

* This new profile of Moebius alludes to problems with the artist’s vision, as well as a booming business in privately commissioned paintings. I’d be curious to see some of those pieces.

* Speaking of Moebius, and those who love him, Inveterate phone-talker Sammy Harkham lays it down on tape over at Comix Claptrap.

Finally, for you Facebook fanatics:

* Here is a fabulous selection of Out Our Way panels by J.R. Williams. Even in the current strip boom, Williams remains overrated underrated. I love his natural, easy-does-it drawing style and acute regional observations. Here’s a project that could keep Jeet busy: “Great Regional Cartoonists of the 1920s”. And not “midwest” or anything too easy. Oh no, I wanna see it state-by-state. Get a WordPress account and get started, Jeet!

 

Monday Monday

Dan spent some time with Ben Jones last week, and interviewed the man in anticipation of tonight’s Cartoon Network premiere of Problem Solverz.

Our man in Scandinavia, Austin English, turns in his first review for the new CJ, looking at John Mejias’s Paping Teacher’s Edition.

Elsewhere:

Paul Gravett turns in an Angouleme report.

Tom Spurgeon interviews Wilfred Santiago.

Sammy Harkham interviewed by James Romberger.

Over at HiLobrow, our own Matt Seneca uses a panel from Weird Mystery Tales to explore Jack Kirby’s depiction of women. “He was never meant to draw the average action comic’s shrinking violet of a ‘gal.'”

HiLobrow seems to be upping their comics coverage in general, actually, and today also sees the first post in a week-long collaboration with 4CP’s John Hilgart.

 

Contracts, Contacts, Comments

Our header image is by Frank Robbins. His gestural inkwork in the 1970s looks better than ever these days. In its day, it couldn’t have been a stranger fit, but now… now it looks like something I’d publish. Ha! Of course I love the 1950s and ’60s work, but there’s something about the wild line and off-kilter perspectives that just does it for me here.

On the site today: Brandon Graham Day 5! Thank you Brandon for an excellent week together. I feel we’ve become closer, learned things about each other, and bonded in unexpected yet pleasurable ways. Wait, that was my week with my puppy. What were we talking about? Brandon! Tim and I have been thrilled to host Brandon, as we both admire his work and vision. Follow him some more over at Royal Boiler.

Your links, madam:

• I enjoyed this piece on Bernard Baily by Ken Quattro. The more in-depth, “how they lived” style pieces on cartoonists that appear, the richer the general history becomes. Baily is someone whose early work on The Spectre stands out for me for it’s hazy gloom.

* Daniel Best has multiple transcriptions of the parts of some of the depositions made public thus far in the ongoing Kirby v. Marvel case. These are text versions of the PDF documents available online at Justia. Following on that, Sean Howe focuses on the publication of Steve Gerber’s 1977 contract with Marvel for Howard the Duck. If that’s not enough Howard for you, click over to TCJ #40 and check out the Howard newspaper reprints from that issue.

* Related: New Steve Ditko book ready for shipping.

* Unrelated: The Dallas Observer takes a closer look at the Dark Knight Returns page being offered for sale by Heritage Auctions.

* Baseball and Comics Dept.: Huizenga, May, and Zettwoch each take on opening day over at Leon Beyond. Tom Spurgeon interviews Wilfred Santiago.

Have a good weekend.