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.


10 Responses to Guest Blog: Eric Reynolds on the End of Mome

  1. mrgrab says:

    It's a little like Nothing Eve coming true.

    Gonna miss Mome. Thanks for presenting some great new comics, Eric & FBI.

  2. vollsticks says:

    Fucking devastated.

  3. IanHarker says:

    I know someone who was just charging themselves up this weekend at MoCCA to put together a serious piece intended for MOME. The next day it gets canceled! Oh well such is life. I hope another full-color outlet for really good, just below the radar cartoonists pops up again soon.

  4. Jeff_Loren says:

    BRIngs back the messageboard guys please. this comment making on an article is boring.

  5. JeffreyFlowers says:

    As someone who owns every issue, and who has been a subscriber for the last two years, I cannot say how sad I am to read that Mome has been cancelled. It is easily one of my all time favorite anthologies.

  6. RalfJ says:

    What does this mean for the ongoing serials in Mome (Rhinoceros, Wild Man, Fuzz and Pluck, Nothing Eve)? Will they be finished in the last volume or left unfinished?

  7. Lou_Copeland says:

    What a poo it's all ending.

    MOME really had a very high degree of work that seemed worthy of my time even though a number of stories made me want to jump out of bed at 3:00am to stomp around the artist's lawns screaming at their windows. Just about every piece provoked a strong reaction from me in some way, which is a really good thing (my all time most hated short comic story was published in the very first issue!). You're not gonna find a whole lot of those mediocre and lazy "comfort food" type stories that are all too common in comics in the pages of MOME .

    While it was wide in scope, it never appeared fractured or directionless to me. It certainly does feel like an accurate snapshot of the last half decade in alt. comics. MOME published certain types of work I wouldn't have expected to come from Fantagraphics. With all their successes in re-packaging work that's anywhere from twenty-five to a hundred years old, it was good to see them maintain a regularly scheduled book with such a strong forward looking thrust.

    I'll miss the series a lot.

  8. ScottGrammel says:

    MOME continued Fantagraphics' decades-long, unbroken run of unnecessary and/or forgettable anthologies. During this minor but real high point in comics' cultural prestige and general coolness, that MOME averaged 2,500 copies sold per issue in a country of over 300 million people (we won't even guess at the worldwide English language audience) should put to rest any doubt as to the success or failure of the enterprise. It was a flop. Let it go. Move on.

    And I second bringing back some (moderated/curated/whatever) version of the message board.

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  10. steven samuels says:

    I think it’s highly specious to use sales as any indicator of quality, even in the tenuous reaches of alt comics. I mean, how many copies did Joe Sacco sell of his “Palestine” or “Yahoo” floppies at the outset?

    Are we still with this “message board” nonsense? Hey everybody, the software for it is free. If that’s not enough of a motivation, then nothing is.

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