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Literature with pictures.

“Looking at comics has always felt like Christmas morning. They're just exciting,” enthuses Paul Hornschemeier. “Probably I should see a therapist about this.” Hornschemeier is part of the group of comic artists who have been answering our questions in a whirl of emails about Fantagraphics’ new quarterly comic anthology, MOME, to which they all contribute.

“MOME is like a bunch of cartoonists gathered at a party, all talking about different things,” muses Martin Cendreda, another of its artists. “There's funny stuff, serious stuff, experimental stuff.”

Devised as a “contemporary literary journal”, MOME is in some respects the first anthology of its kind. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic side of comics, as others have done, it intends to be a varied picture-based answer to literary journals like Granta or McSweeney’s. The hope is that it capitalises on its “potential to push the medium, and push people outside comics to see them differently”, as contributor Anders Nilsen explains.


Image details by John Pham and Jeff Brown.

But how will audiences find this subtle shift in emphasis? “In general, audiences don't know what to expect from comics, unless they're part of the so-called comics community. By presenting it as literary, readers are clued into the idea of reading it with certain expectations,” feels Jeffrey Brown. “When something really works as a comic, you don’t notice the writing or the drawing individually,” adds contributor Andrice Arp.

Paul Hornschemeier argues that although the comic should never turn away from “fart jokes or funny animals, there's no reason it can't simultaneously reach the same heights as the prose novel”. He continues, saying that as more sophisticated works become more widely known, “audiences will come to expect such sophistication. For many people seeing a sophisticated comic at this time would be like hearing a Shakespearean soliloquy from a toddler.”

MOME’s creation comes at an arguably pertinent time from the US comic publisher Fantagraphics, champions of innovative and edgy artists like Crumb, Clowes, Ware and Sacco over the decades. “People of my age who grew up with comics, both mainstream and things like Maus, Raw, Frank Miller and Alan Moore, are more likely to take comics seriously as artists. We are defining the culture. As we’ve grown up, comics have too,” contributor Anders Nilsen believes, in regard to the medium’s current rise in popularity. “Also, it seems the culture in general, like MTV and video games, is more visual. For better or (and) worse, that’s good for comics.”


Image details by Anders Nilsen and Paul Hornschemeier.

As with all media, things constantly change, but in a shifting cultural landscape MOME’s contributors seem up to the challenge of representing comics’ developments. “MOME updates the dictionary, so to speak. No language is static, and this language of symbols is furiously evolving,” Hornschemeier states. “MOME provides a regular broadcast of that evolution… facilitating further evolution.”

Sounds like serious stuff. In some ways it is. But, as ever in the comic universe, it’s hard to remain serious for long. “Comics at their best get at a place, emotional and aesthetic, that literature and film can't touch. But they still need to be a ‘funny picture’ medium,” artist David Heatley thinks. And although as a collective they’re serious about their intentions, they have after all christened themselves MOME, or blockheaded fool.


Rowan Kerek 16 March 06
MOME 1 and 2, out now published by Fantagraphics.
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