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“5 years, 20 volumes, 72 artists, and 2,352 pages of comics.” Strictly by the numbers — taken from the Editor’s Notes that kick off Mome Vol. 20: Fall 2010, on sale this month — Fantagraphics’ signature anthology is a force to be reckoned with. Launched in 2005 with the intention of providing a regular home for new work by promising young cartoonists like Gabrielle Bell, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen, Paul Hornschemeier, and Sophie Crumb, it rapidly evolved into something else, something arguably more: a showcase for alternative comics of nearly every style and stripe. During its five-year history, Mome‘s diverse accomplishments have included publishing work from European greats like David B. and Lewis Trondheim, serializing Tim Hensley’s acclaimed graphic novel Wally Gropius, reintroducing Al Columbia to the comics scene prior to the release of his landmark Pim & Francie, giving Dash Shaw yet another forum for his experimental take on science fiction, providing an unlikely venue for underground legend Gilbert Shelton, showcasing up-and-comers like Jon Vermilyea and Nate Neal…and, like all anthologies, starting a good deal of debate over which contributors were any good at all. With its like-clockwork quarterly schedule, Mome is a go-to destination for finding out what’s going on at comics’ cutting edge.
Presiding over all this has been editor Eric Reynolds, who inherited full control of the anthology from original co-editor and co-publisher Gary Groth. When last I spoke to Reynolds about Mome in October of 2007, he was prepping Vol. 10, which sported a new look, new work from Columbia, and the second half of a story by altcomix titan Jim Woodring. Three years and ten issues later, the series has gotten a full-on makeover from designer Adam Grano, and is in the midst of some of its most challenging work ever from Shaw, Josh Simmons, Derek Van Gieson and more. What has changed, what has remained constant, and what lies in store? Reynolds spoke with Robot 6 about all this and more in a fifth-anniversary interview.
If I’d ask you five years ago to describe what Mome Vol. 20 would look like, what would you have said?
I would’ve said there’s no way this thing’s going to last 20 issues. Really, I’m sure I would have had no other answer.
Fantagraphics co-founder and co-publisher Gary Groth can be scary enough even when he isn’t wielding a loaded firearm. (Don’t believe me? Then witness the savage critical beatdown he just doled out to Comics Journal contributor Noah Berlatsky. Ouch.) But in one of comics’ grander and weirder traditions, Groth and his fellow Fanta folks traipse out into the Washington State wilderness every year with enough guns to make a Tea Party jealous and open fire at whatever office detritus had the misfortune of catching their eye. Check out designer Adam Grano’s “Shootin’ Day” flickr set to witness a variety of Fantagraphics and Comics Journal employees and creators opening fire at everything from one of those good-luck cat statues to a Nagel print.
I first started covering the comics industry in the late 1990s, and at first I had a mindset of trying to cover the mainstream stuff, DC and Marvel. Fortunately I soon broadened my horizons and started to cover independent and/or mini-comics creators. More recently, when I learned that Fantagraphics had tapped Michael Dowers to edit and compile Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s, I jumped at the chance to interview him. Here’s a rundown of the book from Fantagraphics (plus a Flickr flipthrough of the book): “Newave! is a gigantic collection of the best small press cartoonists to emerge in the 1970s after the first generation of underground cartoonists (such as R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and Art Spiegelman) paved the way. These cartoonists, inspired by the freewheeling creative energy of the underground comix movement, began drawing and printing their own comix. The most popular format was an 8 1/2” x 11” sheet, folded twice, and printed at local, pre-Kinkos print shops on letter-size paper; because of the small size, they were dubbed ‘mini comix.’ As they evolved many different artists, one by one, became interested in this do-it-yourself phenomenon. By the 1980’s they became known as Newave Comix, a term taken from England’s Newave rock ’n’ roll movement. An explosion of do-it-yourself artists emerged. Many talented artists went onto bigger and better things, others have disappeared into the fog never to be heard from again.” The collection is a staggering 892 pages–and Fantagraphics offers a 32-page preview here.
Tim O’Shea: The book is dedicated in “Memory of Michael Roden, Clay Geerdes, and R.K. Sloane”. Would you mind telling folks a little bit about each of them?
Michael Dowers: All three of these guys were very dedicated to what they were doing. It was their lives. Michael Roden was a very creative type and not only drew and made mini comix, but was a musician, a sculptor, and an entertainer. This man lived and breathed creativity almost all his life. Clay Geerdes was extremely dedicated to the world of underground comix. He saw Newave as the new underground and was responsible for encouraging, inspiring, and developing many cartoonists along he way. I do believe that Newave would have been a very different world with out him. R.K. Sloane was an amazing creative mind. He had accomplished many things in his life. In the early days he even had real underground comic published before undergrounds died in the latter 70’s. He made a movie called “Goblins” in the latter 70’s and went on to draw comics working for people like Big Daddy Roth. I met R.K. Sloane right around this time and published a full size comic of Big Daddy Roth’s RAT FINK drawn by Sloane. He went on to be one of the best of low-brow surrealistic painters that Robert Williams influenced before Sloane died. We will miss all three of these highly creative and influential people.