Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Comics Review: "NOW #12" - If Cannes Gave Out a Palme d'Or for Comics


CARTOONISTS: Cecilia Varhed; Bhanu Pratap; Cynthia Alfonso; J. Webster Sharp; Kayla E.; Noah Van Sciver; Rahel Suesskind; Francois Vigneault; Tim Lane; Max Clotfelter; Matt Lawton & Peter Bagge
DESIGN: Jacob Covey
EDITOR: Eric Reynolds
COVER: Alex Graham
BACKCOVER: Noah Van Sciver
ISBN: 978-1-68396-695-1; paperback (February 2023)
112pp, Color, $12.99 U.S.

NOW: The New Comics Anthology is an alternative-comics anthology series launched in 2017 and edited by Eric Reynolds.  Now is published by alt-comix and art comics publisher, Fantagraphics Books.  Over its four-plus decades of existence, Fantagraphics has published what is probably the most diverse collection of comic book anthologies in the history of North American comic books.  That line-up includes such titles as Anything Goes, Critters, Mome, Pictopia, and Zero Zero, to name a few.

NOW: The New Comics Anthology #12 offers a selection of works from thirteen cartoonists and comics creators, as well as a back cover “comics strip” from one of its contributors, Noah Van Sciver.  Now #12, as usual, holds to editor Eric Reynolds' creed (from NOW #1) that this anthology showcase “ broad a range of quality comic art as possible...”

The contributors list also includes a Leroy favorite, the great Peter Bagge.  But let's take a look at each of Now #12's cartoonists' contributions individually:

THE LOWDOWN:  The illustration that acts as Now #12's cover art is entitled “Untitled,” and is produced by Alex Graham.  Like the cover for Now #11, it looks like something at least partially inspired by the animation seen in late British sketch comedy television series, “Monty Python's Flying Circus” (1969-74).

“Coronation Station” by Cecilia Vårhed:
While riding a commuter train – apparently during the height of the COVID pandemic – a young woman is harassed by a quintet of hipsters who are too cool to wear face masks.  After making them feel guilty, she finds herself invited to an apartment where a “spiritual experience” brings about unpleasant revelations.

Despite its surreal twists, “Coronation Station” captures the tensions of the pandemic.  The lead character is absolutely lovable, and I find that Vårhed has composed this story in a way that makes me feel connected to her lead.  This story is both a fascinating slice-of-life and slice of recent history.  I'd love to see this character again.

Big Head Pointy Nose” by Bhanu Pratap:
A boy with a beak-like nose and mouth feels out of place until... he doesn't.  This 16-page story has a picture book quality.  In fact, Pratap's lavish, rich colors convey a story that embraces both an alt-comix aesthetic and a story book sensibility.

Untitled by Cynthia Alfonso:
This 18-page story reminds me of the animation and production design of the films, Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982) and Heavy Metal (1981).

Untitled by J. Webster Sharp:
If David Cronenberg's nightmare about a ventriloquist's dummy and Tim Burton's dream about doll-making were somehow merged, there would be trouble.  Or we'd get Sharp's visually striking eight-page short story.

“Precious Rubbish” by Kayla E.:
Kayla's nine-page story riffs off old St. John Publications romance comics and religion.  Divided into five vignettes, it plays with childhood trauma and the adult securities inherited from them.  I enjoy Kayla's comix, although they trouble my imagination.  The thing is that Kayla E.'s work exemplifies the experimental, adventurous spirit of Now.

“Mellow Mutt” by Noah Van Sciver:
Yarn-spinning, tale-tellin,' and lies shape this lovely four-page story by Noah Van Sciver, one of my favorite regular contributors to Now.  Set in the halcyon days of the original theatrical release of Jurassic Park (1993), Noah summons pieces of the ghosts of Peanuts and one of those 1980s coming-of-age Hollywood movies.  “Mellow Mutt” epitomizes the crazy imagination of children, and how they can take mass media and make of it what they will.

“Monster Finger” by Rahel Suesskind:
A booger eats a booger.  This colorful throw-back short comix is an absolute delight even if I lack the imagination to adequately describe it to you.

“The Bird is Gone” by François Vigneault:
I first came across the “passenger pigeon,” the extinct species of pigeon that was once the most abundant bird in America, via a “CBS Evening News” segment decades ago.  Vigneault's seven-page comix, “The Bird is Gone,” is a history of the demise of the passenger pigeons in gory and horrific detail.  Ostensibly a historical piece, the aesthetic of “The Bird is Gone” recalls another extinct entity, EC Comics.  Dark and detailed, the story is a damnation and condemnation of Americans' careless appetites and of our appetite for destruction.

“Li'l Stevie” by Tim Lane:
This story is not the first comix in which Lane has used the late actor, Hollywood legend, and screen icon, Steve McQueen, as his subject/muse.  This is story made me do some research, and I was shocked to discover that McQueen had a very troubled childhood (to say the least).

Lane uses the form of the early comic book and style of the “Big Little Book” to detail the horrors of Li'l Stevie's boyhood, with Li'l Stevie being a stand-in for Steve McQueen.  In drawing “Li'l Stevie,” Lane uses the visual style of cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller and his famed comic strip, Nancy.  The result is a spellbinding, heartbreaking tale.  Other than an actual audio-visual recording of McQueen's childhood (which obviously doesn't exist), I don't think anything can convey the loneliness and desperation of an abused Li'l Stevie with more blunt force and brute power than what Tim Lane does here.  This is not genius.  It's fucking genius.

Untitled by Max Clotfelter:
This one-pager, a reminiscence of a comic book fan's experiences with other comic book people, is a delight.  Is there more?  I must have more.

“The Cartoonist” by Matt Lawton and Peter Bagge:
Burt Fisher is a newspaper cartoonist who draws a single-panel comic, “The Ruckus Room,” which he inherited from his late father, who created it.  Fisher hates the strip, and he says that he has been trying to destroy it via his take on the strip.  However, his version of The Ruckus Room has proven to be quite popular with readers.  With deadlines piling up, Burt's editor, Nancy, has hired an assistant to help him.  The young man, named Glen, is about to discover just what a mess Burt Fisher is.

The Ruckus Room is a thinly-veiled version of the classic newspaper comic, The Family Circus, which was created by the late Bil Keane, who drew it until his death.  One of Bil's four sons, Jeff Keane, now writes and draws the strip.  I think “The Cartoonist” is less about The Ruckus Room and more about Burt Fisher, one of those self-absorbed GenX types who ages into a slightly sociopathic curmudgeon.  Matt Lawton and Peter Bagge seem like a perfect pairing, at least I think so and want more.  I've been reading Bagge's comix and comic books for four decades (Lord, help me), and “The Cartoonist” is the pure essence of him.

I usually pick a “best of” entry after each edition of Now that I review, but, as far as Now #12, I can't.  There are five stories here from which I could pick a favorite, but I don't won't to slight any of them by saying, “this one is the best.”  The other stories are experimental and also explore the medium of comics in interesting ways, and even the stories that perplex me also impress me.  Not only does editor Eric Reynolds have a knack for getting acclaimed veteran and star cartoonists to appear in Now, but he also has a golden eye for talent – emerging cartoonists or little seen creatives.

Now #12 – wow, I don't know if I have the words to convey just how impressed I am with this edition.  I'll take the easy way out and say that I'm blown away.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of classic alternative-comics anthologies will want to discover NOW: The New Comics Anthology.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.


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