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An Ergot Is A Kind of Fungus April 4, 2009

Posted by leskanturek in Comics, Student Post.
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By Mark Lev

In 2000, Sammy Harkham,  a cartoonist and a bookstore retailer based in Los Angeles,CA, started a comics anthology called Kramers Ergot. The first 2 editions had just four artists, including Harkham, (Harkham also has an ongoing comic book called “Crickets”) but each issue that followed grew significantly with additional contributors. The current issue is number 7.

kecover1The book grew into what is now a compilation of the best underground comics artists working today, in a giant-format (16”x21”), with each contributor complete given complete freedom to do whatever they want. The result is as diverse and interesting as you’d expect, with work ranging from meticulous narrative to complete abstraction. The book is beautiful, weird, sometimes overwhelmingly dense, but is generally visual storytelling at its best. The large format is about the same as early 20th century ‘broadsheets’, which gave the comics space and freedom to use the potential of the whole paper; the drawings are saturated both visually and content-wise. In fact, the amount and quality of content makes one [almost] feel OK about the book’s $125 price tag…

Contributors to the book range from the famous (Daniel Clowes, Matt Groening, Kim Deitch, Chris Ware, Seth, etc…) to the not so well known. Most comics are a single page, but some range from 1-4 pages. Ware contributes a two-page comic about a sleeping baby printed at life-size. Matt Groening contributes an homage to “The Road to Success” .  Clowes includes a one-page, more-noir-than-usual comic called Sawdust. Many other, less well-known artists get to experiment with the book’s generous dimensions, being as lucid or as incoherent as they need. The anthology has been compared to Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine from the 80s, and in many ways is just as important. If you’re into comics, this is a must read.

ke1(Top left) Richard Sala   (Top right) Matt Groening,  (Bottom) Canadian artist Shary Boyle

ke2

(Above Left) (Above right ) Matt Furie

ke3

(Above Top left) French artist Blexbolex

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Sammy Harkham , Kiel Phegley is the interviewer. You can read the full interview on Kiel Phegley’s blog, Four Color Forum.

KP: So I was wondering to start, for you is there any kind of guiding editorial principal behind the book beyond “these are cartoonists I love,” or did you just want a forum to bring artists you knew under one banner?

SH: It is pretty much that. It’s comics that I love. And a lot of it is work that isn’t coming out regularly from other places and to do something which presents the work in as great a way as possible. For me, that means giving artists space. If they want to do something in color, they can do it in color. The average issue is slightly larger than a comic book. Just wanting to present the work in a way that’s really unobtrusive…respectful but also making it so it has the energy of comics. I don’t have introductions to each cartoonist. I don’t have an editor’s forward or any of that stuff. I don’t even have page numbers because I want to whole to have a very visceral kind of punch the same way picking up comics when you’re younger has – of discovering something amazing whether it’s Faust or X-Men or Dan Clowes. There’s that energy of picking something up that you respond to that you’ve never seen before and just having your eyeballs melt. I didn’t really feel like there was an anthology like that. And so the goals of each issue slightly change, but I’d say the foundation of it is always that.

KP: What struck me outside the general size of the book and how that affected the style of the strips on a practical level was…you know, I interviewed Art Spiegelman a few weeks ago and with that I re-read In The Shadow of No Towers, and while there he’s working in a larger, board book format, he very much said, “I’m going to do a kind of homage to classic newspaper strips.” He’s using the same character types and cartooning styles in some places. But Kramers 7 doesn’t do that as much, despite the fact that the Nemo book is the keystone everyone talking about it points to.

142161SH: [With past issues of Kramers] sometimes people were so inclined to say, “This isn’t comics.” And to me, it’s straight up comics. And with this new issue, I thought that in deciding that it’s all going to be comics – no art, no sketchbooks, only comics – I knew that it was making that connection between this work where some of it is looked at as kind of far out and saying, “No. It has a connection to something like Windsor McCay or Popeye.” And there is that element of wanting to connect it and have a through line from then until now.

(above) Sammy Harkham, at Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brooklyn were an all-day booksigning for Kramers Ergot 7 was held in 2008.  Harkham is also the cover artist.  (from http://www.artloversnewyork.com/artlovers/report/2008-12-10.html)

Contributors to Kramers Ergot No. 7  are: Rick Altergott, Gabrielle Bell, Jonathan Bennett, Blanquet, Blex Bolex, Conrad Botes, Shary Boyle, Mat Brinkman, John Brodowski, Ivan Breunetti, C.F., Chris Cilla, Jacob Ciocci, Dan Clowes, Martin Cendreda, Joe Daly, Kim Deitch, Matt Furie, Tom Gauld, Leif Goldberg, Matt Groening, John Hankiewicz, Sammy Harkham, Eric Haven, David Heatley, Tim Hensley, Jaime Hernandez, Walt Holcombe, Kevin Huizenga, J. Bradley Johnson, Ben Jones & PShaw, Ben Kathchor, Ted May, Geoff Mcfetridge, James Mcshane, Jerry Moriarty, Anders Nilsen, John Pham, Aapo Rapi, Ron Rege Jr, Xavier Robel, Helge Reumann, Florent Ruppert & Jerome Mulot, Johnny Ryan, Richard Sala, Souther Salazar, Frank Santoro, Seth, Shoboshobo, Josh Simmons, Anna Sommer, Will Sweeeney, Matthew Thurber, Adrian Tomine, Carol Tyler, Chris Ware, and Dan Zettwoch.

All copyrights for images in this post are either  © 2008 Buenaventura Press, or the individual artist.

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