Edited by Sammy Harkham
232 color pages
Previous to Kramers Ergot 8, edited by Sammy Harkham, the Kramers anthology series had been characterized by the books frentetic, all-out assault of comics experimentalism, climaxing in the outrageously oversized Kramers Ergot 7, whose grand scope and miniscule profit margin put it’s publisher out of business. Kramers 8 is a more refined and focused effort containing only 11 comics plus a few other contributions in various media, which asserts iteself as the essential discourse on current developments in the art comics genre.
Fantasy plays a big role throughout the book. Primarily these comics are imagined and invented worlds ripped directly from the artists’ unconscious. There are comics in the collection that exist in the realm of dream logic, such as Anya Davidson’s “Barbarian Bitch”, which attempts to covey multiple stories simultaneously, or Ben Jones’s “The Ultimate Character 2002”, which follows two characters that seem to float through a series of bizarre events. Leon Sadler’s vignettes flow together in a similar manner, and feel especially surreal. Sadler’s tone is mirrored by his unique visual style, equal parts sketchy and cartoony. Art-comics mainstays Gary Panter and C.F. both deliver standout pieces with fantastical, absurd premises that allow the telling of truly stirring stories. The collection’s emphasis on the unreal also effectively points out that cartooning itself is the act of creating a visual fantasy.
The eerie tone is accessed largely through these artists’ art, which incorporates childlike drawing techniques, especially in regards to use of color; Davidson’s comic uses the three primary colors and three secondary colors in almost equally proportions. Sadler too uses crayons, colored pencils, and markers to color his comic much as a child would.
The non-comics portions of the book consists of a few glossy series of images, an “Overture” and “Epilogue” by Robert Beatty and an intermission by Takeshi Murata, as well as an introductory essay by Ian Svenonius. Beatty’s series of roiling, spacey, glowing, abstract imagery leads us into the collection, clueing us into the otherworldly energy at work here, and then lets us know when we’ve left. Murata creates astoundingly photorealistic digital world, which exists parallel to the real one in the same way the comics do. Ian Svenonius’s essay, “Notes on Camp pt. 2” contextualizes the collection in an interesting way by making some difficult claims that comics are rooted in “camp”, and in a roundabout way, prehistoric pagan sexuality, but can be read as an argument that comics are a medium that enables access to repressed, untamed worlds.
Indeed, A few comics take place in literal underworlds. And camp and lowbrow culture has a definite influence on the collection. A Frank Santoro/Dash Shaw collaboration ponders our voyeuristic obsession with “To Catch A Predator”-style television. Panter touches on similar themes and editor Sammy Harkham’s own contribution takes the form of schlock-horror films, which has been subjects of his work before.
Through comparison with some of the things that were cut since the previous installment of Kramers, one can get a pretty good idea of the difference between the ‘art-comics’ and ‘alternative comics’ poles on the greater comics spectrum. For example, the Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti contributions to Kramers Ergot 7 could be classified as alternative comics at the top of its game. They depict familiar or relatable situations and experiences, are formalistically inventive, and employ clean styles from the Bushmiller/Schulz school of cartooning. Kramers 8’s distinctly art-comics approach stories tend to create their own realities to convey idea or emotions, use more drawing-based art, and are more or less uninterested in formalism.