Comic anthology shows emerging talent

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“Mome 21,” the penultimate issue in editor Eric Reynolds’ impressive run of quarterly, full-color anthologies, is a strong argument for the series’ artistic continuation with the upcoming end to the series with “Mome 22” this summer.

The tightly curated quarterly was billed originally as a vehicle for emerging talents to show off their skills in high-quality color.

“For [Fantagraphics Books,] a company with finite resources, four volumes a year of a mostly full-color book ultimately means that there are around four other books that aren’t being published in a given year.” Reynolds said in an interview for Tom Spurgeon’s news blog, The Comics Reporter. “Not to mention fathering a child since MOME was born, I’m ready for a change.”

“Mome 21” bats a good average, with many stories hitting their mark and a few clearing the fences. Sixteen stories are included in this volume, four of them new chapters in longer works featured in previous “Mome” volumes.

Viennese cartoonist Nicolas Mahler’s (“Lone Racer,” “Van Helsing’s Night Off”) Herzogian tale about his attempts to create, or at least finish, a state-funded animated feature film is a great highlight. Mahler’s distinctive cactus-like characters are intrinsically comical. As the cartoonist struggles to write, cast, direct and finally animate his adaptation of one of his own comic strips, Mahler humorously illustrates what can happen when one buys into something way over their head.

Immediately attention grabbing is Steve Weissman’s (“YIKES!”, “Chewing Gum in Church”) contribution, “Barack Hussein Obama.” An erratically updated webcomic serialized on Weissman’s website sweetchubby.blogspot.com, the four panel gag strip stars the 44th President of the United States, his family and other notable fixtures of his administration. In one comic, Obama wistfully watches a storm surge in a quiet moment between meetings. “I’m a strong swimmer,“ he says to an anxious Joe Biden. “I think, with a crash helmet, maybe a vest and some Vicodin, I could ride this all the way to the ocean.“ This comic isn’t afraid to get weird and builds humorous private characterizations of these ridiculously public figures.

Horror comics superstar Josh Simmons (“House,” “Batman” and the incredibly graphic “Cockbone”) actually has two comics in this issue; the ongoing “The White Rhinoceros,” serialized in microscopic parts since issue 19, and “Mutant,” a short, standalone story that exists on the knife-edge of terrible violence. The latter, drawn in stark black and white, is unquestionably the stronger piece. It’s a slice of what Simmons does best — gritty, atmospheric, frantic dread.

Shorter pieces from Sara Edward-Corbett (earlier issues of Mome, “Pood”), Tom Kaczynski (“Trans-” series, “Cartoon Dialectics”) and Dash Shaw (“Body World,” “The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.”) are all winners.

“Mome” plays a unique role in the world of North American alternative comics. It’s one of the only long-form, regularly published comics anthologies out there, providing a vision of novelty and variety for the future of literary comics. When the series concludes later this year, a chapter in comics history will have closed.

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Mome 21
Edited by Eric Reynolds
120 pg Color
Grade: B
Genre: General Fiction
Web: www.fantagraphics.com