Editor: Sammy Harkham
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Four years after volume 8 of this renowned comics anthology compiled by cartoonist Sammy Harkham comes volume 9, with a new publisher (Fantagraphics) and, as is becoming habit, a new size. Volume 8 was a relatively compact hardback, put out by PictureBox. Volume 7 was a Sunday-tabloid-sized book, put out by Buenaventura. In other words: Kramers Ergot is not a well-oiled, profit-driven machine, but a labor of love, focused on ideas about comics for people who live and breathe comics. Do not buy it for Aunt Sally who said that she was curious about these newfangled graphic novel things at the dinner table.
Kramers Ergot 9 runs 288 pages and features a few better-known names than previous outings. Kim Deitch draws a wild story about an encounter by a monkey diorama, packed with dense, overlapping panels of black-and-white hatching. Dash Shaw shares an excerpt from a book in progress, which focuses on Civil War narratives and has a wonderful, precise spareness and what could be described as invisible panels. Gabrielle Bell remains as assured as ever in a story (also an excerpt from something longer) about taking her mother shopping for a tiny house, packing in large amounts of dialogue without making her pages look awkward. Michael DeForge continues to find new ways of envisioning how we process and exchange information in a story called “Computer.” Julia Gfrörer contributes a gruesome one-page fairy tale that gets in everything it needs and nothing more. Anya Davidson simplifies her use of clashing colors with a classical tale that feels equal parts immediate and thoughtful.
Kramers Ergot 9 Interior Art by Michael DeForge
There’s also plenty here that’s more obscure—willfully so. Johnny Ryan’s single page contains a big drawing of a knife-wielding ghost, a la Scream. Noel Freibert has four one-page stories scattered throughout the book that are equal parts adolescent surrealism and nightmare. Helge Reumann, a Swiss artist, contributes “Sexy Guns,” a six-page story in a repetitive wordless grid that is both frustratingly out of reach and fascinating in the fuzzy mythology it manages to establish. These artists aren’t all that interested in pleasing you. They’re much more invested in talking to each other and in honing their craft.
Kramers Ergot 9 Interior Art by Andy Burkholder
If Kramers Ergot 9 is about one thing, that thing is drawing. Even someone who doesn’t make comics can feel the craft vibrating off the page in the sheer variety of line and color approaches. It’s almost like a sample book of possibilities. Do you want to make single-color comics? Comics printed on colored pages? Computer-aided things? Carefully hand-shaded images? Beautiful things? Things that attack your eyeballs with their ugliness? Stories with words? Stories without words? Pages that aren’t really even stories because they don’t have a recognizable narrative? The state of indie comics today allows you to have all these options and many more available to you. The choice could be paralyzing, like the mile-long grocery store aisle of cereal options, but it doesn’t feel that way. Consider it a demonstration of biodiversity. There’s something here for everyone. Except Aunt Sally.
Kramers Ergot 9 Interior Art by Al Columbia