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January 08, 2007


keith pille

Thank you for this; I read Mome #4 last Fall and fell into a funk for a while (which was then intensified by Best American Comics 2006). I got into comics, initially, as an escape from the toxic solipsism MFA/lit fiction world. It really, really sucks to see that the comics held up as most worthy of respect are in the same process of crawling up their own asses and dying of autointoxication.


I just picked this up over the weekend and I just read "The Veiled Prophet" this morning.

Regarding that story, I only disagree with its characterization as "genre fiction." It is historical fiction/fantasy, but it fairly feels a part of the "general fiction" section of the book store to me.

It truely is a lovely piece.


Marc, this is a great review! I, too, happened to read Mome #4 just this past weekend and could not agree with you more.

Mome's great promise has been largely unrealized, but I think that Mome, in principal, is still a much needed and worthy concept within the small, but emerging independent comics scene. The problem is that many of the artists simply seem lost, or uninspired. Or even intimidated, as Jonathan Bennett alluded to in the interview. Part of what made some of the earlier SPX anthologies (2000-2002) so great was the idea of unifying themes and perhaps Mome's editors can help focus their stable of artists by moving to that model. Other "premier literary anthologies" often do this, for example, I know Tin House recently called for submissions on "the nature of evil."


I think it's a good idea to have a journeyman anthology to expose and develop new talent, and to have a premier anthology to assemble the best talents in literary/art comics, but I'm not sure they can be the same anthology. Still, MOME could mix new and experienced artists with greater success if it expanded its tastes beyond quotidian observation and petty epiphanies.

Ayo, I think David B.'s historical fantasy war comics are really sui generis, in that I can't imagine anyone else blending those genres in quite the same way. David B. isn't confined by any one genre, but genres are a tool he uses to great effect. Elevating his work to "general fiction" may commit that old fallacy that says work this good can't belong to genre fiction because genre fiction can't be that good. And of course it isn't, if we always rule out its best practitioners.

Keith, I couldn't agree more.

Kevin H

I think you're reading an awful lot into an offhand comment by Groth.

"Groth's cozy disdain projects an ethos common to many of the most celebrated comics of the nineties (including Ware's, to their detriment), a strictly negative argument for the value of their work: it's good if it's not superheroes. It's great if it hates superheroes."

This is a straw man, and he's middle-aged; he's not even in the right age group. My generation isn't really that anxious about superheroes one way or the other, except maybe when trying to explain what we do to our grandma's friends.


I don't see how it is a straw man, Kevin, and I'm not sure what Groth's age has to do with anything. Sure, he's older than the MOME cartoonists, and the Blab!-era ones I was referencing, but he publishes both groups and his critical sensibility is just as important to US independent comics. I agree that one of the refreshing things about the new generation of comics artists is that you don't define your work in opposition to superheroes--but there's Groth, hanging around outside the high school in his Chevelle, looking to pick up freshman chicks with his lists of cool bands and his one-liners about shitty Marvel comics.

If I really wanted to read a lot into Groth's offhand comments, I would have quoted this unintentionally hilarious question from the Bennett interview:

"One of the lamentations I hear from cartoonists is that the sheer labor of drawing comics is so arduous, and it seems like yours would be more arduous than most, because your stories hinge on such inert details: somebody sitting on a park bench or wandering around a neighborhood wondering where he left his cup and so forth. Is it in fact arduous to do that?"

Sounds riveting! And then there's this, which amazingly manages not to be a criticism:

"All the characters in the first four stories could be the same character; with the fourth being the same character twenty years later."

Bennett, to his credit, says this was a huge mistake; Groth reserves his critical judgment for Secret Wars II as if it still had a peg to be taken down.

Kevin H

It's a straw man because no one is saying what you say they're saying: "It's good if it's not superheroes." That's a silly argument to make and I don't think anyone is making it. It seemed like an inappropriate digression in a MOME review for it's straw and it's age.

Kevin H

As far as Groth's 2nd question, it may not be riveting to you, but sounds fine to me. In fact I draw those kinds of comics from time to time. I'd rather read Bennett's Nicholson Baker-esque stories, or Bell's elegant minor epiphanies than anything about Galactus or etc. I took more pleasure in the way Bennett drew his foot falling asleep in one of his stories than in any of the Grant Morrison Superman comics, for instance. I was entertained by those, and they had a lot of smart ideas and storytelling, but I think there's as much "pop" accessibility in Bell's stories, if not more, for a certain audience, than a story about Lois Lane gets powers for a day. By saying that I am not making an across the board value judgement, I'm not sneering or anything--it's just me, just my personal taste. I'm not very interested in the superhero world, but I understand why others are, and I have no problem with that.

And Groth's 3rd question--I assume he's talking about Bennett's stories here? Well, in Bennett's stories the main character *is* the same character--himself. In MOME 4 he tried doing the same kind of story with a different character, and Bennett admits in his answer to Groth's question that this was a mistake. I don't see what the problem is.

I really liked your piece on Bagge's REASON strips. (and by the way, when I hear "Marc Singer" I don't think about the the Beastmaster, I think of the NYer writer Mark Singer who writes great profiles.)

I'll admit that MOME #4 isn't all that inspiring. It's not a great showing for most of the group.


And I apologize for the sloppy writing and it's/its mistakes. My excuse is the cold medicine.


I have to disagree with your first point, Kevin: plenty of comics artists and critics, especially from the last generation of indie comics, rely on an antipathy to superhero comics or their fans to broadcast their aspirations to serious art. To pick an example from a work I love, the weakest aspect of Jimmy Corrigan is the way Ware oversells Jimmy as a friendless loser--and the last bit of loser shorthand he holds onto, even by the end of the story when he has otherwise outgrown Jimmy's robot fantasies and the like, is to have him talk about comic books and wear a Superman shirt while his father is in the hospital. It's a sour note of Eightball-style embarrassment in a work that never needed it.

I also think your Gabrielle Bell-or-Galactus set-up is a false alternative (and one that however unintentionally plays into the at-least-it's-not-superheroes argument). Just staying within MOME, we have the David B. stories offering another approach. His comics achieve the technical mastery and thematic range of premier literature, and they do so without resorting to tedious diarism--even when the subject is drawn from his own life--because he's willing to look beyond his immediate experience.

Almost every other contributor to MOME 4 is not, limiting their work to dull observation and racing to see who can have the lowest stakes and the smallest epiphanies. As Keith says, it's a shame to see comics artists and publishers angling for respectability by internalizing the narrow values of an exhausted strain of literature.

Thanks for your comments, Kevin, and thanks for reading.

Brian Nicholson

Marc, I think Kevin's making a distinction about his generation, with him being the same age (generally) as the people in Mome and those before him- The last generation that includes people like Chris Ware.

(Or, for that matter, Peter Bagge- He has an article in the new Comics Comics that is actually called "Spider-Man sucks" and is about as obvious as you'd expect. But the same people that publish that magazine, Picturebox, put out the younger Brian Chippendale, who apparently is actually a fan of contemporary Marvel comics.)

Which I guess you know. But- This might seem ridiculous, because he's a real person, and an editor- but in some ways Gary Groth is a strawman, in that it's unfair to project his sensibilities onto the people whose work he publishes. Even if it was true in the nineties, it's not true anymore.

I also feel like calling David B "genre fiction" is stretching for the sake of the benefit of your thesis. Not the thesis of the piece, so much as your ongoing critical thesis w/r/t to comics and literary fiction.

I agree with you about Sophie Crumb, but think you come down harshly on Anders Nilsen, considering that the piece published in Mome 4 was an early alternate form (excerpts from an art installation) of Dogs And Water, a comic that ends up about as close to genre fiction as David B's piece. His work stretches outside himself quite frequently, to the point where I think he's earned the right to publish what is essentially juvenilia as a way of revealing his creative process. Kevin Huizenga does that type of thing in minicomics, which is probably a preferable venue, but I think such practices are commendable for a young cartoonist.


Brian, I get what you and Kevin are saying about the distinction between generations--but that distinction is in the post ("common to many of the most celebrated comics of the nineties," for starters). I don't see how bringing it up now contradicts anything I said there.

Nor I do think it's at all irrelevant to consider Groth's sensibilities, since he's one of the editors and the publisher of MOME. The journal's overall aesthetic is much more accurately laid at his and Eric Reynolds' feet than those of any single contributor. Reviewing the anthology as a whole, and not just the individual artists, should mandate some sort of engagement with its editorial tastes.

Glad to hear you've liked Nilsen's work. I'm only familiar with the stories in MOME 3 and 4, neither of which did much for me. I almost dislike the contemporary introduction to the decoupage piece more than the piece itself, so I suspect I'll be avoiding his work in the future (easy to do until he's published under the same cover as David B. again).

And that brings us to David B. I'm surprised at the resistance to discussing his work as genre fiction; "The Veiled Prophet" works as well as it does because the power of Hakim al-Muqanna is real, because his veil really does contain another world that's inassimilable to the rational mind (or the symbolic and imaginary orders). It contains an army of the dead and a magic hammer! How can that not be using genre tropes? Genre isn't why the story is interesting, but it is how it's interesting.

I wonder if this resistance is a consequence of translation. As I understand it David B.'s work includes stories about monsters, murderers, mad scientists, and talking paintings (paging Mr. Nobody?), but his English-language exposure has been dominated (understandably) by Epileptic. Perhaps that leads American readers to classify him exclusively as one of those "serious" non-genre (i.e., autobio or realistic fiction) types. Either that or it's the old "genre work can't be this good" problem.


I have to agree on Mome, for the most part, and I like a lot of slow indie comics. For many of the Mome issues, it seems like the contributors are just throwing in any old thing they did (Nilsen in particular, since the anthology pieces pale in comparison with his work published by D&Q).

I found almost impossible to believe that Sophie Crumb did not get published by Fanta for any reason other than her famous name.

The idea of Mome is great (quarterly anthology of literary comics) but the execution has been mostly banal. I'd love to see the same idea edited by say Dan Nadel.

Rob Clough

The link above contains a detailed, artist-by-artist review of MOME's contributors in issues 1-5.

I think it's a mistake to dismiss MOME purely as a bunch of woolgathering strips. I'd say that there's a pretty large range of styles, both in terms of subject & art. Kurt Wolfgang's comics look nothing like Jonathan Bennett's, for example. None of the artists in the book have done nothing but autobiography. Crumb and Brown have gone to that well a couple of times, as has Bell.

The difference is that Bell's autobio strips are quirky and compelling. It's telling that the weakest stuff in MOME (IMO) has been from Crumb and Brown. As noted above, it feels like those two are too busy elsewhere to do something really interesting. However, I do think that Brown's choices of story have gotten more interesting (even if they're not as good as some of the other entries), and even Crumb's story in #5 is decent.

There are actually several strips in MOME that have genre/fantasy elements. Most of Andrice Arp's strips have been reworkings of Japanese folktales, done in a painterly style. Wolfgang's current serial, "Nothing Eve", has fantasy trappings. David Heatley's "Overpeck" and his dream comics certainly contain fantastic & weird imagery.

Then there's Tim Hensley's work. This guy is my favorite new artist, thanks to MOME. His style is nothing like anyone else in the book and it's hilarious & absurd.

What I'm saying is that if you hate slice-of-life/quiet moment comics like Bennett's, there's plenty of other different stuff in MOME, and it continues to grow more ambitious with each issue. Plus they'll be adding some more young voices quite soon, with the likes of T.Edward Bak, as well as a strip by Jim Woodring.

When one considers its fairly rigorous adherence to schedules & deadlines along with its deep roster of veterans and up&coming talent, I think it is comics' premier anthology. Kramer's is still the more significant anthology overall (though they have shared many of the same artists), but when one considers MOME's goal of having a heavier narrative slant for a wider audience, it's certainly heading in the right direction.

Kevin H

Marc, you're right that Bell vs. Galactus is a false dilemma. I should have written that the way I did. I was trying to say something about how my own taste in comics is different than yours--that I'm attracted to "small stakes" stories. Not exclusively, of course.

What I'm trying to get at is that it's just as much a false setup to say "dull, exhausted observation/tedious diarism vs. genre/writing about the world outside one's own head." Boring/tedious/bad writing is always exhausted; good writing can be about anything.

Secondly, what looks to you like "angling for literary respectabiity" might be described more charitably as angling for literary greatness. And maybe they're poor fishermen. But why not assume they're fishing for fish, not just to look cool? In my experience, it's almost always a bad idea to guess after someone's unstated motivations.


You're right, Kevin, that the autobio/small observation genre of stories that dominates MOME vol. 4 will appeal to some readers a lot more than it does me. That's important to remember for conversational civility, but it's kind of beside the point for criticism. Any critic who wants to offer anything more than a purely subjective response--any critic who wants to say something about the work or the art form and not just their own reactions--has to take it as a given that different readers have different tastes and try to develop insights that are true for the work, not the endlessly variable audience.

And I agree that the real problem is bad writing--that, too, I take as given, but "bad writing" will vary enough from reader to reader, and from project to project, that it needs some exploration. Why aren't most of the stories in MOME 4 the best representatives of the autobio/small observation genre? Because they confirm the worst woolgathering, navel-gazing cliches about their genre; because much of what they observe isn't worth observing; because they derive too much of their style and content from other, better artists without replicating what made those artists so effective. These are stories written to fulfill ossified genre conventions, just like the countless crap superhero comics that aspire to be nothing more than poor imitations of someone else's marginally better superhero comics. And like those crap superhero comics, they don't rule out better work being done in the genre.

But MOME and its ilk generally get a pass that the crap superhero comics do not, because they've somehow positioned themselves as serious art/literature. Yeah, we could more charitably say the MOME artists are angling for literary greatness, but they've done so by adopting the narrowest possible standard for what makes great literature, one that the literary world has already begun, however contentiously, to abandon. That fidelity to the safely lauded, Roger Angell-approved style of fiction--really, to a popularly held cliche of that fiction--suggests, to me, more a desire to seem great than to be great. It would be nice if our avowedly, self-consciously literary comics had a broader sense of what is possible in literature.


Rob, I can only reiterate that solipsism extends beyond the strictly autobiographical; some of the worst offenders in vol. 4 were the fiction or art-installation pieces. (Nor did I find Bell's work to be either quirky or compelling; I'm not sure "quirky" is the word I'd use to describe stories that stay so comfortably in their genre territory and Bell, like Sophie Crumb, could use a reminder that having characters complain about boring comics does not provide any sort of ironic protection against producing them.)

I agree that the more whimsical and humorous artists, especially Kurt Wolfgang and Andrice Arp, were sorely missed in vol. 4.

T Hodler

I hear what you're saying, but when I actually look at the artists included in MOME, very few of them actually seem to be making the kind of New Yorker-style literary fiction you're talking about.

I mean, David Heatley's strips aren't like a NYer story; Tim Hensley's aren't. Certainly Sophie Crumb's aren't. Maybe Gabrielle Bell's stories fit the general pattern of a New Yorker story, but they are almost always the strongest pieces in MOME -- so to me the whole frame you give to this review seems a little misplaced.

Which isn't to say that MOME comparing itself to GRANTA isn't annoying, but only to say that advertising copy shouldn't be taken too seriously. The afore-mentioned Secret Wars II didn't change the universe the way its ad copy claimed either, but I hardly think that's the best reason to criticize it.

T Hodler

What I mean to say is that when you wrote, "MOME might be able to cruise by on such oppositional posturing if it viewed itself solely as a showcase for developing artists", well -- that's kind of what it is, and who cares if some of the promotional copy's a little overblown. Promotional copy's supposed to be overblown.

(And as Kevin H. wrote, I don't think that "oppositional posturing" really exists, outside of that one stray comment by Gary Groth.)

Which, again, isn't to say that the anthology's without flaw, or that there aren't some dull and/or disappointing stories in every issue, just that I don't think your thesis about literary fiction actually works for too many of the individual examples.

But this was a fun review to read, even if I don't agree with a lot of it.


I would say that "Life with Mr. Dangerous" and Bell's and Bennett's stories fall squarely into an especially sterile mode of epiphanic reflection. "La Brea Woman" could pass for workshop fiction too, although Cendreda broadens out a little in technique, character, and theme. "Cher Shimura" and "221 Sycamore Ave." practice a more comics-specific, Ware-derived style but they're still tracing the same insular neurotics. Crumb and Brown take the autobiography route, Nilsen writes a minicomic about writing minicomics, and even Heatley's dream comics center around laying bare the artist's anxieties. (I really should have worked them into the original post: what could be more tamely "dangerous" in 2006, the year of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and Borat, than a comic with fucking Sambo?) Some of these are literary imitations and some hew more locally to comics traditions, but they all seem to believe that aspiring to literature or art means tracing the loops and whorls of a single consciousness, usually the artist's own: in a word, solipsism.

Glad you enjoyed reading the review; entertainment was as much a goal as any supposed thesis.

Tim Hensley

That's a very well written review. Feel like I dodged a bullet by an issue. Sort of the payback for literary pretension marketing, beaten at its own game sort of thing. I think of Mome as being less like Granta than like reality television with its recurring roster in a petri dish coping with a quarterly deadline and being touted as "The New Guard." A merit for me has been how the stories sit with each other in a continuous reading experience, but that's maybe speaking more as one of the contributors surprised by what's happening with fellow solipsizers. A drawback is that some of the stuff feels like "side project" work. The ringer pieces I think have been included at least partially because of their page counts! Will Mome evolve by way of World War III magazine or pin the epiphany meter by penetrating universal consciousness anytime soon? Well, um, no...

Eric Reynolds

For what it's worth, I agree with many of the general criticisms here (though I won't feel comfortable getting into the details of any specific pieces). I'll be the first to admit that Mome has been far from what we'd exactly envisioned it to be, and the quarterly schedule has required some re-positioning from issue to issue to the point where I feel like we're only just hit hitting out stride over the last two issues or so. There will be a fairly massive turnover of talent in 2007, in ways that I'm pretty excited about. Several of the original contributors, as fond as I am of them, had outgrown the need to be included in Mome almost before it even started.

For what it's worth, however, the whole "It's good if it's not superheroes" discussion is a canard. One offhand interview comment does not an editorial philosophy make. I aspire to create an anthology in opposition to superheroes about as much as I aspire to affirm the joys of solipsism, and I'm no more partial to navelgazing than superheroes.

Eric Reynolds

P.S. That almost reads like I'm apologizing for Mome. I should add that I'm very proud of the series and think every issue has truly stellar work. I'm extremely proud to promote the work of folks like Heatley, Nilsen, Johnson, Pham, Arp, Cendreda, Bennett, Hensley, etc. -- and yes, even Sophie, whose piece in Mome 5 is one of my favorites...


Thanks for commenting, Eric, Tim. I don't think you dodged a bullet, Tim--I wasn't setting out to aim bullets, except at one particular story that triggered my aesthetic and moral revulsion.

I agree that the Groth comments are the least important part of the anthology, but they are a part of it--offhand but all the more galling for their presence in a book that should be about another set of comics entirely. That same unsparing critical judgment could have been applied more profitably and pertinently to the pieces in MOME, but then if it had some of them wouldn't (or shouldn't) have been in MOME.

Ben D

“While the other pieces in MOME vol. 4 are angling for the kind of bourgeois literary respectability Sophie Crumb pretends to disdain, David B. is happily toiling away in the issue's only true demimonde, the gutter of genre fiction, and he finds in it a path to the world.”

When I don’t like an autobiographical comic, I don’t put it down by saying that the writer is desperate for respectability, because I don’t really think I can claim to understand someone’s deep desires from reading an 8 page comic or two; I simply talk about why it doesn’t work for me. I get the urge to employ ‘one minute psychological profiling’ when criticizing something, especially autobiography, but I resist - I try my best to deal with the object before me and not project my own issues onto it, something that I find hard to do. Marc, can you not see that the kind of “disdain” you accuse Groth and Crumb of, is closely mirrored in the disdain you display in your own writing and attitude towards some of the comics and artists in this issue?

“And that brings us to David B. I'm surprised at the resistance to discussing his work as genre fiction . . . .”

“resistance” – if people see it differently than you, it can’t be because they have a reasonable position, it must be that they are resisting the truth; i.e. your view– “if they were honest with themselves, they would have no choice but to see it my way.”

And you say as much later:

“An honest comics criticism would hold these pieces in about the same regard we have for the impoverished Frank Miller imitations that came out in the eighties and nineties (some of them, to be fair, from Frank Miller).”

In other words, “an honest comics criticism” would be one that makes value claims identical to yours. If I think that Jonathan Bennett’s comics are far more interesting than those of Miller or his imitators (and I do), the *only* explanation is my dishonesty . . . Is that really what you mean and want to say? I hope not. Describing subjective reactions to art in moral terms (honest, dishonest) seems a bit over the top to me . . .

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