Bouncing from goofy cartoon antics to the horrifying aftermath of a crime to philosophical investigations of human character, "MOME" Vol. 11 is a typically eclectic brew from Fantagraphics Books. The critically acclaimed compilation series, which features new and established artists, is something of an introduction into the weirder world of comics. Like a meal at a tapas bar, "MOME" is small servings of unusual creations.
Editing that 120-page collection falls in part on the shoulders of Eric Reynolds (also Fantagraphics' self-tagged "paid apologist"), who spoke with CBR News recently about the latest "MOME" collection, which includes a rare appearance in American comics by the French artist Killoffer, who turns in front and back covers as well as a new 12-page story. Reynolds explained the order behind the chaos of "MOME" and how he and co-editor Gary Groth select its contributors, who also include Al Columbia, Kurt Wolfgang, Ray Fenwick, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, John Hankiewicz, Emile Bravo, Andrice Arp, Tom Kaczynski, and Paul Hornschemeier.
CBR: Can we call this volume the ugly-naked-dude-on-the-cover edition?
Eric Reynolds: I don't know, he's kind of dashing in a rough-and-tumble Frenchman sort of way, don't you think?
We're talking, of course, about the art of Killoffer, who illustrates all male characters with the same gruff (and sometimes nude) features. Had he done anything with Fantagraphics before? How did you end up getting his story in "MOME"?
No, he hasn't. He only has one solo English-language book, "676 Apparitions of Killoffer," published by Typocrat. It's fantastic, and we've long been fans of his work, both through that book and through everything he's released through L'Association, the French publishing collective he helped found. We work with L'Association a lot (David B. and Lewis Trondheim are both L'Association founders, as well) and simply asked if Killoffer would like to contribute and luckily he said yes!
Any chance you'll be doing more with Killoffer in the future?
Yes, he has another story in Vol. 12 which is perhaps even more over the top than his piece in Vol. 11. I hope we'll continue to publish more by him after that, but I haven't even got that far yet.
You go from a fairly dark story like Killoffer's "Einmal Ist Keinmal" right into some fairly goofy, humorous stories by Kurt Wolfgang and Nate Neal. Is creating those kinds of transitions a big part of the editing process?
My favorite part of putting an issue together is "sequencing" the stories. So, yes, I suppose so, I put a fair amount of thought into that. It's a challenge to sequence the stories in an effective way and also to make them fit into efficient color vs. black-and-white signatures. It's a thoroughly inexact science and I really enjoy ordering them in such a way that I'd like to think adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
Do you try to shape each volume in a certain way? Obviously, volumes of "MOME" don't typically have themes, but what considerations do you give to the arrangement and presentation of stories?
Honestly, the volumes often end up shaping themselves to a certain degree. Every issue there's always some last-minute juggling, either because a particular story that was lined up didn't get in time, or whatever. We plan as best we can but every issue there are last-minute changes/surprises that turn the issue into something slightly different than planned, but I genuinely like that element of surprise.
More specifically, we think about three to four issues out at a time. But it's merely a skeleton. We've had a kind of "superstar" guest every issue, like David B., Jim Woodring, Killoffer and Trondheim (in Vol. 12 it's Olivier Schrauwen), and we plan those out several issues ahead. There's the serials, by Kurt Wolfgang, Paul Hornschemeier, and Tim Hensley that are automatically penciled in for most issues. Amongst the regulars, I keep a spreadsheet of who thinks they can hit which issues and kind of slot things here and there accordingly, and commission things here and there when need be. Then there's always a little bit of wiggle room to allow for surprises.
As "MOME" has both a stable of regular contributors and some new faces each issue, how do you sort out who makes the cut?
I'm not sure I can quantify this. We exercise our editorial tastes, basically. There's no formula.
Is there any particular "it" that tends to separate the "MOME" contributors from other cartoonists out there?
Gary Groth just recently gave interview where he answered this much more effectively than I ever could. Here's what he had to say: "What I look for is an interpretation of the world, using all the tools and tricks and vocabulary of the medium to most imaginative advantage. The canvas can be minute and interiorï¿½"as in Jonathan Bennett's workï¿½" or vast and politicizedï¿½"as in Tom Kaczynski's stories. What's important is that the artist has a take on the world, realized with a degree of artistry. And that's different in kind than merely explicating or describing or transcribing the world as he sees it or understands it ï¿½" it's different than journalism or sociologyï¿½" because the imagination can get at something deeper or stranger or off-kilter in a way that a straight recitation of facts can't. Personally, I also look for potential, so it doesn't have to be an artist whose vision is necessarily fully formed, but someone who has that touch of insight and ought to be encouraged and cultivated ï¿½" so, in a way, "MOME" is like an ongoing laboratory experiment."
I couldn't agree with that any more.
When editing a collaborative project like this, is the role of editor more to sort of corral all these creators and figure out the best way to present their work (or prodding them to hit deadlines), or do you work directly with the artists on their projects as they develop?
By and large it's more the former because my relationship with each contributor -- and Gary's as well -- varies. Some cartoonists I work a bit closer with in regard to shaping their stories, giving feedback along the way, reviewing a script or thumbnails or whatever. Others I'm much more hands off with and simply reminding them of deadlines. We tend to leave it to the artist as to how much we get involved.
What comics in Vol. 11 did you especially enjoy?
Well, it's a real thrill to have a guy like Killoffer on board, whom I've admired from afar for a long time. I'm also really proud to be publishing new work by Al Columbia, who is one of my oldest friends in comics and also one of the more talented people I've ever met in my life, and I'm psyched that with "MOME," Al's been able to publish more in the last year than he had the previous several years combined. I'm thrilled by the work of recent contributors like Tom Kaczynski, Dash Shaw, and Ray Fenwick, each of whom I think are doing work that is fairly sui generis, pursuing their own interpretation of the world around them through the medium of comics. But yeah, all of 'em!
Is there ever a worry that the collection is too eclectic, or do you try to include as different of types of comics (both in terms of art and narrative style) as you can?
I don't worry about it being too eclectic. I do, frankly, try to maintain some balance of accessibility. So we do try to strike a balance between the various stories and not lean too heavily in any one direction.
Will there ever be a comic that's too strange for "MOME"?