To my mother’s ceaseless discontent, I am 32 and childless. As such, I can’t pour any latent feelings of pride and optimism into a screaming baby, and have to find alternate venues (aside from my trusty dog Blade). Thank god there’s comics.
In the last half year or so, the apple of my eye has been Fantagraphics’ most excellent NOW series. Over the course of two jam-packed editions, the publisher has spread all sorts of love and light on great young talents (and more established, still unsung heroes) in the indie comics universe. As issue #3 hits stands, something even better than an entertaining comic has come to fruition. NOW #3 sees the series hit its stride, finding ways to highlight these talents with greater impact and efficiency.
(Is this the same sort of glow my friends with kids go on about ad infinitum?)
If you’ve read my past reviews, you’ll likely have noticed my hopes for the series. Namely, that by creating a sense of consistency and facilitating artistic and narrative alignment, this book could be a powerful tool in not only breaking exciting artists, but providing some cohesive message or set of ideas. In the case of issue #3, things have gotten wonderfully weird, with the whole book sharing a massive thread of otherworldly images, kooky plots/scenarios, and otherwise wacky delights. Some of that cohesiveness is born out of shared artwork, with a keen reliance of bright pastels and bizarre line work. The rest, however, likely stems from a commitment to certain off-kilter ideas, or as the result of artists of similar backgrounds being placed in such proximity.
Either way, this consistency makes the book feel truly alive. This kooky organism that moves through the world, drawing in readers with its bright plumage and translucent eyes. And when you’re dealing with something that practically breathes, its easy to fall in love and feel like these stories are tales from someone near and dear to you. Not everything is groundbreaking or awesome, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer power of a unified piece of work. One that still leaves plenty of space for each artist’s nuanced approach without impacting the larger context. And the best part is, this consistency doesn’t feel forced. The Fantagraphics folk rely on a dedication to art to find the best pieces and assemble a truly great collection.
With each artist providing something interesting and entertaining, you don’t really need the curated approach. Even a random grab-bag of sugary delights and weirdo goodies would be enough. Yet that sense of curation elevates the overall quality, letting standalone pieces interact with one another in the reader’s brain, creating all sorts of interplay left up to the readers’ imagination.
But as is always the case, there are a few standout stories within the issue’s 122 pages:
Anne Simon’s “The Lady Equina,” “Renaldo & Armida,” and “The Washer of Virgins”
If issue #3 had a heart, it would definitely be these three pieces. Here, Simon provides the pacing for the entire collection, creating a series of quasi-interrelated stories that masterfully blend the bizarre with the bland. Yet amid all that, there exists a simple and powerful heart, one that touches brilliantly on life overflowing with vast swells of emotion.
Anna Haifisch’s “A Proud Race”
If you mixed a Fellini film and a nature film narrated by David Attenborough, you’d get this piece from the German writer/artist. It feels both romantic and absurd, perpetuating the larger book’s commitment to dutifully blending ideas and influences. If nothing else, it feels like a beautiful trip without having to take a single pill.
Eleanor Davis’ “March of the Penguins”
This is as much a comic as it is an artistic Venn diagram. The poignant and comedic convergence of modern absurdity, smut, existentialism, and a dash of romance. You’ll chuckle before you take a few minutes to re-evaluate your life and your priorities. It’s not as impactful contextually as, say, Simon’s stuff, but this gem does provide some unexpected kick.
Noah Van Sciver’s “Wolf Nerd”
The best kinds of satire or spoof slap you right in the face without ever letting you see their begloved hand. Van Sciver expertly pokes fun at male toxicity and nerd culture in a handful of impactful panels, adding a depth of cynicism not always found in the book (which tends to be earnest in its weirdness). Yet that dash makes all the difference, and echoes my earlier notes about how crucial the interplay between stories truly can be.
Alright, NOW #4, what have you got to show papa?