As a rule, I’ve never enjoyed reviewing titles after they’ve been out a while. There’s something about unveiling a review on or before release date that makes it feel as if you’re part of an integral conversation in real-time. Even coming in a few days late, given the speed of our digital media landscape, is akin to talking about the printing press when everyone owns a Kindle.
Yet as I’ve written this review, we’re already a month out from the release of volume five of Fantagraphics’ excellent Now series. And while the urge to beat myself up over my tardiness remains a steady emotional undercurrent, I’m mostly glad to tackle another volume as I never have before. And not just ’cause I read some of it on a comfy new chair.
If you’ve followed any of my past reviews, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the series as a whole. I’ve celebrated its oddball aesthetic and the way it uplifts new/unsung talent, and even geeked out about its cohesive narrative approach. But now it’s worth praising that (albeit accidental) lack of timeliness.
With so many books coming out each week, and with loads of titles crossing over or reaching 40-plus issues, it’s easy for a reader to fall irrevocably behind. Now, however, is a series that wants you to not only take your time, but consume as you see fit. With issue five, I found myself skipping ahead and returning to entries later. That could’ve been because the art, or just the subject matter, but the result is the same: there’s no ticking clock in your head, and that makes for better reading. It’s not just that more comics should be fun and carefree, but the approach makes for books that exist in and of themselves.
They’re not chains in some huge story or publishing event, and the stories in Now exist as singular, self-sustaining entities. They hold value only in what you draw from them, and because nothing is being perpetuated through their existence, there’s no rush to read anything in any timeframe or set order. More books should be like this, and even things like one-shots or TPBs can’t get away from that air of commitment. It’s easy to appreciate a book that waits for you, that sits when you find the energy or proper head-space. It’s easier to care, to make the decisions to engage with the material, when it’s so often a matter of pushing through other books to keep up with the Joneses.
If there’s any sort of time-based demand, however, it’s the pacing and structure of the book. Now #5 is another book in which it’s easy to glide through the 130-ish pages. While this issue doesn’t have quite the same sense of overall cohesiveness — there’s far more nuance in the stories and art styles, and that’s both a positive and another, moderately nerve-wracking step in the book’s organic development. But what #5 does have is a balance of longer and short stories and a proper ebb and flow of intensity and heart/humor, all of which keeps readers highly engaged. These are challenging books to consume given the breadth and scope, yet wildly refreshing with every turn of the page. Often, this sense of momentum isn’t always apparent if you’re picking up Now for the very first time, as it’s a series that rewards true believers.
And oh the treasures inside. There are several stories that exemplify the strengths of the larger franchise, but my favorites included:
DW – “Paper Collar”: One of the upsides of this series is that it presents you with art styles you may not have always admired. As if the book is a friend wrapping its arm around you, telling you to trust in their picks. “Paper Collar” is generally the sort of fare I’d call “what happens when you spill bong water on your mom’s Southwestern wall art.” But the more I observed, the more it feels exciting and suggestive. A piece of art that I have a relationship with, even if that connection isn’t immediate or based on inherently positive sentiments.
Eroyn Franklin – “The Cabin”: It’s hard to pin down the emotional baseline for most Now comics. Generally speaking, they tend to fluctuate between the wildly surreal and the crushingly realistic. Here, though, we have something that blurs those edges, a cerebral yet psychedelic meditation on, among other things, sanity, sexuality, pleasure, and solitude. Franklin’s piece stands out because its lack of identity, and you’ll love the minutes (or hours?) spent mulling all that over on your own.
Walker Tate – “Nail Clippers”: On first viewing, you’d assume that “Nail Clippers” has a similar approach as “The Cabin.” Only, Tate’s piece strips away some of the whimsy and focuses on absurdism, and that works to enhance and expand upon the realistic elements (the overt awkwardness, crushing uncertainty, etc.). In some moments, that formula makes for a less appealing affair. But more often than not, the piece, with its simple, stark lines and colors, pokes the cerebellum in all the right ways.
Darin Shuler – Untitled: If I had to suggest another title, it might be something like “Drugs Are Actually Cool, Mom.” Titles aside, Shuler’s entry exemplifies another upside of Now: art can be dumb and pointless but still wildly transcendent. You could dissect this piece as a metaphor for man’s relationship with art. Or laugh-snort through your nose and then eat some fried pickles. Either way, it touched you somehow, and that’s enough.
Every time I finish the latest issue, I contemplate the future of Now. Sometimes I think it’s a quaint little niche for kooky art. Other times, I see the need for more products like this to help balance the current comics universe (mainstream and indie alike). That’s what makes this series, whether I read it on release day or 100 years later, so very essential: entertainment should provoke thought and analysis, even if we don’t realize it while picking out all the colors from the trippy cover.