Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Looking at Two Recent Fantagraphics Anthologies from Hans Rickheit and Tom Kaczynski

Folly by Hans Rickheit and Beta Testing The Apocalypse by Tom Kaczynski, Fantagraphics 2012
I've said it before, but anthologies - including collections focusing on work by a single creator - by their very nature can be hit-or-miss. (Of course Love & Rockets is the exception to that rule, and most other rules, too.) Two recent releases from Fantagraphics are good examples of this.  And these releases are also excellent examples of two creators who could not be farther apart thematically or visually in Tom Kaczynski and Hans Rickheit.

Folly (meaninglessly subtitled The Consequences of Indiscretion) reprints Hans Rickheit's unique and disturbing self-published comics from the last few years. The stories in Folly feature some of the most grotesque nightmare imagery seen in comics. Rickheit revels in producing interpretive phantasmagorias of monstrous and impossible biological constructions painfully interacting in a usually senseless horror-world. Most of the stories are narratively unconnected short black-and-white comics of varying quality. (There are a few connected color comics, too.) Usually when I encounter comics like this, they just don't work as narrative art, but there is something about Rickheit's storytelling that compels further reading (though not every piece presented in Folly works beyond an excuse to look at some really weird shit). The benefits of short-story anthologies are that when you run into a story that doesn't quite work, you don't have to put up with it for long. And I highly doubt I could read a longer sustained narrative of similarly disturbing imagery - a creator like Rickheit (or Fletcher Hanks or those Axe Cop comics) is best served in short chunks that you can digest or block out depending on what moves you. Something like this isn't for everyone, but there are enough intrigues and really funny short strips to warrant at least a look.

On the complete other hand is Tom Kaczynski's Beta Testing The Apocalypse, reprinting a bunch of short strips from Mome. Featuring a ligne claire style and monochrome coloring, Kaczynksi's narratives are often grounded in stories of people trying to interact with each other and the increasingly cold world in the mysterious modern metropolis. Kaczynski excels at the architecture and design of modern life and the best stories in Beta Testing The Apocalypse explore people lost in a world outside of their control. Works like "100,000 Years," "976 Sq Ft," and "Cozy Apocalypse" are true highlights and some of the best very-short-form comics of recent memory, whereas  the longer "Music for Neanderthals" and the previously unpublished "The New" are a bit of a drag. Indeed, the mix of good and not-so-good is pretty evenly split in Beta Testing The Apocalypse, with the tighter shorter stories outshining the unfocused longer works.

Both of these eclectic collections were released last year by Fantagraphics in wonderfully designed softcovers, and represent two unique and disparate voices now working in independent comics.

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