Panel to Panel
By Nathan Patton
‘Kramers Ergot 7′
Editor: Sammy Harkham
Publisher: Buenaventura Press
On “Seinfeld,” the character of Kramer famously designed a coffee table book that could double as an actual coffee table. His dream has finally been realized in a book that coincidentally, not purposely, bears his namesake.
At 16 inches by 21 inches, this book is easily the biggest anthology, if not the biggest comic of any kind, ever produced. And while it’s impossible to ignore it, I don’t want to only focus on the size.
Editor Sammy Harkham has produced seven volumes of his widely acclaimed anthology, each one easier to get your hands on than the last. Mostly hailed for its ability to blur the lines between narrative-based alternative comics and art comics, “Kramers Ergot” has long been the anthology that other anthologies want to grow up to be like. And because of that, there was really no chance that this could live up to the hype that preceded even its inception.
In interviews, Harkham claims to have rejected stories that didn’t use the size and format to its fullest extent. I think he put the red ink and scissors away too quickly. Some of the cartoonists captured the spirit of the anthology, but a lot of them, even the elder statesmen of the alternative comics scene, didn’t quite live up to it. Some of the highlights include Shary Boyle’s visual poetry about elephants and growing old and Tom Gauld’s tale of Noah’s two sons as they ponder whether or not he’s lost his mind even as the Ark is being assembled.
Not surprisingly, some of the most effective stories were the one-page strips that most resembled the Sunday morning newspaper strips of the mid-20th century that Harkham was trying to invoke with this book. Jonathan Bennet, Martin Cendreda, Gabrielle Bell, Matt Groening and Harkham himself all deliver simple, but powerful, single-page strips. And aside from all of them being one page, they all had another thing in common: Fun was a major component.
It was also nice to get new work from the big names like Daniel Clowes, Seth, Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware. But all of them turned in work you would have expected from them — no surprises. Which means there was quality work delivered but, while it was formatted to fit the size, it could have easily been smaller and had the same impact.
At 96 pages it’s probably safe to say there’s something here for everyone. But at $125, it’s also safe to say everyone’s not going to find out. With that kind of price, you want to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth and it’s a close call, but I don’t think it quite made it there for me.
Chris Ware’s strip is a pretty good way to sum up. His two-page story is draped around a drawing of a life-sized baby in the middle the book. He literally took up the same amount of space to draw a baby as the baby would have taken up had he, for some reason, laid it on the page. But, as with any other time I’ve seen a life-sized baby in a comic, I asked myself, “Why?” It didn’t help the story. It was interesting but only for the novelty of it, only for the gimmick. I feel like the gimmick of this book is what so many people focus on because the content didn’t quite live up to the pedigree of the previous volumes or the cartoonists’ previous work.
Because of that, there were a lot of missed opportunities and an anthology that could have been best anthology of all time will have to settle for simply being the most ambitious.
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Author: Michael Perry
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2009
Throughout your life, you experience a series of milestones. Your parents eagerly looked for many of your firsts: tooth, word, steps and day of school. You remember your first date, your first car, your first love and your first job. These days, you look for first signs of spring, first day of vacation and other never-happened-before things that can happen.
As a new husband, author Michael Perry anticipated a whole slew of new experiences, and in “Coop,” he writes about them: his farm and his family, fresh seasons, young livestock and seeing his parents in a different light.
Perry grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. His father milked cows and raised sheep to pay the bills. From his parents — both members of an “obscure fundamentalist Christian sect” — Perry learned self-sufficiency, the value of hard work and the ability to stand for his beliefs. He also learned to cobble together what he needed from what he had on hand.
Those legacies helped when Perry, his new wife, Anneliese, and his “given” daughter moved to his mother-in-law’s former homestead.
Leaving behind his beloved New Auburn for a smaller Wisconsin town wasn’t without adjustment, but Perry had a few things to look forward to: he was planning a coop for a long-desired flock of chickens. A weed-infested corner of the property would, with salvaged fencing, become a pig pen. There would be the beginnings of a garden beneath a hastily made cold frame. And Anneliese was pregnant with their first child.
During their first year on the farm, in between book tours, family obligations and deadlines, Perry noticed the land, as he is wont to do. He used a tailfeatherless pheasant and wood-stacking “punishment” as a lesson for his daughter. He reflects on waste-not, want-not philosophy when feeding his pigs with plants and game from the land. And his memories of growing up on a farm and in a warm, loving household tie into most of his observations.
On a farm, you embrace life. You know it’s cyclical. And though you never get used to it, you know there is death.
At the end of this book, you’ll know that 368 pages of “Coop” is woefully inadequate. It’s hard to let go of. You’ll want more.
“Tell me a story from your childhood” is a plea Perry is used to hearing, and his readers are lucky he’s a willing talespinner. This book is part paean to devoted parents, faithful community and a good upbringing; part joyous love letter to a family and to friends-made-family; and part commonsense parenting with plenty of humor, Will Rogers-ish philosophy and not just a little grief.
If you’re looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift, something heartfelt for Father’s Day, or if you just need a book to take to the hammock with you this summer, look for this one. “Coop” should be the first book you grab.