Austin is pretty familiar with playing host to visiting musicians, filmmakers, authors and other cultural types, often working at the tops of their fields. Oh, you saw Cate Blanchett downtown? Anthony Bourdain sat next to you at the Grackle? Increasingly common propositions, my friend.
A noticeable absence from this visitors’ bonanza, however, at least for we aficionados of indie and art comics, has been book tours for the pen and ink slingers behind said comics. Two back-to-back events this week, though, featuring three of our freshest comics voices, may herald a new relevance for Austin when tour schedules are drawn up.
The Anthologist and the Hustler
At Domy Books, Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., comes a one-two punch from Sammy Harkham and Jonny Negron, a couple of authors with fresh tomes out from Brooklyn’s PictureBox Books. Harkham is probably best known as the mastermind and editor behind Kramers Ergot, a series of anthologies which, over the past decade, has been largely responsible for bringing to the fore a style of often non-linear and poetic and raw cartooning known in some quarters, for better or worse, as art comics.
Kramers, published by various imprints over its so far eight-issue run, is now put out by PictureBox, whose own skuzzed up and arty aesthetic shares much with Harkham’s collections. With the publication of Everything Together: Collected Stories, Harkham the cartoonist and writer has a chance to break through to an even larger audience than his considerable reputation as a curator of other talents has allowed.
Gathering several self-published mini-comics and other out-of-print works, Everything Together showcases Harkham’s considerable narrative chops alongside his spare, up to the minute drawing style, equal parts Charles Schulz and Jaime Hernandez.
Equally up-to-the-minute is the art of former Austinite Jonny Negron, whose book Negron features his decidedly un-PC single panel erotic drawings as well as comics steeped in the culture of video games, manga and Vice magazine. Negron’s signature zaftig women in various states of dress have an unabashed adolescent male sexuality to them, but not in a dumb way.
Rather, they pack the same honest hormonal wallop as Iggy and The Stooges do, which is a refreshing contrast to the airbrushed absurdities of most mainstream comics or the more workaday sexuality portrayed by his graphic novel writing elders. The women depicted may veer toward the improbable, but the desire underlying the drawing is achingly vulnerable.
The World Builder
Following Harkham and Negron is Brandon Graham, celebrating the release of Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity #1 by Image Comics at Austin Books and Comics from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 25. Of the three artists, Graham is probably best known to habitués of comics shops, for both his off-kilter, futuristic series King City and his current helming of the reboot of '90s era title Prophet.
Graham is a consummate world builder and is at the vanguard of the current resurgence of trippy science fiction publications. Having gotten his start in porn comics in the late '90s, Graham’s work can have the same erotic charge as Negron’s, albeit one with a much loopier atmosphere.
Off again, on again Multiple Warheads is possibly the quirkiest, featuring main characters Sexica and her werewolf boyfriend Nikoli in a fantasy version of Russia replete with cigarettes that can sing, a blade wielding organ hunter, and lots of visual puns and asides.
With most superhero titles impenetrable to the nascent comics reader, thanks to fifty-plus years of clotted continuity, Graham’s work is vital for re-infusing comics with a sense of fun and pure pop expansiveness. If periodical comics are going to regain any relevance in the mass culture landscape, we’re going to need a lot more Brandon Grahams.
While Graham has one foot in the mainstream, like Harkham and Negron, he has a book coming out with indie publisher PictureBox. Negron and Graham have had some of their sex comics collected alongside each other by underground publishers. Harkham, too, has prominently dealt with sex in his one-man anthology Crickets.
None of this is to imply that straight dude sexuality is all there is in the world of off-the-beaten-path comics. It’s just who Austin is hosting this week.
Let’s hope these guys have a good time in our fair city, and let their compatriots know, regardless of gender and persuasion, to come check us out. We’ll even save them a seat next to Bourdain.