A SPECTER HAUNTS the eighth issue of the avant-garde comics anthology Kramers Ergot: the specter of Kramers Ergot 7.
Cartoonist Sammy Harkham founded Kramers Ergot in 2000. A dedicated dabbler, Harkham devotes himself with great energy to a variety of creative and entrepreneurial activities — he owns the Family Bookstore in Los Angeles and co-founded the Cinefamily movie theater — and started Kramers as a 48-page zine featuring only four contributors: the cartooning equivalent of a microbrew. But Kramers has long since transcended its humble origins, and is now often described as the cartoonist's equivalent of Dave Eggers's McSweeney's Quarterly Concern or an updated version of Art Spiegelman's classic avant-garde comics magazine, RAW.
With each subsequent issue, Kramers has grown more ambitious. Its fourth issue, which moved from Harkam's self-published imprint to Gingko Press, erupted into public view at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in 2003, exciting indie cartoonists, makers of "art" comics, and the broader art world alike. Kramers’s avowedly new style of underground comics — described variously as “psychedelic,” “sketchy,” and “crude” — is printed in gorgeous color format on high-quality pages, and has become renowned for its fusion of the harsh anti-style of mini-comics with the meticulous, gorgeous packaging of art books.
Harkham's ambitions reached their peak with Kramers 7. The seventh issue (published by the now-defunct Buenaventura Press), which emulated the oversized format of early twentieth-century broadsheet newspaper comics, was physically large enough to be used as a small life raft (16" x 21"), cost the reader a budget-busting $125, and featured work by sixty artists, many of them major comics-world celebrities, including Chris Ware, Matt Groening, Seth, Dan Clowes, Ben Katchor, and Adrian Tomine. It was a monstrous undertaking, “sublime” in the strictest sense: a book that threatened to swallow you whole as you studied pages large enough to block your peripheral vision. With this diverse list of contributors came a diverse set of styles; artistically, the physical size of the book itself seemed to be Harkham's major statement of intent.
What next, an anthology the size of a small moon observable only by telescope?
Not quite. By comparison to its predecessor, Kramers Ergot 8 can't help but seem like a modest affair. The format is smaller, a mere 6" x 8", and the price affordable for budget-conscious comics readers. The artists — who include, this time around, Gary Panter, Keon Sadler, Gabrielle Bell, Tim Hensley, Takeshi Murata, Johnny Ryan, Leon Sadler, and Chris Cilla — are fewer and relatively less eminent, and their contributions are far more intimate, as though you happened to pick up a lost sketchbook at a bus station or a pile of napkins featuring rudimentary yet evocative doodles.
Nonetheless, despite its self-conscious smallness, the new Kramers anthology is in many ways even more ambitious than its predecessor; it takes fewer risks with format but more audacious ones with content. Through his editorial choices, Harkham has constructed a de facto argument about the future of indie comics, crafting what he describes in the issue's promotional material as "a more specific and unified aesthetic space" than prior issues....read more