It is my distinct pleasure to mention that the above image hails from the millennial L’Association anthology Comix 2000, a copy of which I recently found sitting in the Adult section of a comics store I’d visited only two times prior. It was buried in porn. Always check the Adult section – there might be more than just Love and Rockets back issues!
Comix 2000, of course, is one of the mighty monuments and grand follies of ‘alternative’ comics in the last decade: 2000 pages of original work, accounting for 324 contributors from 29 nations, restricted from the use of dialogue or narrative text and honed in on the theme of “the 20th century.” Despite this — and yes, I know it was actually published toward the end of 1999 — I consider it to be the beginning of the ’00s in comics, that mad chaos epoch of diverse ambition, multiplied formats, and saturating foreign insight. It’s a huge, stolid hardcover brick of a comic, a solid red jacket design covering gossamer-thin pages, like a reference tome. Indeed, it was meant as a summing up – a book anyone, anywhere could theoretically open up and understand, and thereby grasp the mess of what happened in the world.
The trick is, you might need to just open it up somewhere and start reading, because going from front to back strikes me as attempting to read the encyclopedia as a novel. If we apply the traditional criterion of an anthology’s worth — superior contributions arranged to form a revelatory whole by way of keenly focused editorial vision — Comix 2000 registers as a baffling fog of tonal incoherence. I have no idea how an editorial vision is even supposed to stay focused over 2000 pages of contributions from people speaking over a dozen languages, even under the best of circumstances — although the book’s introduction, repeated in 10 languages, that ‘alternative’ visual styles blend and travel far more efficiently than the provincial populism of the Franco-Belgian tradition, commercial manga or superhero art, suggesting at least a purposeful cultivation of ‘individualism’ as a prevailing motif — and coordinator J.C. Menu ultimately opts to simply arrange the artists in alphabetical order. The stated theme, broad so as to become vaporous, moreover guarantees that everyone will do basically whatever the hell they feel like anyway. What’s your 20th century?
But god, the proportions! An alphabetical, non-comprehensive reference of contrasting perspectives on enormity! It had to be this big, true believers! And further – doesn’t it simulate what we’ve done for ten years now, comics qua comics? Ten years of growth? Of categorization, of manipulation? Framing? Considering the past, the Golden Age of Reprints? Downloads? The whole fucking internet? The availability of works, of works-on-works, of criticism? Navigation of a seemingly exploded terrain, sick with looping, lurching, overlapping perspectives? New freedoms? Could you even imagine a Comix 2000 in 1997, even leafing through your NON #1, you lucky kid, your Collection Ciboulette? Because if it hadn’t existed by now, it’d just be logic to suggest it. Or something like it – 2010 pages just sounds weird. Wasn’t that a Jamie Delano series?
Right now, I’m busy exploring suggested routes; as Bart Beaty remarked in Unpopular Culture, it’s “a book manuscript not so much to be read as to be toured.” I’ve just finished reading Sammy Harkham’s chat with project coordinator J.C. Menu from The Comics Journal #300, and I’ve gone and read all the selections named in there. Prior to that I picked out all of the manga artists, forming a mini-anthology in my head – the picture above was drawn by Muddy Wehalla (also spelled Wehara), a Garo contributor most prominently seen in English via the 1996 anthology Comics Underground Japan, which featured a two-part, all double-splash saga of salarymen in combat with monsters, bisected by odd, probably pun-laden gag strip breakdowns. His is as direct as contributions get, a hugely visceral saga of adorable babies crawling through seething nests of snapping, writhing serpents, one of them finally shrugging off his tears and learning to walk, only to happen upon precarious cliffs knotted with really BIG snakes.
Is… is it all an allegory for Japan emergence into the global community from the womb of isolationism? Is the fat baby eating snakes the shade of militarism? To be continued…?! It’s gonna take forever to see part two. Way longer than in MOME. By then, I might even be finished with the damned thing! Unless I’m somehow distracted: (more…)