Comics anthologies that give space to emerging voices alongside established and renowned creative forces on the indie scene are always to be admired. It’s been a little while since we last gave coverage to Fantagraphics’ Now: The New Comics Anthology but the twelfth issue of the Eric Reynolds-curated magazine certainly embodies that ideal. This issue features work from rising alt stars like 2023 Broken Frontier ‘Six Creators to Watch’ artist J Webster Sharp (Pretty Flavours) through to the legendary Peter Bagge (Hate).
Behind a striking Alex Graham cover (above), Now #12 provides us with the usual mix of the subversive, the challenging and the experimental that has been such a draw since the series’ inception. Two of the most striking stories in #12 in terms of their medium-manipulating qualities come from Bhanu Patrap and Cynthia Alfonso. Patrap’s ‘Big Head Pointy Nose’ is a wordless account of the human and avian world’s converging of which it’s difficult not to fall back on the admittedly trite use of Kafkaesque as an adjective. Acute changes in perspective and often angular, yet still oddly organic, visuals bring an unlikely tenderness to the strip’s conclusion. Alfonso’s untitled abstract story is a playful procession of imagery and lettering effects, where authorial intent is subsumed into reader interpretation.
Art by Bhanu Patrap
J Webster Sharp’s 8-pager is also lacking a title which seems entirely appropriate for a story that also asks the reader to project their own meaning onto the page. Dolls and ventriloquist dummies have long been a staple of horror-themed popular culture but Webster Sharp imbues single panels here with a chilling and insidious sense of provocation that really is the stuff of nightmares. Juxtaposed with sexually uncompromising symbolism and themes of the fragility of childhood it’s a fitting introduction to her work for the wider audience that will find her through the pages of Now.
Art by J Webster Sharp
‘Mellow Mutt’ sees Noah Van Sciver chronicling his childhood love of Jurassic Park with an autobiographical strip that manages not one but two punchlines within its anecdotal confines. Its success lies in its connectivity; the circumstances may be specific but its reminders of the schoolyard hierarchy and the sense of awe that franchise-based media could evoke when were kids are near universal. Rahel Seusskind’s ‘Monster Finger’ is only loosely rooted in the recognisable but this eccentric tale of consuming the contents of one’s own nose manages something extremely unlikely – cutesy body horror.
Art by Cynthia Alfonso
On a more biographical note François Vigneault’s ‘The Bird is Gone’ documents the decline and extinction of the passenger pigeon in an account that maintains a sense of foreboding throughout due to its eerily evocative colouring scheme. While Tim Lane uses a retro Golden Age/classic newspaper strip-style presentation in ‘Li’l Stevie’ to frame the trials of its child hero as he encounters parental neglect and abandonment; all the more poignant for that point of reference.
Art by J Webster Sharp
Peter Bagge’s name attached to a project will, of course, be a guaranteed enticement for many readers. Written by Matt Lawton and illustrated by Bagge, ‘The Cartoonist’ is a cynically worldweary tale of a failing artist and his collapsing life. While the more subdued characterisation means there’s no opportunity here for Bagge’s regular sidesteps into grotesquely caricatured emotional states he’s still the perfect match for Lawton’s well-paced and witty study of failure and resignation.
A deftly compiled collection of comics that champion the breadth, wit and invention of the form Now#12 is one of the strongest volumes yet of this acclaimed series.
Alex Graham, Cecilia Vårhed, Bhanu Pratap, Cynthia Alfonso, J Webster Sharp, Kayla E., Noah Van Sciver, Rachel Seusskind, François Vigneault, Tim Lane, Max Clotfelter, Matt Lawton & Peter Bagge, edited by Eric Reynolds • Fantagraphics Books, $12.99
Review by Andy Oliver