Kramers Ergot 7, Ed. Sammy Harkham. (Buenaventura Press) $125
The seventh installment of Sammy Harkham’s serial anthology is among the most beautiful commercial books I’ve ever opened. At 16 by 21 inches it now stands in the Molossus office as a spectacular piece of furniture. The full color anthology includes work by sixty of our most imaginative contemporary cartoonists and comics artists, and its format allows them the literal space to explore large-scale graphic narratives, merging the diverse comics aesthetics of today with the scope and size of early twentieth century Sunday newspaper comics. Chris Ware’s spread includes a life-size baby drawn down its center. Tom Gauld’s retelling of Noah’s Ark—focusing on the experience of his son Ham—includes a large ark indeed. Gary Panter’s manic drawings are looser and wilder—I get the sense that they stretch across the space that they deserve. In what is perhaps my favorite story, Kim Deitch exploits the large format with his typical nested narrative, telling a story that connects an obscure cola brand, Louis Armstrong, and acid.
Kramers Ergot 7 is an heroic achievement. It belongs in the library of any serious comics reader—of any serious reader of contemporary American literature.
The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories: Flash Fiction from Contemporary China, Ed. and tr. Shouhua Qi. (Stone Bridge Press) $16.95
Flash fiction anthologies typically make for enjoyable, intelligent reading—and though it may be too early to definitively judge—affect seemingly little impact on the contemporary canon. Still, they do serve as an indicator of literary mood, and that role, especially in international literature, is an important one, as the mood of any era is best defined by the respective literature itself.
The Pearl Jacket is divided by themes, which include relationships, family, portraits, society, and the strange and extraordinary. It includes stories that take place at night clubs (Zhong Zimei), that promote the Mark Twain’s Humorous Speeches (Sha Weixing), and that celebrate the lottery (Lao She). Most stories are set in contemporary China, and while free from self-exoticism do humanize the current relationship between China and the West. As in Li Jingwen’s story “American Apple,” in which he writes,
How can the Americans grow such apples? The red ones are so red, green ones so green, shiny, wax like, as if painted on. They are real, but look so artificially made… in my heart I didn’t want to waste my money on such hot foreign things. Get lost, expensive “American girls!”…
Later, after buying his daughter the American apple that so captivated her, the speaker is both disappointed and relieved to find that the fruit tastes far worse than the Red Fushi apple. After discarding them, he writes, “When we thought about them again, the apples inside were already rotten beyond recognition.”
A worthwhile and very contemporary English-language translation of one of the world’s great literatures, this anthology is exactly what one expects from flash fiction: entertaining and mood telling, but lacking in the literary substance it makes us crave for more of