cover image Kramer's Ergot 5

Kramer's Ergot 5

Sammy Harkham, . . Ginkgo, $29.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-58423-172-1

Harkham's anthology series Kramer's Ergot has established itself as the center of the comics avant-garde, and the mammoth fifth volume is the most impressive to date—a full-on plunge into the spot where contemporary visual art discovers narrative. (Some of its 20 contributors, like Souther Salazar and the Swiss duo Elvis Studio, present work that looks like it's drifted over from a particularly edgy gallery wall.) There are a few indulgent examples of druggy art brut , and a handful of artists who contribute stuff that was already on hand: Gary Panter offers a page apiece from 30 years' worth of sketchbooks, and Chris Ware's contribution, beautiful as it is, is yet another excerpt from his graphic novel in progress. But almost none of the pieces here look or read like conventional comics, and the collection's high points are extraordinary. Kevin Huizenga's "Jeepers Jacobs" is a simple-looking but ingenious piece about theological debates; Gabrielle Bell's painted "Cecil and Jordan in New York" is a splendid miniature that starts as a slice of urban life and becomes something entirely different; David Heatley's "My Sexual History (Slightly Abridged Version)" is exactly that: page after page of tiny, crudely rendered but wincingly remembered incidents. And Marc Bell's strips, drawings and doodles are the work of a very odd, very funny mind that likes to fill every bit of space on a page with hilariously inventive details. (Dec.)