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CRICKETS 1 and 2 reviewed by Sequart.com

Updated April 24, 2008


Hot & Cold: Crickets #1-2
by Rob Clough
SEQUART.ORG
9 Apr 2008


It's an obvious tack, I think, to compare wunderkind Sammy Harkham to Art Spiegelman. Both are perhaps better known for being editors than artists. Harkham is the editor of the groundbreaking avant-garde anthology KRAMER'S ERGOT, while Spiegelman of course spearheaded RAW. Both are interested in aspects of Judaica. Spiegelman approached the subject from an ethnic/historical point of view in MAUS, while Harkham is devoutly religious and this informs much of his work and subject matter. Both artists have a deep appreciation for the history of comics, especially classic early 20th century strips. Spiegelman explicitly named them as a direct influence on his recent IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS, while for Harkham one can see echoes of Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and many other classic artists in his works. Both artists agonize about how slow they are in creating comics.

The age difference and when they started doing comics, however, marks a number of differences as well. While both artists are synthesizers of their many influences, one can see a lot of Gilbert Hernandez, Chester Brown and Daniel Clowes in Harkham's work. The early part of Harkham's career wasn't spent on formalist exploration the way Spiegelman's was--he went straight to crafting a style that he continues to refine today. And the storytelling styles of the above three stalwarts of the 80's clearly had much more of an influence on Harkham than Spiegelman did, and the way he synthesized those influences with that of classic cartooning has produced a very interesting style. His strips have the warm earthiness of classic cartooning (with many of the same interests and visual strategies) and the icy distance that Clowes or Brown often display, especially in their later work. Of course, both Clowes and Brown themselves have a strong interest in classic comics, with Brown's LOUIS RIEL having a direct connection to Harold Gray's LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE in terms of its visuals.

CRICKETS, Harkham's new ongoing series from Drawn & Quarterly, reads like it's his playground to really let loose. Most of his stories published to date have had a slightly sedate, restrained and sometimes even mournful quality to them. In CRICKETS, he's exercising his interest in gags, pratfalls, scatology and a sense of motion & momentum in an adventure setting. The serialized story "Black Death" is a grab-bag of action set-pieces coming together with little explanation and a darkly humorous bent. A strangely indestructible man is being pursued by an unseen army firing volley after volley of arrows into him. He somehow survives multiple arrows being shot into him along with a fall, where he's revived by a golem wandering around a forest. He encounters a man and his boy at night, who are traveling to bury another one of his children. After giving our escapee food, he realizes that he must be the golem's master and demands that he use his magic to resurrect his child. Of course, the man is as clueless as the audience is, which results in a fight where the child accidentally kills his father with a gun and the golem kills the child.

It's a darkly amusing and somewhat shocking scene, given the early tone of the story. Our protagonist looks and acts like an indestructible cartoon character, and the story is propulsive as he goes from place to place. The slightly distant nature of the narrative spills over into the later scene of family tragedy, and that distance is what makes it both funny and horrible. The audience is led to understand the action in a comedic way, but then Harkham turns the tables on us with a grisly end for the family that we meet.

In issue #2, Harkham turns to slapstick with "Black Death", throwing in farts, a comedy of errors in trying to retrieve a naked man out of a well involving pratfalls and characters who can't see, a black & white flashback (meant to evoke the classic film version of FRANKENSTEIN, I believe) of the golem's origin and subsequent sad banishment to the woods, the naked man leading them in circles and finally a horrific ending as a huge worm crawls into his ear. The deadpan, reserved nature of Harkham's style makes the slapstick and scatology stand out sharply, especially when he immediately contrasts it with horror or tragedy.

The rest of the strips in #2 are short, punchy and have a raw feel to them. There are a number of autobiographical strips involving Harkham's travels on the convention & book-signing circuit, but they tend to revolve around specific anecdotes with gag punchlines--frequently at his own expense. There's a certain squalid quality to his other strips, but they still follow a classic strip structure. After following the wretched lives of the young couple in "Pregnant Alley", for example, we end on a "plop-take" as the woman pushes away the man for smelling awful. Once again, we have an earthy strip following two pathetic characters, but then Harkham distances the audience with a punchline that falls right into place with the character design. "Mother Fucker" is a Clowesian strip involving a series of rejections.

The funniest strips are the ones based on historical figures. "Napolean!" is about the conqueror fretting over becoming a comics artist, with using dots for eyes as his particular difficulty. (Of course, this is a frequent Harkham strategy, so it's a commentary on his own work in an absurd context as much as anything). The punchline, where Napolean kills a man and sees his eyes go from normal to "dots", making him realize that they "do give too much empathy", is hilarious. This is another hot/cold strip--the figures are mostly iconic and distancing, and Napolean is more obsessed with his own work than with the fact that he must deal with the guilt of killing so many people. "I Am Happy Every Moment Of Every Day" is a gag strip involving John "The Elephant Man" Merrick. In an effort to make his days a little less painful, a doctor suggests to a nurse that she smile at him. The result is him chasing her like a randy character in a slapstick movie, wanting to "chew on that sweet little anus". "Elisha" is about the old testament prophet, retold in a style most directly reminiscent of classic comics, complete with physical humor, sight gags and a humorous use of modern vernacular in a historical setting.

These comics are fascinating to me because Harkham is much less prolific an artist than many of his other contemporaries. I imagine the demands of editing and shaping KRAMER'S ERGOT has had an effect on his own productivity, so seeing him cut loose on the page like this is a treat. I especially enjoy seeing him release his id on the page a bit after seeing so much restraint in most of his other work. CRICKETS feels like Harkham unblocking a lot of pent-up energy on the comics page, and in this regard, Johnny Ryan may be as big an inspiration for him as any of his comics forerunners. Harkham doesn't quite go as all-out as Ryan does in his strips, always maintaining a certain reserve, but it was funny to see so many of his strips in here delving into earthy matters. The tension between emotional distancing and visceral subject matter, and the interplay between the two, is what makes CRICKETS so interesting to read. I'll be curious to see what direction he goes in the next issue.
 
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Featured artist

Sammy Harkham

           Featured products

Crickets #1
Crickets #2




  ALL WE EVER DO IS TALK ABOUT WOOD, PALOOKA-VILLE 19 and CRICKETS reviewed by Newsarama

Updated April 15, 2008


All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood
Written & Illustrated by Tom Horacek
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

It doesn’t look like much, this book. It’s a tiny little thing, barely bigger than a pad of Post-It notes, with an Earthy brown front cover you might glance past if you’re not paying attention. But, c’mon, take a second and really look at that cover. It’s freaking brilliant.

And that’s pretty much what you’re in for when you pick up Horacek’s collection of one-panel gag strips, eighty-eight pages of sly, subtle, dry hand-grenade humor (hand grenade humor = you pause for a moment after the joke is throw before the humor hits you like a bomb). Later cartoons show a boardroom full of somber execs, mourning as their sales chart goes flat line or an alien in a doctor’s coat with a heavy Proctology textbook on his desk.

It’s delightfully bitter work, sardonically upsetting readers’ expectations in unlikely ways. Horacek’s characters, with their huge, round heads and outward innocence, seem the least likely characters to pull down social mores, but he’s unafraid to put them through the wringer for a laugh. There’s no overall theme to the cartoons, but Horacek’s dry wit and illustrations bind the entire package together stylishly.

The small package is well designed, giving each gag its own page so that none are crowded by another laugh. And, really, who can’t appreciate a joke about a father suggesting that he and his wife name their newborn son Margaret just to “see what happens”? Hilariously recommended.

Palookaville #19 (D&Q; by Mike): The third chapter of Seth’s Clyde Fans continues in this installment, a cleanly drawn, creatively told segment about Simon placing his mother in assisted living and then going through her momentos and collectibles. Though little plot occurs, Seth’s large, dense pages are heavy with information and nuance, and nobody uses the panel gutters to greater affect than Seth does throughout this book. Whether its marking the passage of time as Simon walks through a neighborhood, or disconnecting Simon from his mother, Seth arranges pages in imaginative, engaging ways that keep you turning. Good work.

Crickets #1-2 (D&Q; by Mike): Sammy Harkham’s new series debuts, dominated by the serialization of “Black Death.” One man escapes certain (very, very certain) death with the aid of a golem, and begins a journey through a peculiar forest. In issue one, they meet a father and son taking the corpse of the young son’s baby brother to be buried among family. In the second, a raving naked man is rescued from a well by the unlikely tandem of man and golem. It’s well drawn, and Harkham has a very clear idea of who his characters are and where they’re going, but two issues into the serial, it’s far too early to guess where things might be going. There’s some real potential here, so we’ll have to see where it goes.

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Featured artists

Seth
Sammy Harkham
Tom Horacek

           Featured products

Crickets #2
All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood




CRICKETS reviewed by the Onion

Updated April 3, 2006


If Huizenga has a rival for the mantle of art-comics hero, it's Sammy Harkham, the L.A. DIY champion whose anthology Kramers Ergot has given the new movement a home. Harkham's new solo book Crickets #1 (Drawn & Quarterly) starts off with a lengthy sequence of a man running through the woods that's pretty much par for the course as far as crudely drawn, hard-to-follow modern art-comics go; but the second half improves greatly when the man (and his golem) meet a father and son traveling on a morbid mission. What happens next is blackly comic and genuinely shocking, and though Crickets may never live up to its first-issue climax, Harkham at least appears to know what he's doing… B+
 
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Sammy Harkham

           Featured product

Crickets #1




  WE ARE ON OUR OWN and CRICKETS #1 reviewed in Nashville City Paper

Updated March 31, 2006


Web only column: Graphic Content
By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
March 31, 2006

We Are On Our Own
By Miriam Katin
(Drawn & Quarterly)
drawnandquarterly.com

[This is an early review; the book is due to be released in May.]

Miriam Katin fled Hungary in 1944 with her mother to escape the Nazi regime. We Are On Our Own is the 63-year-old's account of that time.

Katin's cartooning is like a finely detailed sketchpad; it's very easy to imagine Katin creating the drawings you're looking at. At some of the story's more active or violent moments, the art becomes appropriately chaotic and loose, as if Katin drudging up bad memories physically affected her drawing.

The number of rough situations Katin and her mother find themselves in over such a short period of time is just astonishing. And she doesn't hold back in showing how difficult and traumatic those situations could be.

The book feels at times both romanticized and brutally real. Katin in the story, through the efforts of her mother and of her young age, seems able to block out a lot of the traumatic experiences she lives through, but the ending of the story, tying in with the book's theme of looking for God, shows that she did not escape unscathed. It's a terrific memoir, and an astounding debut.


Notable singles

Good news for Sammy Harkham fans: The talented anthology contributor (and editor) has a new on-going comic book from Drawn & Quarterly called Crickets. Harkham has an understated, lyrical style, capable of transforming stories almost into fables, as in this first issue of Crickets, or conveying the mundane randomness of real life, as in his recent contribution, "Somersaulting," to Drawn & Quarterly Showcase No. 3. Crickets provides Harkham with a venue to cover both those extremes and everything in between. This first issue hits the ground running, literally and figuratively, with a guy running from a flood of arrows in the beginning of a serial called "Black Death." The guy can take an arrow through the head and keep ticking somehow, and he manages to hook up with a golem while hiding in the woods. It's a slow start, but one full of promise, both narratively and just in terms of the venue the book provides a furtive mind like Harkham's.

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Featured artists

Miriam Katin
Sammy Harkham

           Featured products

Crickets #1
We Are On Our Own




Sammy Harkham's new series CRICKETS gets a horror mag review

Updated March 27, 2006


Rue Morgue Magazine

Quick Cuts

Here’s something to chirp about: Crickets, an ongoing horror title from Drawn & Quarterly.
Acclaimed alternative artist Sammy Harkham gets things off to an immediately bizarre mid-story start, as a never-named protagonist rolls down a mountain in a hail of arrows with his right leg on fire. By issue’s end he’s become a ghoul, wandering where the wind blows, while in the company of a mute Golem who (apparently) awoke him from the sleep of death. What transpires when this pair encounters a father and son in mourning is shocking, but this book’s success has less to do with Harkham’s plot twists (which are as strong as his word economy) than it does with his sense for solid, episodic storytelling. Smart fans of absurdist horror should plan to follow this die-namic duo down their road to Hell.
 

Featured artist

Sammy Harkham

           Featured product

Crickets #1




  NEW COMIC BY SAMMY HARKHAM reviewed on Consumatron

Updated March 15, 2006


Monday, March 13, 2006

Crickets #1 by Sammy Harkham
Drawn & Quarterly
January 2006
$3.95

I'm not the avid comic book reader I used to be. I have my favorites, but instead of single issues, I tend to wait for graphic novels and other collections before checking a new title out. I do this for the same reason I watch most television shows only after they come out on DVD: I don't like to impose unnecessary schedules in my life. I already have to get to work on time and get out of bed before that. No way am I going to commit to being home on Thursdays at eight or at the comic shop on Tuesdays. Sammy Harkham may have just ruined this all for me. Fortunately, this new title published by Drawn & Quarterly seems as if it will take its sweet time getting to your local wire racks. Good. There is nothing worse than a regular publication that suffers under its own deadline.

Those of you who pay close attention to the indie comics world will recognize Sammy Harkham as the editor of the comics anthology Kramers Ergot or recognize his drawing style, which borders on simplistic but is better described as essential, from Drawn & Quarterly's Showcase #3 where his story Somersaulting appeared. Folks who do not stay within the loop of the demanding and saturated comics world (like me) will find Harkham's line work familiar but will be hardpressed to recall where they have encountered it before.

Despite the irreverent sense of humor gleaned from the inside front cover of Crickets #1, the single story in this issue, Black Death, introduces a reflective and mysterious writer who may be trying to learn something himself while spinning a tale for his audience. Black Death begins as a reinterpretation of the Jewish myth of the Golem. A recently slaughtered man with several wooden arrows protruding from his body is resurrected by just such a creature. With an apparant guilt hanging over his head, the man is eager to continue on his way only to find that close proximity to the Golem is the only thing keeping him from death. With his unlikely savior in tow and a midnight hunger, the man comes across a father and son in the dark woods who are on their way to bury the boy's brother. Fear and hurried greed result in a disastrous violence that, once again, leaves the man and his Golem alone to wander the land in search of a town called Liadi. A panel of blackness and death ends the comic and readers are left with questions that will be illuminated (though maybe not answered) in the next issue.

With very little dialogue, Crickets #1 is a meditative dream-like comic that leaves the reader eager to discover the characters' motives and the reasons for the rain of arrows that left him in his assisted undead state. The illustrations are all tinted with a greyish green that furthers the story's cold mystery, though I would have liked to have seen more of the beautiful splotchy color featured on the front and back covers. Harkham's character development progresses at a steady pace, giving the reader just enough information to keep them wondering. His storytelling, much like his artwork, is eerily familiar and essential. Harkham avoids minimalist masturbation in his comics and though he has a penchant for violence, it is not of the mindless superhero sort and usually serves the flow of the narrative.

Now if I could just find my calendar to add yet another schedule to my life. Of course, if the quality of Harkham's storytelling is all this good, this is one intermittant schedule I will hapily accept.

Rating: 4 / 5

consumatron.com
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Featured artist

Sammy Harkham

           Featured product

Crickets #1




SAMMY HARKHAM'S new comic, CRICKETS, in the Comics Reporter

Updated February 22, 2006


Preview: Crickets #1
posted February 19, 2006

Another strong entry into the revitilization of the alternative comic book (see also Or Else, Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Runaway Comics, and The Secret Voice), Crickets #1 is another fine-looking Drawn and Quarterly product, this one from the Los Angeles-based cartoonist, artist and anthology editor Sammy Harkham (Kramers Ergot, the recent Gingko Press version of The Poor Sailor). Harkham has long done wonderful work in terms of space and evocative narrative -- The Poor Sailor is downright soulful -- and in this debut issue it seems as if Harkham has begun to become more assured with the way he paces slower scenes. I found the following pretty hypnotic, even after the rousing action sequence that hopens the table, and even though the tableau it features remains static and neither character has the mental power to say anything by-itself interesting about the subject at hand. A hopefully twice-yearly comic book, Crickets should be the place to see Harkham grow as a creator. Hey, I'm in.

D&Q's Tom Devlin says this comic could show up at your local retailer as early as this Wednesday, February 22nd.

Crickets #1, Sammy Harkham, Drawn and Quarterly, March 2006
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Featured artist

Sammy Harkham

           Featured product

Crickets #1




  Sammy, Kevin and Anders On Tour!!!!!

Updated January 18, 2006


Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics Present Sammy Harkam–Crickets, Kevin Huizenga–Or Else & Ganges and Anders Nilsen–Big Questions & Mome on Tour

Saturday, February 18th Rocketship, 208 Smith St Brooklyn NY 8 PM Art Opening
Monday, February 20th Center for Cartoon Studies White River Junction VT Class Visit
Tuesday, February 21st Casa Del Popolo 4873 Blvd. St. Laurent Montreal, QC 7 PM
Wednesday, February 22nd The Beguiling at the Revival 783 College Street West (at Shaw) Toronto, ON 8 PM
Saturday, February 25th Quimby’s 1854 West North Ave Chicago, IL 7 PM


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Anders Nilsen
Sammy Harkham

          




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