Kramers Ergot
A visual review


When I think about Kramers Ergot Number Eight, I imagine 1970’s aesthetics, and the Beatles’ album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

I decided the only way explain in words such impressions of visual stories was to first show the visuals. Because what I responded to was not just one story, but the collection as a whole. So here are selections from each piece featured in Kramers Ergot Number Eight, in the order they appear in the book. Then after, you’ll find my thoughts.

The first issue of Kramers Ergot was released in 2000. On the outside, it was a classic softbound standard issue comic book, but inside was an abundance of talent that promised to be the twenty-first century’s Zap or Raw. Over the years each new edition has redefined itself in design, shape and content, stretching the boundaries of comics in both storytelling and presentation. This newest collection is no different. Edited by Sammy Harkham and published by PictureBox, the Kramers Ergot series comes full circle, serving up Number Eight in the style of the new indie standard: a standard size hardcover book.

The 240 page edition opens with 8 pages of abstract images, then moves into an overly ambitious essay about the importance of comics, citing histories from Christianity to Pop Art to homosexuality. It’s a bold move. The formal essay is a tradition of new movements, a calling the room to order then climbing on stage to soberly declare that the art form you are about to encounter is now all grown up. So if we didn’t know it before, Kramers Ergot wants us to know that it believes comics are indeed art. The book then moves into short comic stories from almost twenty contemporary comic artists, including Gary Panter and Gabrielle Bell, and concludes with 40 pages of the 1970’s Penthouse comic, Oh, Wicked Wanda! by Ron Embleton and Frederic Mullalley.

The echo of 1970’s aesthetics comes not just from Oh, Wicked Wanda!, but from the cover, and the passages of digital images that hover between art and comics—I’m reminded of sunset paintings in ranges of oranges and browns on the sides of vans. The Sergeant Pepper’s reference is more abstract. It’s about how these pieces resonate together as a collection.

Sergeant Pepper’s was initially concepted as a rock opera, but the idea was abandoned. On the final album, some of the initial structural tracks were kept, giving the impression of the album telling a story, yet there is no clear thread that connects all the songs. This is Kramers Ergot: We feel the unifying force behind it all, but the individual pieces are not narratively linked.

This may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t. The book in no way could be mistaken for, or claims to be, a continuous narrative, so there’s no failure there. Rather, it’s the impression that all these stories go together that makes the book shine. What’s great about this edition, and the Kramers Ergot series, is that the whole of disparate pieces is greater than the sum of its parts. Behind the selection and arrangement is a clear personality. The book feels like a personalized mix tape. It feels like music.

Paul Madonna produces the weekly strip All Over Coffee for the San Francisco Chronicle,, and the Rumpus, as well as the strip Small Potatoes for the Rumpus. Paul travels internationally to draw, and his work is shown in museums, galleries, restaurants and cafes, and is published in various book collections and publications. In 2007 the first collection of All Over Coffee was published by City Lights Books, and the second collection, Everything is its own reward, was released in April 2011 and won the NCBR Recognition Award for best book of the year. Paul is also the comics editor here on the Rumpus, which he swears came after he was asked to publish on the site. In 1994 he received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and that same year he was the first (ever!) Art Intern at MAD Magazine, for which he proudly received no money. Paul currently lives with his wife in San Francisco. More from this author →