After years of dormancy, Seattle's comics are launching into a period that could become even more vibrant than the late-'90s heyday when James Sturm, Tom Hart, and Jason Lutes were all living and working out of a four-block radius on Capitol Hill. Need proof? Well, you can tell a city's comic scene is blowing up when an unofficial flagship anthology arrives, and over the course of 10 issues, Intruder has become just that kind of publication.
The ad-free tabloid quarterly—it's about an inch taller than copies of The Stranger—is free in various comics-friendly locations, though you can (and should) buy a yearlong subscription at intrudercomics.com for $12. The Intruder aesthetic, if there is one, is young and punky and dense. Editor Marc Palm invites Seattle-area cartoonists to contribute a page for the magazine, and that no-submissions policy is what keeps the quality so high.
This Saturday, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is hosting a launch party for the 10th issue of Intruder, kicking off a monthlong Intruder retrospective show in the gallery. This is the kind of event that identifies a moment in time—all through Emerald City Comicon, local cartoonists were shaking their head in wonder at the scene that had suddenly, effortlessly erupted all around them, and Fantagraphics' nod of approval makes everything seem official.
The only unifying theme to the strips in Intruder 10 is that they're all comics, and they mostly all veer toward the joyfully profane. They don't even share the typical '90s-alternative-comics fear of genre: In one page, Seth Goodkind reimagines the end of the Vietnam War as a '50s sci-fi monster movie—sample dialogue: "The fall of the Soviets has drained all the fun from ideological warfare"—and delivers an eight-panel robot love anthem in the space left over. In the middle of a forest made of soothing lines, Scott Travis illustrates a camper who silently takes care of his bodily needs before coming to a casually brutal end. Max Clotfelter, in a cartoony, crosshatched style that evokes Lynda Barry and Peter Bagge, documents the horrific things he's seen while walking to work on Capitol Hill. Palm smashes Samuel Beckett together with Dante's "Inferno," resulting in a simplistic black-and-white cartoon character pondering the ghastly, over-rendered landscape of meat that surrounds him. "I call it 'Hell,'" the bird-faced man says. "Can't think of anything else. If it gets any better, I'll reconsider."
Ben Horak's strip "Gurgle Burble Me Oh My" charts the evolution of a bland, balding businessman who soon explodes into a naked, slavering monster who fucks his own briefcase ("BAW! DUH! DUH! DUH DUH! DUH! ERRR!") and then gives birth to a sopping-wet version of himself, suit and all. There's no background to the strip, only 16 finely wrought figures on an otherwise blank page; you can survey the whole Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation in one swoop of the eye. This is the power of comics, and of Intruder: A burst of caveman insanity comfortably rests next to the beautiful, or the banal. You think the harsh panel borders can protect them from bleeding into each other, but it turns out they're all connected by the same confident line.