Mome, a quarterly anthology of young cartoonists, has always been an interesting book to flip through at the bookstore, if just for the quality of work on display: artists like Sophie Crumb, Paul Hornschemeier, and Jeffrey Brown have all contributed work to the series. But it was also a mixed bag, because large chunks of the book would be swallowed by vividly colored, experimental surrealist exercises, killing all the narrative thrust. New cartoonists are much more likely to make themselves emotionally distant for fear of being melodramatic, and often these anthologies of new work suffer for that chilliness. Often, the best material in Mome could be scanned in 10 minutes or so, and the book guiltlessly returned to the shelf.
In the last year, though, Mome has stepped up its quality and its emotional content. Volume 14 is the best issue yet. About half of the contributors are new to the anthology, and their work—especially "The Carnival," Lilli Carré's bizarre, wistful story of damaged love at a state fair, and Spanish cartoonists Hernán Miyoga and Juaco Vizuete's noir about corruption and fame, "The New Servant"—is skillful, funny, and possessed of a confident literary quality that many cartoonists, try as they might, can never achieve.
Mome isn't all meaningful drama. There's a story called "Wild West Winging It" that hilariously recasts the 2008 election in a lawless frontier town named Merkin. ("Har! Har! A lady sheriff!" Donald Rumsfeld chuckles when Hillary Clinton announces she's "a-runnin'" for the job.) And a weird, demonic Kool-Aid man parody has the brief, unsettling punch of a classic comedy sketch. But most of the stories go for more than weird laughs. Laura Park's "Office 32F," about a woman who discovers she's being scientifically observed by tiny people living in her walls, is a subtle horror story and Olivier Schrauwen's "The Dungeon" is a heartbreaking tale of an awkward attempt at friendship that turns into something violent and sad. Eric Reynolds, the anthology's coeditor, has expressed his desire to create something resembling a cartoon McSweeney's. It's taken three and a half years, but Mome finally lives up to that goal.