Too damn many people showed up for the first anniversary celebration of the Fantagraphics Store in Georgetown. This is obviously a good thing (dozens of people stuffed into a boutique comic book store?), but it was troublesome if you wanted to, you know, actually enjoy the party. The store, not a huge place to begin with, was packed tight with people swaddled in winter clothes, and the music was way too loud.

But cans of PBR were free, so one couldn't complain too much, especially since everything was 20 percent off and business seemed brisk. Fantagraphics is the best publisher in Seattle and has been for decades, and it's good that they're finally financially solvent, after years of barely paying the rent by publishing porn comics on the side. There's a whole room in the back full of remnants of those lean days: shelves stocked with titles like Captain Hard-On and Housewives at Play: "Lez" Be Friends and Boffy the Vampire Layer.

The centerpiece of the store is a table piled high with new and recent releases, and it's an interesting snapshot of where Fantagraphics stands. There were copies of Stranger contributor Ellen Forney's ecstatic I Love Led Zeppelin, and also Ivan Brunetti's staggering Misery Loves Comedy, a masterful book full of hyperphilosophical self-loathing and a deep and abiding hatred of humanity as a species. For those who don't find suicides, murders, and murder/suicides hilarious, there were also reissues of Love and Rockets and a skinny little comedy called I Killed Adolf Hitler, the newest work by Jason, who's fast becoming the Charlie Chaplin of comics.

It's striking how much Fantagraphics' catalogue last year was devoted to archival reprints. They're collecting Krazy Kat, Peanuts, and Popeye comic strips in beautiful, essential volumes. And the recent I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! by the comically inept Fletcher Hanks is both fascinating and heartbreaking. But does the world really need the complete Dennis the Menace? Or an 800-page biography of Milton Caniff, the creator of Terry and the Pirates?

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Fantagraphics has a brilliant record for transforming promising novices into truly great cartoonists (Dan Clowes! Chris Ware!) and while they publish a quarterly anthology called Mome that's the closest thing to a McSweeney's that graphic novels have, it's a shame to constrain new talent to a few pages of work every three months. Off the top of my head, the only newish talent that Fantagraphics has "discovered," developed, and supported with major releases over the past year or so are Jordan Crane and Paul Hornschemeier. While reprinting the past has been profitable, here's hoping that Fantagraphics makes a fresh commitment to nurturing new talent in 2008. recommended

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