On your Marks is a short-comics anthology edited by Max Clotfelter and presented by Seattle’s Short Run Festival (this issue debuted at its 3rd annual fest in November), an event which was founded (as noted in the back of the comic) to “strengthen and celebrate Seattle’s lauded small press community…[to] spotlight artists and self-publishers who lack exposure and provide them with helpful resources”.
On Your Marks #1 – Cover by Chris Cilla
With around 30 one-page comics by different artists from the Pacific Northwest, On your Marks is indeed a great introduction to this regional niche of the indie-comics community. Not unlike other anthologies of the alt-comix-sphere, it acts as a sampler for one to get a small taste of each artist, as well as a taste of the region’s own particular aesthetic and influence. As someone who’s main impressions of the Northwest are pine trees, flannel, and the suspicion that life might be a lot less hectic and cluttered than the life of the average New Yorker (but I mean, what isn’t), I wondered if this anthology would open my eyes to a whole new vision of the Pacific Northwest I clearly wasn’t seeing, and should very much pay attention to.
The short answer is not really, but still pay attention. While the bulk of the comics in this anthology didn’t push many boundaries for me, there was still a plentiful amount of enjoyable material. Stylistically cartoonish, often grotesque and psychedelic imagery dominated many of the gag comics, while stylistically literal, more poetic or introspective narratives filled the gaps, I found the work relatively easy to take in. Maybe this is because it read so much like the 90s alt-comix I enjoyed as a kid (like for instance, Fantagraphics’ Spice Capades, edited by Queen Itchie with a cover by Peter Bagge, or Action Girl, edited by Sarah Dyer), I feel like On Your Marks is a comic anthology that even a kid can enjoy (albeit, a weird kid with a morbid sense of humor). But as they say, comics ain’t just for adults anymore!
The comics that didn’t impress were those that either seemed incomplete as a one-pager (a few), or those in which the gags fell flat (more than a few). But as is the joy of the one-pager anthology, if a comic isn’t doing it for ya, simply move on to the next. The comics that I enjoyed best were those that had complete story arcs, well-developed characters, surreal happenings, and an obscure sense of humor (yes, all in one page), such as Tom Van Deusen‘s Herman & Lucy, about best friends Herman (a “cool” dog) and Lucy (a goose), who buy a new house that comes with an absurd roof ornament (a gigantic head that makes grotesque noises and whimpers), Julia Gfrörer‘s Spirit Hand, about a brush with the occult that is humorously unacknowledged, Rick Altergott & Pat Moriarty‘s “Slugger & “Tuffy”, a look into the antics of two conniving cat pals (any cat-owner will appreciate this one), Darin Shuler’s untitled piece about a misunderstood Shaman (the cat-owners might not appreciate this one), Eroyn Franklin‘s untitled piece that starts with getting ringworm and ends with getting naked, and Max Clotfelter’s “Randy & Travis” adventure, another gag comic in which older brother Randy beats younger brother Travis to the punch (literally). These comics and others were enough to make me keep turning the pages to see where the next comic short would take me.
Overall, the work was good fun. At worst, it didn’t do much for me. At best, well, at best I probably giggled. Not one thing left a bad taste in my mouth, which is quite a feat in my opinion. Editorially speaking, Max did a great job. My only suggestion for the future would be to make the table of contents a little easier to read, and to number the pages– that or make all artists sign their work. I honestly couldn’t tell who did what for a few pages, in particular because I was only familiar with a few of the contributing artists to begin with. And hey — now I know a few more cool comic artists to check out, and maybe pick up a zine from. Ain’t that the point of the antho?
Bottom Line: If you dug the alt-comix scene of the ’90s, or just want to know what’s up in the Pacific Northwest these days, get yourself a copy of On Your Marks. At $4, you won’t be disappointed.