Fantagraphics Books, the leading publisher of alternative comics, recently signed with prestigious book distributor W.W. Norton (see 'W.W. Norton to Distribute Fantagraphics').  At the just completed Book Expo America Fantagraphics distributed a catalog detailing their major book offerings through next March.  It would be hard to imagine a stronger group of titles with which to take advantage of the growing acceptance of the comics medium by the U.S. literary mainstream (see 'Safe Area Gorazde Reviewed in N.Y. Times').  Of all the U.S. comic publishers, Fantagraphics is best positioned to take advantage of these changing attitudes toward comics in mainstream bookstores, and the Fantagraphics fall list demonstrates that the publisher is moving aggressively to burst through the barriers that have made comics the red-headed stepchild of American publishing.  Here's a quick look at some of the highlights.


Joe Sacco, one of the most innovative authors in a publisher's list that positively reeks of intense creativity, has developed his own genre of comic reporting based on extensive interviews with ordinary people caught in the crossfire in some of the world's most internecine conflicts.   For September Fantagraphics is collecting Sacco's first great achievement in comics reportage, Palestine ($24.95), in one 288-page volume that provides a powerful, multi-faceted view of an intractable conflict.  In November Fantagraphics follows up with the trade paperback edition of Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde ($19.95), considered by many to be the best reporting in any medium on the tragic ethnic conflicts in Bosnia.


Satire has been a key ingredient in the alternative comics genre, and few artists have the deft touch of Dan Clowes, dubbed by Fantagraphics as the most popular alternative cartoonist of them all.  Clowes is about to become far more well known, when Ghost World, a film directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb) debuts this August (see 'Ghost World Looks Like Summer Sleeper').  Fantagraphics will be publishing the screenplay (see 'BEA Report -- Movie and TV Books').  In September Fantagraphics is publishing 20th Century Eightball ($18.95), a collection of sharp-edged satiric pieces created between 1988 and 1996 for Clowes' comic book, Eightball.  Included in the book is 'Art School Confidential,' which has been optioned by Drew Barrymore as a film, with Clowes and Zwigoff writing the screenplay and Zwigoff directing (see 'Another Clowes Film in the Pipe').  In February Fantagraphics will publish Caricature ($16.95), another volume of Clowes comic short stories culled from the pages of Eightball and Esquire magazine


Chris Ware's Quimby
The Mouse

If Clowes is the most popular alternative comic artist of his generation, then Chris Ware is certainly not far behind, thanks to the strong sales of his Jimmy Corrigan graphic novel from Pantheon (see 'Give and Take at the BEA'), which has sold over 50,000 copies.  Ware's comic work combines superlative design elements with elliptical narratives and a seemingly endless supply of different visual renderings of quiet desperation.  Ware is also getting well-deserved mainstream literary validation (see 'NY Times Lauds Chris Ware').  In November Fantagraphics will publish The Acme Novelty Library Presents: Quimby ($14.95), in which Ware cleverly combines antique animation imagery from the 1920s with vintage advertising styles and a remorseless narrative.   In March Fantagraphics will take full advantage of Ware's penchant for clever design by publishing George Herriman's Krazy Kat Sunday comics from 1925 and 1926 in a volume designed by Ware himself (Krazy And Ignatz: the Komplete Kat Komics 1925 &1936--$14.95).


In September, Fantagraphics will also publish The Arnold Roth Exhibition Catalog ($18.95) celebrating 50 years of cartooning by an artist who is perhaps best known for his album cover designs for jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, though his work appeared in almost every major U.S. magazine from Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post to Rolling Stone and TV Guide.


In October Fantagraphics is set to release Luba In America, a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez, who along with his brother Jaime, created Love & Rockets, one of the best comic series of the late 20th Century.  In L&R Luba was the central matriarchal figure of Palomar, the fictional Mexican town that provided so many of the characters in that saga.  In this new work, Gilbert brings Luba to America with consequences that few would have predicted.


The Complete Crumb
Volume 16

In addition to books based on its own comic series, Fantagraphics also publishes collections of comic strips that have appeared in newspapers and other venues.  In November Fantagraphics will publish its first collection of Bill Griffith's Zippy comic strip, Zippy Annual 2001 ($19.95), while December will see the forty-third volume in the complete reprinting of the classic Prince Valiant ($16.95) comic strip.  The most monumental and in many ways the most important series of reprints that Fantagraphics has undertaken is The Complete Crumb Comics, which reaches 1985-87 in Volume 16 ($18.95) that is due out in March.  Crumb has been justly compared with Daumier and Hogarth.  He will take his place in the Pantheon of major American artists, and Volume 16 details one of his richest and most interesting periods.


One more volume on the Fantagraphics lists that deserves special mention is Greg Sadowski's retrospective/biography/critical assessment of the life and work of Bernie Krigstein, who was a major contributor to development of comic book art thanks to his work at Atlas, DC, and especially EC, where he drew some of the most compelling comics this writer has ever seen.