Jordan Crane’s NON #5

The Schulz Library is officially open. The first thing I’ve taken out is Jordan Crane’s Non #5.

There was a review of NON #5 in the Comics Journal #240 in 2001, but given that access to that information is only available to suscribers of TCJ, I thought that illuminating on the details of this gem of a publication would be good to have on the web. If anything I’d like y’all to see what a beautiful motherfucker Crane put together.

Take a look at this beautiful anthology.

What you’re looking at its a die-cut cardboard container holding three separate perfect bound comics wrapped within a hand-silkscreened cover. Put out in 2001, this baby is the way it is out of necessity.

From Crane in 2008:

NON #5 is definitely a little different than all the rest of them. NON #5 took that shape because it had to. That was the only way to collect it all together. I was originally going to have Col-Dee and [Kurt Wolfgang’s graphic novella] Where Hats Go in the [main NON] book. That was the original plan. But then Kurt and I got Xeric Grants to print them and we were able to overlap projects, which theoretically would save me money. It would’ve been a hell of a lot cheaper just to print the book as one big book, now that I look back on the whole thing. Those Xeric Grants were actually a hindrance. I was like, “Thanks for the $8,000 that ended up costing me $5,000.” [Laughs] Since those were Xeric Grant books, I wanted them to be a part of the package, but they had to work separately because they were going to be sold separately as well.

So that was my solution to that problem: I looked at the budget constraints of the book and tried to figure out how to make it as cheaply as possible. “How can we make it and still turn a profit?” It was just accepting the constraints and not being like, “I’m going to push my publisher to spend money that they don’t have.” In one way the form isn’t the point. In the biggest way the form isn’t the point. It’s about working within those constraints and creating the most high-quality work that is possible. It’s giving the proper attention to creating a book.

NON is worth thinking about because of the what it records at the dawning of “age of the anthology”. At the time of the publication of the five issues of NON (1997-2001), there was a ton of work being made by awesome dudes and dudettes that wasn’t seeing the light of day. NON gave those artists exposure. Given this environment, you can see why Crane would say the following to Sean T. Collins in the above quoted interview in 2001 about his curatorial work as NON’s editor.

 In a way, NON was really easy. It was a bunch of very obvious choices, because all these great guys were not being published. I was like a kid in a candy store. It was not a hard anthology to edit.

Sure, it wasn’t hard for Crane to choose the best material, but the fact that it wasn’t hard to choose didn’t mean Crane was going to take a backseat to the process. Crane’s laboring over the overall design choices kept the whole publication astoundingly cohesive.

So, why no more NON? Well, today’s world of contemporary comics seem to find themselves in a milieu steeped with anthologies full of rich contributions and high production value. It’s a trend that has become a strong current in the past ten years and that at the time of NON #5’s publication, Crane could already see coming. Today you’ve got Harkham’s Kramer’s Ergot, Fantagraphics’ MOME, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Comics, Nobrow … that’s a lot of beautiful fucking anthologies coming out regularly and that’s without me counting the vast sea of selfpublished minicomics anthologies.

Given the healthy state of anthologies, let’s look back to NON #5. Who was the contributing crew?

Many of these fine folks were being published by Tom Devlin’s Highwater Books at the time.

So, what do I love about NON #5?

Let’s start off with Mat Brinkman’s illustrations that punctuate the whole reading experience. His work elicits immediate laughter and provides a solid counterpoint to the rest of the stories. They give each story the breathing room it needs in order to be experienced satisfyingly. Whenever I make an anthology, I’m sure as shooting going to use this technique.

And my favorite contribution? Hands down, Pshaw. Pshaw’s lively cartooning was the biggest hidden treat. The only other time that I’d come across his work was in a comicscomics newsprint that comicscomicsmag had put out a while back. It was when I’d discovered the Picturebox crew and was still unfamiliar with what they were all about, but for some reason, the Pshaw strips that were printed really resonated with me. They were truly rad.

Besides, Pshaw’s short little ditty, Kurt Wolfgang’s wordless novella, Where Hats Go was a delight. It had me physically feeling the tangling plot. It was a borderline synesthetic experience for me. The ups and downs in the pantomime were felt with an immediate intensity that I rarely feel when words are included.

This deceptively simple story tells of a young boy in search of his grandfather’s hat, a cherished link to the man & all the memories associated with him. The artwork is dense, filled with detail, but it never becomes too busy or confusing.

I was thoroughly impressed by Wolfgang’s capacity to put me in a headspace that was  just a couple steps away from my traditional headspace of verbal communication. One reads the Where Hats Go and halfway in, as the story is catapulting forward, the reader realizes that not a single word has been read and yet the whole story is grasped.

Where Hats Go, sees Wolfgang work a really solid arc and includes several nice plot twists, along with a truly satisfying open ended final frame. I’m a sucker for heartwarming wordless stories (Set to Sea, Last Lonely Saturday), so the fact that I loved this that much isn’t too surprising.

Lot’s of great things in here that speak to the state of American independent cartooning circa 2001 and well worth experiencing first hand.

If you want to learn more about Jordan Crane or a more detailed telling of how NON #5 came to be the beautiful beast that it is, be sure to read Sean T. Collins’ 2008 interview with Crane.

42 thoughts on “Jordan Crane’s NON #5”

  1. […] Devlin’s late, lamented Highwater Books imprint. As a designer, his book-as-box-of-treasures NON #5 anticipated Chris Ware’s #1 New York Times bestselling Building Stories box set by over a […]

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