Any cachet that "alternative" comics have right now is largely due to Chester Brown, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Seth, and the other cartoonists who dominated the late '80s and early '90s by bringing a strong literary component to the medium without losing its tossed-off novelty appeal. After a long fallow period, over the last five years new cartoonists have emerged, aspiring to be as accomplished as the alt-comic all-stars without being completely beholden to them. But by and large, this rising class is still too raw, and mired in art-for-art's-sake and cheap narrative shocks—two easy traps for upstart artists.

One of the best up-and-comers is Paul Hornschemeier, whose 2003 graphic novel Mother Come Home combines Ware's postmodernist draftsmanship with more directly emotional storytelling. Hornschemeier's new collection, Let Us Be Perfectly Clear, gathers some of his shorter pieces, done before and around the time of Mother Come Home, and it shows an artist struggling to find a style, and occasionally stumbling across something amazing. Some of Hornschemeier's stories, like the lurid "These Trespassing Vehicles" and the abstract "Men And Women Of The Television," are show-offy and undisciplined; others, like the pointed "The World Will Never Be The Same" and the creepy "Return Of The Elephant," use elision and a flat drawing style to make the ordinary seem exotic and unsettling. Compared to the effortlessly complex storytelling Ware displays in the latest Acme Novelty Library, Hornschemeier clearly has a ways to go, but judging by his recent work (anthologized in the quarterly Mome), he could become one of the greats.


Kevin Huizenga has further to go, though he's undeniably talented. The early "Glenn Ganges" stories, now collected in the book Curses, combine a precise, haunting evocation of strip-mall America with lengthy excursions into rigorously academic philosophy and mysticism. The problem with Huizenga's work to date is that he overwrites everything and doggedly avoids accessibility. Huizenga drags out ideas that could be expressed in a page or even a panel, and whenever he gets close to describing life as it's really lived, he undercuts himself by turning everyday suburban tales into knotty fantasy-adventures. Meanwhile, his hero, Glen Ganges, remains placid and unknowable, while the people he interacts with—religious-studies professors, opinionated neighbors—are boob-ish stereotypes. Huizenga can draw, and he has a unique vision that justifies the acclaim he's received, but until he comes down to Earth some, he isn't going to be eating at the same table as his elders.