It's a distinction that enthusiasts will probably quibble with — each comic freak is convinced that his genre of choice features the "finest" "art" (well, maybe not manga obsessives, who surely must acknowledge that the majority of its practitioners employ a lesser, more regimented pictorial delivery system) — but for our money, Family on Fairfax is the best place to take aforementioned dismissive literature professors (and snobby art critics) to argue your point that graphic narrative is an equal form of storytelling to nonpictorial fiction. Browse the shop and you'll soon be convinced that the art's most important creators deserve as much critical attention and celebration (and museum shows) as painters, photographers and sculptors. A roundabout way of saying that, aesthetically, Family Bookstore's keen eye will blow you away. Family opened in early 2007 as a little literary bookstore that treated classic literature, new fiction, comics and experimental music with wonderful equanimity.
Owned by David Kramer and Sammy Harkham, the shop is obviously the product of a few highly discriminating minds. Harkham, in fact, is one of the most celebrated new brains in the fancy comics world; in his Kafkaesque studio above the shop, he creates the exquisitely rendered comic Crickets, about a man peppered with arrows traveling through the forest with a compadre: a silent, hulking Golem. He also creates the jaw-droppingly beautiful Kramers Ergot, a somewhat annual compendium of comic art whose forthcoming seventh issue will be a huge 16 by 21 inches, the same broadsheet dimension of early-20th-century newspapers.
"A book that size is kind of insane," acknowledges Harkham, but he realized, after he started thinking about it, that to offer such a broad canvas to artists used to working with less space would be a great gift, and could yield amazing results. "Even artists you might be familiar with would feel a little different. And when I started thinking about that large size, I realized that I could ask back people I'd used before, and I could ask a whole bunch of artists that I've never asked because I never thought they needed to be in an anthology — people like Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine — but they'll look completely fresh." Also included is new work by, among others, Matt Groening, Kevin Huizenga, Chris Ware, Paperrad and Dan Zettwoch.
You can find a lot of the artists represented in the book at Family, but the shop isn't a place for completists. It's for those looking to snag the cream of the crop, both nationally and internationally. Even better, Family stocks the work of some of L.A.'s most interesting aesthetes; recent gems include a collection of director Mike Mills' Fireworks drawings; the new comic by filmmaker Michel Gondry, We Lost the War but Not the Battle; Miranda July's art and writing; Ron Rege, Jr.'s precisely drawn joy; and beautiful limited-edition records by the Sads, No Age and the great Teenage Teardrops label.—Randall Roberts