IT'S BEEN four years since we last held a hard copy of Arthur magazine in our hands, but it's made an unlikely—and very welcome—return to the printed medium with issue 33. Editor Jay Babcock has teamed up with Jason Leivian of Portland's Floating World Comics, who's now co-publisher, and while the new incarnation takes on a very different format from those last issues of Arthur, the ideas and attitude are happily the same. Arthur's lens is on fringe music, art, and ideas—the "New Weird America" scene, as some have termed it—and perhaps due to Leivian's involvement, there's more of a visual emphasis on comics than before.
Issue 33 is something new: a coffee-table newspaper, printed on 16 immense pages of newsprint with minimal ads, and almost every inch covered with words or pictures. The cover, a gigantic piece by surreal comics artist Rick Veitch, is gorgeous, and the crispness and clarity of the print is perhaps the best I've seen in a newspaper (this one included).
It's also a bit cumbersome to read, requiring said coffee table to accommodate the size of the open spread. While 16 pages sounds skimpy, there's enough content here to get lost for a couple hours. The centerpieces are an interview Babcock performed with Veitch that explores the artist's dreams (it's more interesting than it sounds), and another lengthy interview with guitarist Jack Rose, conducted by Brian Rademaekers before Rose's death in 2009. Accompanied by a complete discography, it becomes a definitive survey of the obscure musician's career.
Thurston Moore and Byron Coley have resurrected Bull Tongue, their quasi record-review column filled with digressions and wormholes—it's record-nerd porn at its most eclectic. And there's a compelling, voluminous survey of Waylon Jennings' 1975 album Dreaming My Dreams written by metalhead Stewart Voegtlin.
While everything in the new Arthur is worth absorbing, the most intriguing element is that more is to come. It's exciting, in particular, to imagine what future comics and artwork will grace these enormous pages (artist Gabby Schulz's otherwise worthwhile contribution doesn't take advantage of the giant page size). For now, opening the mammoth pages of the new Arthur feels much like unfolding a road map, one that points to strange, unfamiliar worlds.
Arthur No. 33 is available starting Saturday, December 22, although you can pick it up right now at Floating World Comics (400 NW Couch) for $5. Floating World will also host a First Thursday release party on January 3, 2013.