I love anthologies. I love seeing new work, being introduced to artists and approaches I have never seen before, and, of course, getting a solid read. Maybe it’s being placed next to other, different styles, but sometimes the best work an artist has done is a little story that appeared in some anthology. And yes, many anthologies suck. Or they are full of little pieces that never satisfy your hunger for something transportive. But sometimes the opposite is true and an anthology blows you away with the quality of the pieces it contains or the new possibilities for the medium that it shows you. These days, most anthologies seem to be one-shots. But even when there were serial anthologies, such as Dark Horse Presents, Last Gasp, Zero Zero, and Top Shelf, there were never too many in the market at once. The anthology, it seems, is never an easy venture for a publisher. But, again, I love them and want new ones to be created. So here’s a short list of some of my absolute favorites.
Raw Vol. 2 No. 1.
I think it’s difficult to understand the impact of Raw. Even these days when there are graphic novel sections in book stores and libraries, Raw stands out for its quality. Imagine it in the late 80s. Way ahead of its time. Vol. 2 No. 1 was the first issue I saw and it’s incredible. There is work by Charles Burns, Justin Green, Joost Swarte, Lorenzo Mattotti, Basil Wolverton, Ben Katchor, and of course a chapter from Spiegleman’s Maus. On top of that, this issue contains Richard McGuire’s iconic comic “Here.” And the disturbing little comic “Paul” by Pascal Doury broke my little teenaged mind.
I chipped in to buy one of these when I heard the concept. Basically, the french publisher L’Association decided to put together a brick of a book, a 2000 page anthology of wordless comics about the new (at the time) millennium. Obviously the anthology contains a lot of french artists, but there are works by Americans such as Chris Ware, Jessica Abel, and Nick Bertozzi. And there are also works by artists from Spain, Norway, and Japan. There is definitely some work whose inclusion I question, but the overall effect is inspiring. There are just so many styles on display here. Also, since the stories have to be wordless, some artists get very creative with what they do visually. In fact, this is the work that convinced me to try my hand at wordless comics. There’s no coincidence that the first Kit Kaleidoscope story came out in 2000.
Nosotros Somos Los Muertos #3
In 1998 I was in Barcelona and bought the first five issues of this Spanish-language anthology. Issue 3 is my favorite with work by Federico del Barrio, Sequeiros, Martin Tom Dieck, Muñoz, Javier Olivares, and Thomas Ott (among many others). It also has Mattotti’s work “El Secreto del Pensador,” which Fantagraphics later published as Chimera. I can barely read a word of this book, but I love it.
Drawn & Quarterly, Volume 3
The Drawn & Quarterly anthology was always good, but things got really nice when they stepped up their production values and put out the anthology in large volumes. In this volume there are stories by Blutch, R. Sikoryak, and Franco Matticchio. The biggest revelation in this volume comes with the reprints of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley. Many of us had read Ware extolling King’s strip and here he was able to show us what he was so inspired by. The King-themed end papers by Ware are also a treat.
Kramer’s Ergot 4
This is the issue when Kramer’s Ergot stepped up from being a quirky little anthology to a force to be reckoned with. This issue introduced me to so many artists I had never heard of and whose work I would have probably never bought. The styles on their own didn’t appeal to me, but somehow together they became something incredible, an awe-inspiring rush of color and audacity. What anchors this book, and what the other issues tend to lack, is the long, solid read of Harkham’s own “Poor Sailer.” This provides the narrative satisfaction one often looks for, letting the more experimental works not have to hold up the entire impact of the issue.
As a publisher, Nobrow always has some of the best printing on its books. The anthology is no different, often giving artists a certain palette of spot colors to work with. This not only makes the colors vibrant, but gives a cohesion to the various works. Nobrow is a bit like the old Blab! in that it includes comics and full page illustrations. In terms of comics, this issue has solid reads from Jillian Tamaki, Eleanor Davis, Ethan Rilly, and Joseph Lambert. Overall this is just a beautiful book full of fulfilling little stories. It’s just quality all the way through.