Graphic Lit: "Flight" and other anthologies
Despite the rising interest in stand-alone graphic novels, the anthology remains for many a good way to break into the comic industry, specifically the indie comics scene.
After all, why bear the burden of attempting to get your work noticed all by yourself in an increasingly crowded market when you can align yourself with a group of like-minded individuals or get published in a well-regarded series?
One of the more popular anthologies in recent years is "Flight," an annual all-ages collection put together by Kazu Kibuishi (author of the upcoming "Amulet") and dedicated to showcasing young and upcoming artists.
The first volume wowed a lot of people when it debuted in 2004 and subsequent volumes have continued to generate good press.
"Flight" recently got picked up by a big-name book publisher (Villard, a division of Random House), and has a new fourth volume out in stores now.
The latest collection continues the trends established by the previous books. Though there's no overriding theme connecting the stories, the emphasis overall is firmly in the winsome fantasy/science fiction mode. Anyone who's seen the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle") will be on familiar ground here.
Most of the artists featured in "Flight" are terrifically accomplished. This is no abstract, primitivist collection but rather a variety of visually sophisticated art styles. The emphasis is decidedly on craft, which is not surprising, as many of the contributors have day jobs in animation or video games.
As pretty as the artwork often is, the stories themselves leave a lot to be desired. Many indulge in the worst sort of gross sentimentality or simple-minded philosophizing. Others seem more like cute eye candy and will barely be remembered by the reader once the book is closed.
There are a few notable exceptions. Scott Campbell provides the best story, with a hilarious tale of creatures that all have some sort of structure on top of their heads. Graham Annable's shaky stick figures provide the usual dose of hilarity. Thomas Herpich's metaphor for the onset of adolescence is an inventive and compelling one. And Jon Klassen's flat, silhouetted style serves the folk tale he retells very well.
But those are the exceptions. Overall, it's hard not to shake the feeling that "Flight" is an attractive but rather shallow package. Those who appreciate craftsmanship and aesthetics over storytelling and emotional identification will best appreciate this book.
"Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened"
edited by Jason Rodriguez, Villard Books, 160 pages, $21.95.
Here's a pretty good rule of thumb regarding comic anthologies: If they're centered on a theme, such as "war" or "chocolate," they will almost always be insufferably bad.
That certainly is the case with "Postcards," a terrible collection of stories based on the scribblings found on musty vintage postcards editor Rodriquez collected from antique shops.
There's a number of talented people involved here, but they turn in amazingly maudlin or just plain sloppy work, most desperately stretching to make the original material fit to some sort of grander story. The worst offender is Harvey Pekar, who, with Matt Kindt, contributes what has to be the laziest piece of writing he's ever done. An absolute waste of time and trees.
"Hickee No. 3,"
edited by Graham Annable, Alternative Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.
There's a lot more bang for your buck in the third issue of this humor anthology, perhaps because its page count is so comparatively low. Annable and Scott Campbell unsurprisingly provide the best contributions; I especially enjoyed Campbell's tale of a pair of Roman-age gladiator fans.
Other contributions are a little too juvenile or obvious, but there's enough good stuff here to make me recommend checking this comic out.
"Meathaus 8: Headgames"
Alternative Books, 256 pages, $14.95.
Meathaus is a loose collective of artists who attended the New York School of Visual Arts in or around 2000, many of whom have gone on to at least a solid career in illustration and/or comics.
They still are doing the anthology gig, though, and the latest collection features a number of experimental or downright psychedelic comics in the "Heavy Metal" vein. As you might expect, not everything here works, but it's an interesting ride by some noteworthy creators nevertheless.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007