BROKEN FRONTIER AWARDS – BEST NEW SERIES NOMINEE!
While the US serial comics anthology seems unlikely to enjoy a populist re-emergence in the immediate future – as Dark Horse’s abrupt cancellation of their acclaimed, award-winning book Dark Horse Presents mid-multiple unresolved stories last year showed – the self-contained anthology has been undergoing something of a renaissance over the last several years.
A much-favoured platform among the small press, micropublishing and indie worlds, it provides the perfect showcase to champion the work of distinctive creative voices to wider audiences. That’s something we’re very aware of at Broken Frontier having used the format for our own annual Small Press Yearbook since 2016.
Fantagraphics’ Now series debuted last year and was such a standout release it was nominated in the Best New Series category of our 2017 Broken Frontier Awards. Now #2 features well over a hundred pages of short comics narratives from international indie and alt artists with intriguingly varied narrative and visual styles. It’s the perfect entry point for an audience wanting to explore the broader possibilities of the medium, and also for those with a wider understanding of the medium’s potential to immerse themselves in markedly different approaches to sequential storytelling in graphic form.
Now doesn’t have a uniform theme as an anthology; editor Eric Reynolds instead compiling a collection of diverse comics work from across continents. In this second issue you will find familiar names alongside emerging talent, from Sammy Harkham, Dash Shaw and Tommi Musturi, through to Conxita Herrero, Ariel Lopez V and Anuj Strestha, all behind a cover strikingly subverting the aesthetics of classical fine art by Christian Rex Van Minnen. The scope of the issue is perhaps best illustrated by the inclusion of strips as varied as the faux naivety of Fabio Zimbres’ ‘The Apocalypse of Dr. Zeug’ to the clear, clinical lines and moodily saturated blue hues of Strestha’s ‘National Bird’ (below).
Of the issue’s highlights, two early offerings revolve around questions of identity, place and purpose. Tommi Musturi’s ‘Samuel’ with its protagonist’s apparent aimless wandering through the events of his own semi-narrative actually being replete with powerful visual motif and metaphor that ask the reader to find their own existential meaning from its silent and vibrantly coloured pages. Susan Jonaitis and Graham Chaffee’s ‘Sharpshooter’ (below) – a coming-of-age story focusing on a disabled teenager being forced into a new life – is ostensibly a more traditional slice-of-lifer but its sepia tones and sense of impotent resignation give its pages a pronounced and disquieting air of fatalism.
Those tales that grasp hold of the storytelling tools specific to comics are particularly notable in this second issue. ‘Hot Heavy Days’ by Conxita Herrero (below), for example, plays with a specific convention of the language of comics with a dry, knowing and self-referentially meta wit. Ariel Lopez V also echoes the otherworldly themes of ‘A Perfect Triangle’ in panel structure during the denouement of a story that sees two friends’ investigation of strange phenomena in their neighbourhood escalate into extra-dimensional weirdness.
Dash Shaw’s short detailing two lives briefly converging through an awkward first date is another story that hinges on a depiction of time and motion that is unique to the comics page. Conversely, Joseph Remnant’s one-pager ‘Photo Case’ (below) toys with the idea that the comic strip format cannot ever capture the beauty of a set of divinely-inspired photographs bought at a yard sale as a central conceit of its eerie account.
It’s something of a cliché for comics anthologies to be described in dismissive terms as being hit or miss by reviewers. While there’s an element of evaluative truth to that on occasion, it’s a criticism that seems to miss a more important point. In fact there’s an argument to be made that a strong comics anthology – and vitally one with a remit to explore the full storytelling potential of sequential art – would be failing to do its job if there wasn’t a certain element of divisiveness to its contents. That’s something that I find particularly inviting about this anthology – it’s almost defiantly eclectic in curation and all the more richly rewarding for it.
If there’s one small frustration about Now #2 it’s that, despite the book’s minimalist intro urging readers to google contributors for more information about them, it still seems a missed opportunity not to include a couple of pages herein to run brief but pertinent biographical details on artists that would bolster that profile-raising ethos. That’s a smaller point in the greater scheme of things however. As we said when Now #2 was included as one of our weekly Staff Picks, publications like this are a brilliant and informative stepping stone into the work of boundary-pushing creators. Now remains a vitally important piece of comics curation that deserves to be on every discerning comics reader’s pull-list.
Anthology – Various Creators • Fantagraphics Books, $9.99