In response to Johanna Draper Carlson’s Comics Worth Reading post on Monday about why she dislikes anthologies, I offer this post in which I discuss why I love anthologies.
Full disclosure: I publish anthology mini-comics. But part of the reason I do is because I love anthologies so much. Hell, I read one on the bus ride to work this morning.
First off, anthologies expose you to artists and writers you might not discover otherwise. I agree with Johanna’s point that anthologies can be an easy way for young or budding creators to have their work published, and that’s what makes them so great. They most likely do not yet have the experience, exposure or finances to promote their work to a degree that even an anthology with a small fan base can. And it also benefits them to have their work in a publication with a more well-known creator. Someone might pick up an anthology such as Mineshaft because it features R. Crumb, Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith, and discover Noah Van Sciver. It’s also great to discover another work by well-known artists that you might not find otherwise.
I’ll admit that not all anthologies (and anthology contributions) are created equal, but that’s the beauty of them. You’re bound to find something you enjoy. Which would you rather do – buy a graphic novel and end up not enjoying the whole thing or buying an anthology and end up enjoying a few comics?
The themed anthology vs random anthology debate is a tricky one because I’ve seen good and bad of both. I’m not a big fan of themed anthologies, but there have been some really well done ones, such as Super Fantastica Comix, comics by the Trees and Hills Group, Always Comix and the one-off Alley Cat benefit comic. I prefer anthologies with no apparent submission policy that let artists do their own thing or ones that are buy a group of artist friends, such as Hickee, which is probably my favorite anthology. Although sometimes this too can turn out too random.
With the most recent FLUKE anthology, which I enjoyed, there was no theme, but I think it would have been better to include only creators who planned to exhibit at the show, so someone could purchase the book and get a taste for all (or most) of the guests in case they didn’t have enough money to purchase a comic from each person. I believe it’s the job of the editor(s) to ensure a consistency and fluidity to the submissions. With Candy or Medicine, I have an arbitrary method to assigning particular submissions to particular issues and particular spots in said issue, and I hope that shows.
I differ from Johanna in that I tend to not remember the worst stories, instead remembering the best stories. If I pick a random anthology comic out of my stack of many, I can assure you I will remember the best comic in there. And if there’s a comic in an anthology that is just utterly dreadful, I can easily skip past it. Another nice thing about anthologies is that I can quickly re-read the comics enclosed because they are generally short. Anthologies also make great bathroom books or bus/train/subway material because you can easily pick up where you left off.
From an anthology publisher/submitter’s perspective, I do not expect a reviewer to mention each and every contribution to an anthology. For some anthologies, such as Indie Spinner Rack’s Awesome!, which has a ton of contributors, that would be quite a daunting task. I think it’s best to point out the best comics in an anthology and to discuss the anthology as a whole, i.e. if the number of good contributions outweighed the bad, if it was a themed anthology then was the theme sensible and followed by the comics contained, etc.
Also, from a publisher’s perspective, it can be less expensive to publish an anthology if you get a group of friends together to pitch in and split the cost, thereby making it less expensive to, say, print a cover on cardstock or in color. And as an artist, I sometimes come up with an idea for a one- or two-page comic, yet don’t feel as if it warrants an anthology of my own work, so it’s nice to be able to submit it to an anthology. I’ve had submissions to Candy or Medicine where the creator said they drew something but had nowhere to publish it, were sitting on it for a while and were glad to finally have it see print. Sure the Web can offer that, but then that opens the whole print vs. digital debate, which I don’t intend to get into here.
Because of their accessibility to both creators and readers, I think anthologies are an integral part of the comic world (at least the underground/alternative/indie/mini-comic world), and hope to see the current anthologies flourish as well as more anthologies emerge.