Robot 6

Six by 6 | Six great but forgotten comics anthologies

Zero Zero #2

Everyone knows about Zap, Arcade, Raw, Weirdo, Mome, Paper Rad and Kramer’s Ergot. Even lesser lights like Taboo, Twisted Sisters, the SPX anthology and even (gulp) Heavy Metal have all gotten their due at one time or another. But then there are those anthologies that, for whatever reason, never seem to resonate with readers despite containing a host of high quality contributions. Below the jump are six anthologies I don’t think have fully gotten their due. Be sure to let me know what your picks are in the comments section.

1. Zero Zero. Fantagraphics had anthologies coming out of the ying-yang in the late 1990s — Pictopia, Snake Eyes, Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy (whoops, sorry, that was 1987) — but for my money the best anthology the publisher produced in that decade was Zero Zero, a dark, edgy anthology that stoked pre-millennial fears (hence the title) while featuring some truly stellar comics by top-notch creators. To wit: The Search for Smilin’ Ed by Kim Deitch, Crumple by Dave Cooper, The Chuckling Whatsit by Richard Sala, Mack White’s Homunculus, I was Killing Before Killing Was Cool by Al Columbia, Christmas With Karadzic by Joe Sacco — the list goes on and on. Zero Zero ran for 27 issues, a longer run than most of the anthologies on this list received, but I don’t think it’s ever gotten its due as the truly great anthology of the ’90s.

2. Mona. Here was Kitchen Sink’s swan song, one of the last great things published before the company gave up the ghost for the more financially solvent shores of candy bar sales. Edited by Robert Boyd, Mona featured an impressive array of talent — Tom Hart delivering a classic Hutch Owens tale, some great, late Harvey Kurtzman comics and the entireity of Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Thinker’s Secret (later issued, I believe, in the Fantagraphics Ignatz series as Chimera), all wrapped up in a charming cover by Jaime Hernandez. Mona promised great things, but sadly was only able to get one issue out of the door before Kitchen Sink shut down. But as sad as the unfulfilled promise is, at least there’s this great first issue to gaze fondly upon.

3. Blab. Blab got a some hassle toward the end of its run for focusing more on illustrative works than pure comics, and tending to feature the same five or six artists doing the same schtick again and again. While I don’t completely disagree with that contention, I do think people have forgotten how cutting edge and exemplary an anthology Blab was, at least initially. For a while there it was running some seriously incredible work, like Al Columbia’s apocalyptic The Trumpets They Played, and the Jimmy Corrigan story that eventually became Acme Novelty #10, easily the most harrowing and darkest material Ware has produced to date. If nothing else, I’ll be forever grateful to Blab and its editor Monte Beauchamp, for running Spain’s wonderful autobiographical stories (recently collected in Cruisin’ With the Hound).

4. Blood Orange/Bete Noir. How can you hate an anthology that provides America with its very first glimpse of Yuichi Yokoyama? You simply can’t and I’m not going to even try. Lasting a mere four issues, Blood Orange offered a mind-bending array of cutting-edge comics from folks like Nicholas Mahler, Michael Kupperman, Marc Bell, Kevin Huizenga, Lauren Weinstein and Ulf K. Despite the impressive contributor list, the comic failed to catch on. Editor Olivier Douzou  Chris Polkki tried to rebrand the series with a new name — Bete Noir — and a slightly different, more global-friendly format, but to little avail. The good news is copies aren’t too hard to come by.

5. Rosetta. Critic Ng Suat Tong put his money where his mouth was (so to speak) by editing these two brick-sized books featuring artists as diverse in style and tone as Ivan Brunetti, Sara Varon, Paul Pope and Craig Thompson. What’s more, threw a bunch of overseas comics in the mix as well, exposing U.S. readers to folks like Lat, Edmond Baudoin, Anke Feuchtenberger and Max. Published by Alternative Comics, these were great collections that showcased the breadth of material that the medium was capable of, as well as suggesting that Suat was a more than capable editor.

6. Cheval Noir. Despite the recent success artists like Jacques Tardi, Lewis Trondheim and Milo Manara have had in the American market, selling European comics to U.S. readers has always been a difficult proposition. A case in point would be Cheval Noir, Dark Horse’s Eurocomics anthology. For most of its run, Cheval Noir featured top of the line French and Belgian talents like Tardi, Phillipe Druillet and Benoit Peeters, as well as American and English artists like Eddie Campbell and Rick Geary. Although it ran for 50 issues in the late 1980s and early ’90s, few seem to remember it at all these days, despite the in-roads it made in getting foreign comics in the hands of skeptical North American fans.

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8 Comments

Good choices, I also have a great fondness for Fantagraphics’ PICTOPIA, which included works by Chris Ware and Kim Deitch, among others; the three issues of SNAKE EYES; and the great run of the DRAWN & QUARTERLY anthology in its various incarnations (I’m still missing a few issues of its original 10-issue magazine-sized run).

Monte Beauchamp’s BLAB is still alive in a sense, two volumes of the new BLAB WORLD have been published (the last volume appeared in 2012).

I believe the editor of BLOOD ORANGE was Chris Polkki, btw (and not Douzou).

Yeah, I’ll second Rodrigo’s enthusiasm for D & Q in all its incarnations (though since it hasn’t been forgotten, I understand why Chris didn’t include it in his article). D & Q Volume 2 #1 may be my favorite single comic ever: an excerpt from Tardi’s IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, Carol Tyler’s original version of “The Hannah Story,” a great rebus strip by Avril and Petit-Roulet, etc. Magnificent!

I also have a fondness for CHEVAL NOIR, if only because they serialized the Blueberry album ARIZONA LOVE in its last few issues…

Rodrigo — Looks like you’re right. I’ve updated the post accordingly.

Craig — Yeah, D&Q is pretty well regarded, or at least it was at the time, which is why I didn’t include it. Though maybe I should have had an entry on its initial magazine-sized run. (I did almost include Showcase, which I don’t think got much press at the time.)

Another forgotten anthology I just discovered recently was 2000 Comix by L’Association, which was released by Fantagraphics around the year 2000. It was composed of 2000 pages of silent comics, and a multi-lingual introduction into several languages. You’d think that having a book composed of nothing but pictures would turn out to be a quick easy read, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. There were over 300 different stories of varying length, and no two of them were alike in terms of pacing, subject material or artwork. The hefty bulk and intimidating price point ($75) were natural barriers to enjoying it, which is a shame, since there was some truly imaginative and creative works in there.

I’m highly biased because I’ve been a member of the editorial collective for several years now and just sent our new issue to the printer, but I love World War 3 Illustrated and think we have published a lot of amazing comix over 30 years that wouldn’t have gotten published otherwise. I try not to get too defensive about it but I do feel like we tend not to get noticed much by the broader comics community, which is a shame.

Off the top of me noggin’:

Action Girl (Slave Labor)
Measles (Fanta)
Non (Red Ink)

Cheval Noir is such a trove of great Euro comics. Still pretty cheap to pick up as back issues too.

I’ll second Ethan’s recommendation of World War III Illustrated, which really is one of the most vital and essential anthology comics around, and has been for decades. I never quite understood or appreciated Blab, but Zero Zero and Blood Orange were landmark anthologies, and Zero Zero was doubly impressive for how long it endured.

About WW3 Illustrated, I just love Sabrina Jones’ work. Ethan, any chance of digital back issue editions coming out? Part of the reason for it being under the radar is that the back issues are so hard to find. Three-fourth of the entire run was available at Top Shelf a few years back for five bucks apiece. I regret not bucking down and shelling out for all of it.

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