Thursday, May 22, 2008
by various artists
Wideawake Press, 2008
Hillary Brown: It's possible that I hate anthologies. I mean, I understand the appeal. It's a sampler that might encourage you to buy other stuff Wide Awake has published by the same artists. And it's definitely a great way for artists to get started. That's sort of how the Kindercore anthologies have worked, and the one Fluke puts out is sort of a souvenir to remember going, but they almost always make for unsatisfying reading considered on their own terms. I like the idea of having a theme that ties a book of short pieces together, and it doesn't get old in this case. Most of the artists do seem to have considered it and addressed it well. But still... It's only 40-something pages and it still ends up being a little boring. So, I liked Andy Runton's contribution, I was pleased to see Athens's own Patrick Dean included, and I was vaguely amused by Pat Lewis's Archie-style two-pager, but none of the more serious stuff impressed me. What did you like, and do you think it's a problem more with the format than the execution? Or am I just spoiled by reading bigger-press stuff?
Garrett Martin: What anthologies have you read? 'Cuz this isn't really the right comic to confirm whatever problems you might have with the format. I can understand such problems, and do prefer longer-form, more complete stories myself, but holding Piltdown or the Kindercore books up as examples of what's wrong with anthologies is like saying soundtracks suck because there are twenty fucking Moldy Peaches songs on that one my mom bought. We should probably read an installment of MOME or the next Kramer's Ergot (after selling some organs, natch) and then construct our final formal critical consensus on anthologies.
An anthology's only as good as the quality of the stories, obviously, and for the most part the stories in Piltdown aren't that good. I agree that the highlights in Piltdown all succeed mostly on account of their humor, but for every legitimately funny comic there's at least one more that falls flat. Ben Towle's strip about the giant sloth is predictable, but still funny and cute without being too cutesy. Mike Miahack's single-panel strip "Before Umbrellas" is both a good gag and probably the best art in the book. Wacky Jesus humor is totally played out, but Brad McGinty's absurd "Jesus Christ B.C." is genuinely inspired. And maybe I'm biased from reading his awesome strips in the Flagpole for so long, but Patrick Dean's strip here is probably my favorite of the bunch. That guy is both a fantastic artist and a hilarious writer, and should be far more well-known than he is. Like I said, though, for each of these strips you've got something like Justin Gammon's dull superhero parody, J. Chris Campbell's insufficiently clever clip-arty strip, and Pat Lewis's "Everybody Love Thog", which does have nice, classic, cartoony art, but isn't actually funny. So despite humor being Piltdown's strength, even that is a mixed bag. And man, even though Joe Lambert's art is beautiful at times, I don't even want to touch the more "serious" stuff.
I wonder if there's a correlation between the manner of distribution and the quality of the work, or at least our reaction to the quality of the work. This is a free comic available only from the internet. I generally have lower standards for webcomics, but at the same time I tend to devalue things that are free. But then perhaps the creators didn't bring their a-game, so to speak, since this was a free download. Of course since most of them are fairly unknown, I'd think they'd want to make the best possible impression, and Andy Runton, who's probably the biggest name here, turned in an Owly strip that's just as good as his books, so maybe we shouldn't even question their commitment level.
HB: Yeah, I haven't read that many, and with the exception of something like DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, which doesn't really count, they've mostly been disappointing, even though it's sort of the way I started out reading comics in Atlanta in high school. I can't remember the name of the book I picked up on a regular basis, just that "Dykes to Watch Out For" and "Baby Sue" were in there, but it probably suffered from the same problem: small media isn't necessarily better than big media, and sometimes it's worse because there's much less of a filter. It's great in a lot of ways that there are fewer hoops to jump through to get something in print, but it's more great for the artist than it is for the reader. I wouldn't question their commitment level so much as their talent, which is sort of terrible to do but can't be helped. Again, I think these things are useful for discovering people you like, whom you can then stalk and buy more things by. It's almost the equivalent of a tribute album more than a movie soundtrack, in that there's something that ties it all together and you're attracted either by the subject or by a couple of names.
I'll still sort of defend "Everybody Love Thog" as a parody, though. You have to remember that Archie often isn't funny either and, especially when I was younger, sometimes mystifying. Joe Lambert's thing is interesting, as far as what he's trying to do, but it's another of those wordless comics that doesn't quite get its narrative across clearly. Reading stuff like that really makes me appreciate the expressiveness of other artists, even though the spread where he gets kissed by the moon is maybe my favorite panel in the book.
Should people download it for free? I suppose I don't want to dissuade them from that. There are some things worth their time.
GM: I agree with you on Lambert: his art is beautiful, but I have no idea what's happening in that story. And I'm not talking about the moon-smooching, but a basic lack of clarity as to what the characters are doing and why and when they're doing it; ie, incomprehensible storytelling. Lambert's kind of a one-guy summation of anthologies' worth despite their mixed-baggedness: dude's got a lot of talent in need of some honing, and anthologies are maybe the best talent-hone around.
"Thog" just doesn't work for me, outside of the art. It's not an explicit parody of Archie, and if it's intended to be than it fails even more. It's definitely going for the spirit of Archie-esque teen comedy comics, but like I said, the punchline just plain isn't funny. But then I'm not a big fan of intentional camp, and it's really hard to write a genuinely funny commentary on Archie-style comics anyway, so something like "Thog" is almost destined to disappoint me.
And yeah, I would definitely recommend this to anybody who reads comics, if only 'cuz it's free and takes maybe 20 minutes to read and has a handful of funny strips amid the more mediocre stuff. Yeah, Piltdown's hit-or-miss, but it's great that Wideawake Press puts together "books" like this, and I hope they continue to do so.
Piltdown can be downloaded at Wideawake Press's website