Sunday, October 9, 2011
Comics Readers Digest: Hive #4
Hive is an odd duck as far as anthologies go. It's not a standard anthology where all of its entries are new stories. Instead, editor Jordan Shiveley reprints stories from some of his contributors and gets new work from others. Shiveley's selections as editor are all over the place, ranging from personal & autobio stories to slick genre stories, arranged in a manner that occasionally defies rhyme or reason. Hive reminds me a bit of Josh Blair's Candy Or Medicine in that it looks like it takes all comers, from veterans looking for a venue to publish to new creators trying to get exposure. Hive is well-designed and attractive, but the size of the anthology doesn't always do its contributions justice.
For example, in issue #4, Hurk's story "Sculptor" is ill-served by the book's 5 x 8.5" dimensions. With 16 panels per page, there's a level of detail that's hard to parse given the small size of the page. The same was true for O'Shell's story, which had up to 17 panels on a page with tiny lettering. Even the strongest material in the book, a selection of Noah Van Sciver's best stories, doesn't look nearly as good as it did in his Blammo! series. There are other questionable publishing decisions, like publishing Jose' Antonio Alonso Barrueco's story in its original Spanish. I appreciate Shiveley's willingness to publish international material, but printing a story that its target audience can't read doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Another problem with the anthology is that Shiveley's tastes as an editor are too broad. Peter Richardson & David Orme's "Cloud 109" is a standard genre story, and a horrible example at that. The story is ill-suited to the anthology (it looks like this was originally a color story that was reduced to gray-scaling here), the lettering is tiny, the art is slick and soulless and the story itself trite & dull. That it takes up a full twenty pages of a 130 page anthology makes its presence all the more tedious.
That's unfortunate, because there are certainly the makings of a good anthology to be found here. Joe Decie is a real talent and the two-page anecdote he relates about his parents, New Year's Eve and toilet seats is hilarious. Cole Closser's "Sweet Sammy" looks like Shiveley took a minicomics version of the story, put it on a photocopier, and then printed the results. Strangely, that adds appeal to what looks and feels like an ancient artifact, as though Milt Gross did a minicomic decades ago. While Van Sciver's work isn't printed in a way that flatters it, these really are some of his best stories, like "Fame", "Process" and "Convention". Stories by Malachi Ward, Iain Laurie & Craig Collins were all welcome, if familiar contributions. In terms of artists who were new to me, I was impressed by John Kinhart's "Screw You" (a funny reminiscence of the consequences of swearing as a child) and Gloria's sparely-drawn strips about travel and grotesques. I'll be curious to see where the anthology goes from here; I like the idea of a well-designed entry-level anthology, but one with a sharper focus (even at the risk of printing lesser material) would make this a more consistent read.