I'll be reviewing a wildly diverse batch of indy anthologies this week. Let's start at the most DIY end of things, with Josh Blair's entry-level anthology Candy or Medicine and the Portland publishers team-up for Free Comic Book Day, Brad Trip.
Candy or Medicine #17. The previous issue was the best of the entire series, which is geared toward new creators looking for a publishing outlet and is printed in classic 5.5 x 4.5 minicomics format. This issue is more typically uneven, with a lot of lightweight, crudely drawn stories. I did enjoy the drawing in Jon Light's "Pizza Bill" strip about an anthropomorphic pizza that winds up splattered against a wall, though it does remind me a bit of the sort of thing that Jon Vermilyea does. Harry Nordlinger's strip about a man demanding to see a woman who had just been buried, only to be directed to a tower, an interminable wait and a potential reunion with her that is highly unpleasant, has a grim but amusing quality. I also liked the frantically scrawled and slightly grotesque covers by Willard Herman, thanks to their slightly awkward charm. The rest of the entries felt slight, especially the two pages that seemed to be little more than an advertisement for a webcomic. We'll see what sort of comics Blair unearths for his next volume.
Brad Trip. This is the latest of the oddly-titled anthologies co-published by a number of west coast micropublishers. This year, it's Sparkplug, Revival House, Teenage Dinosaur and the retailer Floating World. Printed on fairly cheap newsprint, the format favors the unusual and striking nature of the artists featured. Aidan Koch opens up with one of her smudgy, oddly paced and formatted pencil-heavy comics. The strip features extreme close-ups between two men meeting on a beach, with extended pans over to a horse frolicking in the surf. Like many of her comics, it's both impenetrable and completely straightforward. Annie Murphy contributes a charmingly creepy story about a young woman traveling to what seems to be Baba Yaga's hut to receive a gift. The gift is distilled to a flame, which she's ordered to swallow, providing a source of illumination. Once again, this story is entirely straightforward, but the story's symbols are mysterious. This is a search for knowledge, even as it's revealed that the young woman is half-human, half beast.
Constance Hockaday and artist Maria Sputnik go in a different direction, with Sputnik's charmingly ramshackle style being used to illustrate a section of a story about a family that escapes authority by living on a raft made of garbage. Sputnik's design is interesting, as some of the panels are made to look as though they were torn directly out of a sketchbook, with part of one page flipping upside-down. Kinoko Evans' story about two sphinxes eating a stereotypical hipster is cute but lightweight and disposable. Virginia Paine's story about a girl waiting on another girl indifferent to her affections is one of her best to date. She captures the quiet passion of the girl pursuing someone she clearly has deep feelings for; even as she's rejected, she expresses no emotion, with Paine letting the Childish Gambino song speak for her. It's a well-designed, emotionally ambiguous story that has a strong sense of place and character. Dunja Jankovic closes out the issue with one of her increasingly abstract and psychedelic comics that coalesces into a coherent form only at the end. The way she plays with shapes and patterns suggests a journey looking inward or an extreme close-up that is by nature highly distorted. All told, this is a visually striking anthology that moves from strength to strength and style to style with its stable of young artists.