Let’s talk anthology – as Pat Mills unveils SpaceWarp cover, we preview Shift and The 77 is released

There has been an explosion of U.K. and Ireland comic anthologies this year! Moreso with a plethora of anthologies being produced to reflect life in lockdown amongst the Covid-19 virus.

Anthologies are notoriously difficult to do. We know – we did one. You can read the 320 page Great Big ComicScene Annual for FREE on the Comichaus App (who also did their own anthology)

In our recent research readers loved the inclusion of strips in ComicScene Magazine and enjoyed the series we were sharing. But many did say they would prefer a stand alone anthology rather than a hybrid of an anthology or features magazine with all new stories. We promise to give it some thought!

Anthologies promise so much but on the whole don’t meet expectations. There have been many casualties – A1, Clint, Strip, Toxic, Blast, Deadline, Escape, Revolver, Crisis, Warrior to name but a few – even 2000AD had its ‘boom’ years. Mark Millar at last years MagFest conference explained how Clint Issue 1 sold a huge amount of copies – then Issue 2 half that – then Issue 3 half again until it’s ongoing numbers just became unprofitable.

You just hope that the majority of people like over 50% of the comic and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a stand out character that will be the mainstay of the title and perhaps explode into their own dedicated series (books, movies etc).

It’s hard to get that balance of stories to maintain quality and suit most readers tastes. Series of Doctor Who are the same. I love the time travel adventures but I detest every second episode of the series set in the ‘future’.

In our ComicScene annual on Comichaus you will see some new stuff but best bits from Atomic anthology of the 1990’s and humour anthologies Goof! and Splank! An enhanced version of Splank! is due soon (keep reading comics.org for updates) and you can read our own Corker! Humour Anthology in issues 10,11 & 12 of ComicScene (get them in Option 3 pack here. The Phoenix still does good business and the Beano goes from strength to strength as DCThomson continually evidence their commitment to comics and enhance their brand into other mediums like merchandise, web, TV and education.

On the newsstands you can still get Rebellion’s Action 2020 and Cor!! Buster. Cor!! Buster is a much more accomplished humour anthology than last years, if now slightly dated due to its Easter theme. Action 2020 has divided opinion amongst comic fans but on the whole it’s a solid package. The new Smash! anthology has certainly grabbed the attention of comic fans if our web site stats have anything to go by and recently Rebellion showed off the covers to their Tammy/Jinty, Misty/Scream (Misty had its own inspired Anthology called Bite last year) and Battle specials too.

To come is SpaceWarp from Pat Mills and Shift. We’ve seen artwork from both and they look well worth your entry fee when they arrive. As we write this Mills is expected to reveal the SpaceWarp cover today. Meantime you can find out more in the ComicScene State of Independents Yearbook 2020 here.

It’s probably worth mentioning the Sentinel – not really an anthology but a series of stories in 64 page digest issues. It’s a nice format and you can delve into the stories that appeal to you. Alan Holloway wrote Issue 1 and Ed Doyle is on art duties. A shout out too for the Spark Sci Fi Kids Anthology and David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly, an online anthology which has had some stunning work (including Slash Moron, as featured in ComicScene). Check the link on our website here

Last year Time Bomb Comics delivered Brawler, inspired by Warrior, still regarded as one of your favourite all time anthologies and the birthplace of Miracleman and V For Vendetta. It not only wins the ‘Best Cover ever’ award for Staz Johnson’s stunning dinosaur (all anthologies need a dinosaur) but is a tight little package and remains the number one comic in our Indie Comics Hub. Get it here https://comicscene.org/comicscene-online-store/. There is also Short Box which is slightly different as it’s an anthology of different comic titles in a box – but it’s made a staggering £31,000 of a £17,000 target which is phenomenal and taps into another comic market which shows the versatility of the medium and those who tap into it.

Of course this week see’s the launch of The 77. Taking a leaf out of Spaceship Away, who launched 50 issues ago to tap into the million or so readers of the original Eagle (did we mention their free supplement in ComicScene 13?), this retro anthology hopes to tap into the original readership of 2000AD. Full disclosure – we did work with the team on our old school ‘ComicZine’ last year and they were kind enough to let us talk a little about ComicScene in their magazine (we even have a billboard in one of the strips). The beauty of this magazine is how it’s tapped into the sense of community the 2000AD fraternity has, which has to be applauded. It’s not the only 2000AD inspired comic that’s available but it’s remit seems a little broader with original comic creations (again read the State of Independents Yearbook 2020 to find out more about other 2000AD fanzines)

As I’ve said anthologies are hard work. The 77 is far from perfect but It would have been a minor miracle if it had been. But it’s a good starting point for what they hope to achieve and needs your support to get there.

Stories will, of course, be a matter of taste. My stand out story is Temporal Anarchy by Alan Holloway and Neil Blackbird Sim. It’s great artwork, a future shock style story with characters you can relate to, well paced and linear storytelling with a twisted and definitive end plus an old style comic host to guide you along the way. Alan wrote the first Sentinel and he’s a great storyteller with dark humour which I think was the strength of the first 500 progs of 2000AD. The strength in his story is where some of the other stories fall down (and being super critical here!). It’s quite frustrating when you enjoy a story thinking it should be a standalone but it doesn’t have a satisfying end. Or you get into a story and it’s too be continued, which works for a weekly but not necessarily when the next issue is a year, three months or two months away. This happens a few times in this anthology. However I do want more, which is a good thing too! Truth is, it’s very hard to write anthology style comics. If you take a look at the recent reprints of Janus Stark or Roy of the Rovers you will see that over two or three pages the writers and artists fit one beginning, middle and end story into an overarching plot line. This is fast becoming a lost art. See Pat Mills Ragtime Soldier in the Great War Dundee to see how it is done. Many writers have ditched text boxes, thought bubbles and extended text balloons for a more cinematic approach hoping the artist can capture the narrative for the reader. I have to admit losing the narrative many times reading newer anthology comics.

From the preview artwork I was looking forward to the Penny Pentogram story and disappointed it was only one page. For me she looked like a potential stand out character that could have captured the fantasy and magic theme popular at the moment. At San Diego Comic Con last year a presentation showed the decline in a Sci Fi inspired stories but the growth in fantasy (inspired by Harry Potter and Game of Thrones). Alas it was not to be. Sergeant Shouty by Lew Stringer could be though! A hoot.

I’d like to give Drew Marr a shout out too. We published his work in the ComicScene Annual. For all the 77s strengths and weaknesses it’s doubly difficult for a young boy to be growing up and showing the development of his artwork in public. What stood out for me was the textures Drew is using. Dare I see a potential Dave McKean in there somewhere, using techniques and photography as used on his fabulous Sandman covers. Maybe.

Including Drew really shows how the 77 have tried to capture the comic community, young and old. It’s a snapshot of work and no doubt all the editors, writers and artists who have now seen it as a whole will love some bits and be super critical of their own contribution too. I say both teams behind the 77 and Brawler should be proud of what they have achieved and that future issues will go from strength to strength. They are both good reads.

The big question is for the 77! Who will be the new character first appearing in your Issue 2? No pressure….

STOP PRESS

Here’s the SpaceWarp cover reveal

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