The Power of Anthology

It’s a reasonably well-known tenant in comics that anthologies don’t sell. While it’s true that I’ve never attempted reading an anthology in issues, I do very much enjoy sitting down with a large collection of short stories ordered around a theme. And much to my surprise, I’ve never actually written about anthologies during my tenure as an iFanboy columnist so I figured it was high time I rectify this gross oversight.

The thing I love about anthologies is in the world of advanced previews anthologies offer one of the few opportunities for genuine surprise in comics. You open an anthology knowing you’re going to get a certain type of story but the actual execution of that story is an unknown, and even if you heard about one story there’s another one just a few pages down the line ripe with new possibilities.

Also, as a person who increasingly finds it more and more difficult to take time out and read (for pleasure) and an anthology provides a nice opportunity to get a complete story usually in a few minutes. Most single issues of comics can’t even provide that! Plus there’s no harm whatsoever in putting an anthology down for a few days then coming back to it. The only slight exception is when an anthology is serialized like Popgun or Flight and certain contributors will tell a continuing story from one volume from the next. I admit to often only having a vague recollection of the previous installment when stumbling upon the next one, but that’s not something that can be fixed by taking a break during any one volume.

There are downsides to anthologies. There’s a mixed blessing, a grab bag, there are inevitably going to be stories that aren’t to your taste, or are actually just bad. The surprise of not knowing what to expect can very much end in disappointment, but for me the gems found in the searching make it worth the effort in the end. Lots of times stories of anthologies are by people not yet well established in comics, and it can be a fascinating exercise to go back to an anthology a few years later and see who you recognize now that you didn’t recognize then. Dark Horse’s Autobiographix is an excellent example of this.

I’ve mentioned a few anthologies that I really enjoy already, but I think I should make special note of the particular books that inspired this particular post. The first is Sasquatch, a book of stories about bigfoot. If you know me at all, you know this is my thing. I picked this up at a used bookstore in Denver and for a thin as it looks I was greatly impressed by it’s density. It reminds me a lot of the Roller Dirby anthology, JAM!, that I picked up when I first moved to Nashville. Both books have taught me a lot (even if one taught me something about reality and the other… well not as much, you can guess which one) they both fit the bill for inventive anthologies on niche topics that kept me interested and learning throughout.

The other anthology responsible for this column is the new collection from Dark Horse, One Upon A Time Machine. The theme is fairy tales done as sci-fi, although in a few instances that seems to mean setting a Western fairy tale in Japan (which is still an interesting read to this Gaijin). Regardless, this book is chock full of cool ideas, from John Henry as a mech pilot to Humpty Dumpty as a sentient Dyson sphere. These kinds of reimagining, when done well, excite my imagination like few others stories can. It’s why I enjoy books like Fables and Peter Panzerfaust. So imagine 400 pages of short snippets in that vein and get excited  by that.

I understand why anthologies are tough to pull off. I’m sure for an editor they take an insane amount of thankless work. I’ve heard how hard it can be to just work with all the creative people that go into making a single issue. Doing that several dozen times all for the sake of one book must be infuriating at times, but I do very much appreciate the results.

Am I alone in this? Do other people dig on anthologies as much as me? Are there brilliant books out there that I’m completely unaware of? If the iFanboy staffers were to put together an anthology what should our theme be? Would you buy it three times just to break the trend that anthologies don’t sell? These are the questions I need answered, people.

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Ryan Haupt is under the impression that his own life is an anthology. Hear him be shot down while trying to prove that point on the podcast Science… sort of. 

Comments

  1. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    “It’s a reasonably well-known tenant in comics that anthologies don’t sell.”

    What are you talking about? I’ve sold dozens of copies of my anthology, “Clockwork.”

    DOZENS!!!

  2. PaulAllor PaulAllor says:

    Oh, and yes, “Once Upon a Time Machine” is quite wonderful. Highly recommended. After reading this, I look forward to checking out “Sasquatch” as well.

  3. pppiquer pppiquer says:

    The Mystery in Space anthology that came out earlier this year was wonderful

  4. Marbles Marbles says:

    There’s a weekly anthology comic called 2000AD which has been running for 35 years without a break btw.

    • The fact 2000 AD doesn’t get a mention in an article about comic anthologies makes me rage.

      You know why the anthologies listed don’t sell, but 2000 AD trucks along? ON-GOING SERIALS.

      The majority of US anthologies are compilations of short stories. Which is a great way for creators to show off their craft in short-form. But its absolutely USELESS in getting a reader base to come back for a second round reliably. 2000 AD and its pile of on-going serials sidesteps this problem, you always want to come back for the next issue to get the next installment of your favorite series. And still has time to toss in the occasional one-off short-form comic. That’s what you need to make an anthology successful.

  5. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    I think they are just way too hit or miss. I don’t know if I’ve ever read any anthology where I felt like I got bang for my buck. The Solo books that DC did were really cool, but they were all by the same artist. Batman Black and White was pretty good, too. But mostly they are just not for me – sometimes they are filled with stories by aspiring writers and artists whose work is just not polished.