Musing: The Problem of Flight and the future of anthologies

Brigid Alverson read my interview with Kazu Kibuishi about the final volume of the Flight anthology and she took away from it one of Kazu's key points, which I think deserves a lot of discussion. What will anthologies look like in years to come? What's the best way for creators to work in short form and publish this work? What's the best way to attract new readers?

I've been thinking in recent months about anthologies and the future shape of them. With the conclusion of Flight and with the final volume of Mome coming out from Fantagraphics soon, it begs the question what will the next big anthology look like?

When I spoke with Gary Groth last month I made the comment that Fantagraphics felt like a different company than it used to be because it no longer publishes The Comics Journal monthly and regular comic books and with the shuttering of Mome, it felt as if the company has the same sensibility, but a different business model. That shift away from anthologies and away from serialized comics in the indie comics world is significant and I think it will alter how people work and the lack of print outlets for short work will affect the output of the next generation of cartoonists.

At the MoCCA festival earlier this year I picked up a number of anthologies of varying degrees of quality and with very different approaches. Some of them like From Wonderland with Love and Angst Volume 4, which collect work from Denmark and Norway respectively, are not a great model for what I'm thinking about, despite being fabulous anthologies with some amazing work.

I picked up the second volume of The Anthology Project which was edited by Sam Bradley, Joy Ang and Nick Thornborrow because I liked the first volume, which is up for an Eisner Award this year. Admittedly I think the book could use a flashier name, but it's a beautifully designed, high quality book. It's also hardcover and thirty dollars. That's a lot to pay. And yes it's great artwork and it's a great book, but it's expensive and it's not designed as an entry point for new readers or even for casual readers.

Don't get me wrong. There's beautiful work from Emily Carroll, Aurelie Neyret, Haylee Herrick, Kim Smith, Katie Shanahan and others. I follow many of these artists online and I think they're fabulous and it's a great thrill to see them in print and see their work reproduced at this quality. But I wonder, if I didn't know who they were, if none of the names were familiar to me at all, would I have picked up the book and spent thirty bucks figuring that I'm bound to like at least a couple of the stories? Or would I have moved on and looked for more of a known quantity (or at least a cheaper unknown quantity?)

What about a model closer to what Pizza Island did (That's Kate Beaton, Domitille Collardey, Sarah Glidden, Meredith Gran, Lisa Hanawalt, Julia Wertz, for those of you who don't know) where for MoCCA they pulled together a minicomic collecting work of theirs. Gabriel Ba, Becky Cloonan, Vasillis Lolos and Fabio Moon did something similar a few years back that was later collected by Dark Horse in the volume Pixu.

(Of course these people are also some of the most talented in comics and very well known, so it's not as if any of them are that unknown. And yes, if one is aiming at a broad audience that's not exposed to comics and familiar with cartoonists, they will likely be unknown to those people, but their recognition within the comics world means that they have a base of supporters and readers, which is important financially when wading into print)

These groupings by studio mates, by friends, by artists with similar backgrounds and approaches, could put together some interesting work, and I wonder if we'll be seeing more of that. What would it mean if Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Palmer were to create a yearly minicomic of short comics, illustrations and short fiction? What if Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Marian Churchland and friends did?

What about Periscope Studio, which is home to some incredibly talented artists who have a group blog? What if in an effort to leverage their online presence and give them a chance to do short comics and do something with it besides just post it on their blog, they produced an annual or regular publication?

Something vaguely similar can be seen in Double Feature and House of Twelve, which are very different anthologies with very different sensibilities produced digitally that try to take advantage of the possibilities that digital offers. Honestly they're different enough that this is likely the only time the two publications will be mentioned in the same sentence anywhere.

Of course all these ideas I'm tossing out are based on a smaller self-selected group of people putting out something together, which is something I love, something I read, something I would dearly like to read more of, and yet, it's not quite what I'm looking for. I hear the word anthology and the first publication that comes to mind is Granta. (Yes, I know, not comics. Sue me. I'm a word guy.) I think of Tin House. The Paris Review. McSweeney's.

Part of me thinks that perhaps the best way to approach this would be to regularly publish an anthology digitally with an annual or regularly scheduled print edition. Would it be a weekly publication - a short dose of comics delivered often? Would it be more infrequent, monthly or even quarterly? The many challenges of the digital marketplace, including waiting for Apple's approval (which is not always forthcoming, particularly if one creates satire) would seem to make weekly a challenge, if not an outright impossibility unless one was prepared months in advance, but I like the idea.

The other possibility would be to do it like Granta, regular issues often centered around a theme. A loose theme, though - for those of who don't know Granta themes are things like "The Sea," "London," "The Family," "Aliens," "The F Word," "The New Nature Writing." Three themed issues coming out quarterly exclusively online. Then a print edition featuring original work coming out late spring/early summer for the convention season.

More on this later.

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