I wanted to start this column by suggesting that Kickstarter had revived the comics anthology as a form, but perhaps that is overstating it. A quick glance through my Kickstarter history shows that comics anthologies are one of the things I back most often. (And although I was provided with a review copy of the food-and-eating-themed anthology Digestate for my last column, it began life as a Kickstarter project.) It’s not that the comics anthology was ever dead, but rather that the democratizing power of Kickstarter has probably allowed many anthologies to exist that otherwise wouldn’t. That means more artists and writers are being exposed to more readers, which is never a bad thing. And like good short story collections, comics anthologies offer big variety in art and storytelling styles in a relatively small and inexpensive package.
Anyway, I was going to start this column with that, but then I realized that FUTURE SHOCK has nothing to do with Kickstarter. And while I wanted to point out how Kickstarter has made room for a few more comics anthologies, it’s great to know that there are still some great anthologies being made the old fashioned way. That is, without backer levels and stretch goals and slipped ship dates. Or at least without all that laundry aired quite so publicly.
And so it was that I stumbled upon FUTURE SHOCK, a self-described astro-sci-fi anthology that prominently features the work of editor and publisher Josh Burggraf, among others. I haven’t read #1 or #2, but I was fortunate enough to get #3 and #4 and they make for excellent trippy astro-sci-fi reading. Included stories range from weird space operas to cyber capers to tales of replicant angst and even a one-page comic about a man’s short relationship with what looks like a possibly-sentient steamed dumpling.
Some pages have real tales to tell with a beginning and an end and dialog in between. Others are funny moments or reflections or just weird sequences of panels or even just single-page illustrations. Still others are complete psychedelic fever dreams that left me scratching my head and flipping back to start them over in hopes of figuring out what the heck just happened.
Art styles range from easy line art and flats to all-digital painting to a few entries that I couldn’t even identify as an art style. (I’m specifically looking at “Support Group” by Jordan Speer from FUTURE SHOCK 4 right now. Is it digital painting? Cut and paste? 3D modeling software? I’m stumped. And in this case I like being stumped.) It’s a testament to the skill of the editor/publisher that the myriad styles used throughout each issue are all reproduced so well.
In some ways the books seem disorganized, and lots of names show up repeatedly, which makes me wonder how submissions are managed. Was there nobody else available? Or was this more of a collaboration between friends than an open anthology? It’s difficult to grasp the thematic thread that carries through each issue, if there is one. Sometimes it feels like the editor just hit Print on his tumblr feed.
But what what the books lack in coherence, they make up for in pure, colorful creativity. Some anthologies are tightly-edited, thematically-limited affairs, while others are perfectly satisfying as creative playgrounds for experienced and inexperienced artists alike. I hope issue 4 isn’t the last in this anthology series, because I truly haven’t seen anything else like it.
All four issues are currently available at Birdcage Bottom Books.