A few words on:

*Anthologies. I love them. Maybe you love them too. The market doesn’t always love them, though they always seem to be around, and that’s fortunate - given the distance of years, nothing can sum up a time quite like a collection of short work by a variety of talents. And there’s that canny means of dragging you in to new bodies of work - you come in searching for rare stuff by Creator A, and maybe you leave with a renewed interest in Creator B, someone you may not have gotten much exposure to but for their appearance among others. I love pouring through the anthologies I bought years ago, just to revisit stories by creators I’ve suddenly gotten interested in, reading them in different lights (the all-time champ in my collection - Expo 2001, an SPX anthology that seems to rebuild itself on every new reading).

And, if little else - lots of nice short stories by a variety of people. Obviously, some are better than others.

Take A1 #3 (of 6), a 1990 release from Atomeka. Released “somewhat spasmodically” (as the legal indicia notes) from 1989-1992, the original A1 provided a relatively lavish, Prestige Format-like forum for work by a wide, talented variety of creators, UK, US, and otherwise. Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Mike Mignola, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jamie Hewlett, James Robinson - the list of contributors across those six books goes on and on, some of them (like Ellis and Ennis) still quite early into their careers, others experienced pros. Editors Dave Elliott and Garry Leach had an eye for strong lineups.

Perhaps issue #3 has the strongest. Alan Moore. Grant Morrison. Eddie Campbell. Dave McKean. Brian Bolland. Philip Bond. Moebius. All of them are pretty big ‘names,’ and almost all of them provide stories in this book (Moebius does the back cover illustration, accompanying a dialogue by Jean-Luc Coudray). And they’re good stories too, sometimes providing fascinating alternate views of where each creator stood in their careers at the time.

For example, Morrison’s story, drawn by Dom Regan and never reprinted anywhere to my knowledge, bears a somewhat similar tone to Morrison’s then-current run on Doom Patrol, though entirely stripped of any superheroic accoutrements at all. Titled The House of Heart's Desire, it concerns a fellow possessed with thoughts of the House Without a Door, or the House of Self-Collection, whether it’s Blake or Jung you’re into. Fortunately, he one day happens upon the actual Door to the House Without a Door at an antiques shop, and devotes his life to searching out the House itself so he can finally glimpse what he truly needs. Needless to say, allegorical action thus ensues - its vivid, icon-packed movement recalls the strangely personal drive of Morrison’s DC book, but shot through with more brooding tone than before, an air of futility about the thing that never quite registered at that point in Doom Patrol.

Moore teams with Steve Parkhouse for one of A1’s recurring features, the comedic Bojeffries, which was eventually colored and collected by Tundra (and is in the midst of being reprinted as part of Atomeka’s, well, spasmodically-released A1 revival). It’s one of Moore’s most successful pure comedies, involving a clan of monstrous folk in the vein of the family Addams, though firmly grounded in working-class English grit, allowing for both Moore’s wit and sense of place to shine through. At the time, it both symbolized Moore’s devotion to independent work (I think the material is still owned by Moore and Parkhouse), and provided the last lingering thread connecting the writer to his Warrior period, the strip having originated in 1983 at the original home of Marvelman and V for Vendetta.

Campbell provides a nice Bacchus short, The Book-Keeper From Atlantis, from back when the property was still titled Deadface. McKean illustrates in his imitable style My Closest Friend, a John Kaiine story about madness. Bolland presents an installment of The Actress and the Bishop, an original creation for A1 loaded with stream-of-consciousness events and rhyming narration, marrying the solidity of Bolland’s realist superhero/sci-fi visual style with the whimsy of his looser Mr. Mamoulian strips, themselves a fixture in anthologies like Cheval Noir and Negative Burn (all of this stuff got compiled into the Bolland Strips! Hardcover from Knockabout). Bond provides a nice little slice of frusterated romance, Endless Summer. There's nothing resembling a toss-off here - everybody seems to be providing strong, devoted work, which makes this particular issue such a good thing to find in the longboxes.

And there's plenty more - Chris Smith's and Glenn Fabry's gleefully rambunctious serial Bricktop gets a chapter (do yourself a favor and search out the pamphlet-format collection of the story, which Atomeka put out in 2004). A silly Graham Marks story, Point of View, sports luscious painted art by John Bolton. Even a bit of the old cynical 'realistic' superhero flavor pops by with a short Vietnam-based story featuring Mark Verheiden's The American, currently reprinted in Dark Horse's inexpensive omnibus of the same name (actually, I think this is the character's only non-Dark Horse published appearance). A little of everything.

And that's dealing with a time period I sort of remember. There's also the strange effect of picking up a really old issue of Heavy Metal - I got hold of one from May of 1978. Having just debuted the year before, Heavy Metal was still being published in the US by folks behind National Lampoon, and was in the midst of providing something of an experience between the past underground days and the Marvel/DC superhero axis - it was done through sci-fi soaked bits of visual acrobatics spiked with a fairly hallucinogenic edge, European talents from the French Metal Hurlant and elsewhere mixing with the likes of Richard Corben and Howard Chaykin, both early contributers.

This particular issue (Vol. II, No. 1 - basically it's #14) doesn't have those two talents, though it does feature Tap-Dancing on a Tender Cerebellum, a dazzlingly mounted piece by Alex Niño, stuffed with vivd monster designs and psychological dismay (see for yourself - the whole story can be viewed in Spanish here), and somewhat undone by blurry printing. But it's exemplary as far as narcotic genre explosion goes - also standing out is a painted short by François Schuiten (pre-Les Cités Obscures) that neatly shows off the artist's aptitude with geometric designs and lavish townscapes.

But reading through an anthology like this is often a frustrating time too. For one thing, Heavy Metal didn't exactly bend over backwards to acclimate new readers, even at the start of a new 'volume' - all creators are listed by their last names only, which does serve a certain myth-making purpose (they only need one name!!), though it kept me glancing at the legal indicia for fuller information, which was not always forthcoming. Serials simply pick up where they left off in prior issues with no summary as to what's gone before, or even so much as a notice of which chapter the reader is looking at - this must be puzzled out by consulting the back-issue ordering page and its tiny summaries of past contents. Stuff like that certainly doesn't help the likes of Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella, which is largely dialogue-driven and thus becomes utterly easy to skip over. And then there's the printing issues I already mentioned.

And still, then there comes something like Philippe Druillet's Urm, double-page spread after double-page spread, designed to the hilt, a perfect little triumph of contained art aplomb. Such things can be found in even a more difficult package. Happening upon them by accident is the joy of leafing through these old books, these set aside collections of the short and the once and again unseen.