January 3, 2018

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Rob M's Favorite Anthologies of 2017

Welcome to the second of my favorites lists for 2017, this one focusing on anthologies. In the past, I've grouped anthologies by their content type, but I decided to put them together this year instead. Why? I dunno, really. Just did. We'll see what next year brings.

This list does not include a lot of great anthologies that came out in 2017. As a matter of fact, I don't think I read an anthology I *didn't* like that was published in 2017. But listing all of them doesn't make for much of a favorites list, now does it?

In this year of trying to figure out how to live in an era where one US party is openly fascist and the other is openly willing to sell out people in order to stay in power here in the US, the anthologies I was most drawn to either challenged power structures, the status quo, or made me think extremely hard about what I was reading and my willingness to transgress boundaries. I read several other great anthologies that didn't quite make my list because I didn't feel that draw in them. That's not a slight, and please don't take it that way. This is Rob McMonigal's favorites, and isn't a judgement. It's a sense of where my taste is as of the end of the year.

As always, listed in alphabetical order, because the goal here isn't to pit these varied styles against one another. I don't like using numbers, it's why Panel Patter doesn't grade things on a scale. (That keeps us off some review summary sites, but whatever. How do you say that an collection of erotic horror was numerically better than a collection of short stories meant to reflect on global warming?)

Here we go... [A few edits later in the day, for clarity.]



Bottoms Up edited by J.T. Yost, published by Birdcage Bottom Books
Birdcage Bottom Books is one of my favorite really small presses, and JT Yost has a great eye for talent in the indie comics world. This anthologies is no exception, with Yost himself illustrating stories along with Rachel Dukes, John Porcellino, Tatiana Gill, and many others. This collection often paired known creators with anonymous stories of people who have reached their lowest ebb. Usually this involves drinking and drugs, but also has other components, including the heartbreaking story of a person who became addicted to spying on people and ruined his life. The styles range from the straightforward storytelling of Dukes to others whose nearly abstract takes really hammer home the way in which a person's life can dissolve. Yost's hope is that by featuring these stories, people will see they are not alone. I've never been as low as most in this collection, but each turn of the page reminded me of my own struggles. This was very powerful and sometimes painful to read, and for that reason, made my list.

Elements: Fire edited by Taneka Stotts, published by Beyond Press
On the other hand, Elements: Fire is a celebration of creators of color showing off their talents under an editorial hand that is one of the best actively working today in comics. Taneka has no problems telling the world that comics doesn't appreciate its creators of color, but rather than just talk about it, she created this anthology series to amplify voices and provide paid work. If that was all Fire did, it would be a success, but under Taneka's watchful eye, this anthology probably had the strongest collection of stories of anything I read in 2017. I especially love the fact that the creators worked primarily in black/white/greyscale, with tinges of red as the sole color. (A long time ago, a Boston Comics Roundtable antho did the same, and I loved it there, too.) Firefly by Myisha Haynes, about finding true friendship, was a standout for me, but I'm a sucker for student stories from my shojo days, and the added magic was a nice touch. Tee Franklin and MA Victoria Robado have also made me re-think my love of hot sauce, in a perfect use of red as a color, and the thick inks really gave the characters a nice, bold look. I could go on, but this is summary, not a review. Suffice it to say, everyone uses the theme slightly differently, and while the visuals have some similarities, the overall effect is amazing. I can't wait for the next book in this series!

Grab Back Comics, edited by Erma Blood, self-published
Before the dam broke (hopefully) and we started to go after those who use their power for sexual gratification, Erma Blood collected these stories about rape culture, harassment, and fighting back. Like Bottom's Up, it's a very difficult read that took me a few sessions to get through. These stories aren't easy, but they are important. The stories themselves are infuriating, even as you know that they are all too common, whether it's the academic forcing himself on a co-worker, Robin Elan's heart-wrenching understanding that saying "no" was hard for her, or Nicole J. Georges discussing being date-raped. Each one is illustrated differently, from basic figures to using animal avatars to help with the distance. Most have very little in the way of backgrounds, with figures dominating, even if they aren't well-defined. It's a very zine-style, which won't work for everyone, but helps with hammering home how personal these stories are. If you need to know you aren't alone in what's happened to you, this collection might help.

Mirror, Mirror II, edited by Sean T Collins and Julia Gfrorer, published by 2D Cloud
I'm not going to lie, this one really messed with me. If I were listing comics that challenged me the most in 2017 (which Alex Hoffman has done in the past), this would have been number one with a bullet. I wasn't sure what to think when I first finished it. Did I like it? Is it the kind of anthology that can be liked? Collins and Gfrorer push to the very edge without going over it, with stories that show the strong link between eroticism and horror. It's really unlike anything I've ever read. Laura Lannes' love, right out of the gate, shows a boss-employee power trip that ends in visceral horror, with images that are disturbing primarily because Lannes doesn't overdo the visuals--she draws them as normally as Gabrielle Bell would show a bland dinner party she didn't want to attend. Dame Darcy's tale might be the "tamest" one, using old-school Gothic horror themes and thick blacks. Shifts by Trungles takes the idea of fairy tale violence against women and inverts the trope, with a chilling last line. Each one brings its own value and will leave you either thinking or outraged (if you don't understand what they were going for), depending on your taste. My hope is you'll fall into the "thinking" category, as I did.

Now, edited by Erick Reynolds, published by Fantagraphics
Nice to see Fanta get back into the anthology game, as I loved MOME. Erick Reynolds is trying for a slightly different path this time, balancing safe and risky work, using some extremely solid creators such as Eleanor Davis, Gabriel Bell, and the Malachai Ward/Matt Sheean team. An indie anthology with a general theme like this should always ensure to entice its readers to look for more by the people involved, and I think this one accomplishes that. It also doesn't try to go too far into weird territory, which isn't the point here. The goal is to get a person who's used to seeing Bell's autobio work and might want to explore the sweeping, full body figure lines of Davis or the Mad Magazine like style of J.C. Menu, whose story of a young man who just wants his bags gets increasingly absurd. I have high hopes for this one, and I hope we get many more issues to come, with more of a rotating cast than was often used for MOME.

Warmer, edited by Andrew White and Madeline Witt, self-published
I mentioned yesterday that I've really come to be a fan of the poetry comics concept, which I was first introduced to by Kimball Anderson a few years ago but didn't pursue much until this year. In this case, White and Witt invited other creators known for working within the genre (or more abstract comics as a concept) to approach the idea of climate change and how its consequences will affect us. (I loved when New Zealand creators did this as well.) Some great creators are included here, White himself, Will Cardini, L Nichols, and Warren Craghead, just to name a few. Each approaches the idea of poetry comics a bit differently, some using blurred, crayoned images while others offered panels that are as sharp as any comic. It's very tightly themed, and I'm very glad this one had a solid Kickstarter. I'd love to see a follow-up poetry anthology soon from these editors.

That wraps up my list. What were your favorite anthologies from 2017? What did you think of these? Is it contradictory of me to have both an anthology about surviving sexual violence alongside one that fictionalizes similar, darker accounts? (Not at all from my perspective, obviously, as both have something to say in different ways about how we view sex and power.) I'd love to have a conversation about it here, or on twitter, where I'm @rob_McMonigal. Let's talk!