As someone who’s had occasion to dabble in the sequential graphic arts (a.k.a. comic books), I really appreciate what Unico Comics, in conjunction with the Amateur Comics Guild, was doing when they published their Collections series: providing a venue for aspiring comic book artists and writers in a world where bigger publishers wouldn’t normally give a newcomer the time of day. Though the series ceased publication after three issues, a good deal of the work that Unico published under the Collections moniker bears a second look, which is why I’m glad they’ve decided to anthologize all three issues in a single volume due early this year.
Take, for example, “Cobweb the Pig,” a short piece by writer/artist Ben Edge that was featured in the first issue of Collections. Here, a series of childlike drawings reminiscent of Matt Groening’s work on Life in Hell nicely complements an allegedly true tale about a boy, his pig, and the tattoo gun that brings them together. By way of contrast, “A Day in September,” featured in issue two and sensitively illustrated by Mark Bell, offers a somber take on the events and significance of September 11, 2001. Finally, two pieces in issue three stand out for their color and energy. The first, “The Son” looks and reads like an installment of Bill Amend’s Foxtrot on crack; imagine Jason Fox growing up to be an assassin who can stop a limousine in its tracks by stabbing it with a hunting knife, and you’ll have a good idea of what this one’s about. Then there’s “The Exile’s Daughter” by Caroline Parkinson, who is perhaps the only comic book artist I’m aware of whose use of Japanese imagery is not limited to reproducing manga-style cartoon characters. In this piece, Parkinson uses a style that is more akin to Meiji art than to its latter-day cousin to deliver a story of myth and magic set “over a thousand years ago.”
Scattered among all of these pieces are new interpretations and reinventions of the standard fare we tend to associate with the comics genre as a whole: superhero origins, crime stories, science fiction adventures, and tales of horror. In some ways, I’m reminded by the old Tales to Astonish comic books from Marvel, but the fact that all of the work in Collections is produced by newcomers gives the series a sense of jouissance that the former may have lacked. These are comics written and drawn for the sheer love of the form–a fact that shows on every page.