The Anthology Is Dead, Long Live The Anthology

Ed Sherman of Rising Sun Creations (see “Ed Sherman of Rising Sun Creations on Miniseries”), you’re not crazy; there are entirely too many miniseries coming out these days. Oddly enough, last Friday Dark Star manager Tad Cleveland and I spent a good chunk of the morning trying to list the plethora of miniseries that are currently clogging the comic book shelves. It started because we were having trouble finding places to put them all.

Let’s focus on the worst offender: Marvel. Thanks to all their recently launched new series we’ve had to prematurely “retire” such Civil War tie-in titles as Civil War: X-Men and Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways because of lack of room. I suppose the reasoning behind this unwarranted expansion by the publisher is the assumption retailers would automatically ‘make room’ for more Marvel brand comics (even if it’s Jack Kirby’s Galactic Bounty Hunters) by annexing territory currently held by some other publisher.

If that is the idea, let me reiterate something I wrote in a previous column: when it comes to new comics, Dark Star is stuffed, full, stacked to the rafters; every inch of available comic book display is already occupied, and then some (frequently we have to let two comics share a space intended for only one). And when it comes to direct sales shops I don’t think we’re in any way unique.

One solution to this problem would be for publishers to publish more anthologies, like DC’s updating of Tales of the Unexpected and Mystery in Space, Marvel’s flipbooks, or their future plans to revive Marvel Comics Presents. I championed this option many times in the past but as much as it breaks my heart to admit it, I’ve become convinced most fans just don’t want anthologies.

It’s heartbreaking because I love them, partially because I was raised in a family which proved you could in fact be both cheap and poor. I never went without the basics but money was always tight so the concept of being economical was burned into my brain at an early age*. It was the sort of house that exclusively served Neapolitan ice cream, the thinking being that way you got three flavors for the price of one (the fact all of them tasted like chalk never seemed to enter into the decision making process).

So the overwhelming consideration for my brother and I when it came to buying comics was how much we got for our money. Super-teams always trumped solo heroes and comics with two stories were better than one; heaven sent were titles like DC’s 80 Page Giants and later their Dollar line. These days just for fun I frequently find myself going to the Grand Comic Book Database web site and drooling over the covers of such Golden Age anthology titles (back when you got so much for so little) as Thrilling, Exciting, Hit, etc.

Of course there are reasons why anthologies aren’t popular, first and foremost being publishers generally don’t want to ‘waste’ their top talents on such low prestige projects. But I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that the anthology format is considered by some to be inherently old fashioned; in comics the short story is neglected as much as it is in the world of literature.

Yet there is a “stealth” comic book anthology successfully operating: DC’s 52. Oh, sure, you could look at it is as an extremely long comic book novel, but the way the comic regularly features such different characters operating in different genres suggests, to me, an anthology. But no one seems to notice because the different segments don’t seem like short stories because of the way they all flow together.

DC answers our prayers (literally ours–week in and week out 52 has remained a strong seller when it comes to file customers, sales off the stands and back issues; Dark Star wasn’t looking forward to having to give all those guaranteed sales) and announced they’ll follow 52 up with another weekly series; Countdown. To be written by Paul Dini no less; I can only hope they’ll make sure of his uncanny ability (as seen in the Batman/Superman/Justice League animated series) to find the core appeal of even the most obscure of DC’s characters, maybe even Tom Sparks Boy Inventor (Hah! I’ve found a DC character so obscure even Grant Morrison hasn’t heard of him).

*I wish the same could be said for today’s kids. If I could work my will upon the world I’d establish a one day, once a year “economic summer camp” where kids could learn the basics of buying and selling, like being able to find the price of a product, introducing the concept of tax, etc. I’m a pathologically honest man, but every time some lackadaisical ten year old throws down a $20 for a pack of Pokemon cards and automatically trusts I’ll give him the proper change… for a tenth of a second it brings out the Jekyll in me.