Anything that helps someone get started in what by all accounts is an industry in need of revitalization seems like a good idea. The popularity and readership of comics may be waning, but its influence on U.S. culture remains strong. At the same time, the field remains dominated by stereotypes both internal and external. The pigeon-holing from outside the industry is easy to summarize: Comics are low-brow illiterate kiddie fare. But it is the stereotypes from within the industry—and here I use the word comics to mean mass-market, independent, ‘zines, etc.—that rankle. Why write a Preacher-influenced story when we’ve already got Garth Ennis’ Preacher on the shelves? Why do it, other than that to emulate one’s comic-book heroes? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but rarely does it make for an interesting, original story.
I support people who are starting out, especially when they put in time, effort, and money. Clearly The Third Eye Publishing has done so; their 2001 Annual is slickly produced (professionally printed and bound, with color covers), and the notes in the back of the book state that they worked on the issue for over a year via the Internet and postal services (the group has never met face to face).
However, reading the book’s mission statement—“The Third Eye is a motley group of aspiring comics writers with a common goal: to demonstrate their respective talents in a professionally produced anthology.”—and all the bluster of the editor’s letter soured me on the project. As a concept, it is a valid one: bring a bunch of different artists and writers together (virtually) to work on an anthology. Create a showcase where each artist/writer combo (sometimes the same person doing both) has 8 pages to display their work as best they see fit. But this anthology fails to do anything new and different. I realize the goal was to produce what they felt was a good anthology, and, for them, that’s success. But, if I had forked over my $3.99 for this book, I would be disappointed. Hell, I didn’t pay anything for it and I’m still disappointed.
For starters, there’s a revenge story called “The Box”—so-called because it takes place in a prison. The art and layout ranges between very interesting and visually crammed. Part of the visual complication may come from the fact that it looks as if it was poorly scanned; the word balloons are difficult to read and the detail is lost. Also, logical inconsistencies abound—a woman is electrocuted while swimming and her dying body is shown . . . in a perfectly intact bikini? As a story, “The Box” is basic: get revenge on the guy who killed your wife and child. The same goes for “Happy Windows,” whose layout is clearer (perhaps because there are clearer panel breaks) and the art has a greater range of white space. But “Happy Windows” reads like a convoluted X-Men swipe. Then, the art suddenly morphs from a more abstract style to stereotypical superhero form where the women are all impossibly-breasted and the men are huge and rippling. Please, please, tell me that, when the whole group assembles (except for the one who’s busy getting laid) and the word “cheese!” echoes over the group, that’s a joke, right? Satire? Parody?
It isn’t so much that anything is grossly wrong with this anthology (except for my later caveat), since doing comics is like teaching or any other career; you learn how to do it by doing it. And there is a great deal of room for individual style here, which is good. It truly is a diverse anthology in terms of form.
But in terms of technique and storytelling, I don’t get much of a sense of difference. A number of these artists and writers write in their prefatory material about how they want to work for the Big Leagues such as Marvel Comics or DC, which is fine. Two in particular write about how they are “the faithful” of comics and, as such, it is their responsibility to “promote [comics] outside their normal circles.” In theory, sure. But, then this comic is not the one I would hand to people to promote comic book readership.
And, because the stories are all only eight pages, only a few actually conclude. Most are part of larger story arcs, like “Playing Hangman” (a narrative which starts, again, with a page out of Preacher; a man and woman, both detectives, find a head, shoulders, and nothing else swinging in a noose) and “Black Lipstick Curse,” the only story in this anthology that isn’t deeply inflected by the standard superhero comic layout. The latter has its own problems (a vampire cat who snags buxom Goth-babe-booty for its owner? Is it all just a dream? No! It is the last 8 pages of a 22-page story). But, the story is the stand-out of the issue simply because it just doesn’t look anything like the others.
To be fair, there are some excellently written lines; one troubled female character shouts to her parents, in rage, “You sent me into the world ugly and shy!” Another story, “Nostalgia,” has an interesting concept, and the writing is solid, but the art often does not fulfill its promise - fingers are out of perspective, background lettering looks rushed, and so forth.
But then there’s “The Journal of the Cross,” a blatant, typo-ridden steal from Preacher. “Shall you bare witness?” it asks. “It is said that you shall be judged by the merites of you life.” At first, I thought the errors were intentional, to do with the character. Unfortunately, the piece—and, overall, the anthology—suffers from sloppy copy-editing (if any at all). There are more than 30 errors in basic spelling and grammar in this one story, and the most embarrassing part is that this piece was written and illustrated by the book’s editor! I can’t think of a thing in his defense: if you are writing a story about religion, under no circumstances should you spell “purgatory” or “zealot” wrong. And, if you are the editor, you absolutely cannot afford to make these kinds of mistakes. Don’t make careless errors in a medium people generally think is illiterate and unsophisticated. Don’t make careless errors, period.
Had the book been copy-edited, this review might have taken a different tack. And, ultimately, the errors are the only thing that I can find flatly wrong with the book. I didn’t enjoy reading it, but that’s because I don’t usually enjoy reading superhero comics, and Preacher is a little too vicious at times. I can appreciate what they do, and I appreciate that clearly there are still people working in comics who are aspiring to something. But, please—readers, fans, editors, publishers, writers, artists—set your standards higher. And, if you feel they are high enough, hire a copy-editor anyway.