One of the benefits of supporting independent publishing is you can’t help but feel closer to the creator and the creative process. This is only partially encapsulated by the nice hand-written thank you note I received from François Vigneault in appreciation for my purchases of volumes 1 and 2 of his new Elfworld anthology series.
The quarterly (?) Elfworld fantasy anthology is the follow-up of a standalone anthology of the same title that came out in 2007. That volume featured 16 swords & sorcery genre stories by alternative creators. I unabashedly enjoyed it, and when I heard about the new iteration of Elfworld on The Comics Reporter a couple months ago, the only thing standing in my way was trying to remember my PayPal password. A couple weeks later, Elfworld Vol. 2, issues 1 & 2, arrived. The original volume was 128 pages–thick, meaty, full of chewy fantasy goodness with roots largely in tabletop role playing, but with Alt-Comix sensibilities. The two new volumes are decidedly thinner (34 and 38 pp respectively), and still scratch a similar itch, but are also definitely their own thing.
Elfworld exhibits a strong, if still coalescing, vision, one that’s unfiltered by the layers of input that go into the larger publishing houses’ anthologies. I’ve routinely been delighted by Popgun and Hotwire, for instance, but they still feel like products shaped by market expectations and committee in terms of feel and form factor, if not necessarily content.
Little flourishes on the Elf World books–the French flaps, the amazing designs on end papers, the very, very cool portrayal of the table of contents as a castle/mountain cavern . . . the personality goes far beyond the content.
There’s the matter of the page count. $6/$7 for issues 1 & 2 respectively may be a bit of a tough sell when you consider the slim volumes, at least from a purely cost-per-page ratio. That’s a pretty shitty way to look at a nicely crafted book, in my opinion; I prefer to save that sort of criticism for those who publish with economies of scale (i.e., Marvel, DC).
Of course, the content is why we’re here. As is inevitable in an anthology series, no one reader can expect to love every story; of the 14 stories in vols. 1 & 2, I’d only point to two that I could have skipped (one due to hard-to-read lettering, at least for these eyes).
A quick rundown of the standouts:
— It feels like cheating to to spotlight Dash Shaw‘s contribution as one of the best, since he’s a well-known standout, but his two pager, “The Orc of Nagwath” is amusingly depraved and somehow appropriate that it was created so close to Gary Gygax’s unfortunate passing (Shaw indicates “Feb 08,” the father of D&D died the next month).
— “Drawiz the Wizard in ‘A Menagerie of Messengers'” by Alec Longstreth exhibits clean, all-audiences, and clever humor, with wordplay and a storybook-worthy plot, all executed nicely.
— “The Mute” by David Enos has more of an otherworldly or center-of-the-Earth sort of vibe; pulpy and reminding of both old Heavy Metal stuff and classic Kirby . . . the characters (especially the central character) are strangely stiff, which somehow makes the action panels a touch more visceral.
— “Fun House” by Daria Tessler. If the only noteworthy part of this was Tesslers’ cartooning, it would be enough to be one of the top entries, but she pairs it with wonderful visual storytelling and some effectively odd humor. Really wonderful stuff. (She did the cover of no. 2; art reproduced above.)
— “Summoning” by Dylan Horrocks takes a turn for the somber. This is a bit more traditional style of comic art, tighter pencils and fleshed-out objects, as a man — a sorcerer of some kind? — prepares to attempt to bring a lost love back to life. A little sweet with an edge enhanced by how wistfully haunting it is.
If nothing else, these were a nice exposure to some creators I’d not heard of, and a reminder of others whom I’ve not paid nearly enough attention to.
My enjoyment of these books went beyond the sum of their parts. I guess DIY spirit + personal touch = more a meaningful experience, and it didn’t hurt that the subject matter is right up my alley.