#10: SPX 2004: War!, edited by Greg Bennett, Charles Brownstein, and Chris Pitzer. Usually I'm right on top of the SPX collections--they're published in conjunction with the Small Press Expo every year and they showcase new and indie comics folks. But somehow this one slipped past me, so I finally picked it up as part of Top Shelf's big sale a while back. So that means it's been two years since I picked up an SPX anthology, so one of two things has happened--my tastes are evolving, or the SPX gang put together a very, very sub-par book last year. Or maybe the contributors to this volume fell victim to the idea that writing is easy--of the 27 stories, only three have a writer AND an artist, and it shows. Now, I'm not writer-snob--some folks get by just fine without a collaborator, and some are better than those who only write. art spiegleman, Frank Miller, Carla Speed McNeil--none of them, however, are in this book. I read it in a day and most of the entries were poorly thought out, amateurish morality tales.
The theme for 2004 was "War," so we got things like an Asian couple sneaking across the border into Wisconsin--"Patriot Act Free Since 2006!" and an American pilot surprised at how much he liked a Serbian man, in spite of following orders to drop bombs on the man's country. Nothing new or poetic here.
The stand outs were few--"Building It Up Just To Tear It Down" by Alex Lukas, about the construction and deconstruction of the railroads before and during the Civil War was one. My personal favorite was "The Holy Kingdom," by Bruce Mutard, concerning a Christian soldier rethinking his place in the Crusades in 1191. I got the sense that it was a piece of a larger work, and I hope it finds its way to the reading public someday soon. I'm not sure if SPX 2005 is available yet, but if it's no better than 2004, and this anthology is truly a barometer for the work being done in the alternative comics scene, indie comics might be in for a rough patch for the next few years--until the folks currently being influenced by manga start putting out work.