It seems like only yesterday that Gutenberg invented/stole the idea for the printing press. On that day, the printed word was set free (for a price) to reduce the barriers between writers and readers.
It would be nice to think that Gutenberg thought to himself: ‘One day, my printing press will break down the traditional barriers between professional writers and amateurs; between professional artists and amateurs; and between professional publishers and amateurs.’ Gutenberg, of course, would be aware that the word ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin for ‘lover’, and his musings which I have falsely ascribed to him would use that understanding: what if people could create things indistinguishable from the professionals, motivated only by their love of writing, art, and publishing?
The Beginnings Anthology, published by the ACT Comics Meet, shows we’re nearing the singularity where non-professionals match the skill of pros. My faux-Gutenberg would be impressed. Hell, even the real Gutenberg would be impressed.
Anthologies are difficult to review. They’re like smorgasbords: a wide collection of tiny samples, each part appealing to a different taste. Nobody goes to a smorgasbord and says: ‘I enjoyed every dish.’ Similarly, an anthology will vary wildly in its content, each part appealing to a different kind of reader.
This is no less true for Beginnings Anthology. Some parts of it are breathtakingly good. High concepts are matched with near flawless execution. Risks pay off. Quirks find niches. Conventions are thoroughly messed with. There are parts which make me wonder whether something this beautiful could only be created by somebody who lost a few too many sanity points on double demerit weekends.
On the other hand, there are bits which don’t work or aren’t as ambitious or don’t inspire the same feeling of awe. Which — as part of an anthology — is fine. I’m sure the Mark in the Universe Next Door is writing a review where he comments on how much he liked the staple, conventional, meat-and-potatoes comics but couldn’t really get into the pretentious high art stuff. Smorgasbord.
Further, there are parts which seem uncomfortably confessional. More than once I was overcome with the feeling: ‘Should I be reading this? Who would want me to know this? Did they accidentally publish somebody’s diary?’ Part of that is no doubt the personal and private nature of good art: you reveal a part of yourself to others. Do some parts of Beginnings Anthology start to slip into the swamp of indulgence? I’m not sure.
But regardless of the relatively minor criticisms I might charge against individual pieces, the overall curation of Beginnings Anthology is superb. There are two ways to read it. You can either jump to individual pieces which seem interesting (as I did on my first read), or you can read it from cover to cover. I nearly skipped doing the latter and I am very glad that I didn’t. Individual pieces are enhanced by the context of their fellows, even though they were created in isolation.
The first piece, ‘In the Beginnings’, is made up of four pages, each on a different idea of ‘Beginning’. The result is a very effective microcosm of the entire anthology: how you begin the next page is directly influenced by the way you ended the one before.
If you removed the preface, you would find it a challenge to identify it as a labour of love. I have collected works and anthologies on my bookshelf which are significantly less sleek and stylish than Beginnings Anthology. With production costs reducing every day, it is my very great hope that we will see more productions like it.
(Disclosure: I sometimes hang out with some of the creators)