The world of alternative/indie comics is so big that it helps to have a tour guide, and anthologies are a great way of discovering new (or new-to-you) talent through a curated lineup. There are loads of anthologies on Kickstarter built around different genres, topics, and creator demographics, and while they have experienced a resurgence thanks to crowdfunding, anthologies still struggle in the direct market. Last year saw the conclusion of both Image Comics’ Island and Dark Horse’s Dark Horse Presents, leaving a hole filled by Fantagraphics, the self-proclaimed “publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists.”
Editor Eric Reynolds delivers on the hype with NOW, a quarterly magazine-format comics anthology featuring a wide-ranging roster of international artists. At $9.99 for more than 120 pages, it’s a far better value than most of the ongoing comics on stands. The styles shift wildly over the course of each issue, and Reynolds has assembled a group of cartoonists who are fiercely confident in their unique approaches to comic book storytelling. NOW #2 (Fantagraphics) features a translation of a 1997 minicomic by Brazilian cartoonist Fabio Zimbres, a crudely drawn and absurd look at the apocalypse, sandwiched between more delicate, poetic comics by Andrice Arp and Tommi Musturi. Susan Jonaitis and Graham Chaffee’s “Sharpshooter” strives for literary verisimilitude with the story of a young woman whose disfigured arm gives her impeccable aim with a rifle, followed by Conxita Herrero’s “Hot Heavy Days,” a stark contrast with a bright, minimalist aesthetic that is more interested in sensation than a traditional narrative.
Building out a stable of regular contributors gives readers specific names to look forward to in future issues—Herrero, Dash Shaw, and Sammy Harkham are back after appearing in the first issue—but the main reason to return to NOW is to see who Reynolds has added to the lineup. Ariel López V. gets weird with pastel urban psychedelia in “A Perfect Triangle,” and Anuj Shrestha takes a chilling look at the American surveillance state with “National Bird,” following an eagle flying around a city with a camera for a head. Shrestha’s final panel of camera-eagles perched on an antenna overlooking the city segues directly into James Turek’s “Saved,” which begins its surreal “showdown poem” with a shot of a bird on a billboard outside a Western town.
Reynolds previously edited 22 volumes of Fantagraphics’ MOME anthology, and NOW feels like a reincarnation of that series with a refreshed design sensibility and a broader net for talent. Jacob Covey’s title design has a strong graphic impact, its letters carved from three boxes with subtle notches for the N and W and rounded corners on the O. For the first issue, those boxes are filled in with a creamy pink that matches the dominant color of the cover image. The boxes aren’t filled for the second issue, but outlined with a thin rainbow gradient, tying the logo to the rainbow vomit being spewed in Christian Rex Van Minnen’s striking cover painting, Born Bad. The boxes evoke comic panels, and the table of contents on the back cover reinforces that connection with Nick Thorburn’s three-panel comic strip across the top. Covey’s design is streamlined and elegant, giving NOW an air of prestige without pretension.