Comics Review: "A1 Annual - The World's Greatest Comics"
- by Señor Editor, 13 December 2013
A1 used to be an anthology comics series in the late 80s and early 90s, featuring works of some of comicdom's most talented creators. It was critically acclaimed, and all the work was creator-owned. This year, Titan Comics revived the series in partnership with the original publisher (Atomeka Press), and now they released the beautiful, large format & hardcover A1 Annual.
Some of these stories are shorter, some are longer. There's superhero stuff, comedy stuff, fantasy stuff and Steranko stuff - variety is the spice of life and A1 Annual is spicy as hell. That's a good thing. It's impossible to talk about each and every part of this beautiful volume (it looks more like a coffee table book than a regular comic), so instead, I will talk about some of my favorite parts. The highlights, if you will.
The wintery, bizzare world of Sandy Plunkett's "Tales of Old Fennario" (the longest story here, around 30 pages long) is one of the things I liked the most in the annual. It's a beautifully rendered, black & white story that blurs the line between the real world and some drugged out fantasy land. Plunkett is both the artist and writer of this one, and there's a magic about the story, that you don't often see in comics. It's a great example of the man's work and, without a doubt, it fully deserves to be considered one of the "world's greatest comics."
On the completely opposite end of the comics spectrum lies Bambos Georgiou's four page story "The Weird's Finest" (an "Illusionary tale" from BC - Bogus Content). It features Zuberman and Batguy in one hilarious "adventure", and it does a great job of parodying the classic Batman & Superman comics. It's not a parody of the "Not Brand Echhs" or "MAD Magazine" variety, though. It reads more like a Monty Python sketch, with high levels of absurdity and a straight face.
Zuberman visits Batguy in the Batpit, and the conversation quickly turns towards how the heroes are perceived by the general public, based on small things like facial expressions or colors of their costumes. It's very funny, goes beyond the usual Batman/Superman jokes, and in the end the joke is on the comicbook fans and creators, who based the entire perception of the duo primarily on their appearences.
"Frogs" by Jim Steranko is an experiment in comicbooks and design. It was created in the 70s in the form you see below, but now, for the first time it was broken down into several pages, so you can admire that Steranko art panel by panel, in it's full black, white & green glory. Originally, published in the form of small panels, read in columns, the story was designed in a way that makes it possible to read from either the first or last panel. Steranko wrote a very interesting piece about the creation of "Frogs", detailing his artistic choices, and it's fascinating. I'm a huge Steranko fan, so I couldn't be happier to see this, in both the renewed and original form.
As far as the non-comic content goes, the "Image Duplicator" segment by Rian Hughes and Dave Gibbons is the most interesting. If you haven't heard of this before, the Image Duplicator is a comics art exposition, created by comicbook creators in response to Roy Lichtenstein's pop art. Lichtenstein's work features "found art" - comicbook panels from many of the industry's legends, blown into canvas size and sold for big bucks. The artists that Lichtenstein's art appropriated (like Jack Kirby or Carmine Infantino) were never credited or paid for this.
It's not just that - Lichtenstein's work is commonly regarded as "high art", when the comics it 'samples' are still seen as low brow. The comics creators responsible for Image Duplicator are taking the images Lichtenstein used and doing their own takes on them, as commentary on pop art appropriating comics without compensation or credit. All proceeds from the prints and originals go to the Hero Initiative, and this segment has industry pros submitting both their work and commentary (in writing and art) on the matter.
This annual is just over 150 pages long, and it's filled to the brim with great stuff. It's an ambitious project and doing it justice isn't easy. The new material in it (such as the "Odyssey" story by Elliott, Cypress & Yuwono, or "The Weirding Willows" by Bagenda, Kholinne and Elliott) is interesting and puts the spotlight on some creators readers should keep an eye on. Moore's "Mr. Monster" is a classic, Sienkiewicz's "Emily Almost" is beautiful and the Grendel story "Devil's Whisper" will please the character's fans. I'm not too fond of the Eastman and Bisley story ("Melting Pot") and the latte art baffles me a little, but this annual is more than worth it's price.
Honestly, Titan and Atomeka did an amazing job with this volume and it really makes me excited for A1 comics' return. Buy this. Buy it as a late Christmas gift, or as a post-Christmas gift or for any other occassion. Hell, buy 5 of these. Give the same thing to all your family and friends. It's that good (and it will Christmas shopping much easier). It's available both as a nice fancy volume and in digital, so look it up and get it!
Have you read the A1 Annual or any of the new A1 comics? What are your thoughts? Sound off below!