Friday, 9 July 2010

Review: HIVE 4 (Grimalkin Press, 2010)

Various | 14x22cm, black & white, 132 pages | $7.00 | Available Now

Let me start by saying that HIVE 4 is one handsome-looking small-press anthology. Grimalkin Press’ latest and greatest edition of their flagship collection says goodbye to staples, and replaces them with a glossy binding and a super-cool, efficient silk-screened card dust jacket. Also featuring a selection of great work from the indie-comics underworld, this volume is probably going to make all the other small-press anthologies in your collection green with envy, and maybe try to steal their girlfriends whilst it’s at it. The cad!

Split into 20 sections, each containing a single creator or team’s work, the book is host to a wide variety of talent, with many genres and styles represented. Traditional comic forms like autobiography and Sci-Fi intertwine with more left-field works such as hallucinogenic dark comedies, an allegorical tale of animals on the run, a faithful homage to early 20th century kid’s mischief comics and even a Zen Kōan, just to describe a few. “Varied” doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

With so much content over its 132 pages, picking favourites is a genuinely difficult task. So, characteristically, I’ll take the easy way out and start at the anthology’s first entry, Lord Hurk’s Sculptor. Long-time ATF readers will remember that we're huge fans of Hurk’s hyper-cartoony, graffiti-esque illustration, and in this piece, he impresses once again. Letting the art speak for itself - quite literally - sound effects and symbols are used to communicate a story of an artist who witnesses a terrible crime.

If Hurk made action figures/ vinyl toys, I'd buy every single one.

Malachi Ward and Mark Leicht contribute the kind of short, ambiguous tales that are perfectly suited to the anthology format. Leict’s snapshots of little America (entitled 09.12.09 and The World’s Largest Rocking Chair, respectively) communicate the often lonesome futility of life, with just the slightest hint of humour to illuminate the haunting bleakness of his work. Ward’s Last Rites is especially impressive, managing to be the most emotionally effecting story in the entire book whilst also being the most succinct; conveying the bittersweet isolation of death in just two short pages and with absolutely no dialogue. 

Sandwiched somewhere between Ward and Leicht is HIVE editor-in-chief Jordan Shiveley’s contribution, Please. Drawn with his lo-fi aesthetic, it’s a touching moment between two mice embarking on a nihilistic yet instinctual journey into a booby-trapped hole. With the rodent couple resigning themselves to an almost certain death, I can confirm that mice haven’t been this romantic since An American Tale. Similarly lo-fi, but in the nosiest sense, is Pat Aulisio’s ultra-charming Inhabitants, wherein a furry creature dressed like a jogger from the 1980s navigates his way through a crystal cave. I’m not even going to extrapolate on that one.

Jordan Shiveley's mice, proving that the best advice often goes willingly ignored..

With so much poor autobiographical work littering small-press comics, it’s with much happiness I can state that naval-gazers Noah Van Sciver and John Kinhart really bring top-draw work to the book. Kinhart delivers a straightforward, perfectly told recollection of using an explicative as a child. For those unfamiliar with Kinhart’s slow-burning style, he has that same rare knack as Jeffrey Brown, in that he has the ability to reduce or extrapolate a significant event in such a way that it avoids being maudlin or overwrought. 

Indie-comics wonder-man Noah Van Sciver’s section of strips is definitely one of the book's chief highlights, and worth the price of admission alone. Submitting a selection his trademark earnest, yet relentlessly self-aping autobiographical stories, along with a fantastic retelling of an old urban legend, he further demonstrates his seeming capability to do no wrong. His section reads like a miniature edition of his fastastic ongoing comic Blammo, with a lot (if not all) of this material being previously published there. Never the less, he’s one of the most promising talents in comics at the moment, and this is a great place for Van Sciver virgins to get a taste of his work before he becomes a mega-star. That wasn’t meant to sound so sleazy.

Van Sciver's "The Worst Winter": we used the technique in the third panel to guilt him into doing an interview with us.

Previously covered by us a couple of months back was Jess Smart Smiley’s bewitching tale of animals/ humans/ animal-humans on the run, A Map in the Dirt. For those who still haven’t gotten hold of Smiley’s beautiful abstract allegory, it appears here in its entirety (minus the extras found in the stand-alone copy, of course). Adding weight to the idea of HIVE being a barometer for the world of alternative comics, it’s worth noting that since submitting his animal-themed comic to Grimalkin, Smiley’s all-ages vampire graphic novel Upside Down has been snapped up by Top Shelf and will be winging its way to bookstores near you for Halloween 2011.

Also featuring in the anthology: Iain Laurie’s Powwkipsie (as well as his Roachwell collaborations with Craig Collins), which is grotesque in that good kind of way where you’re glad you’ve read it but pray that you’ll forget all about it before it gives you nightmares; Joe Decie and Andrew Waugh provide some essential levity with their short humour pieces, Twenty Ten (Decie) and Girlfriend (Waugh); a Spanish strip from José Antonio Alonso Barrueco; as well as Peter Richardson* and David Orme’s “Cloud 109”, a Sci-Fi short about an MMORPG that goes horribly awry.

In our recent review of British small-press anthology Solipsistic Pop 2, I stated that one of the most impressive things about it was how its format had improved and developed since the first volume. Not to be outdone by their cousins in the old world, the team at Grimalkin Press have vastly upped their production standards game between HIVE 3 and 4. Somewhere between a lovingly-made small press book and a professionally-bound book from a major publisher, this fourth volume is the best of both worlds. Golly, it’s handsome.

Malachi Ward's "Last Rites", one of the most outstanding pieces of the anthology.

Handsome bad-boy that HIVE 4 may be, it definitely has a heart of gold, containing 132 pages of entertaining, interesting and always varied indie-comics material from the world over. Whilst some submissions are better than others, there’s no denying that the book offers a very thorough look through a large cross section of small-press comics, and provides an essential platform for people to become better acquainted with what’s happening just below the independent comics mainstream. Recommended highly, it's available for the astonishingly cheap $7.00 over on the Grimalkin Press webstore now. Just make sure you lock up your other books’ wives and daughters before you buy it.

*Ultra Bonus Fact: UK Sega fans might recognise Ricardson's work from 1990s video-game comic Sonic the Comic, where he drew the Streets of Rage strip. Nerdgasm!


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