Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Review: Root Rot, Edited by Michael DeForge & Anne Koyama

Koyama Press | Edited by Michael Deforge & Anne Koyama | Softcover, 72pp, Colour | ISBN 978-0-9784810-9-4 | $12.00

I'll begin with an admission that I probably shouldn't state publicly: I’ve grown to really dread reviewing anthologies. This doesn't mean that I hate the medium—nothing could be further from the truth—it's just that my patience (read: failings as a writer) means that it's often difficult for me to find something meaningful to say about them outside of listing a bunch of isolated observations about different strips.

With Root Rot, none of that hesitancy exists. You only have to look at the editorial duo behind the book to know you’re in good hands. In the red corner: the widely-heralded, eye-gougingly brilliant, two-time Doug Wright award winner Michael DeForge. In the blue corner: you have the one-woman indie publishing powerhouse, “Kickass” Annie Koyama. Instead of grappling each other in the middle of the squared circle, they combine their might to create an anthology-making tag team of epic proportions.

More concisely put, this is the indie comics anthology done right. It possesses all the wild artistic abandon of, for example, a Kuš or a Nobrow collection whilst having the kind of authoritative restraint of the soon-to-be-dearly departed Mome. Unlike a lot of anthologies (the three aforementioned series very much excluded), Root Rot excels through having a consistent theme and format. The book’s evocative eponymous through-line and consistent two-pages-per-artist restriction gives it a strong identity and rhythm that creates a genuinely cohesive—and rewarding—reading experience.

Dan Zettwoch's piece is a highlight amongst a book of highlights.. which really says something.

The pungent naturalism of the "root rot" theme provides the perfect showcase for this down and dirty dozen (there are actually seventeen contributors, sue me) to go wild with. The two-page restriction is really a great mechanism for a couple of reasons: the first being that it solicits the desire to read more work from creators by teasing the reader with just enough to draw them in; the second being that it allows creators who may still be finding their feet with longer work and non-sequential/ non-narrative pieces to shine without the pressure of  a more generous page count.

The staccato nature of the two-page format really gives the impression that DeForge and Koyama desire to proxy hammer a psychic nail into the part of the reader's brain that recognises greatness. Of course, this is probably true. This really is one of those collections that's of such a consistently high quality that it's difficult to pick standouts. So, in honour of DeForge becoming a two-time Doug Wright award winner on the weekend, I’m going to conclude this mini-review with the first—and most likely last—annual Avoid the Future Root Rot contributor awards: 
  • Most intensely amazing cartoonist: Dan Zettwoch
  • Palme d’Or for Life-affirming, traditional comic storytelling ability: Bob Flynn
  • Most likely to be requested to paint a mural at ATF HQ: T Edward Bak
  • Funniest dude: Chris Eliopoulos
  • The memorial “My eyeballs are now running down the sides of my cheeks... but I kind of love it” Award: Jon Vermilyea
  • Most astonishing: Angie Wang
  • Highest chance of being found sandwiched between some Moebius, XIII and filthy, banned erotica in a Parisian comic shop: Derek M Ballard
  • Best decapitation of beloved cartoon icon: Robin Nishio

    And... finally...
  • Award for my absolute favourite comic of the lot: Hellen Jo
So there we have it, folks. Special shout-outs go to Inés Estrada, Lizz Hickey, Mickey Zacchili, Jesse Jacobs, Jason Fischer, Greg Pizzoli, and Joe Lambert who all contribute great/ interesting/ handsome work to the anthology too, I assure you. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of DeForge and Koyama as anthologists, because the world could certainly use another book like this. 

Make sure to check back in throughout the week for more fun and frolics in Koyamaland. Until then, be sure to visit the Koyama Press website for an overview of all the great books released so far and where to buy them, and follow the editors on Twitter (Annie, Michael). Oh, and for heaven's sake, visit every link included in this article.

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