This article was originally published at DC Infinite on August 3, 2014.
Anthologies live and die on the overall quality of the creators involved. In a 72 page, $7.99 volume like this, one or two great creators are not enough to carry the collection. For that amount of time and money, there must be something consistently attractive about a comic that, by design, is inconsistent. Vertigo pays a high page rates and has an excellent editorial staff, and the CMYK collections are proof that this imprint is well suited to craft comics anthologies.
The only real question about an anthology like this is whether it contains a through line, a significant theme of some sort, or simply serves to collect pieces from a diverse array of creators. CMYK offers itself as falling into the first category, but actually belongs to the second. The theme of this comic is the color magenta, and it certainly appears in each story to varying degrees of importance, but it is barely noticeable as a connecting thread. If the collection were untitled readers might notice a prevalence of red and pink hues, but would not be likely to even ponder that thought. Ultimately, Vertigo Quarterly: CMYK is setting itself up as a competitor to the dominant anthology in Western comics: Dark Horse Presents. Why it applies a loose theme to the series, rather than simply presenting a collection of talented comics creators (which is what it really does), is probably a question for marketing.
“Bone White, Blood Red” by Rachel Deering and Mateo Scalera is a perfect example of Vertigo finding great talent and introducing them to new readers. Deering’s work on Anathema and the Kickstarter collection “In The Dark”, along with Scalera’s work on Black Science have helped to propel their careers in the last year. Together they collaborate to help one another do what they do best. Deering crafts a moody horror story, short and sweet like a campfire tale. Scalera’s artwork truly brings it to life though. The mood slowly shifts from a casual roadtrip to surreal horror as he evokes small, then large signifiers of things that go bump in the night. The last few pages are outright chilling.
Series from Vertigo are commonly described as “indie” when nothing could be further from the truth with a major publisher. “Gem Pockets” by Annie Mok and Dawson Walker does capture the feel of indie comics in a way that few offerings typically found in a local comic store do. There is a roughness to the drawings and layouts that portrays the story as being innately honest. In the art, the lettering, and the colors, readers will sense that a real human being was involved with the creation of this comic and that it presents something valuable to them. In the act of sharing, Mok and Walker present a romance enhanced by the balancing of cyan and magenta, creating a world moving back and forth between cold exteriors and the possibility of passion.
For the second time in the series, Fábio Moon provides the concluding story and, once again, it is one of the best in the collection. Moon is a master of creating subtle moods and telling stories that feel real while holding an air of mystique. It is difficult to describe his work on comics like Daytripper without waxing into an entire essay. Suffice it to say that “Pink Slumber” captures the idea of magenta better than any story within this collection. It provides a sense of warmth, community, and passion, while allowing that those things are always impermanent to some degree. It is a simple human story, told beautifully in a way that reveals the wonder of our own lives.
Like any collection containing such a wide array of diversity in its storytelling, art, tone, etc. some of these comics are bound to fall flat for any reader. The value in Vertigo Quarterly, like any high quality anthology, does not come from having a collection of stories that will appeal to all readers. It comes from having a collection of comics that will expose readers to the diversity of the medium and, even if they are not all enjoyed, will expand the horizons of those reading them.