It can be a tough job being an anthology in today’s indie comics world. The market is arguably saturated in titles, ranging from long-serving titans such as 100% Biodegradable and Madius Comics’ Papercuts and Inkstains to newer titles such as Extraverse (formerly known as Big Punch Magazine) from Big Punch Studios and Ken Reynolds‘ Sliced Quarterly. Where then does Meanwhile… of Soaring Penguin Press fit into this diverse community?
At first glance, the comic lacks any central theme. We have stories ranging from the blood-thirsty horror of Sarah Gordon‘s “Queen Rat” to the mild, angelic teen soap opera flavour of Alan Dunne‘s Collage, to the surreal 2000 AD-esque Mechanics of Joy by Konstantin Komardin. Then again, who says anthologies must be burdened by sticking to a formula? After all, the appeal surely is in the diversity. I’m torn as to how appealing Meanwhile… is supposed to be though. Each of the eleven stories feature here feels like it could be taken and expanded into a full-length, 120-page comic, meaning that their actual briefness in page span lies somewhere between the frustrating and the thirst for more.
And yet, I think that may be the point. Meanwhile… feels like a comic that embraces incompleteness as its own form of art. Three of these comics are ongoing strips, but the confidence of their own vagueness stretches across most of the strips included here. It’s comics like these that I find the most fascinating. Not necessarily the best, but engrossing all the same. The kind of comics that lure you in more and more after each read, the kind of comics that perplex you as you reach the final panel, like you’ve witnessed some quiet, powerful character study or plot progression without really knowing it.
That sense of quiet power is elevated by the vigorous artwork included here. “Queen Rat” relies solely on a scratchy mix of red, white and black that’s awesomely gruesome, whilst Laura Trinder‘s “Grown Up” has a snug, whimsical warmth to its visuals. Elsewhere, the pure mess of “Mechanics of Joy” is a wonder to behold.
Meanwhile…‘s fifth issue is a strangely intoxicating read, a comic that’s assertive in its own lack of solid direction, and yet manages to find room for you to indulge in its mixture of the weird and the wonderful, and make you feel as comfortable as possible in its head-scratching nature. The fact that this is issue five is interestingly noteworthy. The confidence in this comic can be put down to its continued existence, it’s been given time to grow, to nurture itself and to master its imprecise nature. This issue makes me want to go back and read the previous four issues just so I can identify some kind of tangible moment where the comic developed to become the way it is. Was it always this vague? Always this twisted? For now, I’ll have to be content with a comic that’s no less than riveting.