Anthologies can be a tricky thing. They either find a unifying identity through the diversity of the stories contained within them, or they simply act as a platform to allow individuals to unleash their opposing talents with little concern for forming a cogent voice. Meanwhile…, the flagship anthology of Soaring Penguin Press, has made no bones about it allowing a vigorous range of comic strips that range from the fantastical to the intimate, the tragic to the hilarious. Since its debut in 2014, it’s stuck to this path like glue and produced a truly, enjoyably eclectic array of comic talent for readers to indulge in. We’re now here at the sixth issue and Meanwhile…‘s Devil-may-care attitude is starting to show cracks.
Issue #6 of Meanwhile… contains the usual diversity we’ve come to expect from the comic, but the diversity feels wilder than ever and in doing so, the coherency feels less secure than it has done in the past. Issue #6 contains everything from body-horror fantasy to secluded character studies of living in Afghanistan as a woman to ducks utilising the power of Satan to obtain slices of bread. Suffice to say that Meanwhile… #6 is keen to offer something for everyone. But is that where Meanwhile… #6 lets itself down?
When reading this issue, there’s an undeniable sense that Meanwhile… #6 is on a desperate mission to please every single person who might read it. At a very basic level, there’s nothing wrong with that. Isn’t diversity the whole reason why we love to read anthologies? That’s their definition after all. However, the trouble that Meanwhile… #6 runs into is that there’s no warning between going from strips like Emei Burell‘s nostalgic, softly-spoken A Taste Down Memory Lane to Krent Able‘s satirical Newsflash, which features a newsreader having his penis being ripped off by a robotic clown.
This extreme disparity makes Meanwhile… #6 a stilted read. Your emotional responses to each of these strips swing from one extreme to the other, perhaps Molly Brooks‘ scathing, non-fiction attack at attitudes towards clashing passions in Fiction & Real Life Are Different, You Moron will leave you pondering how you may perceive something you have a passion in, but William Samuel‘s punky punch of comedy, Brothers in Caffine, which lasts for only two pages, won’t carry that torch.
It’s best to enjoy Meanwhile… #6 on an individual level, strip by strip. Digesting each strip in stages, rather than experiencing them in one, overall blast, reveals their differing strengths. Unbounded by careering into each other when reading the comic as a whole, the longer strips offer the most rewarding reading experiences. Sarah Gordon‘s The Collector is a calming slice of pastoral fantasy, an almost mute story of a bearded man gathering the sounds of the birds for cryptic reasons. Grzegorz Janusz and Konstantin Komardin‘s Four Corpses is a bitter, twisted tale of the lengths we go to to reclaim our loved ones, even if it’s just for a night. What makes it a fun ride is how it parodies that tale without loosing its impact, delivering its story with a wiry grin. The bleak, Gothic-like artwork matches the amusingly sickly tone it’s conveying too.
Carla Berrocal‘s fragmented The Straight Path is perhaps the most revealing strip in this issue, telling a story that sees photojournalist Marta’s world turned upside down as she discovers the routine horrors of living as a woman in Afghanistan. It’s premise feels worthy of a longer exploration in its own comic, but it’s brief, disjointed nature is its secret weapon. The Straight Path is an incomplete picture, forcing us to fill in the blanks in both Marta’s life and the lives of the Afghan women she quietly captures with her camera.
It’s in these more desecrate moments that Meanwhile… #6 finds clarity in what it’s trying to say. This comic’s maddening heights of diversity does it no favours when reading it as a cohesive book in its own right, but taken individually, each strip succeeds in displaying their unique strengths that make them stand apart from each other.
Meanwhile… #6, as well as back issues, can be found from Soaring Penguin Press. Are you a fan of diverse anthologies Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!