A1: The World’s Greatest Comics

By various (Atomeka/Titan Comics)
ISBN: 987-1-78276-016-0

A1 began in 1988 as an anthology showcase for comics creativity, free from the usual strictures of mainstream publishers, consequently attracting many of the world’s top writers and artists to produce work at once personal and experimental, comfortingly familiar and, on occasion, deucedly odd.

Editors Garry Leach and Dave Elliott have periodically returned to their baby and this year the title was resurrected under the aegis of Titan Comics to provide more of the same.

Always as much committed to past excellence as future glories (you should see the two page dedication list here) and following the grandest tradition of British comics, the new title already has a great big hardback annual and it offers the same eclectic mix of material old and new…

After that aforementioned thank you to everyone from Frank Bellamy to Faceache in ‘The Dream Day’s are Back: The One’s Especially For You…’ the cartoon carnival commences with a truly “Golden Oldie” as Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (inked by Al Williamson) provide the science fiction classic ‘Island in the Sky’ – which first surfaced in Harvey Comic’s Race for the Moon #2 September, 1958 – wherein an expired astronaut returns from death thanks to something he picked up on Jupiter…

Each tale here is accompanied by fulsome creator biographies and linked by factual snippets about most artists’ drug of choice.

These photographic examples of coffee barista self-expression (with all ‘Latte Art’ throughout courtesy of Coffee Labs Roasters) are followed by illustrator Alex Sheikman & scripter Norman Felchle’s invitation to the baroque, terpsichorean delights of the ‘Odd Ball’.

The fantastic gothic revisionism resumes after another coffee-break as the sublime Sandy Plunkett details in captivating monochrome the picaresque perils of life in a sprawling urban underworld with his ‘Tales of Old Fennario’

‘Odyssey: A Question of Priorities’ by Elliot, Toby Cypress & Sakti Yuwono is a thoroughly up-to-date interpretation of pastiche patriotic avenger Old Glory, who now prowls modern values-challenged America, regretting the choices he’s made and the timbre of his current superhero comrades…

‘Image Duplicator’ by Rian Hughes & Dave Gibbons is, for me, the most fascinating feature included here, detailing and displaying comics creator’s admirable responses to the appropriation and rapine of comic book images by “Pop” artist Roy Lichtenstein.

In a move to belatedly honour the honest jobbing creators simultaneously ripped off and denigrated by the “recontextualisation” and transformation to High Art, Hughes and Gibbons approached a number of professionals from all sectors of the commercial arts and asked them to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s efforts.

The results were displayed in the exhibition Image Duplicator and all subsequent proceeds donated to the charity Hero Initiative which benefits comic creators who have fallen on hard times.

In this feature you can see some of the results of the comicbook fightback with contributions from Hughes, Gibbons, FuFu Frauenwahl, Carl Flint, Howard Chaykin, Salgood Sam, Mark Blamire, Steve Cook, Garry Leach, Dean Motter, Jason Atomic, David Leach, Shaky Kane, Mark Stafford, Graeme Ross, Kate Willaert & Mitch O’Connell.

Master of all funnybook trades Bambos Georgiou then offers his 2011 tribute to DC’s splendidly silly Silver Age in the Curt Swan inspired ‘Weird’s Finest – Zuberman & Batguy in One Adventure Together!’ and Dominic Regan crafts a stunning Technicolor tornado of intriguing illumination as Doctor Arachnid has to deal with cyber Psychedelia and a divinely outraged ‘Little Star’…

‘Emily Almost’ by Bill Sienkiewicz first appeared in the original A1 #4, a bleak paean to rejection seen here in muted moody colour, after which Scott Hampton revisits the biblical tale of ‘Daniel’ and Jim Steranko re-presents his groundbreaking, experimental multi-approach silent story ‘Frogs!’ and follows up with ‘Steranko: Frogs!’  – his own treatise on the history and intent behind creating the piece thirty years ago…

‘Boston Metaphysical Society’ is a prose vignette of mystic Steampunk Victoriana written by Madeleine Holly-Rosing from her ongoing webcomic, ably illustrated by Emily Hu, whilst ‘Mr. Monster’ by Alan Moore & Michael T. Gilbert (with inks from Bill Messner-Loebs) is a reprint of ‘The Riddle of the Recalcitrant Refuse!’

First found in #3 (1985) of the horror hunter’s own series, it recounts how a dead bag-lady turns the city upside out when her mania for sorting junk transcends both death and the hero’s best efforts…

‘The Weirding Willows: Origins of Evil’ by Elliot, Barnaby Bagenda & Jessica Kholinne is one of the fantasy features from the new A1 – a dark reinterpretation of beloved childhood characters such as Alice, Ratty, Toad and Mole, which fans of Bill Willingham’s Fables should certainly take notice of…

‘Devil’s Whisper’ by James Robinson & D’Israeli also comes from A1 #4, and features Matt Wagner’s signature creation Grendel – or does it?

Stechgnotic then waxes lyrical about Barista art in ‘The Artful Latte’ after which ‘Melting Pot – In the Beginning’ by Kevin Eastman, Eric Talbot & Simon Bisley ends the affair by revisiting the ghastly hellworld where the gods spawned an ultimate survivor through the judicious and repeated application of outrageous bloody violence.

Of course it’s a trifle arrogant and rather daft to claim any collection as “The World’s Greatest Comics” and – to be honest – these aren’t. There’s no such thing and never can be…

However this absorbing, inspiring oversized collection does contain a lot of extremely good and wonderfully entertaining material by some of the best and most individualistic creators to have graced our art form.

What more can you possibly need?

A1 Annual © 2013 Atomeka Press, all contents copyright their respective creators. ATOMEKA © 2013 Dave Elliott & Garry Leach.

Anyone wishing to learn more or donate to Hero Initiative can find them at www.heroinitiative.org