By Derek Royal
In 2003 the indie publisher, Alternative Comics, began offering a small sampling from their various creators for Free Comic Book Day. For three years straight they released this annual collection and provided a much-needed alternative — literally — to the many FCBD titles put out by the larger presses. They suspended this practice after 2005, although the publisher continued to put out larger collections such as Hickee, Bipolar, Urban Hipster, Meathaus (volume 8), and Kramer’s Ergot (volumes 3 and 4). Now, they have resurrected their flagship anthology with plans to make it a twice-yearly comic. Alternative Comics #4 picks up where the first three FCBD issues left off, except now the comic book has more pages than the earlier issues and offers a fuller sampling of indie, web, and zine artists working today.
This issue is edited by the press’ general manager and art director, Marc Arsenault, and includes work from many who have worked with Alternative Comics in the past, such as Sam Henderson, James Kochalka, David Lasky, and Allison Cole. But there are also notable works from a variety of artists new to the publisher. Some of the latter include Sam Alden’s “When I Was 10,” a two-page comic on growing up and perspective; Noah Van Sciver’s “Hallelujah!”, a surreal day-in-the-life story of a cartoonist from the early nineteenth century; Andy Ristaino’s “Frothy Beveraged Man” strips, where the Kool-Aid Man meets Anheuser-Busch; Alex Schubert’s “Blobby Boys,” a meandering and non sequitur piece that undermines linear narrative; and Grant Snider’s various incidental comics sprinkled throughout the collection. Also included in this issue is an interview with David Lasky, notable not only because of its subject matter — Lasky is part of the duo who created the Eisner Award-nominated The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song (2012, Abrams ComicArt) — but because beginning with this issue, interviews provided by the podcast Inkstuds (hosted by Robin McConnell) will be a regular feature of the anthology.
In fact, a contribution from Lasky is one of the issue’s high points. “The Ultimate Superman Tale” is a poignant, and rather timely, one-page comic on the creative patrimony of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Equally affecting are the pieces by two of Alternative Comics’ most famous minimalist creators. Allison Cole’s “Lost and Found” is a endearing cat story that refuses to turn maudlin, and James Kochalka’s “Email” can be read as a brief commentary on our overly plugged-in tech culture. (In fact, Kochalka’s 2005 The Cute Manifesto, also published by Alternative Comics, can be used as a reference point for his and Cole’s styles of cartooning in this issue.) And then there are the offbeat gag strips of Sam Henderson, whose work has been a staple of the publisher since the late 1990s.
With a wonderful front cover by Mike Bertino and a back-cover strip by Theo Ellsworth and Craig Thompson, this latest manifestation of the Alternative Comics anthology is packed with material that should not only gain traction with the indie-reading crowd, but also appeal to more general readers interested in something outside of the mainstream. It has been almost five years since the publisher has released one of its anthologies, so Alternative Comics #4 is a most welcome addition to their lineup. Let’s hope that the projected semiannual publication schedule is something that can be maintained.