Toward the tail end of last year, a nice-looking squarebound anthology arrived my way courtesy of its editor, Chad (In Amsterdan) Bilyeu, and to say its contents lived up to its impressive presentation is putting it mildly — probably far too mildly, at that. Co-published by Bilyeu’s own Bistro Books imprint in association with De Stichting Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (who lists one Gabriel Ercicia as the project’s “Executive Producer”), Megillah #1 eschews a central theme in favor of a central idea – giving six artists eight pages each to do with as they see fit. Did I mention already the results are impressive? I believe I did.
Underneath the appealingly disturbing cover by EKS Graphics/Iva Spasojevic we find stories that well and truly run the gamut from memoir to slapstick superhero revisionism to surreal caper to just plain old surreal, each distinct in its “stand-alone” nature, yet all combining to form a makeshift tapestry that, to drag things back to the cover, “stitches together” in a kind of haphazardly fluid fashion. Aside from the length of each contribution, they don’t have a hell of a lot of similarities other than being good, but in the end, that’s what an anthology — in this critic’s humble (I hope) estimation — should do : provide an expansive view of what’s happening in the various corners of the indie comics world and let the chips fall where they may. As a primer of sorts, then, this is about as polished as they come, and anyone new to “the scene” is sure to discover a couple of artists (at least) whose work they feel sufficiently compelled to track down more of.
If unique auteur visions are your bag, this package offers six of them, all at various points along the curve in terms of their tethering to consensus reality — what they unquestionably have in common, though, is that they’re all exceptionally well-drawn, make the most of the book’s top-quality production values (the coloring on each and every strip will impress the shit out of you), and understand how to make the most of the unique opportunities afforded by the short-form comics story. There’s some wild stuff on offer, sure, you’ve probably already figured that much out, but each is narratively-based and formally recognizable as a discrete entities unto itself — what Bilyeu has done that further sets this apart from other anthologies, though, is that he’s arranged them in a de facto “running order” that ensures for smooth transition from one to the next even when their themes don’t necessarily logically “mesh” in any concrete way. All of which is me saying read this thing cover to cover without skipping around — you’ll be glad you did.
According to the definition provided on the inside front cover, a Megillah is a “long, involved story or account,” and while some of these strips do pack a lot into a comparatively tight space, I’d be lying if I said any of them felt “long” because, well, they aren’t. What they most assuredly are, though, is involving in the extreme, to the point where you won’t be ready for some to end. That’s okay, though, right? I mean, it’s preferable to any of them over-staying their welcome, that’s for sure. And besides, you can always go back and re-read any or all as you see fit — as I’ve done myself. Twice so far. With more to come, I’m sure.
Count me as a true believer, then — and a firm one, at that — in what Bilyeu is doing here, and I’m curious (as well as anxious) to see where this project goes next. I’d love to see a rotating cast of returnee artists with newcomers mixed in, but hey — it ain’t my show. I’m more than happy to trust our tour guide. And you should be more than happy to take this inaugural trip. Bring on number two, please!
Megillah #1 is available for a well-spent $12 from any number of places, but for North American readers I’ll direct you to our friends at Birdcage Bottom Books, where you can find it by clicking on https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/megillah?variant=41235668664496
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