The Act-I-Vate Primer

Stories by: Michael Fiffe; Jim Dougan & Hyeondo Park; Simon Fraser; Roger Langridge; Tim Hamilton; Mike Cavallaro; Dean Haspiel; Maurice Fontenot; Joe Infurnari; Leland Purvis; Jennifer Hayden; Nick Bertozzi; Jon Leavitt & Molly Crabapple; Mike Dawson; Pedro Camargo; Ulises Farinas
Genre: webcomic anthology
Context: originally published by Act-I-Vate Comix; printed in 2009 by IDW; introduction by Warren Ellis

I’m never sure to rate anthologies. Is one good story enough to keep a booking hanging around my house? Should the stories be complete? (I mostly gave up on “sampler” anthologies awhile ago. It’s why I don’t have many of those Best American Comics collections.) Luckily, The Act-I-Vate Primer circumvents these problems. It has a number of complete stories. Almost all of them are at least interesting. A few of them are great.

Dean Haspiel is perfect as usual, offering up a red-soaked “Billy Dogma” story about a break-up so churning with tension and subtext that it threatens to destroy a city. It’s better than it sounds. It’s like some surreal myth boiled up in a bent spoon.

My other favorite is Ulises Farinas‘s “Motro.” I see his work more in magazines and on books covers these days, which is too bad (for me, but probably not for his bank account). His style is similar to Geoff Darrow or Seth Fisher (and maybe even Brandon Graham and James Stokoe): it’s cluttered, but the lines are clean. I’ve seen it called “fusion comics” (named after fusion cuisine) as it blends manga stylings with European sci-fi sensibilities like Valerian or Moebius’s work. Motro is about a nameless boy from a tribe of people living in an icy wasteland. There are some truly awesome drawings of a giant icy deer of death. I can’t explain it.

Anyway, the other stories are good, too. Nick Bertozzi has a tragic little fruit-themed story. “Vishnu & Vuclan” is a wordless short that, while not quite as good as Sergio Aragones, is still neat. Even my least favorite story, a seeming fragment about a Victorian gossip rag, is bolstered by awesome Molly Crabapple art. It was also my first exposure to Roger Langridge, one of the best cartoonists ever.

The Act-I-Vate website has all these stories (and more!) for free. Igor Kordey! (who gets a terrible rap in American comics) Scott Shaw! Way more. It’s worth the price of admission.

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