Modern comics readers don’t care about anthologies; or it certainly seems that way, judging by their absence from the stands. But for the first three decades of the comic book’s existence, every title featured multiple stories, and often multiple genres. For example, while Action Comics #1 featured the first appearance of Superman, his 13-page debut was just one feature among many, including stories starring long-forgotten characters like cowboy Tex Thompson and Scoop Scanlon, The Five-Star Reporter.
From superhero to horror, crime to romance, western to funny animals, anthologies were the comics standard, providing readers with a wide variety of content and allowing new creators to get their feet wet on shorter stories before moving on to features. But by the Sixties, an issue’s main story started taking up most of the page count, possibly leaving enough room for a backup. By the 1980s, the anthology format had mostly vanished, largely relegated to low-selling war and horror comics from the Big Two. It seemed there was no room in the market for the anthology format.
Enter Dark Horse Presents. The inaugural book from the company of the same name, Presents quickly established itself as a singular forum for unique creative visions. Over the initial volume’s 14-year run, the title featured work from industry luminaries like Paul Chadwick, Paul Pope, Moebius, John Byrne and Frank Miller (who serialized his first Sin City story in its pages). The title was canceled in 2000, followed by a digital-first iteration, which ran from 2007 to 2010. A print Volume Two began in 2011, featuring 80 pages of different features every issue; Volume Three, which is currently being published, has slimmed that page count down to 48 pages.
Why the history lesson? Because the proper context is necessary for understanding how important a book like Dark Horse Presents is. Company founder Mike Richardson should be applauded for his dedication to the anthology format, and for demonstrating the stunning diversity of the medium within the pages of a single publication. Issue #9 alone features Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier’s long-running barbarian comedy “Groo;” “Weird Detective,” a supernatural procedural from Fred Van Lente and Guiu Vilanova; “Dream Gang,” a slice of psychedelia from the inimitable Brendan McCarthy; a Tarzan tale by the legendary Mike Grell; Lovecraftian horror in the form of “Semiautomagic” by Alex de Campi and Jerry Ordway; and “Polar,” a Cold War espionage vignette from Victor Santos.
Seeing Aragones’ trademark cartoony style next to Vilanova’s Doug Mahnke-infused realism next to Grell’s Broze Age realism next to Santos’ inspired Steranko-infused layouts is a true pleasure. Plus, the fact that none of the stories feature superheroes allows different genres to take center stage. The anthology format allows readers who may pick up Dark Horse Presents for McCarthy or De Campi to be exposed to work by creators they’ve never seen before. The only downside of this issue is all the stories but one are in progress; it would have been nice to have at least one more standalone or Part One to entice potential readers.
In an editorial in this issue, Richardson asks if we’re experiencing a new Golden Age of comics due to the diverse amount of high-quality material currently being published. If we are, Dark Horse Presents deserves a lot of the credit. By providing creators with a forum for creative expression for almost 30 years, Dark Horse Presents ensures that while the comics anthology may never be as prevalent as it once was, it will always have a place in the medium.