Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #82 by Drew Barth

Energized and Anthologized

A good anthology is hard to find sometimes. Luckily, Peow released the first volume of their Kickstarter-funded anthology series, Ex.Mag, this past month. Their original campaign promised three volumes centering on three sub-genres: cyberpunk, paranormal romance, and dark fantasy. We’ll be seeing the second and third volumes later in the year, but for now, we’re focusing on their first cyberpunk offering The first volume of Ex.Mag, Full Metal Dreamland, is also a look into how Peow can create one of the best anthologies of the year with only a theme and some of the strongest creators working right now.

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What’s actually in this thing? For the most part, almost anything you could want from a comic anthology centered in cyberpunk. Sophia Foster-Dimino brings us a story on the alienation of augmented reality-assisted online dating and the ways in which sculpting a living space is more important than any other way we present ourselves to the world in “On Show Now.” A fierce and silent kinetic energy runs through “Personal Companion” as Freddy Carrasco illustrates a cyborg being torn to pieces as it sprints toward a target. “Polygon Bird” by Giannis Milonogiannis shows us two AI that only want their program signature to continue in the freest form they know—a human baby. And video game character creation takes on a deeper existential meaning in Kelly K’s “Assembled by You.” This is a cross-section of everything good happening in comics right now as every creator has an interpretation of “cyberpunk” and what that can constitute. And that’s not even half the book.

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Many of these stories deal with identity and how we express ourselves within the confines of technology. We’re treated to brain-linking, AIs, smartphones as tiny beings, cyborgs, an endless stream of wires, and that sense of dystopia that comes with all of the above. And these stories do what all good cyberpunk does: critiques the current age we live in through a lens of the perceived future. What we have here are ten different lenses—from short stories to generational narratives to work that pushes up against the idea of what can be comics—with each one showing us some splinter of a future. These creator’s lenses take that long look at what we have in our world right now and contort it into something simultaneously familiar and alien. Even if surroundings change, even if technology becomes incomprehensible to us now, there is still the core of a human character that maintains throughout.

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As this is an anthology that looks into the future, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the work that will be coming from Peow’s anthologies soon. A strong anthology can only mean more great things for comics as a whole. While some of these artists have been long-established—I’ve even written about Milonogiannis multiple times now—a good anthology shows what is coming next. How many of these creators will show us work that reorients the way we think about the medium? The answer is always more than you think.

Get excited. Get anthologized.


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Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.