Negative Burn was an almost-monthly anthology series from small-press publisher Caliber Comics during the mid 1990’s (93-97). During that time I was in the thick of not just my DC Comics fanaticism, but general comics fanaticism. In other words, I read a lot of comics, and I obsessed over them, not just stories and characters, but artists and writers and publishers. I knew what was going on in the larger picture dominated by superheroes, but when it came to the smaller presses, more independent stories, I really didn’t know how to venture out beyond the familiar glossy, colour paper into the flat, black and white realm. I had only one avenue to guide me through that bleak layer (especially in comics boom time when new publishers were springing up by the dozen monthly): the Diamond Previews catalog.
Of course, Previews is a deceptive place, since it takes some serious financial backing to promote your book in there and only those putting out mainstream titles or, well, trashy boob-war books could make an honest effort at promoting themselves. So as I scoured through the back pages where the indie books were resigned to, I looked for art that appealed to me foremost (often deceptive when it’s just a cover image) or otherwise looked for names I was familiar with.
It was the latter that brought Negative Burn to my attention. Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Bob Burden (and his Flaming Carrot), Peter David… there were some big names going on in there.
Of course, for a small press to afford the big names, they had to basically secure the rights to prior works rather than pay them for new material. Alan Moore’s regular involvement was merely artists illustrating his Songbook. Gaiman had short stories or poems graphically adapted. Brian Bolland’s Mr. Mamoulian was a one-page feature of sketched-out figures in a sometimes nonsensical comic strip (very little of it was what you’d call humorous). Overall, the big names featured were a disappointment.
I stuck with the title from issue 11 through to issue 19, and the final issue #50 (Negative Burn has resurfaced under the Desperado publishing label of late), and in flipping through them again I realized that my dislike of anthologies is well founded. They tend to feature an awkward and often sub-par assortment of stories. Whereas a mixtape or soundtrack compilation are often loaded with artistic high points, most comic anthologies feature quickly pumped out, poorly fleshed out or otherwise slight asides resembling the most adequate of quality. There’s a real “take what you can get” sensibility, a “if they’re willing to contribute, we’re willing to publish it” mentality which leads to, by and large, a less than satisfying, sometimes empty reading experience.
The extra-sized issue 50 was the only one I read full through again recently, and the only two contributions I can fondly recall in such short time were the Neil Gaiman-penned pantoum (a poem where the second and fourth line are repeated as the first and third line in the following stanza), which I may have printed in one of his prose collections, and Phil Hester’s Boneshaker, which I believe I have reprinted in his “Oversight” collection from Image. For something featuring over a dozen contributions, that’s not a great ratio.