Hive 3: A Somewhat Quarterly Comic Journal Ed. by J.M. Shiveley

Categories:  Reviews

Hive 3: A Somewhat Quarterly Comic Journal
Ed. by J.M. Shiveley
Grimalkin Press

hive3Hive is a theme-less comics anthology that’s edited by J.M. Shiveley and printed by Grimalkin Press — Shiveley’s ambitious DIY publishing company. To wit, the third issue of Hive is being sold through a Barnes & Noble store.  See?  Ambitious.

Yes, individual B&N stores have a history of carrying books from small-time publishers, but those titles tend to cover local history and still look like “books.” You know, soft- and hard-cover vanity-pressed books.

None of these terms describe Hive 3 which is folded concertina-style and has a double-sided letterpress cover. Hive 3 is certainly a fat 2-in-1 booklet, which is something I thought I’d never see in a big box bookstore.  I’m calling that an achievement.

That said, while printing experiments in comics are admirable, there are some clear issues with the publication style of Hive 3.  It’s eye-catching, sure, but there’s just too much going on with the printing of this book that doesn’t make sense for the material.  I guess if you’re going to charge $10 for a self-published hand-made black-and-white anthology, it should really have something distinctive going on, but I’m afraid this issue has crossed the line from unique to gimmicky.

To be fair though, a book shouldn’t be judged entirely by its cover, and what Hive 3 presents deep down inside is a high-quality selection of short comics and art.

Hive 3 a is simply outstanding collection of comics.  Every story is excellent.  It captures a full array of styles and subjects and I enjoyed every minute spent reading and re-reading it.  Contributors for this issue include Karl and Matt Kindt, Malachi Ward, John Kinhart, Dax Delap, Hawk Krall, Andrew Drilon, Jon Freihofer, Eamon Espey, Chad R. Woody, Joe Decie, Joshua W. Cotter, Mostyn, J.M. Shiveley, Douglas Wilson and Mark Leicht.

Krall’s contribution is a series of “Summer of 7-11” recollections, in which he describes a summer job as a convenience store clerk. His stories are full of crazy, incomprehensible, foul characters. It’s awesome. And his drawing style is perfect for expressing the wild, nasty people he encounters in the store.

Ward tells a science fiction story that takes place partly in a cave and partly in the protagonist’s mind. It jumps swiftly from strange to eerie and is rendered in his lovely brushstroke style and with gray accents.

Drilon tells a story that is a sobering mix of memory and mysticism for a man in the Philippines who struggles with his family’s response to his first homosexual relationship.  He uses interesting stylistic devices to distinguish between past and present.  In the present, his drawings are layered and realistic and tonally more grown-up.  The adult years are also narrated by type-written text, rather than hand-written text.  When he looks back on his past, the illustrations have a clean line and look more playful.

This is a very full anthology and covers monsters, the Civil War, sex, and death.  It is also 140 pages long!  This could have easily been two issues instead of one.  Still, Hive 4 is on its way to the presses and it seems Shiveley has no shortage of willing contributors for future issues, so there was really no reason to space out the material.  That’s a good kind of problem to have. I am just befuddled by the way Grimalkin Press decided to handle these pages for the publication of Hive 3 which, as I mentioned before, uses a concertina fold.

If you’re not familiar with concertina folds, just imagine two mini-comics that share a back cover. Once you finish with one side, you flip over the book to find a second booklet. This can be a very cool way to print something if you have the right reason to do so. 140 pages is admittedly a lot of paper to deal with, and a concertina fold can break that up into manageable parts, but its use in this instance is so entirely uninspired. The book as a whole doesn’t share a theme or have a “flip side” perspective — its content is all over the map. There is no logical way to break up the content to begin with, so separating it physically into two parts is just arbitrary compartmentalization that clearly reduces the comics to their page count. It just looks like, because the previous two issues were fold-and-staple, they went that way a third time by default. For a DIY publishing company that aspires to think outside the box, this is a pretty disappointing display of their talents.

There are so many interesting ways that they could have bound flat pages, or worked in signatures, or something even crazier than my mind can conjure. Finding ways to hand-bind 140 pages as a single book is a challenge, and I’m not impressed by the way Grimalkin Press chose to meet this challenge in this instance. Not to mention, the two booklets each need a face trim (a cut that makes the pages flush on the right side and easier to turn). Any self-published book that wants to be taken seriously ought to have a face trim. The technology is simple: cutting board + metal ruler + razor blade = go!

The double-sided letterpress job on the cover is another story. It’s very cool that they went letterpress with this issue, but the intent of the letterpress is confusing. The cover stock is so thin that impressions compete with each other and end up creating very little indentation on the page at all. Plus, letterpressing both sides has had given the effect of streaky ink, which you’ll notice in the cover photo accompanying this review. Whether or not that effect is desirable comes down to taste.

The title of the book was printed on a proof press with large type. To see the whole title, you’d need lay out the whole cover flat (more or less). The way this effects how text appears on the cover is interesting. The effect of the broken-up subtitle leads to a misrepresentation of the book as a “quarterly comic journal” instead of “a somewhat quarterly comic journal.”  However, most confusing for me is that it’s not even a journal!  It’s an anthology.  I realize that coming from someone at The “Daily” Crosshatch this must sound like the pot calling the kettle black, but as someone who works with real journals all day in a library, I couldn’t not notice the cheeky disregard for nomenclature. There is not a single journalistic element to the book, just comics and bios.  The editorial selection process of culling talent for publication does not make a book a journal.  That’s an anthology.

The take away from all this is that when it comes to Hive 3 — just read it.  Don’t think too much about it. I’ve thought about it enough already for all of us.  Just read those lovely comics and remember that Hive 3 is likely just the third publication that Grimalkin Press has worked on. They’re clearly ambitious and have their heart in the right place and will continue to promote amazing artists and work on unique books for many years to come. This particular issue just rubbed me the wrong way.

If you’d like to be rubbed wrong by Hive 3 — it’s $10 + shipping through the Grimalkin Press etsy shop.

Hopefully they’ll be around producing books for many years to come and dare to push the envelope of self-publishing a little farther and more masterfully with each attempt.  I’m sorry that the first time I’ve discuss their catalog it sounds so negative, but I really do believe if they live up to their creed and gain more experience they’re going to be amazing.  Watch out for these guys.  They could eventually cross a line where all these confused printing mechanics get used in a most incredible and inspiring way.

Sarah Morean

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