1988: Aces

Aces (1988) #1-5 edited by Cefn Ridout.

This is a slightly weird one: It’s a British anthology (assembled by Acme Press) of European (Italian, French, Spanish) hard-boiled comics for the US market. I’m sure this makes sense one some level or another.

It’s an anthology with an extremely clear identity, and the inside first cover sets the tone: All the strips featured take place around the 40s, give or take a decade, and all feature a somewhat hard-boiled protagonist living in a noirish world. And they’re all newer (i.e., made in the 80s) comics. Most anthologies have problems getting a consistent tone or feeling; if anything this could have had the opposite problem.

But it doesn’t, because Ridout has chosen well. The thing I was most excited to read was the Air Mail story by Attilio Micheluzzi. He’d been popping up as an artist in Eclipse’s various horror anthologies, and I just absolutely adore his artwork, and I was very interested in seeing how he’s as a writer.

And he’s something else. The plot is simple, but still oblique, as we follow two groups of people whose connection to each other is unclear at the beginning. And that above there is the first page and our introduction to the villains. It’s not straightforward, but still naturalistic. And I still adore the his artwork.

In almost every issue we get an interview with one of the featured artists, and these are new interview done by the Acme Press people.

So they’re also able to ask Micheluzzi about things like his work with Bruce Jones, and it turns out that he hated it. The editor also asks them about the current state of European comics, which was in a serious slump around this time.

This is a 32 page magazine, but still they’re pretty wasteful with the space. I’m used to reading European anthologies along these lines, and they cram as many story/editorial pages as possible in. But here we have introductions of every feature (in every issue) with an entire page like this…

The least successful story here is Hollywood Eye by Francois Riviere, JL Bocquet and Philippe Berthet. I mean, it’s not bad, but it has all the cliches imaginable, so while the artwork’s pretty attractive, it’s a bit mundane.

Most issues also has a page or two about the state of European comics, so you get the feeling that this anthology is a real passion project for Ridout. And he writes with insight.

Finally, the last of the significant contributions: Morgan by Antonio Segura and José Ortiz. It’s very, very hard-boiled, even if the protagonist has a cat. Here, too, there are annoying cliches in the plotting (they fridge his daughter and he takes revenge), but it’s so unhinged and over the top that you just have to admire it.

One thing you don’t have to admire is the lettering by Trevs Phoenix on the Hollywood Eye strips. It’s beyond annoying to read.

And Berthet’s eyes? WTF IS UP WITH THOSE? He draws them all as round balls with a dot in them, and it looks totally deranged, especially in such an otherwise realistic style.

I wonder whether Glenat were successful in making their “comic burger”…

Did I mention that Morgan is hard-boiled? I did? Let me mention it again.

Replacing Morgan in the fourth issue is Dieter Lumpen by Zentner and Pellejero, and it’s the most well-known feature in Aces. The series has been reprinted all over the place, and I think IDW did (or are doing?) a complete collection these days. You can’t fault Pellejero’s artwork, but I don’t think it’s as interesting as Morgan, as weird as that was.

The fifth and final issue concludes the two main serials, leaving no room for anything else, so I’m guessing Aces ended before they had planned (low sales, perhaps?). And it’s printed on shiny white paper, while the previous issues had been on matte paper. Shiny paper can work well with black and white because the blacks get so much richer, but something went wrong during the printing. It’s like the lines were blown out during repro, and then it was printed with too much fill-in. So lines are missing, but the lines that are there are blotchy. It’s weird and makes everything look unpleasant.

The final page is confusing. The two panels we see there are the concluding panels to Air Mail, but the text says that they’re from “Marvin” which is to be featured in a new magazine of European comics from Acme and Eclipse. It didn’t happen, I think.

I think Aces was just about perfect as an anthology. Too bad it didn’t have a longer life.

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