3 out of 5
Dagger Dagger, an anthology of “dark fantasy and sci-fi” strips, meets one of my first criteria for successful anthologies: editor Al Gofa has made sure that every entry actually makes sense together – the theme holds true. There’s maybe one exception, with Ze Burnay’s ‘Dog Days’ lacking in the castles and magics and orcs that populate every other story, but it’s surreal enough that it gets a pass; it also seems to be the only entry that’s an excerpt (or an addition to?) an outside source, so acknowledging that helps to explain the slight discrepancy. Gofa even takes the step to frame the material with intro and outro strips – or it’s presumably Gofa, anyway, though attributed to ‘The Evil Wizard’- which I sincerely appreciate, as it further gives the sense of actual curated material, and not just friends’ comics smushed together.
This care also extends to the contents: while, as with any anthology, there’s a degree of YMMV depending on what art styles you dig, or if you’re looking for something more comedic or more dramatic or etcetera, every piece here has passion behind it. That’s not to say that that other random compilation books necessarily lack that passion, but I do feel that you can tell when someone is throwing something together to get their work out there, as opposed to crafting a story they feel like they want to tell. While some of the strips in Dagger Dagger are more complex and layered than others, they all feel like their creators were invested in what they delivered.
And, perhaps less important than what’s on the pages, but definitely important for impressions upon the reader – the book’s presentation is quality. The embossing of the font on the cover; the spot-red image on the same; the font choice for the logo and table of contents – it all speaks to a very thoughtful, unified package that vibes with the fantasy shtick. The binding also appreciably lays flat, with paper stock sturdy but not too thick, and a clear printing.
So. That all sounds… pretty good! Why only a 3 out of 5? It’s the aforementioned YMMV. I do want to say that I found all of the artistry in here incredibly pleasing. There are artists that are more up my alley (Matt Lesniewski; Tyler Landry), but even when they weren’t, the pages are interesting to look at. However, I did find several of the strips hard to read. Some of that is due to the black and white format not really vibing with artists’ blockier or more cluttered styles, and some of that is, frankly, due to poor eye direction – word bubbles situated oddly; focus of a panel not clear. Again, this is certainly subjective, but it undeniably hampered my overall enjoyment of those stories as stories, and not just pictures. The second thing is less subjective, though: a big part of the middle of the book is given over to nigh-wordless strips, and that’s the only editorial bit I’d draw into question. I really felt like this harmed the flow of the compilation – spreading these stories out seems more logical to me. The combination of these two elements means there’s a long stretch of the book where I didn’t feel as engaged with the material.
However, both of these things are also, admittedly, a bigger deal if you’re reading it all at once. Dagger Dagger is a fine looking book on the shelf, and it gave me a couple new artists to check out, and I’ve already gone back to flip through it a couple more times after a first read, suggesting that those stories I found problematic may find new life on a return journey.