Fellow Bennington alum Randall Nichols and I have a history of supporting each other’s creative endeavors, which comes naturally since everything Randall touches turns out approachable, fun, and hard-hitting. The Charleston Anvil is an indie art/literary/comic/everything else zine he’s started up with some fellow West Virginians, with the first issue released earlier this month in both print (!) and digital copies. About half comics and half prose (plus photos and illustrations), there’s plenty of variety in style and substance, and the above adjectives I used to describe Randall’s work (approachable, fun, hard-hitting) apply equally to the entire issue.
I’ve also got a story in there—a piece I had on the backburner called “One Nation, Indivisible” about a telemarketing call gone awry, which also marks the first time that work by both Randall and yours truly have appeared in the same place. The print copy is cheap and the digital copy is pay-what-you-want (even if that price is nothing), so it won’t cost you anything to check it out.
Hype aside, it’s refreshing to see a start-up lit mag maintaining a print edition, since the costs involved with third-party printers and glossy covers tend to complicate the process more than most literary start-ups are willing to handle. Comics and graphic novels especially tend to read more easily on the printed page, where readers are spared the scrolling and resolution issues that tend not to be a problem with words alone. This also marks the first time my fiction has appeared in an actual print magazine, making it feel more valuable that someone’s taken the time and money to prepare a hard copy in the digital age.
It’s also refreshing to see a magazine with illustrations, since so many literary-only magazines tend to ignore visuals under the mistaken belief that poetry and prose are somehow purer when they’re not surrounded by a bunch of distracting pictures. In reality, though, illustrations in magazines were a staple of the Saturday Evening Post-era and before, where, with so much different content vying for the reader’s attention (as opposed to a novel, where readers go in expecting a single experience), pictures help the reader differentiate between individual pieces. Randall’s sci-fi story “The Norse Star” is one of the illustrated ones, and it includes a 2/3-page title pic that captures the opening image of the hero staring at the story’s impossible heroine and a few others spaced throughout the columns that enhance the story’s reveal.
Besides “Norse Star,” there’s an opening essay championing self-expression (“We Need You to Be Yourself”), an eight-page comic retelling of Hamlet with giant robots (“Hambot”), a short piece by fellow Benningtonian John Wiswell (“Making Her”), an illustrated essay on the subtle relationships in Jonny Quest (“Sadness File: 037”), and a final comic about a deal with a cowboy hat-wearing devil gone awry (“Walk for the Cure”). Take it from me—it’s solid stuff, so here’s the link one more time.