Just like last year's installment, the second-ever "Thought Bubble Anthology" (produced by the Leeds Comic Art Festival) donates all profits from its sale to the children's charity Barnardo's -- so even if it's bad, you could argue that it's good. It's lucky, then, for anyone who is planning to buy it, that it also happens to be very good as well.
It's rare you find an anthology that's 100% enjoyable, especially when it has such a varied mix of subject matter and creators as this does. The tone, format and genre are all over the place, and it's inevitable that some strips will please readers more than others. However, the standard of craft on display in the "Thought Bubble Anthology" this year is universally high. You may not love every strip, but they're all interesting and accomplished in their own ways. Like the best anthologies, it's not just a showcase for creators, but a virtual guidebook to the state of the art.
To justify that claim, witness name creators such as Warren Ellis, Tony Harris and Ivan Brandon placed comfortably alongside small press regulars and previously-unseen rising stars. No-one comes out of it looking inadequate. To single out any strip as particularly good would be a disservice to the sheer amount and variety of material on offer, but what you can say is that between the likes of Kate Beaton's own brand of historical comedy and Gail Simone's decidedly offbeat take on a comic shop, you'll laugh more than you cry.
The closest the issue gets to having a theme is that several of the strips reflect and reminisce about the creator's introduction to (or relationship with) comics, but as many are outright fantastical or fictional. That the anthology contains both a multi-page "Strontium Dog"/"Elephantmen" crossover and an airy one-page romance by Emma Vieceli tells you all you need to know about its diversity and the confidence it has in its material. A lack of focus could have been a weakness. Instead, it's the book's overwhelming strength: creators given free rein to create.
It's a genuinely inspiring collection, brimming with talent and ideas, bursting at the seams with love for the medium. At a time when the price of comics is frequently used as a criticism against the slight nature of an issue's contents, there's no finer way to spend $3.99 than on this: 30 double-sized pages of brilliance, guaranteed to introduce you to some fantastic creators, both new and old.