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When the first volume of Flight was released by Image in 2004, it set the world of graphic storytelling on its ear.

The first book was a collection of multi-page comics by artists from a variety of backgrounds; some from the entertainment industry, others who had published their own webcomics, and still others who had never considered drawing a comics story before in their lives. It was the brainchild of a group of artists from an internet message board dedicated to the act of drawing, and edited by a fellow named Kazu Kibuishi. His web-strip Copper was featured prominently in the first volume, along with some of the most graphically exciting and experimental stories seen in recent years.

This group of artists worked outside of the serial story constraints of the mainstream comics world; unbound from the traditional action and superhero yarns; they put together a book that was bound to take off. Both the first volume of the book and the popular follow-up were lauded by critics, creators and fans alike. Since then, many of the creators behind Flight have earned nominations for one of comics’ highest honor, the Eisner Award.

Many of these same creators of the previous volumes have returned to this new edition of Flight, part of a total of twenty-six different artists. Opening the book is internationally acclaimed animator and illustrator Michel Gagné, whose character Rex takes on a tragic and transformative challenge in a visit to the “Underworld.” Another artist to make a return is Rodolphe Guenoden, whose luscious figures tell a story of urban irony in “Message in a Bottle.” In a group like this, it might be easy to miss the names of talented newcomers like Israel Sanchez, whose story “Saturday,” about a pint-sized Gojira, crackles with energy unbecoming of an artist who’d never considered telling a story in pictures.

       

The first and second Flight volumes were both seen as landmarks because of their all-ages audience appeal. It’s easy to understand why many readers would make that connection. Many of the artists have had a cartoonish style that might suggest children’s books or the Sunday funnies. In this latest installment, the book has taken on a more diverse set of flavors. With “Conquest,” the Viking story by up-and-coming indie and Vertigo comics artist Becky Cloonan, Flight takes its darkest, most violent path to date, in gorgeous blood-reds that seem to bleed and burn off the page. Kibuishi’s “The Iron Gate” is a departure from previous Copper installments, a war story about two childhood friends. Joining the Flight crew on this trip, webcomics diarist Neil Babra, shares another slice of his life in a tale that’s more grounded in reality than any of the other stories in the book.

The third volume of Flight sees the book taken to a new publishing home, Ballantine Books. The move to such a long-known, mainstream book publisher might highlight the aspirations of continuing series editor Kibuishi: to have the book showcased in the larger book market, including bookstores, to see a new audience learn to enjoy picture stories told on paper, and to see the art of graphic storytelling thrive. It’s a bold move, and one that looks pretty sharp. This newest anthology has been printed on a superior paper stock off of which the colors bounce vibrantly.

In fact, the look of the book is quite stunning. When compared to the standard fare available in most mainstream series, it’s clear that Flight is a book where artists who love to draw can really let loose. The look of Alex Fuentes' “One Little Miracle for a Hungry Swarm” pushes at the boundaries of color technology in a science fantasy reminiscent of classic Metal Hurlant. In “The Rescue,” by storyboard artist Phil Craven , the action pulses through the page from plot-twist to plot-twist. In contrast, “Earl D.” by Yoko Tanaka is almost a bizarre slideshow, set in darks and earth tones.

       

If it can be said that Flight is a great book for the visuals, it might also be said that sometimes it feels a bit uneven when it comes to the text itself. Some of the scripts are a bit uneven, while a large chunk of the pieces are completely wordless. Chalk it up to the artists playing to their strengths, because this group really has talent.

As a haven for fresh young artistic talents, Flight continues to thrive. The stories they share are ironic, earnest, sweet, funny, thrilling and moving. The artists, visually unrestrained, continue to strive and push the limits of their craft. With the latest volume of this incredible anthology, let it be said: “Long may she fly!”

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