For the uninitiated, Tango is an anthology of romance comics. And by romance, we mean the wonderful combination of love-plus-adventure. All kinds of love (zombie love, toaster love, cheese love, pigeon love - you name it) and every colour of adventure, all in magnificent techni-black-and-white. Tango is up to its ninth issue now, and for twelve years these beautiful anthologies have been lovingly tended, edited, brought into the world and distributed by the spectacular Mr Bernard Caleo. Twelve years is a really long time in comics, especially when you're publishing out of your kitchen, hawking it around to bookstores yourself, and doing it all on the smell of an inky rag.
But Bernard is no longer doing it all on his own. Enter the most marvellous and most adventurous of publishing houses, Allen & Unwin. Steered by comics visionary Erica Wagner A&U have published The Tango Collection, a rich, juicy volume of selected goodies from the first eight issues of Tango. Let me just spell this out: a big, highly respected mainstream publishing company has just published a collection of local comic artists, many of whom are totally unknown to the wider reading public. That is adventure! And that is love. (That is also great publishing karma, I would add. I hope they sell kazillions.)
The Tango Collection is fabulous. The comics are funny, moving, gripping, compelling, kooky, challenging, entertaining and mighty impressive. The editing choices are smart and beautifully balanced, thanks to Bernard and to A&U's Elise Jones, and the design by Bruno Herfst is great - inviting to the eye, with a clever nod to Tango's cut-and-paste kitchen table origins. And it's so perfectly in the spirit of Tango, that I have to wipe away a little tear just thinking about it.
Tango has always had a big, big heart - big enough to include the first shy publishings of many a local scribbler. Talk to any Melbourne comic artist, and odds are they started out publishing their work in Tango. And odds are those same scribblers are still submitting their work to Bernard every time a new issue of Tango is conceived. It's eclectic, it's open to play and experimentation, it's generous, and it's a damn fine collection of quality comics. It's very, very exciting seeing it dished up to the wider reading public in such polished and exuberant style.
Tango is also a community. My introduction to the Melbourne comics scene was through Tango back in 1998, and the friendships, inspirations and camaraderie are still going strong. It was a very warm feeling indeed to look around the enormous crowd at the launch and see so many wonderful people - wonderful people whose work I admire so much, too. My date for the evening, darling baby Poppy, wasn't quite up to the heat, noise and press of so many much bigger bodies, so I didn't get a chance to talk with everyone or really get into the swing of the party. But it was great just to see the launch, and one day when she's bigger, Pop Pop can say, "I was there when they launched The Tango Collection".
The launch has been blogged by Bernard here, with photos. Needless to say, I didn't even manage to even get my camera out of my bag!