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The Best American Comics 2010 (The Best American Series) Hardcover – September 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
This yearly anthology is always something to look forward to, with its impressive editors, juicy forewords, and superabundance of comics genius between its two covers. Series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden start off with a brief history of the burst in comics' popularity and readership over the past decade; luckily for us, they include an extensive list of "Notable Comics" that didn't make the final cut. Gaiman, in turn, agonizes entertainingly over the accuracy of the title Best American Comics and finally suggests that the volume instead be called A Sampler: Some Really Good Comics, Including Extracts from Longer Stories We Thought Could Stand on Their Own. It's a wealth of fine storytelling: extracts from Lagoon, the gorgeously strange fairy tale by Lili Carré; Carol Tyler's great You'll Never Know; Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe; and Fred Chao's Johnny Hiro. Some stand-alone gems include Todd Brower and Steve MacIsaac's "Ex Communication," in which two bearish men meet for a drink and chat uncomfortably about what they've been up to since their split; Peter Kuper's two-page takedown of the Bush legacy in "Ceci n'est pas un comic"; and Gabrielle Bell's "Mixed Up Files." A thrilling and varied journey from start to finish.
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For this fifth iteration of The Best American Comics, series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden made the initial selection, then gave the final say to this year’s guest editor, Neil Gaiman, who banked several lifetimes’ worth of comics cred for his seminal Sandman, among others. Many of the 25 pieces are graphic-novel excerpts, and as Abel and Madden attest in the introduction, “they are all focused on the narrative.” Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some outstanding cartooning going on here, from formalist tinkerers like Chris Ware and David Mazzucchelli to the always-entertaining Gilbert Hernandez (abetted by brother Mario) to a chunk from Robert Crumb’s artistically triumphant Book of Genesis. In addition to such annual usual suspects and newcomers as Josh Neufeld (with an excerpt from his terrific A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge), fan favorite Bryan Lee O’Malley shows up at last, albeit in a curiously flat selection from Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe. As always, the expanded selection list is a great place to find even more top-notch comics. --Ian Chipman
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Top customer reviews
First off, if you are not familiar with this series, then you should know that it concentrates on material that, for lack of a better word, I think of as independent. A sampling of the creators that made the grade for this edition whom I'd read before were Chris Ware, Peter Bagge, Peter Kuper and Robert Crumb, and if you aren't familiar with these and other authors who work outside the mainstream comic industry (read: Marvel, DC, etc.), then I wouldn't have a problem recommending any of these 'Best-Of' anthologies, because I think they all give a good representation of the state of modern graphic illustration. And that might be the best that one could ask of any anthology.
As to this 2010 entry, I felt somewhat mixed about the selections. Neil Gaiman is this particular year's editor, and his introduction is the usual hand-wringing motif most editors indulge in when they have to pick the best-of: namely, how difficult the job is and how poorly they feel their selections truly represent the 'best'. I don't envy them--I have no doubt it is truly a labor, and it is precisely so difficult because tastes are so different. Yet a few of the selections for 2010 seem a bit more militant than usual--especially from Peter Kuper and Peter Bagge--and I think that is a function of the original publishing date of the individual entries, which ran from Sept. 1, 2008 to Aug. 31, 2009. Although that doesn't really seem like that long ago to me, it is in fact the period when, politically, America was going through a huge change, and there was a lot of anger at previous administrations and hope for the new. I sensed that a few of these selections were wrapped up in some of that emotion, and with the passage of time, I thought they seemed stale. There were other selections that were, in contrast, self-contained, and of these some were odd and perplexing, but still interesting. I thought the standout was from Chris Ware, even though it was rather depressing--though much of his that I've read comes across that way.
Again, if one were looking for a way to get exposed to a lot of comics that aren't always easily accessible, then I'd say that this is an excellent choice. Here there is memoir, true-life narrative, far-out satiric science-fiction, and even Robert Crumb's imagining of Genesis. For those who have more experience with some of these creators, then I'd also say that I have my doubts that the 2010 example is one of the best examples of the series. Still, if one is able to find it reasonably cheap, then the unevenness is more palatable. For a couple of bucks, it was a great deal. At ten bucks, I'd have been unhappy.
On the subjective side, the bits I liked the best are:
"Omega the Unknown" - I like odd comics like Grant Morrison's weirder stuff, so this is right up my alley. I will probably get the complete story some day.
Ben Katchor's single page entries "The Daily Grand Prix" and "Forbidden Rooms."
Fred Chao's "Lobster Run." A busboy has to steal a lobster from a competitor's restaurant. Lots of fun.
Excerpts from Jesse Reklaw's "The Night of Your life." One page, four panel depictions of some very bizarre and funny dreams.
Most of the rest of the entries are at least okay. The one I didn't care for much was the section from "The Alcoholic" on the aftermath of 9/11. Too depressing. I suppose it would be more meaningful to me if I had lived in New York at the time.
Regarding the stories in general, there seem to be two theories when it comes to comics - "The story is more important than the art" or "the art is more important than the story." I am of the former opinion. I love Watchmen because Alan Moore wrote it, not because Dave Gibbons drew it. Also, I don't claim to know anything about art, but I know what I like. Keeping all that in mind, I can't recommend this book to you if you are of the "art is more important than story" school. Tastes vary widely, of course, but I'm just not into Robert Crumb's art for instance (okay, feel free to call me an idiot), and I can't tell you why "Asterios Polyp" is artistically brilliant (at least, not on the basis of the pages included in this volume).