It Gets Better Than This?
In general, not bloody likely
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
1:18PM, Fri. Sep. 30, 2011
No. No, it really doesn't.
The cliche about something being an embarrassment of riches
comes into play in the world of comics, these days.
Or graphic novels, in other words.
Or, because "novel" still also connotes a certain size
(and we wouldn't want to diss Adrian Tomine's newest floppy),
maybe Independent Works Of Sequential Art is a better term?
Some near-equal arrangement of words and pictures
concerning other than the usual Spandexed clusterfuck
of superheroes lately being mined for cinematic blockbusters,
is what we mean.
Where the embarrassment comes in is that, oh shit,
now that there are so many examples of this artform
being created, it's nigh on impossible to keep up.
Not to keep up with the entire output, even,
but just to keep up with the flood of truly good stuff.
"If you have spent a long time resisting the status quo – whether it's in art, society,
or the political world – what happens when that status quo at last gives way?"
Alison Bechdel, acclaimed creator of the novel Fun Home
and legendary comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, asks that question
in her trenchant & delightfully illustrated introduction to Best American Comics 2011.*
And, well, the embarrassment mentioned above is part of the answer.
Another part of the answer – and a helpful antidote to that embarrassment –
is this latest volume of Best American Comics, the most visual of
the longtime Best American group of anthologies from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This year's collection is edited by Bechdel, in fact, and overseen by
comics savants (and series editors) Jessica Abel and Matt Madden,
and it'll give you a fine overview of what's currently revered in the field.
Even if you're not a comics fan, you may have heard of
some of the artists whose works are included here.
There's an excerpt from Chris Ware's newest novel, Lint.
There are sections from famed war journalist Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza
and from Jaime Hernandez's Love & Rockets: New Stories.
And then there's a couple dozen more works from names you might not know
but that would make an aficionado of the field start twitching in anticipation of brilliance.
There's an excerpt from Dash Shaw's exceedingly weird and futuristic drug tale,
Body World; there's "Soixante Neuf," David Lasky and Mairead Case's
homage to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin; there's Paul Pope eschewing his
frequent sci-fi phantasmagoria to present a perfect personal slice-of-life circa 1977;
Peter and Maria Hoey's complex "Anatomy of a Pratfall," which the ghosts of
Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati are doubtless grinning about the creation of;
Michael DeForge's "Queen," an otherworldly work of gender-bendery;
Internet comics sensation Kate Beaton's comedic three-panel takes
on Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby; and –
Oh, there's more, and we could just continue to throw the table of contents at you
way past the point of tl;dr. But, no, we'll stop here, saying only that, yes,
this new volume does feature some of the best American comics available,
in color or in black-and-white, as they originally appeared in various media;
and the only danger in purchasing a copy for yourself is that you might then be tempted
to buy all the larger works that many of the collection's examples are excerpted from.
But that danger ... well, that's not a danger you'll have to suit up in Spandex to brave, now, is it?
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* The funniest thing about the introduction, though?
Is Bechdel's attempt to render herself, in one panel, all manga-style.
Funny, we say, because, although the woman can draw circles around
so many other cartoonists, although her penwork is as amazing as, oh, Jim Woodring's,
what she's imitated here is much more the style of Dr. Seuss than of, say, Osamu Tezuka or Naoko Takeuchi.
You'll just have to see it for yourself, friend.