Comics? Sequential Art? Literature for Your Visual Cortex?
The Best American Comics 2013 is going to have one definite problem: It won't be able to contain the entirety of Chris Ware's Building Stories.
But that's okay, really – because, in the first place, the yearly anthology series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt often includes excerpts from longer works; and, in the second place, Ware's Building Stories exists entirely on its own, in a stunningly boxed version from Pantheon; and, in the third place – or, actually, it's probably the place even before the first place – we're currently engaging with this year's Best American Comics collection: 2012.
Sometimes a place can shift out of sequence, as above. Sometimes shifts of sequence – in the progression of panels in a comic, say – are intentional and, when employed by the likes of C. Ware and others likely to be included in any best-of collection, highly effective.
Let this be the last time you have to endure the phrase, See what I did there?
But let this not be the last time you consider the richness inherent in HMH's Best American Comics series, because series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden know what the hell is up with comics and always choose an appropriate and much-respected guest editor to highlight the best of the best – e.g., 2011's edition, as reviewed here.
This year, The New Yorker's art editor Françoise Mouly is the final decider, and she introduces the collection with commentary catbirded into the word balloons of panels ganked from a wide variety of comics. Easy to assume that the woman responsible for bringing the aforementioned Chris Ware (and Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez and others and of course her husband Art Spiegelman) to the long-esteemed and glossy weekly … easy to assume she'd choose the finest works to present, right? Well, you know what they say about what happens when one assumes …
But the only person who's going to wind up feeling like an ass here is, we suggest, the person who neglects to purchase a copy of this beautiful collection.
Why? Because the inclusions here will amaze and delight you with their surfaces and their depths, with the diverse styles of drawing and painting and genres and topics of consideration. Because, besides being a volume of self-contained visual narratives filling page after page, this year's anthology also functions – as all the volumes do – as a guide to which larger works you could seek out for greater single-author-based edification. (Hint.)
Anyone might recognize a few of the names of the artists represented in this collection: Charles Burns, Gary Panter, Sergio Aragonés. Others, a bit more into the comics scene, might recognize even more: Michael Kupperman, Anders Nilsen, Sammy Harkham, Renée French, Jordan Crane. Your reviewer here, about midway between total ignorance and supreme enlightenment, will be as surprised as you likely are by Dakota McFadzean and his arch paean to videogame culture, Leave Luck to Heaven. And everyone will put this bounteous book down reluctantly, and yearn for the moment when they can pick it up again.
Bonus: For the first time, there's a small section of really great stories for kids in the back of this book.
Why, it's as if comics aren't just for adults anymore …