Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book-A-Day #189 (1/21): The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar

Certain nefarious forces on the Internet (I'm not being more specific because I don't actually know who they are or what their problems are) have been dumping on this book, and praising the Ivan Brunetti Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories instead.

I'm not done reading the Brunetti book (which has its strong points, but some very glaring weaknesses as well), but I don't get it. Apparently the series editor of Best American Comics, Anne Elizabeth Moore, is a divisive figure in some comics circles for reasons everyone is supposed to already know -- maybe that's the underlying reason for the hating.

I'll get to the Brunetti book when I finish it (for now, check out Jeff VanderMeer's review of it at Bookslut), but The Best American Comics 2006 is a very nicely put together, cleanly designed, and well-chosen collection of comics stories. There's nothing here I found embarrassing (unlike the Brunetti book), only a couple of excerpts of longer works (which don't really work well in an anthology), and some really good work by people I hadn't heard of before (like Joel Priddy's "The Amazing Life of Onion Jack" and Jesse Reklaw's "Thirteen Cats of My Childhood"). Since Pekar was the editor of this edition, there's a lot of autobiographical and journalistic comics, and a bit of pure left-wing agit-prop (like Lloyd Dangle's "Street-Level View of the Republican National Convention"), but that's to be expected. The whole point of having guest editors in a series like this is to let those editors view the year through their own lenses.

The notes on the contributors (and their own notes on their works) are long enough to be useful, and the fact that they're in the backmatter (so they can be on slightly cheaper paper, I imagine) is OK. I hadn't thought about the problems of headnotes in comics anthologies before, but, now that I have, I imagine that you either have to devote a full-page for the notes to each story, or move all of the notes into front- or backmatter sections. (This is because comics stories are already, and inherently, organized into pages in a way that prose or poetry are not.)

All in all, I liked it a lot. I hope the series continues, and does well; I'd like to keep getting these every year.

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Peter Hollo said...

It's an interesting project. When I picked it up, I did feel like I'd either read most of it or they were excerpts from things I'd like to own in full anyway, so I didn't buy it. (Of course it has things I hadn't heard of too...)

The Brunetti, on the other hand, is not only beautifully presented, but had heaps of stuff I'd never seen before, and was collected together in a great way. The only thing I didn't like was how small the reproduction was for the Kevin Huizenga piece, which I have in a minicomic of his with better reproduction!

Andrew Wheeler said...

That's interesting; so far the Brunetti book feels to me like a collection of things I already own -- a little bit of Maus, a dash of Dan Clowes, a spinkle of Adrian Tomine, and so on.

My unscientific impression (written now, when the books are twenty miles or so away) is that the Brunetti has more excerpts than BAC2006, but I could easily be wrong.

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