Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Best American Comics 2012 edited by Francoise Mouly

Some books are harder to review than others, requiring more energy and effort up front to do a good job -- and anthologies, particularly "best of the year" anthologies, are among the worst. To really review The Best American Comics 2012, a reviewer should have a good sense of what she would have put into a similar book, to compare this actual book to the space of other potential books in order to judge what qualities the anthologist was looking for and what kinds of stories she gravitated to.

There are people who can do that -- I used to have a decent sense of the SF short-fiction field back in my book-club days, and there are probably a couple of dozen people who have that kind of standing to examine this book. But there aren't many of them, and they often are doing either competing anthologies or otherwise professionally connected to the field -- which often precludes an honest review, or one at all.

I've tried to review the books in this series in the past -- I started off comparing the initial 2006 volume with the almost simultaneous Ivan Brunetti-edited An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories and then had standalone reviews of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, then finally sticking 2010 and 2011 into round-ups to hide the fact that I didn't have all that much to say about them -- but I don't think I ever did the job the way it really should be done. And I don't expect this will be much better -- so you're warned.

Francoise Mouly is the guest editor this year, and she bends the book slightly -- the same way each guest editor has bent the book only slightly, picking mostly the same acclaimed alt-cartoonists (literary cartoonists? what is the accepted term for that broad swath of comics creators who have solid careers and artistic interest and don't do men-in-tights books?) as anyone else would. Mouly's big change is a small section of comics for kids at the end, which I'm afraid comes across as special pleading -- most of it is cute and nice and inoffensive and pretty, which seems really minor placed at the end of a book of stronger, better stories.

But, of course, a lot of the stuff in here isn't "stories," but pieces of stories. The literary comics field is mostly one of book-length works these days, so an annual anthology has a bunch of more-or-less self-contained pieces of stories -- this year from Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, Scott Chantler, Anders Nilsen, Sammy Harkham, Sarah Glidden, Chester Brown, Renee French, and Jaime Hernandez -- along with things that really do stand on their own.

So Best American Comics 2012 isn't really a coherent anthology -- if any best of the year could -- but a series of pointers to some of the best work from the oddly defined year of September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2011. Contrary to what I said up top, the reader who'll get the most enjoyment out of this book is someone with no expectations or knowledge of the field, who can find "The Love Bunglers" or the excerpt from Big Questions without any preconceptions, who can be surprised and illuminated.

I found this book in a library, which gives me hope that it can find those kind of readers -- that it will be stumbled over, on a shelf somewhere, over and over, by people who have no idea that comics can be more than a series of brightly-clothed characters who need to insist that the last part of their name is Man. (Overcompensate much?!) If you read comics, you might want to check this out. If you don't read comics, I'd urge you to find it -- because comics can do anything any other artform can, and this book will give you a glimpse of the ways that's true.

No comments:

Post a Comment