Friday, March 02, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #61: The Best American Comics 2013 edited by Jeff Smith

As you might be able to tell from the year in the post title, I've gotten more than a little lackadaisical about keeping up with this annual series of the best in comics created by North Americans. (I reviewed 2006 at the beginning of 2007, 2007 later in 2007, 2008 in 2008, 2009 in 2009, 2010 in 2011 after the next book was published, 2011 in 2012, 2012 in 2013,  2014 in 2014, and have so far missed 2015, 2016, and 2017. If it were still my job to keep up with things being published, I would probably be deeply ashamed of myself -- but it hasn't been for a decade now, so I'm not.)

But I'm still interested in good comics, as always. So here I finally am with the Jeff Smith-edited The Best American Comics 2013, only four and a half years after it was published and six-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half years after the work in it originally appeared.

This is the point where one is supposed to say "better late than never," but I don't want to tempt anyone. "Best of" volumes always have a problem with age: even in the best of times, the beginning of the year they celebrate is about eighteen months before publication, and sometimes it can be even longer. The Best American Comics has an idiosyncratic September to August "year" to begin with, which makes it more convenient for their publishing schedule but can be confusing to someone trying to keep track of when things were published. (Although there's no real reason to bother to do that, if you're not running a media outlet or reprinting books for a living.)

Anyway, in this fine book are full stories and excerpts (more of the latter, as usual) from comics works originally published from September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2012 and made by people either currently resident in North America or "North American" (whatever that means). Translations would be OK as long as you're French Quebecois or Mexican, I suppose, though I don't recall seeing any of either in this series so far. (Too bad the old Yiddish publishing industry died out: it would be fun to see that in the modern comics world.)

The usual suspects are represented with the expected work: Alison Bechdel with an excerpt from Are You My Mother?, Craig Thompson with one from Habibi, Leela Corman with a bit from Unterzakhn, Eleanor Davis with "Nita Goes Home," Derf Backderf with some pages from My Friend Dahmer, and stories from Laura Park, Kate Beaton (who also provides the cover), Gabrielle Bell, Vanessa Davis, and Paul Pope. There's something of a tropism to cartoonists over teams, which is probably mostly a reflection of what the literary/artistic end of the comics world is like.

More obviously commercial work is represented, too, of various kinds: Faith Erin Hicks is here with an excerpt from Friends With Boys, Tony Puryear with a piece from Concrete Park (before it became a series, I think), and Terry Moore with some of Rachel Rising. All in all, there are 30 comics stories here from 33 creators, with Evan Dorkin showing up twice, as writer of a story with Jill Thompson and cartoonist of a collection of his "Fun" gag strips from Dork!

Some people you might expect are missing: the Hernandez Brothers, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, and Charles Burns are ones I thought of. But, without doing tedious research, I'm not sure what they published in that time period, if anything. And anyone interested in a book like this is going to know who they are to begin with -- making room here for Sophie Goldstein and Sammy Harkham and Jeremy Sorese is probably better, if we're making judgments like that.

As always, it's a kaleidoscope of very different kinds of comics. I tend to check to see if the guest editor has tastes wide enough that there's at least one story in the book that I don't like or get at all -- paradoxically, that's what makes the best editors. Smith doesn't manage to do that, which means either my tastes keep getting wider or they're very in tune with his to begin with.

Any book in this series is worth reading, if you like comics and want a sampler of what's good out there. I found 2013 a little less adventurous than some other years, but it's always impossible to tell if that was the year or the editor. Libraries have a lot of these books; check 'em out there. It's what I do, these days.

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