I have a strange relationship with The Best American Comics collections. I understand that they’re not really for me, a comics fan, but rather for people who tend to collect The Best American [Insert Subject Here] books. Or for comics fans to give to their non-comics-reading friends (people have those?) to prove to them that comics are cool.
I’ve felt a little critical of The Best American Comics in the past, and that could just be that I wasn’t that familiar with them, but I’ve always felt they had a somewhat limited perspective on literary comics. You were going to find the approved creators — you know, the kinds of people who create “graphic novels” and those that your non-comics friends would possibly read, but not much else.
And then I read Neil Gaiman was the guest editor for the 2010 edition. Yes, I kind of rolled my eyes at bit there. I like Gaiman as a writer, yes, and his contributions to comics have been notable, but they’ve mostly been in the past and his work is fairly mainstream (maybe not initially, but I think once he’s showing up on CBS Sunday Morning, yes, he’s mainstream). He wouldn’t have been my first pick to put together a book of the best comics of the year.
However, Best American Comics 2010 is pretty cool and I think a lot of that is because of Gaiman’s perspective. I think since he’s not as closely connected to comics as someone else would’ve been, he’s more open-minded in his selections. The stories being told are what’s important here — not who is made them.
Yes, you have a lot of the usual suspects (too much Chris Ware for my tastes, but then, I’m not really a Ware fan), but you also have Theo Ellsworth, Bryan Lee O’Malley, C. Tyler, Lilli Carre. In other words, you have a lot of my people. It’s a wonderful mix of high-profile releases, like R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis and Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel’s The Alcoholic and smaller releases, like Jesse Reklaw‘s Slow Wave and Fred Chao‘s Johnny Hiro.
That’s awesome. That’s what comics is. It covers a broad range of styles and subjects. It encompasses creators and publishers of all ages, experiences and fame. This didn’t feel like “Oh, here’s a bunch of creators you’ve probably heard of and one guy who got a Xeric.” It felt more like “This is what was great in comics between Aug. 2008 and Sept. 2009.” I loved seeing a lot of the comics I loved in that time period showing up here.
Is the perspective still a little limited? Maybe. But overall, this ended up feeling a lot like a collection of comics I’ve read or would read.
So yes, it’s still not for me, since I’ve read a lot of these comics (and I bet you have to). But would I give it to a friend or family member who was interested in comics but didn’t know where to start? Absolutely. That’s what this book is designed to do and it does it incredibly well.
Advanced reading copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through NetGalley.