I think I’m finally sold on The Best American Comics as a series.
I’ve always understood that these books aren’t necessarily for me, but for that friend who keeps expressing interest in comics but balks when I try to hand her a graphic novel (this is a metaphorical friend for me — you, however, may have one). This friend is well suited to an anthology — if there’s something she doesn’t like, well, it’s over pretty quickly.
But I think within the past couple of years, series editor Jessica Abel and Matt Madden have figured out the voice they want these books to have. I do think guest editor Neil Gaiman did a good job with last year’s collection, but looking back, there was some of a sense of “Look at all these hip and cool indie creators!” about it. He made fun and thoughtful choices and I would’ve gladly given it to a friend newly interested in comics. I just didn’t need to own it myself.
In Alison Bechdel‘s hands, The Best American Comics 2011 (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), on the other hand, is a book I would absolutely own (as well as, of course, give it to my friend interested in comics).
I love Bechdel already, but she absolutely won me over in her introduction to this collection where she pointed out how few women these collections have contained (and calls herself out for not doing that great of a job on that part — there’s a chart and everything) and also points out she didn’t manage to include any black creators in this collection. I admire her willingness to show the shortcoming in terms of diversity of this volume.
I admire the diversity of selections Bechdel has picked. Yes, of course creators like Chris Ware and Jaime Hernandez show up here, but so do Kate Beaton and Gabrielle Bell, who both deserve to be included just as much. There were even some creators I wasn’t familiar with, such as Kevin Mutch and Angie Wang. As many comics that have passed through my life in the past year, it’s a thrill to see something new.
I also love Bechdel’s willingness to embrace and showcase the weirder side of indie comics, from Michael DeForge‘s grotesquely colorful “Queen” to the excerpt from Dash Shaw‘s Body World. Surprisingly though, the book never feels alienating or like there’s an attempt to be shocking. There’s definitely some dark subject matter and imagery, like Gabby Schulz (Ken Dahl)’s “New Year’s, 2004” and Julia Gfrörer‘s “Fear of Fire” but those stories are balanced with lighter ones, like Joey Allison Sayers‘ “Pet Cat” and Jillian Tamaki‘s “Domestic Men of Mystery.”
As all collections go, not everything here is going to appeal to everyone, but I think that’s partially by design. Still, Bechdel has selected comics that are both accessible and representative of where independent comics are now.
The Best American Comics 2011 is beautifully and thoughtfully compiled collection of comics. Forget about that friend you usually buy these collections for. Buy this one for yourself. (But then maybe let said friend borrow it when you’re done.)
Advance reading copy provided through NetGalley.