Review: The Best American Comics 2014

best-american-2014I am not going to go into my thoughts on The Best American Comics  since I’ve already covered that pretty well (I flipped through but did not read either the 2012 or 2013 editions). They are what they are, honestly, and that’s more of a good thing than a bad thing.

Except this year, it’s only a good thing. The Best American Comics 2014 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is a masterful collection of where the medium of comics is right now. If you need a primer, this is it. If you just want to have all these amazing comics in one volume you can take with you, this is it. This has set the standard for what all the following The Best American Comics books need to be.

Under the guidance of new series editor Bill Kartalopoulos (who, among many other things he does, always puts together incredible programming for Small Press Expo), it does feel like the direction of what these books should be has changed. While I have no problem with what former series editors Matt Madden and Jessica Abel were doing, Kartalopoulos brings a curator’s eye to this collection, seeking out the new and the different, and wanting to highlight new creators alongside the legends. It all goes into a wonderful pool to choose from.

This year’s editor is Scott McCloud, and his background as a comics creator, teacher and thinker shows through. He is obviously excited about comics all the time and his enthusiasm shows through. He organizes the comics here into categories and provides context for each section. It gives the volume a structure and flow that has been lacking in previous ones. Even as much as I know about comics (and many of these creators), I found this to be insightful and informative.

Yes, you’ll still find most of the usual suspects here — the book starts selections from Jaime Hernandez, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine and R. Crumb — but that’s dispensed with quickly (and wisely). Other than an extended look at Chris Ware’s Building Stories, the rest of the collection is full more recent legends and unknown creators — from Raina Telgmeier (it’s a delight to see Drama highlighted here) to Michael DeForge to Sam Alden (whose gorgeous Hawaii 1997 is included here).

Even crossover favorites like Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staple’s Saga and Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads get nods here. Instead of coming across as “I too like popular comics” on the part of McCloud, it feels more like “These are really great comics and I wanted to share them!”

Did anything surprise me here? I certainly loved that Allie Brosh’s “Depression Part II” is put with all these great comics because it deserves to be there. It’s fun to see an excerpt from Lale Westvind’s Hyperspeed to Nowhere #2 and selections from Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac in this book, too. I appreciate that McCloud didn’t shy away from including more experimental comics from Aidan Koch and Erin Curry.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve read most or none of these comics before. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to discover new creators or just want to enjoy some old favorites. Whether you know nothing about comics or that’s all you read, The Best American Comics 2014 is for you.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Briefly noted:

I’m still going through my stack of comics from Small Press Expo (and the comics I bought afterward), but I just wanted to highlight a few I’ve read lately and have enjoyed.

  • Weird Me Vol. 1 by Kelly Phillips – Phillips tells her tale of her days managing a Weird Al fansite. It’s hilarious and sweet. Her art carries a good sense of setting and emotion and her page layouts are dynamic. I am looking forward to Vol. 2 way too much (in fact, after finishing this, I immediately went online to ask when it was going to be done.)
  • The Secret of Angel Food Cake by Hannah Lee Stockdale – I have read this comic way too many times and after I failed to see her at SPX, she kindly sent me the print version. There is just something so lovely and quiet about the storytelling. And I like the way Stockdale draws dogs. If you draw good dogs, I like your comics.
  • Hair by Matt Lubchansky – This minicomic is basically just a punchline you can guess from the beginning, but it’s still a good one. Lubchansky’s comic is funny and playful — characters are all wide-eyes and exaggerated movements — and things that could be horrifying just come across as silly. Also, great use of spot color.

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