Monday, December 29, 2014

Booknote: Best American Comics 2014

Scott McCloud (volume editor) and Bill Kartalopoulus (series editor), Best American Comics 2014. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-544-10600-0.

Best American Comics is a series I have wanted to explore for a while, so I was glad to get a review copy for this one. According to description, the series seeks to represent the best work in American comics for a given year. The focus for the series is a bit more on independent and experimental comics. You really won't see stuff from big houses like DC or Marvel here. However, the series editor this year points out that as corporate book publishers concentrate on just proven artists and genres, in other words what sells for them and makes them the most money, they are "largely eschewing the wide-open experimentation that fundamentally created this category fourteen short years ago" (ix). It seems a sad irony, but for now at least we can find some good reading here. For instance, they are featuring an excerpt from the Saga series in this volume.

The volume covers "a selection of North American comics first published between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013" (x). The work is meant to be a diverse snapshot in time of this field. This volume features a foreword by the series editor, which provides a year in review and a look at the health of American comics. The editor does claim that any comic can make it into the volume "from major publishing houses and newspaper pages to boutique specialty presses, self-published 'zines, and online media" (x). This year some of the works do include self-published comics, which by the way shows because one thing you notice is inconsistent quality in stories.

Though usually volumes like this are meant to be browsed, volume editor Scott McCloud opens the volume with a note urging readers to read not browse. This is because, in his words, "the following comic selections and text explanations are meant to be read in the same order in which they are presented here." Seems a bit too prescriptive to me, but I leave it to readers to decide if they wish to comply or not. The volume is organized into ten sections with a text introduction followed then by the comics selections.

The book does feature a pretty broad selection with a balance between excerpts and small self-contained comics. Though the volume claims to be the "best," the quality of comics does vary. Some are just better than others. This feeling may also depend on themes and readers' taste. While I do appreciate the broad variety, I will say that for many readers, in terms of quality, your mileage may vary. Some are just not that good. By the way, we do need to note these are not comics for children; some material is explicit.

Overall, I liked the book, but given that quality was inconsistent, whether in art or in stories, I did not really like it. Still, its diversity is a strength; it features authors such as Charles Burns, R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomini, and many others. Plus, it does give you a sense of what is out there; it may also give you a sense of what to avoid out there. Still, I would consider reading others in the series, but this is one I would borrow rather than buy.

I would recommend to public libraries, but it is not a strong recommendation. If you feel a need to be comprehensive and/or give a sense of what is out there in this genre annually, this may be an option. However, if your collecting is a bit more selective, this could be one to skip.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Where I tell you, in order to keep The Man off my back, that I read this as a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley, and that I did so in exchange for an honest review.

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