This grab-bag, scattershot selection might appeal to fans of contemporary comics but won’t win converts or satisfy the curious.
With all the attention graphic narratives have generated, an annual “best of” anthology is long overdue. The problem starts with the “year” of the title. In a field where trends move faster than those of hip-hop and advances rival computer technology’s, the period surveyed—June 2003 through December 2004—means that the oldest pieces are almost three years old and none were published within the last year. Whether because of licensing issues or cutting-edge mandate, readers won’t find many of the artists who have achieved a higher profile (no Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, David B. or Harvey Pekar). Yet most of what’s here is intriguing, much of it’s inspired and the sheer variety is proof of the possibilities under the ever-expanding comics umbrella. Among the highlights, an excerpt from Joe Kubert’s Yossel takes a boy’s-eye view of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and Xaime’s “Life Through Whispers” from Love and Rockets, which explores the seamier side of romantic desire. Meanwhile, the selection of Manga—literally, “comics” in Japanese—suggests why the form has been as culturally pervasive in that country as cable TV is here (as Jake T. Forbes’s introduction to that unit attests). Edited by the late Preiss (a pioneering publisher of graphic novels) and Zimmerman (who has worked at Marvel and DC Comics), about half of this anthology consists of excerpts from graphic novels, providing readers with an introductory taste that often proves frustrating. (Imagine an anthology of the year’s best novels that limits each to a chapter or less.) Contributing both an introduction and the concluding piece, The Sandman (which finds its protagonist crossing barriers of time in Venice), the visionary Neil Gaiman indicates where comics have been and where they’re going.
If this collection spawns annual volumes, they’ll need to be more representative and timely—or carry a different title.