If it weren’t for prolific comics scribe Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book, 2008, etc.), it’s quite possible that there would be no Best American Comics collection. Since he began his comics career with Violent Cases alongside longtime collaborator Dave McKean in the 1980s, the multimedia writer has transformed the comics landscape with seminal graphic novels like The Sandman, The Books of Magic, a reimagining of the Eternals and most recently a collaboration with Mike Allred in DC’s experimental Wednesday Comics. Fortunately, the prolific author and novelist has finally found time to assume this year’s editorship of one of the genre’s boldest collections, The Best American Comics 2010, a miscellany of comics from creators like Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Ames, among many others.
You have a number of creative irons in the fire at any one time. What intrigued you about taking on the editorship of The Best American Comics 2010?
I guess partly because when I was starting out in comics, 25 years ago now, the idea that one day there would be a book collecting America’s best comics that would be sitting there alongside America’s best travel writing and America’s best short stories was impossible. Things like that were pipe dreams. It was this strange, magical idea from this wonderful futuristic world that we were all dreaming of. And then it came true, and now we’re there. I felt that I owed it in some ways.
To a degree you helped create this world in the first place.
I definitely set out all those years ago thinking that this medium is as expressive, as resilient, as important and as valid as all these other things out there.
What were your creative criteria for inclusion?
I wanted a balance of stuff, a mixture of things. I wanted something that I could hand to someone who loved any kind of comics. It’s kind of like giving someone a box of chocolates and saying that somewhere in this box will be the one that you love. And you might as well try some of these things, too, because there may be things in here that you don’t know that you love yet.
I also wanted to stretch people’s heads a little. I like that someone is going to absorb a weird, funny little story about robots and gnomes that is going to sit side-by-side with true-life reportage about the New Orleans flood following Hurricane Katrina. I like the idea of balancing history with stuff that is fictional with stuff that is personal with stuff that is fabulous—in the sense of fabulation, rather than just being cool.
Who springs to mind when you think about the comics in this collection?
I loved that I would run into comics that I didn’t know I would like. There’s a glorious punk comic set in small-town America. There’s James Kochalka, who is a strange, juicy genius that communicates this feeling of intimacy with four-panel pages about his life. David Mazzucchelli fascinated me, because Asterios Polyp seemed very close to being the Great Graphic Novel. The one that I felt that we were luckiest to get, because of the weirdness of our window of availability, was Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis. The book hadn’t been published, but its introduction had been published in the New Yorker, and so we got lucky.
You work in many different mediums, among them novels, plays, screenplays and films. What continues to draw you back to comics?
The reason I write comics from time to time is because there are stories that work best as comics. You have this ability to combine words and pictures in ways they may never have been combined before. You get to have fun. You get to, with any luck, show people stories in ways that they’ve never seen those stories been told before. Like all mediums, comics have their own little set of strengths and weaknesses. There will always be those moments where you think of a story and realize the only place it can be told, as well as it can be, is in the pages of a comic.
The Best American Comics 2010
Edited by Neil Gaiman, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / October / 9780547241777 / $23.00