Another annual cornucopia of graphic narrative (and comic strips).
Whether comics were ever striving for cultural legitimacy, they are now struggling with it—even resisting it—though this year’s collection suggests that the range of subject, tone and technique continues to expand. Perhaps no other graphic memoirist has achieved greater acclaim than this year’s guest editor Bechdel (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, 2006, etc.), who not only contributes an illustrated introduction (which comments on the imbalance of men over women among the artists, in this as well as previous years, and the absence of African-Americans), and shows a feminist perspective in both the sequencing and selection. Among the developments highlighted by the anthology are “webcomics” (a natural extension of the indie and self-publishing of comics, and the punk-rock, DIY spirit the form shares) and “metacomics” (which use comics to comment on the making and essence of comics). Highlights include Gabrielle Bell’s opening “Manifestation,” where she imagines critical acclaim and world renown for her adaptation of The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas (who attempted to kill Andy Warhol), and “Pet Cat” by Joey Alison Sayers, who follows a strip through the publishing industry’s various permutations. While much of this work is at the cutting edge of contemporary culture, there is a historical perspective to some of the more ambitious pieces, as Joe Sacco’s excerpts from Footnotes in Gaza, the longest selection, explores the unreliability of human memory in recalling a mid-’50s Mideast massacre by Israeli soldiers, while “Little House in the Big City,” by Sabrina Jones, frames a love letter to New York with the battle over urban renewal between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. The extended, wordless visual epiphany in “Winter” is stunning (adapted by artist Danica Novgorodoff from a Benjamin Percy short story and its screenplay). David Lasky shows the greatest range, with both the most formally complex selection (“Soixante Neuf”) and the most elemental (the single-page closer, “The Ultimate Graphic Novel”). As always, Chris Ware’s inevitable selection is brilliant.
The state of an art that has yet to reach stasis.