Annual anthology finds the state of graphic narrative in robust health.
With the estimable Burns (Black Hole, 2005, etc.) taking a turn as guest editor, readers might expect a darker mood to this year’s offerings. Yet if anything connects the dots in this varied collection, it’s how self-referential comic authors are as they pursue their craft. There’s a meta-comic dimension to much of this work, whether it’s a comic focused on the creation of a comic (“Spirit Duplicator,” Dan Zettwoch), a comic that reflects the inspiration of older comic strips (“Indian Spirit Twain & Einstein,” Michael Kupperman), a comic that pays homage to another contemporary comic artist (“Cruddy,” Ron Regé Jr., “stolen from the novel by Lynda Barry”) or comics that focus primarily on the self, either real (“Why I Write Only About Myself,” Aline Kominsky-Crumb) or surreal (“When I Was Eleven,” Gabrielle Bell). Some artists extend the net well beyond self and craft, from the futuristic “Galactic Funnels” of Dash Shaw to the apocalyptic, cross-cultural desolation of Gary Panter’s “Dal Tokyo.” Other forms of popular culture provide inspiration as well, with Kevin Huizenga’s “Glen Ganges in Pulverize” steeped in video-game obsession, Tim Hensley’s “Jillian in the Argument” providing a subversive sitcom twist and “Skim,” by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, illuminating goth. Among the additional familiar names are Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Hernandez and Art Spiegelman, making this collection a fine introductory primer. As series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden write in their preface, “The comics you read in this book aren’t the ‘best’ in the sense that they beat out other comics, American Idol-style. What they are is a personally curated selection of top-notch work that reflects just some of the excellence and variety that exists out there.”
One of the more recent additions to the Best American Series has established itself as one of the most valuable.