edited by Harvey Pekar ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 11, 2006
A worthy launch for what appears destined to become a valuable annual anthology.
The latest addition to the publisher’s venerable “Best American” series not only provides an expansive survey of the contemporary graphic landscape, but serves as an effective introduction to an art long consigned to the cultural underground.
Series editor Anne Elizabeth Moore considers the mainstreaming of American comics—particularly those aimed at adult readers—to be a mixed blessing at best, since the most inspired work proceeds from a radical, subversive impulse that resists housebreaking. Yet the 30 examples chosen here by Pekar (of American Splendor fame), following Moore’s initial screening, show few signs of pulling punches or playing it safe. Highlights range from the 47-page, psychologically disturbing narrative by Justin Hall (“La Rubia Loca”)—in which a woman with multiple personalities disrupts a bus tour of Mexico—to the one-page “Only Disconnect” strip by Alison Bechdel, from her “Dykes to Watch Out For” series, in which a marriage proposal just might be a strategy for avoiding intimacy. Pekar’s selections pay tribute to seminal masters, with current work from Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, along with a cartoonist’s confessional on the creative process, by Lynda Barry. The juxtapositions in David Heatley’s “Portrait of My Dad” blur the line between memory and dream. Chris Ware’s “Comics: A History” compresses centuries of graphic progression into two pages, though longer essays by Moore and Pekar put the contemporary explosion of interest in graphic narrative into context, showing how the form has developed, what resistance it has encountered and why comics matter.A worthy launch for what appears destined to become a valuable annual anthology.
Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2006
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006
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Gorgeous and troubling.
Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.
As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.Gorgeous and troubling.
Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019
Page Count: 160
Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019
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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.
Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.
Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.
Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014
Page Count: 144
Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013
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