Don’t be fooled by the prosaic title or the whiff of pedagogy in the introduction; this is the world of comics—or at least the North American, English-speaking part of that world—at its liveliest.
The second anthology edited by Brunetti (volume one was published in 2006) showcases some of the form’s history and development, highlights some of the best and better-known contemporary artists and introduces some cutting-edge innovators working at the vanguard of form and collage. The thematic organization by the editor (a Chicago-based professor and cartoonist) is compellingly idiosyncratic, juxtaposing Chris Ware’s one-pager of a superhero named “God” with R. Sikoryak’s series of covers for the fictional Action Camus series—a takeoff on Action Comics with a superhero who is part Superman, part Albert Camus’s The Stranger. The work included addresses plenty of psycho-philosophical issues—death, identity, dreams, memory, death and the possibility of an afterlife—while also including a tribute to MAD magazine’s creator Harvey Kurtzman, with his work followed by extended graphic celebrations by such leading acolytes as Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman. The latter stresses how far Kurtzman’s influence extended beyond fellow artists to the culture at large: “I think Harvey’s MAD was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War.” The obsessions probed throughout the anthology are as personal as the artistry, with Crumb offering a series of strips on record collecting (the first in collaboration with Harvey Pekar) and the exotic lure of what were once known as “race records”; Joe Matt on porn addiction; and Lynda Barry on dancing (and “keepers of the groove”). In David Heatley’s closing “ Portrait of My Mom” and “Portrait of My Dad,” it’s plain that what he’s really offering is a portrait of himself. Explains Brunetti, “I have tried to represent a variety of approaches while retaining a sense of wholeness and interconnectedness among the stories. If the first volume viewed comics as a developing human being, then this volume treats them as an extended family.”
The anthology suggests that, thankfully, this extended family isn’t close to exhausting its creative potential.