The latest annual roundup is more ambitious and conceptually audacious than is usual for any Best American series.
As a well-regarded critical theorist as well as creator of comics, McCloud (Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, 2006, etc.) has points to make and issues to raise with this year’s selection, which represents “just…the tip of a very big, very weird iceberg.” Where these collections typically follow an alphabetical (by author) sequencing and need not be read in any particular order, McCloud explains, “I’ve divided our stories into ten sections, offering a short introduction for each. Each section is built around a unifying theme, and it’s been fun watching the stories in each group talk to each other at night, find common ground.” Most of the inclusions are excerpts from larger works, and given the structural innovations of comic form, many of them are represented in a format different from the original—e.g., the wordless excerpt from Chris Ware’s epochal Building Stories (2012), an achievement of which any part can only hint. In addition to Ware, what McCloud calls “The Usual Suspects” include Charles Burns, Ben Katchor, the Crumbs and the brothers Hernandez. Highlights extend from Allie Brosh’s Web comic excerpt from “Depression Part Two,” confessional and cathartic, to Tom Hart’s memorialization of his young daughter in an excerpt from his work in progress, Rosalie Lightning, to the nightmarish surrealism of Ron Regé Jr., one of those who explores “that far outer perimeter of meaning.” Some of the juxtapositions might make more thematic sense to the editor than they do to readers, and the dominance of experts suggests that the main value of this volume will be to give readers a taste of other books worth discovering.
The spirit of discovery makes this a good launching point for readers interested in the genre’s variety and limitless possibility.