Monday, September 28, 2009

Reviews: The Best American Comics 2008

I picked this up at the library over the weekend. It's an interesting collection with a very wide range of stories and artistic styles, none of which resemble contemporary superhero comics, which is refreshing. On the other hand, some the styles just didn't appeal to me. Another problem is that many of the stories here are excerpts, so just when they seem to be getting interesting, they end.

So it's best to think of this collection as a tasting sampler. That said, here are my favorite pieces:
  • Burden by Graham Annable. Clean, simple b/w cartooning with a strong sense of line backed by a spare story of seeming redemption with a powerful finale. Excellent.
  • The Salon, by Nick Bertozzi. A weird but strangely compelling story about a rather caricatured Picasso and an unnamed painter companion as they stumble across the principles of Cubism and perhaps track a string of murders committed by Gaugin. Be warned--more shots of Picasso's penis than is probably healthy to see.
  • Seven Sacks by Eleanor Davis. An odd moral fable about a ferryman and an unusual assortment of monsters told almost entirely with pictures. Fascinating stuff.
  • The Bloody Benders, by Nick Geary. Clean art style with a crispness and linearity reminiscent of some of David Macauley's work. An incomplete but interesting look into a real historical period.
  • Life is Hell, by Matt Groening. Classic, bizarre, messy art and humor from the creator of the Simpsons.
  • Gold Diggers of 1969 by Jaime Hernandez. Apparently this takes some his Love and Rockets characters back to an untold part of their childhood. I haven't read that work, but this was interesting and the art style is like an unusual take on Family Circus.
  • Berlin by Jason Lutes. Really liked the art in this strange historical pastiche of people in 1930 Berlin, though the story, as noted, is a work in progress and the excerpt doesn't really pull it all together.
  • George Sprott by Seth. I swear that when I first saw these panels I thought they had been drawn by Chris Ware, who actually did the next strip. A very odd story of a deceased host of a small television show about his exploits in the Far North as a younger man.
  • American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. Good storytelling and crisp art that conveys emotion very nicely. Wish the excerpt was longer.
Most of the remaining pieces either had art styles that I didn't care for or stories that were just too disjointed and difficult to follow (which might have been the result of excerpting in some cases). An example of the former is Trouble by T. Edward Bak, and of the latter is Thanksgiving by Chris Ware (whose art is lovely but whose storytelling style nearly always leaves me unable to follow his layouts or narrative).

As the above comments probably indicate, this was a very quixotic anthology and a nice reflection of the diversity in contemporary American comics.

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