In the comics section of my home library, the amount of shelf space devoted to anthologies has expanded dramatically over the past few years; it has grown yet again with the third annual "Best American Comics" book (under new editorship each year) and the second "Anthology of Graphic Fiction" collection from Ivan Brunetti. The previous volumes of each series--BAC 2006 (Amazon, review), 2007 (Amazon, review), and Brunetti's Anthology Volume 1 (Amazon, review)--were great reads for this familiar-with-the-industry-but-not-fanatic comics reader, and these volumes live up their predecessors. (I'm not forgetting about McSweeney's #13--Amazon and review--but but rather waiting for a sequel...)
I had intended on reviewing these volumes when they were released last fall, but my reading and blogging were far too consumed with politics for me to give these works the attention they deserved. Thankfully, books are patient and forgiving.
Lynda Barry, ed. The Best American Comics 2008 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008)
After first reading through Best American Comics 2008, I felt a bit underwhelmed; another reading revised my estimation upward. Highlights of this volume include Chris Ware's New Yorker "Thanksgiving Series" as well as excerpts from Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets, Jason Lutes' Berlin, Seth's George Sprott, and my three favorites: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese, David Axe/Steve Alexa's War Fix, and "Turtle, Keep It Steady!" by Joseph Lambert.
"Unfortunately, DC refused to grant permission to include it in The Best American Comics 2008 and it was clear that no DC superhero comic could ever be included in the collection."
Paul Pope, writer/artist on Batman: Year 100, stated: "I made formal requests, as did Lynda and a number of other people with some degree of influence." The lack of superheroes doesn't seem to have hurt either the series or this volume, which has attracted considerable critical attention. Matthew Brady's piece at Comics Reporter is the best review of BAC 2008 I've seen, with an evaluation of each piece and plenty of sample panels. There are also reviews at Chicago Reader, PopMatters, and SlashDot, with the metaphor of the day coming from this review:
"Like ordering the beer sampler at your favorite micro-brewery, you'll find here a collection of short, well-crafted, interesting comics and an easy way to figure out whether you might like to see more from these creators without blowing your wallet."
Ivan Brunetti, ed. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories: Volume 2 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008)
The other volume of comics concoctions is Brunetti's second Anthology. It has a nearly 100-page length advantage over BAC 2008, and the slightly larger page size gives it some added heft as well. The contributions by Harvey Kurtzman are excellent, and the pages that follow form a tribute to him--rather like the first volume's paean to Charles Schulz. Kevin Huizenga's homage to Crumb (p. 299, from "The Curse") was also a nice touch of the sort that permeates this volume.
Richard von Busack is "flabbergasted by the range of work" in Anthology 2, that "[t]he selections are kaleidoscopically varied, almost universally risky and created to satisfy a number of impulses." Sean Collins also praises Brunetti's selections and sequencing:
"A sequence of R. Crumb/Harvey Pekar strips about blues and jazz records and record collecting ends up feeling like a complex and at times uncomfortable suite about race, sex, class, art, and modernity. And the sequence of strips that ends the book--Seth, Adrian Tomine, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, David Heatley--ends the book on a high note."
These books are not like a complete and final representation of everything that's interesting in comics. There are many more new things. I hope someone else will take up the task of doing more anthologies that have a strong singular editorial vision, even if it's a crazy editorial vision. That's what I was throwing in there. It's a very singular viewpoint. They're almost like autobiography. They probably reveal a lot about me, whether I was trying to do that or not.
I'm already looking forward to The Best American Comics 2009, and also hoping that Brunetti changes his mind about not editing a third Anthology.