Anyone who digs deeper already knows that comics are fully capable of being as elastic, ambiguous, and fluid as any other art medium. Just like fiction, film, and painting, the comics medium can reveal as much as it hides. There’s an annual anthology, “The Best American Comics,” that showcases a wide range of North American comics and addresses the familiar and peculiar in what amounts to a particular branch of contemporary comics. Or, perhaps the best way to put it is to say this book showcases the best in comics as an art form. The 2014 edition is now available. Let’s take a look.
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Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2013,’ Editor, Jeff Smith; Series Editors, Matt Madden and Jessica Abel
“The Best American Comics 2013” pops out at you with we-mean-business cover art by Kate Beaton and zips right to it. I interviewed this year’s editor, Jeff Smith (read here). As he explained, he was looking for singular talent, whether new or established, “A story someone really needs to tell.” He took care with placement so that elements from one work flow into the next and compliment each other.
Smith starts with Alison Bechdel’s “Mirror,” an autobiographical piece about mother/daughter dynamics; and he ends with Paul Pope’s “1969,” a quirky inside look at the first human landing on the moon. These two works by cartoonist heavyweights anchor the top and bottom. In between, other top contenders lend a hand, like an excerpt from Craig Thompson’s “Habibi.”
There are many new rising stars that get to sparkle amid the well know cartoonists. One such talent is Sophie Goldstein. Her work is placed right before Craig Thompson’s. The connection between the two is the focus on the female main character. In Goldstein’s “The Good Wife,” we view a woman who denies herself well beyond her limits in order to please her husband. That story gives way to Thompson’s “70 Nights of Pleasure,” an excerpt from “Habibi.”
Again, we have a woman pushing her limits to satisfy one man. The artwork, and the narrative structure, for each of these pieces is quite different. Goldstein’s style is basic. Thompson’s style is ornate. However, both present confident, mature work. That’s saying a lot since Thompson is a seasoned veteran and Goldstein is a recent graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies.
If you’re looking for a cut-to-the-chase short list on the best comics in America, then this 400-page trade paperback is your book. There are 30 works featured here and they are all gems. This book is in full color. “The Best American Comics 2013” is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is available here.