The Best American Comics 2008 (The Best American Series). Edited by Lynda Barry. Series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Houghton Mifflin. Hardcover.
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The Best American series has been publishing annual volumes covering the best in diverse genres of literature for many years- poetry, short stories, humor, sports and science and nature writing, among others. Several years ago, a volume called The Best American Nonrequired Reading was introduced, which featured a variety of off-the-beaten path short fiction and journalism, as well as some comics. In 2006, the first volume of The Best American Comics appeared on its own, edited by Harvey Pekar author of American Splendor and The Quitter. This year's entry is edited by Lynda Barry, another underground comics artist and author of books such as What It Is and One Hundred Demons.
So what is The Best American Comics? It's an anthology of graphic novels and comics published in English in North America. It's a collection of high-quality comics, including some complete stories and some excerpts; it's a way to sample a variety of authors and artists from different publishers and different points of view; it's a quick introduction to some of the best people working in comics today.
This year's treasure trove includes an excerpt from Gene Luan Yang's award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, several strips from Alison Bechdel's excellent Dykes to Watch Out For series, a series of cartoons by The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening and other entries by less well-known artists. My favorites were Graham Annable's heartbreaking comic Burden, and Evan Larson's funny and adorable Cupid's Day Off. Subject matter ranges all across the board, and the book is not without sexual and violent content- in other words, this book is one for the grownups only. But what better way to see what's going on in comics today?
The Best American Comics series is a considerable step forward in advocating for and legitimizing graphic novels and comics as a literary form deserving of serious attention. Now, each year, a selection of great visual works are included alongside the best poetry, fiction and other writing coming out of American publishing, giving readers the opportunity to sample emerging as well as established voices in the genre. Anyone interested in getting to know the genre- or getting to know it better- should absolutely not pass this one up.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.