The best thing about The Best American Series’ The Best American Comics is that it reminds us of comics we enjoyed a couple years ago. Anyone who stays half-way current with alternative comics and graphic novels will have seen a good portion of what’s in each edition of this four-year old series. Still, there’s always something missed as well as something new to discover.
The latest volume, edited by Big Baby and Black Hole artist Charles Burns, fits the bill. There’s well-known stuff from the Crumbs, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Jason Lutes, Tim Hensley and Art Spiegelman, stuff we enjoyed back in the day, as well as a less easily obtained piece from Chris Ware. The Rabbit had overlooked Kevin Huizenga‘s popular Ganges series. He found Huizenga’s “Pulverize”– an ironic story of the cruelties of dot-com life and video games–to be the collection’s previously-unseen highlight. Then there’s always new material he absolutely missed (blame rabbit hole isolation) such as David Sandlin‘s demented, magenta dream-work “Slumburbia” pulled from the pages of Hot Wire.
Another service The Best American Comics series provides is to remind us of what’s become tiresome. This year, it’s parodies of classic comics, complete with comic-like advertising, no matter how crude or absurd. Tim Hensley’s brightly-colored, Archie-inspired teen serial “Gropius” (three installments spread through this volume) didn’t strike us as funny this time around. Michael Kupperman’s “Indian Spirit Twain & Einstein” is a clever-enough comic-tv series spoof, drawn in classic golden age style, that plays too far past its initial couple of pages. This stuff’s been done before and better by Ware, Spiegelman and others all the way back to Harvey Kurtzman.
In the past, the guest-editor’s introduction has often served up insight into craft and creation. Burns’ piece, disappointingly, is standard bio fare. We learn that his father collected comics and that his parents succumbed when, as a child, he demanded all six volumes of the Tintin saga published in the U.S. by the Golden Press. We’d never realized that Olympia, Washington’s Evergreen State College was a comic breeding ground, but Burns, Matt Groening and previous series editor Lynda Barry were all there at the same time. The story of Burns’ association with Spiegelman shows that the mentor-student relationship is as rewarding to comic illustrators as it is to other artists.
We all knew that The Best American Comics, always published in time for the holiday gift cycle, is best suited for the casual and non-comic reading public. But it serves a purpose–or two–for fans as well.–Cabbage Rabbit