The Best American Comics 2010

The Best American Comics 2010
Guest editor: Neil Gaiman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

Each year this handsomely-presented compilation becomes more and more pleased with itself. The Best American Short Stories annual was first published in 1915, and from the ’80s onwards the range was expanded, using The Best American as an umbrella title, to include Essays, Mystery Stories, Travel Writing, and, since 2006, ComicsAmerican refers only to North America, of course, and when they say Comics, it’s strictly graphic novels and other high-concept stuff. No capes!

The book is designed as a sampler, but often the selections don’t represent their parent works well. They give the false impression that Chris Ware is concise, Asterios Polyp meaningless, and Scott Pilgrim boring. I’d only read seven of the 25 pieces before, but the new bits that I particularly liked included Michael Cho’s Trinity, the story of Oppenheimer and America’s atomic weapons program, The Bank from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks by Derf, a goofy semi-autobiographical romp through Akron, Ohio’s ’80s punk scene which stars Lester Bangs and The Clash (and succeeds everywhere that CBGB OMFUG failed), and Deep Space from Sublife by John Pham, a science fiction story crammed into two detailed pages.

Gaiman doesn’t help matters by writing his introduction in the format of a comics script (i.e. a comic without pictures and how thrilling is that,) and in the lengthy contributor notes only a couple of the cartoonists have the smarts to properly explain the context of their extracts. If this really was a representative selection, we could conclude that American Comics in 2010 are a) massively up themselves, and b) not a lot of fun at parties, both of which we know to be untrue.

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