Review

The Best American Comics 2008

edited by Lynda Barry, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Perhaps it takes a little hubris to call a collection THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2008, but it’s hard to argue with a grouping this good. Sure, you can quibble here and there, but as a whole, this is about as good as the art form gets, showing the remarkable highs comics can --- and regularly do --- reach. And as a bonus, it’s a wonderful entry for someone who is unfamiliar with comics but who wants to know more or read something in the format.

The stories are brief and varied and run the spectrum of themes and moods. Series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (creators of the excellent DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES) teamed up this year with editor Lynda Barry (the artist behind the wildly inventive WHAT IT IS), and their combined viewpoint yields a unique collection of some truly thought-provoking work here. Both DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES and WHAT IT IS mined a similar territory --- the forces of creativity, what makes the visionary mind bring forth clearly defined work, and how to turn thoughts into comic art --- that informs the choices they’ve made in THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2008. It’s not surprising, then, that most of the choices here are from single writers/artists rather than writer-artist teams, which shows how powerful the creative combination can be.

They’ve also passed over standard superhero fare (although a note at the beginning explains they would have liked to include an excerpt from BATMAN: YEAR 100 but couldn’t, due to licensing issues). Instead, they offer up work from a varying swath of comics luminaries, some well known and long-established in the industry (Matt Groening, Jaime Hernandez, Chris Ware) and others less known but equally provocative (Gene Luen Yang’s stunning AMERICAN BORN CHINESE is excerpted here; if you haven’t fallen in love with this work yet, now’s your chance).

Some comics benefit more than others from this presentation. Alison Bechdel’s long-running comic series Dykes to Watch Out For is one of the best examples of how brilliant, funny and poignant comics can be, and while it’s wonderful to see it getting recognition here, the five one-page strips collected seem out of place and out of context. As a whole, though, most of the samples in the book come as sweet surprises, something new coming out of the blue (Kevin Pyle’s THE FORBIDDEN ZONE is a wonderfully pleasant surprise that pops out toward the end).

Barry and series editors Abel and Madden deserve credit for the fine pacing they’ve given THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2008. The mood flows naturally and smoothly from one work to the next, which is not an easy feat given the variety of works they’ve chosen to work with. It’s a major pitfall of most anthology collections --- the juxtaposition of voices can be a jarring reminder of how non-cohesive the books can be --- but the editors here sagely avoid it. When you finish, you’re aware that you’ve read more than two dozen different creators’ works, but they’ve all been selected so well that the lingering effect is the seamlessness of the artful quality contained within.

Reviewed by John Hogan on December 22, 2010

The Best American Comics 2008
edited by Lynda Barry, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

  • Publication Date: October 8, 2008
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0618989765
  • ISBN-13: 9780618989768