“The Best American Comics 2011″ ed. Bechdel

Generally, I am not a fan of the Best American Series. While I did enjoy the 2002 Non Required Reading, the 1995 Best American Short Stories collection lives on in my memory like a bad smell. When I worked at a used book store, I can’t remember how many times that particular volume came in and then sat on the shelves till it was clearanced. NOT a keeper.

So I had some trepidation when one of by book group colleagues picked The Best American Comics 2011. Because while I love the medium of comics, I often don’t care for the type of comics I see as often gathered in these anthologies, which I think of–derogatorily, reductively, and unfairly I’ll admit–as the weird ones.

So I prepared myself for some weird stuff. And it was in there–one entry truly repulsed me with its art, a couple others with their subject matter. But I noticed that even in some stories I disliked, there was some element of visual storytelling that impressed me or made me think, as in Kevin Mutch’s “Blue Note”, Gabby Schulz’s “New Year’s Eve 2004″, and Chris Ware’s “Jordan W. Lint to the Age of 65.”

The majority left me cold. Some of the selections were excerpts of larger works, and hard to process because of this. Unlike a short story, they were not meant to stand alone.

More positively, in one case, a comic that I’d previously not loved–Ganges–utterly charmed me. A handful made me interested enough to look into their artists’ other works, like Gabrielle Bell’s “Manifestation”, Peter and Maria Hoey’s “Anatomy of a Pratfall”, Jillian Tamaki’s “Domestic Men of Mystery” (and her lovely wraparound cover), Kate Beaton’s “Great Gatsby”, and Joey Allison Sayers’ “Pet Cat”. Paul Pope and Joe Sacco’s work I’ve admired before, even if I’m not a regular reader.

There was a long list in the back of other notable books that the editor urged readers to seek out, as the book selections were her admittedly subjective choices. One thing my book group noticed was that 9 of 27 included sex of some sort. For what it’s worth, 7 of those were on my dislike list.

In the end:

Liked: 8
Didn’t move me:11
Disliked: 8

So, on balance it was only OK. Borrow this one, don’t buy it.

From the list at the back, some recommendations I echo: The Unwritten, Criminal, Mercury by Hope Larson, Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, any of the multiple permutations of Gaiman’s The Dream Hunters, and David Small’s Stitches.

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