Thirty anthologized selections from some of the best comic storytellers in the field certainly make this collection impressive. They may not be the absolute ďbest AmericanĒ comics out there published between September 2005 and August 2006, but they represent a wide range of talent and the versatile capabilities employed in the medium. With a foreword by Guest Editor Harvey Pekar (Our Cancer Year/American Splendor) and detailed bylines and reflections from the contributors, the extras of this book add not only to this anthology but to oneís total knowledge of comic art.
Pekar and the series editor, Anne Elizabeth Moore, include both short pieces and longer ones, though the longer pieces are merely excerpted, including Alex Robinsonís Tricked and Jessica Abelís La Perdida. But even these excerpts manage to impart the essence of the larger work from which it is derived. The real gems within this collection are the short, self-contained pieces, in particular the one or two-page pieces.
Narrative and artistic style run the gamut in this collection, which means readers should take what they encounter in this book in stride. Despite being over three hundred pages long, it could be read through in one sitting. It is best approached in doses, though; otherwise, overload may occur. For instance, switching to Kim Deitch's Ready to Die from Joel Priddy's The Amazing Life of Onion Jack and then to Anders Nilsen's The Gift could rile reader's senses with the many different dynamics in each story. Deith's somber, text-laden, cartoon-resembling art contrasts sharply with Priddy's light-hearted stick-figure compositions, and Nilsen's tale
is so melancholy that the desolation can be felt in the art. Though predominantly black and white, several colored comics appear with dynamic colors that strike the reader in an otherwise black and white text.
But by far, the best piece in terms of style and ability is Rebecca Dartís Rabbit Head. A wordless panel sequence spans across the page, branching into parallel stories so that by the middle, seven different narratives coexist on the same page then, through Dartís amazing talent, are slowly rewoven together until, just like at the beginning, one set of sequential panels stands on the page.
This collection only has one major drawback. These pieces were published elsewhere,
so their format and size differs a bit. Not usually a problem, but when you try to fit larger pieces onto smaller pages, you sacrifice both the quality of the image along with the size of the print. Now, most can deal with pictures not being absolutely perfect, because if they wanted reality, they would watching movies instead. However, small text - as in smaller than 8-point fonts - cannot be dealt with well unless one carries a magnifying glass.
The other matter to be hopefully resolved in the future is that comics is a medium, not a genre. While it has only been accepted as a legitimate medium for storytelling for a short while, it still comprises many different genres. Unlike regular prose books, where the narrative content determines the genre, comic genres can expand exceedingly if one considers artistic style another component. In other words, to have a Best American Comics is like having a Best American Books; itís simply to vague to really encapture the medium. However, it is a start. Mayhap the future will wield more series based around the medium looking at different subject matter.
In the end, The Best American Comics 2006 includes a fantastic array of stories by some very talented people. Some stories may move readers; others will make them laugh; yet other stories will raise a readerís eyebrow in dubious wonder, ďWho thought this should be in here?Ē To be sure, that is the least-often experienced response; more often this collection will be met with smiles, inquisitive looks, and even laughter.