Editor: Jeff Smith
Series Editors: Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: October 8, 2013
The eighth edition of the yearly “Best American Comics” series is also the last for Jessica Abel and Matt Madden as series editors, the sixth they’ve worked on throughout their careers. As educators first and foremost, the pair has helped shape the composition of these volumes perhaps more than each year’s guest editor, through placing a catholic selection of texts in front of the visiting contributor. Remember, nerds, that this book is an introduction to comics as much as a recognition of the best in the field. It’s as if the Grammys were a mixtape you give to a friend who’d never heard music. That’s a tough job, and, as ever, it’s unsurprising that some worthy folks were missed.
The kids’ section that appeared in last year’s volume is gone, a shame considering that both Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Loyalty and Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy series didn’t make the cut. Superhero stuff is in short supply pretty much every year, and this one is no exception. It would’ve been lovely to see Saga get some notice, but the cut-off date (the 2013 volume covers September 2011 through August 2012) was still fairly early in Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ exemplary run. Guest editor Jeff Smith seems to have a great affinity for wordless comics. An excerpt from Sam Alden’s Haunter, Michael DeForge’s “Manananggal,” and Sophie Goldstein’s “The Good Wife” come one-two-three in a row, a chunk of pages solely sporting images. Conversely, Craig Thompson’s Habibi, which wasn’t in the 2012 book, makes it in this time. Even those who read widely in the indie comics field will find some new things here, which is always part of the collection’s appeal, like Jesse Jacobs’ “The Divine Manifestation of a Singular Impulse” and Malachi Ward’s “Top Five.” If you make a habit of reading Mome, Dark Horse Presents, and Kramers Ergot, you’ll find fewer surprises, but those publications thrive on untrodden ground. The amount of space devoted to Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? is excessive, especially when it kicks off the book, but Joseph Lambert’s Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller holds up; Smith has selected perhaps the strongest section of that extremely strong work. Eleanor Davis, as ever, stands out among her peers for her subtlety, thoughtfulness, and ability to conjure an entire world from a few panels in her contribution, “Nita Goes Home.”
Other works that should have rated a mention include Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends, Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki’s Tina’s Mouth, Tom Scioli’s American Barbarian, Sean Ford’s Only Skin, and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem. The section of other “Notable Comics” in the back is a fine resource for seeking out more.