Guest Editor: Roz Chast
Series Editor: Bill Kartalopoulos
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: October 4, 2016
This year’s Best American Comics (the 11th for those counting) would work nearly as well in black and white as it does in color. The average reader won’t have to face that restriction unless they come upon an early review copy, but it’s an interesting lens to consider the compilation and suss out how it differs from previous volumes.
This year’s editor is Roz Chast; she’s best known for her New Yorker cartoons, but has also done longer work like her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which received numerous awards and best-of slots. In the required introduction, she says if the works she picked share any common element, it’s a strong narrative line. That preference for storytelling over drawing makes BAC 2016 the opposite of the most recent Kramers Ergot. And although many of the stories within are beautifully drawn, this uniting quality explains how the entries manage to be compelling enough without color. The visuals don’t carry the majority of the weight. The authors don’t use color to convey crucial story elements, and there are, on the whole, maybe more words here than in previous collections.
Killing and Dying Excerpt by Adrian Tomine
There are, of course, exceptions. GG’s “Don’t Leave Me Alone,” placed at the end of the book, alternates sections of black and white, red and blue (originally printed on a Risograph) and contains many wordless panels. Genevieve Elverum’s story “Blanket Portraits” worked in monochrome, but its appearance in full color opens its scope, letting her recent death feel all the more like a hole in the comics world.
Chast fits comfortably in the world of weird and self-published, and her curation reflects that. The excerpt from Lance Ward’s Adults Only, a longer set of pages about working in a sex shop, is a great example and a highlight of the book. Unless all you do is read comics, you will find works and creators you do not know among the many you do.
“Broadside Ballads” #1 by Kate Beaton
A thread of pain also runs through the compilation, from Gilbert Hernandez’s Bumperhead to a short piece by Julia Wertz on Bottle Beach and Dead Horse Bay to Casanova Frankenstein’s messy punk rock comics and Keiler Roberts’ Powdered Milk, which tackles the isolation of motherhood. Many of these same comics are still funny and delightful, but most of them straddle that bittersweet confluence.
On a more positive and constructive note, the anthology includes half a page of Chast’s drawings of horses, which might be worth framing. Her introduction and series editor Bill Kartalopoulos’ foreword on what “mainstream” could mean in comics these days are both fine essays on their own, and substantive works that enrich the book.
The Last Saturday Excerpt by Chris Ware
The lack of sections with intros, a staple of past volumes, is a minor bummer. (What can I say? This reviewer likes editorializing, writing and reading about comics, but then I’m not necessarily the target audience.) Finally, Marc Bell’s cover art— an anthropomorphized building reading a book with its side sliced off so we can see its six rooms arranged like panels and the strange critters therein—is completely delightful.