Episode 167: A Review of The Best American Comics 2015



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As has become an annual event, Andy and Derek use their penultimate show of the year to discuss the current volume of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s The Best American Comics. The series is overseen by Bill Kartalopoulos — whom the guys interviewed on the show last year — and this year’s collection is edited by novelist Jonathan Lethem. The entries collected in The Best American Comics 2015 represent what both Lethem and Kartalopoulos consider to be the most outstanding comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014. The guys begin by highlighting the organization of this year’s volume, pointing out that Lethem has retained the topic- or theme-based approach used by Scott BAC2015-coverMcCloud in last year’s collection. The editor breaks down his entries into ten different chapter topics, ranging from the self-evident “Storytellers” and “Biopics and Historical Fictions” to more obscurely intriguing groupings such as “Brainworms” and “Raging Her-Moans.” The guys are familiar with most of the contributions included this year — to paraphrase Andy, The Best American Comics volumes just seem to reinforce their tastes in comics– and many of them have been the subject of previous Comics Alternative reviews and interviews. They comment on the sheer number of entries that are excerpts from longer works, including Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother, Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, Gabrielle Bell’s The Colombia Diaries, Sept 14-16, Cole Closser’s Little Tommy Lost, Matthew Thurber Infomaniacs, Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, Jim Woodring’s Fran, Anya Davidson’s School Spirits, and Josh Bayer’s Theth. Most of these selections easily stand on their own, but some could have benefited from more content or additional editorial context (examples being the excerpts from Anders Nilsen’s Rage of Poseidon and Joe Sacco’s The Great War.) Some of the highlights in this year’s volume include works by creators that either Derek or Andy have never read before, such as Mat Brinkman and his darkly surreal Cretin Keep on Creep’n Creek, or Gina Wynbrandt and her hilariously self-deprecating Someone Please Have Sex with Me. This is another must-read book for the Two Guys, but their discussion isn’t without its disagreements. In good Siskel and Ebert fashion, the guys spar over the nature of the Best American Comics volumes and, specifically, over the curious “Notable Comics” list in the very back of the book. (This is a list of other significant comics published between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014, but not making it into the volume proper.) Derek mentions the almost complete absence in this listBAC2015-LethemIntro of any titles reflecting mainstream (in a broad sense, not just the Big Two) sensibilities — the one exception to this is Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy from Dark Horse Comics — and scratches his head over these choices that come with no permission or copyright obstacles. And he argues that discussing a text by what it is not can actually give a firmer grasp of what it actually is. Andy, on the other hand, is completely OK with the totally subjective approach to anthologies such as this, and he questions Derek’s assumptions of the book’s readership. The guys also discuss the notion that, in many ways, these selections are also political choices, especially when published by a major trade house such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But these are the kinds of debates that should sound familiar to Comics Alternative listeners, especially when it comes to matters of awards, essential readings, and “Best of” collections. The bottom line, though, is that both Andy and Derek agree that The Best American Comics 2015 is yet another important contribution to our ever-expanding understanding of the medium. “Best” or not, these comics are definitely well worth reading.

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Check out this and other volumes in the Best American Comics series:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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