I admit it. I’m old.
I come from the day when comic books were simple and straightforward. Even though I come after the so-called golden age of comics, they still largely followed formulas. Superheros defended truth, justice and the American way. The cryptkeeper was just one gateway to tales of horror. Archie, Richie Rich and Donald Duck and family provided lighter fare.
As evidenced by The Best American Comics 2010, comics have changed a lot since then. But this isn’t one of those “back in the day” complaints. I admit there’s some items in the collection I just don’t get (such as the opening selection, a chapter from Jonathan Lethem’s revival of “Omega: The Unknown”), which may be due in part to the fact they are excerpts of larger works. There’s no doubt, though, that today’s comics cover a wider and more relevant range of topics that the ones of my day.
This collection, in fact, includes comics (or graphic novels if you prefer) involving topics such as 9/11 (Jonathan Ames & Dean Haspiel’s “The Alcoholic”) and Hurricane Katrina (Josh Neufeld’s “A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge”). There are also shorter works dealing with sales of the “morning after” pill (Peter Bagge’s “The War on Fornication,” which originally appeared in Reason magazine) and the policies of the Bush Administration (“Ceci n’est pas une comic,” which originally appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review). There’s also plenty of heavyweight comic/graphic novel talent. There’s the first chapter of R. Crumb’s “The Book of Genesis,” and an excerpt from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe” (now, as they say, a major motion picture).
With this variety, the selections show the breadth of the comic market and support the assertion by series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden that comics and graphic novels have been “catapulted” into a new and higher echelon in American culture. Like the prior four editions, the 2010 issue has a guest editor, Neil Gaiman. As the author of “Coraline” and “The Sandman” series, Gaiman is no stranger or slouch in this field.
One thing aficionados may note and the editors admit is that these really aren’t the best comics of 2010. The time frame the book covers closes in the middle of 2009. Evidently, selecting the content, getting clearances and publishing time combine for a fairly long lead time. And the editors deal with the difficulty of calling the selections the “best” American comics by including an extensive list of “Notable Comics” that didn’t make the final cut.
Despite the fact all the comics are at least a year old, The Best American Comics 2010 is still an eye-opening experience for an old fart like me. Fortunately, though, I have some assurances from Gaiman that I now have some comic book cred. Those buying the work, he writes, “will become au fait with the cutting edge. It says so on the cover, after all.”