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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Random Thoughts on Fixing Comics Anthologies -- Here are a few thoughts that have been kicking around in my head as a result of the recent unpleasantness regarding comics anthologies such as Houghton-Mifflin's Best American Comics series.

* Multiple-pages-on-one page. This is the thing I hate the most about these anthologies, and it's been in a lot of these books. In the most recent example, Jeffrey Brown's autobio strips have four pages reduced and presented on one page. Is his artwork so simple that it can be reduced like that and not have a negative impact on the perceptions of the reader? Maybe Chris Ware or whoever thought so, but I didn't even bother to read those strips, because putting more than one page on one page is BULLSHIT and an insult to the artist and the reader.

* No excerpts. A short story should really be a short story, not 15 pages of a 275 page graphic novel. The current BAC volume has excerpts from Fun Home and Shortcomings, and in neither case did it do the longer work any favours to present such a short portion. But if you must present excerpts, this problem could be solved by my next complaint...

* Lack of context. Something I hate about most of the high-end comics anthologies of the past three or four years is the manner in which the stories are just thrown in there, one after another, relentlessly and without context. I realize this may be in order to cram as much comics into the volume as possible, but all the works in these anthologies would be better served by a one-page introduction by the editor, creator or someone else familiar with the work, who can succinctly put the story we're about to read onto some sort of continuum, with the other works we're reading, and with where the story fits into this current moment in time. To go from one excerpted story to another with no editorial transition is just jarring and extremely off-putting to me as a reader.

* New material. I'm all for presenting previously-seen material from little-known creators or total unknowns, but thanks to McSweeney's #13, the BAC volumes and the Brunetti-edited anthology, I think I own some pages of some stories two or three times over. It certainly feels that way, which is my essential point. I have said, and continue to believe, that these volumes are primarily created for and marketed to non-comics readers, but at some point we have to accept that even those folks are going to tire of seeing Crumb, Tomine, Brown, Ware, ad nauseum, in volume after volume after volume. At the very least, these deservedly-respected masters of art comics should be participating with new material created specifically for a given anthology.

And if that flies in the face of the remit of the BAC volumes, I don't give a shit. I want good, enduring comics anthologies. And while the effort is clearly being made to offer up just that to a waiting public, the points I've made here indicate to me that there's some work to be done before we can plunk down our $25.00 and be relatively secure in the knowledge that the books will be satisfying to our need for great works presented with excellence and vision.

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Blogger Jason Marcy said...

The Jeffrey Brown piece was actually printed as a mini comic sized thing Called "These Things, These Things", so maybe that was all Ware had to work with? Surely he'd have access to Brown and the artwork though...
I agree 100% with having some kind of context added to the works. An intro page would make some sense in understanding where a piece came from, instead of having to muddle about in the Artist Bio pages for that info.
Still, I enjoyed the America's Best Comics Anthology. There was a lot of shit in it though I could have done without, like Paper Rad or of course, Ron Rege Jr. And if these were the best of 2007, why are a lot of the works dated almost ten years ago? They should all be examples of 2007's comics, right?

19 October, 2007 10:23  
Blogger Stephen said...

No excerpts. A short story should really be a short story, not 15 pages of a 275 page graphic novel.

Word. One of the main reasons I don't buy a lot of these is that I feel like in most cases I either own the works which are excerpted, or would rather put the money towards collecting the longer works (based on reviews, etc) than buy bits and pieces of them. The occasional sampler is good -- particularly for newbies to the field -- but there's a difference between, e.g., a one shot like the Brunetti anthology and a yearly title.

The contrast here with all the other best-of-the-year anthologies is marked. So far as I know, all the other best-ofs -- stories, essays, poems, SF, whatever -- present entire short pieces exclusively (certainly nearly so, and if there's an exception it's something that was published as an excerpt elsewhere, not an excerpt done by the editor of the BOTY volume). If there aren't enough good short pieces, then we simply aren't yet ready as a field for books like this. Otherwise, use 'em.


19 October, 2007 11:54  
Blogger Richard Marcej said...

Lack of context.,

I hadn't realized that.
Then what's the point?

I've held off buying any of these "Best of..." compilations because like others have said I own a lot of what's included anyway.

The only thing that might possibly move me to purchase a book reprinting stuff I already own would be the additional text, information about the creator, the work, the reason it was cosen, etc...

But really, without that extra information, what's really the point for the collection.... ego?

22 October, 2007 14:04  

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