Comics Alternative Episode 115: A Review of The Best American Comics 2014

More Better Best

BAC2014On this episode of the podcast, the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics review The Best American Comics 2014, the latest installment in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s ambitious anthology series. This follows a previous review show published earlier in the week where the guys spoke with Bill Kartalopoulos, the new editor of the series. But whereas during the interview Derek and Andy learned about the process and backstory to the Best American Comics series, in this episode they plunge into the specifics of this year’s volume and give their own takes on the comics included. BAC2014-SharpThey begin with a larger discussion on the concept of “best American comics,” the kind of audiences the annual collections appeal to, and the efforts of the editors in pulling together a select or representative anthology. Here, the guys return to issues they had previously highlighted in their review of The Best American Comics 2013: the predilections and experiences of guest editors, the challenges of being inclusive, as well as the viability of a “best of” anthology. This time around Andy and Derek bandy about definitions of “mainstream” and speculate on the book’s intended audience. Although both feel that this is an intelligent and eclectic collection of comics (first appearing between September 1, 2012, and August 30, 2013), Derek feels that the book might appeal more to academics and the New Yorker crowd than it does to general comic shop-visiting readers. (Returning, once again, to a topic that the guys have discussed many times previously, the unintended bifurcation of comics readership.) Furthermore, he wonders what a volume guest edited by someone enmeshed in mainstream comics – and not just superhero comics – might look like…if that is indeed a BAC2014-Sagadirection that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would sanction. Andy reminds Derek how inclusive this year’s volume is, and that depending on your definition of “mainstream,” McCloud’s includes several comics you could certainly define as “popular.”

But despite these dialectics, both guys agree that this is one of the strongest collections in the series’ run and that the way that McCloud has organized his presentation is compelling. In this year’s volume you have selections from the grand figures of contemporary comics (e.g., R. Crumb, the Hernandez brothers, Charles Burns, Ben Katchor, and Adrian Tomine), all-age and young-adult comics, excerpts from memoir and autobiographical comics, historical works, experimenters of narrative form, abstract and avant-garde BAC2014-Onsmithcomics, and almost as a centerpiece, a selection from what McCloud christens “the book of the year,” Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Webcomics are given their fair share of attention in this volume, and the guys understand McCloud’s decision to highlight and list URLs instead of attempting to reproduce comics from another platform (although they’re not as excited by the one webcomic that does find its way into the collection, an excerpt from Allie Brosh’s “Depression Part Two”). All in all, the guys have a great time discussing the many selections in The Best American Comics 2014, and in doing so, they get all revved up for their own “best of” exercise which they will present in next week’s podcast episode.

This episode’s music comes to us through more
holiday obscura uncovered by Andy Cirzan!
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Comics Alternative Podcast Episode 66: A Review of The Best American Comics 2013

Best. Best! or Best?

best-american-comics-2013This week the Two Guys with PhDs Talking about Comics take their annual look at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s The Best American Comics collection (including material published between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012), this year edited by Jeff Smith. They begin by noting that this volume is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this is the last to be overseen by series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Andy and Derek marvel at the work the two have been doing since they began with the 2008 volume, and they wish Abel and Madden well in their future endeavors…and they look forward to seeing what the new series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, will bring to the table.

The guys highlight what they consider to be their favorite contributions to the 2013 volume, specifically commenting on the sheer number of entries that originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents. They also discuss the need for a book such as this to introduce readers to new material, ConcreteParkthe pros and cons of excerpting from longer works — Derek noted the potential pitfalls of the practice, although Andy was more accepting — how the 2013 volume differs from  previous years’ collections, the kind of trends they see in this year’s volume, the fact that Evan Dorkin has two different kinds of contributions in the book, the growing representation of webcomics in these yearly volumes, and the dominance of comics anthologies in Smith’s collection as well as the relatively little attention this year given to serialized titles. (Were there just not that many “good” serialized comics between September 2011 and August 2012?) The Two Guys also get into a larger discussion of the very idea of publishing a “best of” anthology of this type. The “best” according to whom? Might there be certain biases involved? What’s the role of editorial predilection? Who is included as part of the “best,” who is excluded, and why? They don’t attempt to second guess this year’s volume editor, Jeff Smith, but they do think it’s important to keep these questions in mind. Well…Derek does. He had a problem with the “Best” part of the title and would feel more comfortable with a different name. Andy thought that Derek was being too critical in addressing the series name. Derek said that maybe Andy should change his name, as well.

But once again, the Two Guys with PhDs hearty recommendation the annual Best American Comics collection, marvel at the gargantuan task undertaken by the editor, and thoroughly enjoy the many contributions collected between the covers!


This week’s incidental music is brought to you by
the wonderful holiday obscura collected by Andy Cirzan!

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