“When it comes to art there is nothing more limiting than only valuing work that gives you more of what you already know you like.” – Bill Kartalopoulos
“Looking toward the blurry future, I’ll bet that comics as a medium will influence our changing definitions of literature and film, and we will start to see hybrid forms develop. Cartoonists, as masters of both words and pictures, are likely to be amongst the innovators and authors of future forms of storytelling.” – Phoebe Gloeckner
The 13th installment of The Best American Comics series, this year’s compendium brings together 33 comics to represent the medium. Comics must be first published in North America between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2017 to be eligible for inclusion, and as laid out by series editor Bill Kartalopoulos in the Foreword, he picked approximately 120 comics to send to this year’s editor, Phoebe Gloeckner. Gloeckner also had the freedom to add any additional comics for consideration.
As any series of its kind, it can be a somewhat idiosyncratic collection as it attempts to bring together comics, often with seemingly little in common, as a snapshot of the year’s best offerings. It can be an alternately jarring and refreshing experience to read in order or jump around, but that’s part of what makes comics in general, and this series in particular, so exciting. This year’s collection includes many independent and self-published artists; no mainstream or superhero comic in sight. For the uninitiated, it may seem too niche or offbeat, but it’s an excellent example of how diverse comics can be, and really, have always been.
Each comic is introduced by a short artist biography and artist’s statement. In some ways they’re almost incidental to the piece, as many are short and fairly straightforward, offering little in explaining the comic itself. It’s in engaging with the many and varied comics in the collection that’s the most valuable experience for the reader. There are autobiographical artists’ stories, journalistic retellings, fantastical tales, and love stories. Just as the themes take on so many different topics and viewpoints, the art does the same. From Jesse Jacobs’ colorful psychedelic work to Geof Darrow’s detailed cityscapes inhabited by a giant pig and his sidekick dog, to Tara Booth’s autobiographical paintings, these stories all offer something different to the reader, yet they come together among other stories to ultimately create a cohesive collection.
There are certainly some standouts, such as Emil Ferris’ excerpt from My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Book 1 (Fantagraphics) that’s part diary, part mystery, and a glimpse into the past. Ferris’s work is immediately engrossing and the excerpt included here makes that case beautifully. There’s also Guy Delisle’s Hostage (Drawn & Quarterly) the true story of Christopher Andre, a kidnapped Doctors Without Borders administrator. The excerpt chosen here provides a small moment of joy in an otherwise impossibly joyless experience. Gabrielle Bell’s “Ghost Cats” from Everything Is Flammable (Uncivilized), is a retelling of traumatic pet deaths from childhood, and it’s as sad and terrible as the topic suggests. These stories offer a window into difficulties, real and imagined, and connect in unexpected ways, a particular strength of comics.
The Best American Comics 2018 is filled with stories that are painful, hopeful, grotesque, and humorous. They run the gamut and, in turn, they serve as an example of the diversity and creativity of the medium. The many backgrounds of the artists included (professional illustrators, animators, professors, etc.) also reinforce the many perspectives inherent in these stories. As the series makes room for excerpts of larger stories, this makes for not only a larger pool of comics to choose from, but also a stronger case for the job of editor and series editor. Gloeckner’s own tastes, particularly her realization that most of the comics included here are solely created by one person (as opposed to many mainstream comics that are a collaboration between teams of writers and artists), comes through in a collection of singular viewpoints and wonderful artistic statements.