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Year’s Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga: From Blankets to Demo to Blacksad
posted January 24, 2006
 

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Creators: Various
Publishing Information: St. Martin's Griffin, $19.95 2006
Ordering Numbers: 0312343264 (ISBN)

I'm not sure who the customer is for this volume, but I'm so NOT the customer that I'm surprised the volume doesn't fly away and strike the opposite wall every time I try and pick it up. This is the first I've seen in what I think may be three different announced attempts for publishers to put together a best-of-the-year anthology. This is the kind of thing where you get samples of work every few pages, broken down into rough categories -- graphic novels, comics, manga, and a very Gilligan's Island "all the rest." It may be hard except for the manga material for anyone to tell that there's a difference between the groups, but the breakdown allows for a couple of pages of analysis, which unfortunately here don't do so much analyzing as kind of toasting the material in the section to follow. Without a really sharp eye for including material, or well-chosen selections, or great writing, this book feels more like a cagey publishing opportunity than something you'd turn to to learn more about the medium.

Even though nearly a dozen books I liked a thousand times better than all but three or four reprinted here failed to make the grade, the selection could actually be much, much worse. The book's overall impact becomes defined by how broad the book goes in bringing work to its readers' attention. At the volume's heart are many seemingly well-intentioned, better-than-usual comics with either genre roots or working non-traditional material with recognizably genre-happy art styles and pacing. Best? Not by my count, and it's hard to imagine there's this many best of anything. Manga gets punched in the throat, too, with only a couple of selections and a lot of covers, although that may have been a rights situation. It's hard not to see the too-generous heart of the editors as a detriment if your taste tells you a lot of this is unexceptional work. Imagine the Eisner or Harvey nominees list, maybe combined, and you get some idea of the number of selections here. The fact that this book isn't a total embarassment speaks well to how many pretty good comics there are out there.

Some of the selections as published work much better than others. To pick only from works I like, the excerpt from Jason's You Can't Get There From Here is a bewildering fight scene that doesn't work at all out of context. It looks clunky and berserk. Meanwhile, Jaime Hernandez gets a whole short story that is the best stand-alone section of the book. Some of the page choices are curious just because they're curious: the chunk selected from the recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series feels like they left the "camera" on for an extra several minutes. If you know what's coming, it could be titled "Prelude to a Buggering." If you don't, its name could be, "Please Don't Read Comics Because They're Gross."

In the end, I'd say you'd have to have a pretty kind and generous set of standards to get excited about a lot of the work presented. But maybe there's a group of readers out there who are exactly that good-natured. I hope so.