eldavojohn writes "The Best American Comics of 2008 was a book I purchased on impulse. Not being a graphic novel or even political cartoon fan, I read the introduction at a bookstore (which was, itself, a comic strip) and decided to give it a try. I expected to find humor. What I found was not only humor but sadness, anxiety, insight, happiness, remorse and a gamut of human emotions. I expected black ink on white paper. What I found was water color, wood cuts, cubism and even a comic about the start of cubism. In short, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Americana here that I had previously relegated only to historical novels." Read on for the rest of eldavojohn's review.The name of this book is going to be hard to digest as your best DC, Marvel and Image comics are nowhere to be found in this book. If you claim it's because there's no way the price of this book could cover these big name titles, you may be on to something. But I found this to be a refreshing and complex addition to what I knew comic books to be. Nowhere would I find the black and white world of Superman or the Gotham City of Batman but in their places stories more akin to Maus and Persepolis.
The book itself is a collection of clippings from comics released in 2008. Some are more complete than others. Prior to this book, I had never heard of any of these names. But several of these comics gave me reason to look up the authors and actually purchase more of their works.
Instead of reviewing each comic, I will relate what I recall a week after reading it and the permanent impressions it left on me. The first comic, Burden caught me off guard as it starts out as an endearing story about a brother making amends for his no-good dead-beat brother Charlie. Charlie seems to have led a less than desirable life dodging rent, stealing from loved ones and leaving his father to rot in a home. This beautiful story crumbles away to a horrific end in the final page as Charlie's brother says goodbye to him.
There were a few comics related to the war in Iraq. The first (David Axe's autobiographical War-Fix) being a reporter who seems to go to Iraq out of boredom or some strange driving force despite his clear inability to cope with the nature of war. Another comic dealt with the political debate here and the Left's political views.
Some of the comics had a more timeless folklore aspect to them. One was a reincarnation of an old Japanese proverb called The Crab and the Monkey but had a sobering ending that I did not recall from the original proverb. Another entitled Turtle Keep It Steady by Joseph Lambert had little to no text and retold the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. It also explored the merits of consistency in friends and those around you in a very simple way. Seven Sacks left me confused and concerned that I had missed some myth or fable allusion through the whole story. The story is well illustrated and may cause one to wonder what responsibility this boatman has in delivering unsavory characters across a river to possibly carry out devious acts while holding bags that make noises.
Several comics were purely historical. The Saga of the Bloody Benders is one part homicide case and one part legend. The story takes a historical account of a family of settlers that brutally murdered and waylaid dozens of innocent people in 1870s Kansas. The story recalls a simpler time and notes how peculiar all the signs pointed to the Bender family yet no one implicated them. Another comic Berlin recalled a German viewpoint of the May Day Massacre of 1928 and the Reichstag elections of 1930. So rarely is a story told from the unpopular side of a historical conflict.
One of the comics took a look at Picasso's beginning as an artist discovering cubism. I do not know enough of the true to story to know if it is historically accurate but it certainly cast Picasso in a ... different light.
One of my least favorite parts of the books was a set of Matt Groening's "Life in Hell." Some of it is cute and childishly funny. Most of it is inane and a bit tedious to read. While this repetition may be humorous, it pales in comparison to the other emotions displayed in the book.
Eric Haven's Mammology is humorous on several different levels and is layered to include evolutionary commentary on mammals versus reptiles. Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom is an interesting commentary on a group of people called "Funnelheads" that clearly become an analogy for a cult of worshipers.
One of my favorite comics was a woodcut done in cubism by a Bronx art teacher named John Mejias. I showed this comic to a friend who teaches ESL in the Bronx and she laughed at several panes discussing the inside jokes of "what you should do" in each of the situations that Mejias was lampooning. Personally I found the clipping from Mejias The Teachers Edition to be heart touching asking in the end how he is to teach students art when every assignment is graded to a standard with no room for individuality or self expression.
I omitted more than a few comics that didn't strike me as that great. There are lengthy comics about the life an older TV show host, a few selections from The New Yorker, a comic about an ostracized Chinese student in America and I'm certain I'm missing many others in this 352 page hardcover book.
This comic spans so many different kinds and styles that it seems like it would be a great addition to any collection for the $15 it costs.
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