Jason's Reviews > The Best American Comics 2008

The Best American Comics 2008 by Lynda Barry
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's review
Dec 17, 12

bookshelves: read-2009
Read in January, 2009

Perhaps I should start by saying how much I love short stories. I love them a lot. I love them because they are snippets of lives, boiled down into the essentials of (generally) a few scenes, sometimes even just one, the dialogue as spare as can be, the narrative description avoiding the painting of sets and instead concentrating on the illumination of the characters inhabiting the scenes.

I was expecting to read a number of short stories, albeit in the graphic form. That didn't happen. This collection is, instead, a random collection of strips, and excerpts from larger works, as the general rule. This is the problem. My favorite pieces were excerpts from American Born Chinese and George Sprott (1894-1975), and only the latter really stood on its own. Though it must be said that Chris Ware's "The Thanksgiving Series" was a delightful surprise.

And the rest? The rest were silly little jokes. Don't get me wrong, Matt Groening's observations by little children were quite amusing, and likewise there was some nice art in the retelling of the Rabbit and the Hare in the form of "Turtle Keep it Steady!" but these were completely without substance. They did not say anything that a cliche has not already covered adequately. They do not have the impact of getting to understand a character in a situation, nor do they have a point of moral understanding, if that's what you enjoy. They just start and stop. Some of them have mature themes such as Jamie Hernandez's "Gold Diggers of 1969," Lutes' "Berlin" and Oleksyk's "Graveyard," (all of which are excerpts), but they lack strength in telling a story, avoiding real character building (the biggest exception to this being "Graveyard") for another round of plot, wrapping up the series of panels with an ending that's pat and tells little about the characters.

So here's where I come back to my original statement. If you took this years The Best American Short Stories and compared it to this collection of comics, there is absolutely no real competition. The short stories are fully rendered, the comics are merely finished, the short stories are bound in character and moment and the comics tell a story. Sometimes the comics have artwork worthy of comparison to Art of the capital A variety, but mostly it is functional, bring very little to the story except the identification of who is speaking at that moment. In short, despite how long it has been around, and the praise that some of the more fantastic graphic novels have (rightfully) earned, this is a form mostly populated by those who can write or those that can draw, and rarely by the combination of which that is so vital. The short form of comics is woefully represented, best reserved for those that merely want a few jokes told or for those that are really only picking up the book as a sort of preview for the larger works.

For me, I was hoping this would have been more than it was, though it was still an enjoyable read (I did give it 3 stars, not one). Oh well.

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