Week ending November 15, 2013
The Best American Comics 2013. Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). 2013. 400p. ed. by Jeff Smith & others. notes. ISBN 9780547995465. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780544103733. ANTHOLOGY
Bone creator Smith takes the helm for this eighth edition of the series. The year saw no shortage of powerful long-form graphic novels, including Craig Thompson’s Habibi, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, and Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer. The editorial team, though, struggles in presenting these works to the reader. Despite the obvious quality of the source material, the choice of scenes in some excerpts is puzzling. For example, from Faith Erin Hicks’s Friends with Boys, a selection is taken from smack in the middle of the story and is context free to the point of confusion, while Tony Puryear’s Concrete Park starts from the book’s page one, chapter one, introduces its protagonists, and then ends immediately. Jose Aguirre and Rafael Rosado’s Giants, Beware!, while excellent, is clearly aimed at a juvenile audience and feels jarringly out of place in this anthology. Short format, self-contained works, in particular the humorous contributions of Kate Beaton (Hark, A Vagrant!), James Kochalka (American Elf), and Evan Dorkin (Fun Strips), fare much better and are uniformly enjoyable.
Verdict Editorial missteps aside, this is a valuable introduction to the year’s most influential graphic works and rising new novelists. Recommended for most adult graphic novel collections.—Neil Derksen, Pierce Cty. Lib. Syst., Tacoma
Delisle, Guy (text & illus.). A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. 192p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770461178. pap. $16.95. F/HUMOR
In his hilarious, subdued, and insightful book, author/artist Delisle gives the reader what may be a semiautobiographical take on a father parenting his young son and daughter. The vignette topics range from the tooth mouse (a version of the tooth fairy), going to watch swimming lessons, helping out with the plumbing, tucking a child into bed, and more. The art style captures the humor perfectly with the facial expressions of the father, and the moments of silence as he thinks carefully about what to say make his gaffes more humorous.
Verdict This is a great graphic novel, especially for parents. The unnamed father (presumably Delisle) responds with sayings that probably go through many parents’ heads but are never said, creating awkward moments of hilarity. Keep in mind that there is graphic language. Recommended for those who enjoy comics focusing on family dynamics such as Foxtrot, Calvin & Hobbes, and Zits.—Ryan Claringbole, Chesapeake P.L., VA
Nevins, Jess (text) & Mark Buckingham & others (illus.). Fables Encyclopedia. Vertigo. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781401243951. $39.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401248505. FANTASY
Imagine the nerd bible for the smart, gorgeous, fast-paced, witty world of Bill Willingham’s multiple award-winning series. Now, open your eyes. Surprise! The alphabetical biographies composed by Nevins (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Companion) of the characters appearing in the “Fables” series are represented in whimsical bits of trivia, as well as in splashes of illustrated glory by multiple artists including James Jean, Joao Ruas, Steve Leialoha, and Mark Buckingham. Many pages from the series are reprinted here, demonstrating critical moments or first appearances of the saga’s stars. Some graphics are beautifully rendered paintings. Colored sidebars of additional information run in columns aside the text pages, giving the reader even more background history to ponder.
Verdict For anyone engaged in this fantastic series, this volume is a colossal bonus. As a stand-alone book, it is clever, and lovely but a bit of a novelty.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ
Vaughn-James, Martin (text & illus.). The Cage. Coach House. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9781552452875. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770563674. F
England-born Vaughn-James (1943–2009) first published this work in 1975. The comic has no clear narrative or characters but is a sequence of detailed, page-sized images, connected by an oblique, ellipses-filled narration. There are no humans, but the images are mostly of human-made objects, such as a pyramid, city exteriors, bedrooms, chain-link fences, and barbwire. However, this isn’t a travelog of a post-human world but an answerless puzzle—headphones and binoculars are arranged in semianthropomorphic ways; metal poles and enormous knitting needles appear in strange locations; large, macaroni-shaped objects and big splurts of black liquid that may or may not be alive. With an introduction by Seth (Palookaville) and a preface by Vaughn-James.
Verdict Unlike both mainstream comics and the work of alternative cartoonists like Art Spiegelman (Maus), R. Crumb (Zap Comix), or Seth himself, The Cage is less like a graphic novel than a documentary film about a strange world, with narration by poet T.S. Eliot. It will appeal to fans of art cinema and surreal poetry, but for most readers of graphic novels (regardless of genre), it’s not recommended.—Robert Mixner, Bartholomew Cty. P.L., Columbus, IN