I was very impressed with Editor Anne Elizabeth Moore’s selection in this volume. Moore is a well-known journalist and feminist activist, and this shines through beautifully. Comics have often suffered from being hyper-masculine, misogynistic, and (in the case of American comics) distressingly stuck on superheroes. Moore has wisely chosen to steer clear of superheroes, and focus on highlighting the works of artists who are making interesting and innovative comics from many points of view. To doubters of the comic’s literary credibility, this book should stand as a testament to how poignant, funny, tragic, and beautiful comics can be
Some pieces I greatly enjoyed while others fell short. That is the great thing about anthologies, if done well (like this one) they have a little something for everyone. If anything, I was impressed with the variety of voices in this book. There are young writers and legends (such as R. Crumb). There is variety in nationality, gender, and race. It is wonderful to see such a broad spectrum represented.
Now for that bad news. I did not enjoy Kim Deitch’s “No Midgets in Midgetville.” I found it visually confusing and aesthetically unappealing, though whimsical and inventive. I have always felt ambivalent about Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home.” At times it is a gorgeous piece, filled with touching moments, but at time can become woefully verbose and tries too hard to make meaning. I found Lynda Barry’s “What’s Happening Maryls” off-putting and dull.
However, there were some absolute gems in this anthology as well, whose inventiveness, story-telling, and art were embodiments of what makes comics so great.
1. Charles Burns, “Black Hole”
I have read the long-form version of “Black Hole” probably five times. During the 1970’s, young teenagers begin to contract a (mostly) sexually-transmitted disease. The afflicted develop horrible deformities. It explores the often terrifying nature of puberty and sexual awakening majestically. The artwork is visually arresting and unbelievably powerful. This will go down as one of the great accomplishments in comics.
2. Anders Nilsen “Dinner and a Walk”
The beautiful, minimalistic drawing of this piece perfectly frames the story which follows reverses the typical nature scene. Instead of a human observing and interpreting the behavior of an animal, a bird gazes at a human boy dressed only in his underwear. The bird judges the human, who exhibits some strange behavior.
3. Adrian Tomine, “Optic Nerve”
There is something very sixties about Tomine’s flat black-and-white drawings. The action in this excerpt follows a young man as he strikes up a casual relationship with a young woman. The main character is forced to confront their differences in race, socio-economic status, and sexuality.