The Best American Comics 2009. Charles Burns, Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, editors. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 332 pages.
Like a greatest hits collection from indy labels, this "best of'' eschews contributions from the majors, so there are no mesomorphic crimefighters, though there are several anthropomorphic animals and plenty of angst-y adolescents. Editors Abel and Madden, joined by the eminently estimable Burns, assemble stellar contributions from all-stars Clowes, the Crumbs, Kupperman, Pond, Spiegelman, Tomine, Ware and others. There's something to appeal to most every taste, though you'll have to decide for yourself if it all adds up to "the best.''
Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness. Reinhard Kleist. Abrams ComicArts. 224 pages.
Originally published in Germany and written in that country's language, this graphic bio of the country legend is told affectionately, despite unfolding like a restless nightmare in stark black and white. Though it may not strictly stick to the facts, this visceral tale of Johnny Cash's rise and fall and rise again is lyrical and haunting.
Luna Park. Kevin Baker. Danijel Zezelj. Vertigo. 160 pages.
Baker's hallucinogenic dream of Russian survival in Coney Island, Afghanistan and Dallas blends history, pulp fiction and fantasy, with Zezejl's perfect art, and a didn't-see-it-coming, jaw-dropping final twist.
Detectives Inc. Don McGregor. Marshall Rogers. Gene Colan. IDW. 160 pages.
Don McGregor's pair of groundbreaking graphic novels, with art by the late Marshall Rogers and the great Gene Colan, is back in print in this lovingly produced collection, replete with script samples, reminiscences and more, plus stills and text from a film adaptation. McGregor's scripts may seem wordy and violet-hued to some, but his honesty, sincerity and humanity always shine through. Bits of ancillary material were obviously reproduced from secondary sources, but the stories themselves are crisp and sharp and hold up quite well, all things considered.
Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus). Eddie Campbell. Top Shelf.
If autobiography is the lingua franca of the graphic novel form, Campbell is its undisputed Shakespeare. The consistency and growth of the artist's narrative skills and draftsmanship are unique though unsurprising. This long-awaited collection that gathers 30 years of disparately published stories limning the life and loves of Campbell's alter ago, Alec, will undoubtedly top every year's-best list, including mine.
Talking Lines. R. O. Blechman. Drawn and Quarterly. 288 pages. $27.95.
Blechman's beautiful squiggly drawings are instantly recognizable to generations of magazine readers. This lovely and overdue collection makes an eloquent case for the prodigious talents and seriously whimsical art of a modern master. The accompanying text is similarly enlightening and almost as entertaining.
Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip. Stuart Hample. Abrams ComicArts. 240 pages.
Inside Woody Allen was a fun and funny strip when it ran in newspapers (from 1976 to 1984), though none ran front-page retrospectives mourning its demise. But this thorough collection is an unexpected delight. As a primer for would-be cartoonists, the text provides great insights into the development of this sadly dying art form. Creator Hample collaborated loosely with subject Allen, abetted by several writers, including, astonishingly, The Cluetrain Manifesto's David Weinberger, now a Harvard professor, but then a Ph.D. philosophy candidate, which pleased the Woodman to no end, no doubt.
originally published in The Miami Herald