Someday I’ll learn to stop looking at The Best American Comics series. As someone who loves comics but has exhausted her patience for violence against women as shorthand for meaningful commentary the series often exhausts me.
Beginning with an excerpt from what I would argue was Alison Bechdel’s weakest book and ending with pinups on the moon the 2013 TBAC was the first collection that didn’t make me seek out at least one full book. My view may have been colored by the inclusion of Craig Thompson’s Habibi, a work I absolutely loathed. Just seeing Habibi in the credits made me set the pre-release copy aside for weeks. (Typing the phrase Craig Thompson’s Habibi makes me want to stop writing this review.)
Whatever, we move on. There’s a ton of sexualized violence toward women on display. I’m sure it’s very profound to visualize the wife as something you can literally dismember to make full use of but haven’t we worn that tired song out yet? How many rape fantasies do we really need to commit to paper? I’m starting to think the easiest way to get into TBAC is to depict as much sexual violence as a PG-13 rating will permit. Or go farther, but give them a few milder pages to include.
With Kate Beaton as the cover artist TBAC is trying to have it all ways. Look girls! A book not solely concerned with rape and mutilation! It’s true that Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant is always welcome. In this context it seems even more unlike the rest of the field. Eleanor Davis offers a post apocalyptic setting for Nita Goes Home. It’s possibly the most interesting of the group as it pits a self indulgent artist against her family of origin. Even as she strives to relate to them she continues to condescend. Their paths have taken them to different realities. Nita, who has the easier existence, is the more mentally fragile. Derf Backderf is included for a few pages from My Friend Dahmer, a book I considered reading but skipped. An exploration of the young serial killer is probably of interest to many readers but I’m not one of them. Backderf uses a style suited to the 1970’s in his almost loving exploration of their shared childhood. Let’s just say Backderf isn’t the only person to grow up with a serial killer and leave it there.
I enjoy much of Laura Park’s work, but the included piece, George (about a man who treats terrorism as a hobby) isn’t my favorite. It’s slight and sometimes clever. It’s a moment in time without weight. However, Park is worth checking out as an artist. If you were going to take only one suggestion from this year’s TBAC she’d be my choice. I know there are better comics out there, Park is proof. I wish the series would lift it’s gaze from the exploitation of women’s bodies and produce a collection designed to trigger the mind instead of the traumatic past of a reader.
Final Assessment: If you must. Some interesting young voices but mostly familiar faces and sexualized violence. D
Source: Copy provided for review.