The problem with superheroes is it’s not a personal taste so much as it just requires so much insider knowledge to read these things. They don’t stand on their own. There have been about three superhero comics, maybe two, in the past five years that stand on their own. That you can just read and not have to know what happened in issue #56 and ever since. It’s a real problem, I think, and it’s a problem for the industry. How do you get into this stuff if you’re not into it already?
— Jessica Abel, cartoonist and co-editor of the Best American Comics annual anthology series, explains why so few superhero comics have made it into their best-of collections in an interview with CBR’s Alex Dueben. (Though this isn’t through lack of trying — DC previously turned down their request to use Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100.) Her husband, fellow cartoonist, and co-editor Matt Madden agrees:
I feel like superhero comics at this point [are] as segregated as ever from the rest of the world of comics. I feel like indie comics and webcomics and manga have more interaction than the superhero world with the rest of the world of comics. It would almost require a separate “Best American Superhero Comics” volume.
Anthologies like the Best American series are already at a disadvantage with regard to the long-form, novel-length works that comprise the bulk of alternative comics today, since they need a discrete, almost stand-alone excerpt that doesn’t require readers to have read the rest of the book to understand. When you think about the years-long storylines of superhero comics, it’s easy to see how the problem’s compounded for the spandex set.
Read the whole interview for a fascinating look at Abel and Madden’s procedure for editing the series and helping to select its contents. I was particularly struck by their use of the “Notables” section in the back of each year’s volume — a list of honorable mentions that they see as a way to both honor flawed but promising works and to keep a running chronicle of the state of the (sequential) art.