The Best American Comics 2008
Edited by Lynda Barry
Houghton Mifflin, $22.
This is probably the strongest entry in the “Best of” series yet, though it skews heavily towards weekly, alternative comic strip side of things (i.e. Matt Groening, Kaz, Derf, etc.) which is probably not too surprising considering Barry’s roots in that market.
Naturally, there’s a good deal of material that, if you follow the indie or small press scene at all you’ve probably read. Percy Gloom, American Born Chinese and other relatively well-known works are sampled here, but I found there were enough surprises that it didn’t feel like 300-odd pages of reruns.
Of course, there’s plenty to quibble about, and I’m sure any comics fan who picks this up will say “Hey, what about (insert name of your comic here)?” Overall though, the selections range from excellent to at least entertaining. Certainly it’s enough to draw in those casual readers a book like this is designed for.
Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance
by Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger
Top Shelf, $19.95.
This isn’t comics, actually, but a prose nonfiction book offering brief histories of those who have served in the Vice President’s job, with Shellabarger providing illustrations.
Overall the book is lively and informative, though it relies a bit too heavily on a previous book about the same material, Bland Ambition. Kelter also has an annoying habit of repeating his jokes ad nauseum — if I had to read one more reference to Dick Cheney’s shooting mishap I was going to throw the book across the room.
Still, it’s a pleasant if somewhat slight book, the sort of thing you’d buy for that history buff in your family without any worries about him or her responding unfavorably to it.
by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel
There’s a lot to like in Ames’ drug and alcohol-fueled saga of self-loathing, self-absorption and addiction. Unlike a lot of prose authors that come to comics, he seems to understand the structure and visual nature of comics a bit better. For example, he provides a nice framing sequence at the beginning as well as a great rimshot image at the end.
On the other hand, he’s a really talky guy, and it would have been nice if he had let Haspiel drive the narrative a bit more instead of complement it. The book also tends to take a few unessential side turns — a lengthy bit about Monica Lewinsky is cute but should have been cut. If I had to sum it up, I’d label it a decent, occasionally great memoir that really should have been a lot better.
The Manga Guide to Statistics
by Shin Takahashi and Trend-Pro Co., Ltd.
No Starch Press, $19.95.
Can a cute, short-skirted high school girl and her hopelessly nerdy but brainy and (spoiler!) handsome male tutor teach you all there is to know about probability, standards and medians? Of course not, don’t be silly.
As has been duly noted elsewhere, this book is more interesting for its adherence to certain manga gender cliches than as a teaching tool. In fact, I’d say the preponderance of charts and text offers a decided counterweight to the “comics can help you learn” notion. I closed the book knowing about as much about statistics as I did upon page one. Which would be zero.
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