So I just finished the new McSweeney’s “comic issue.” It was definitely above par. In fact, at one point while reading it, I had to stop and lament to Eleanor that there weren’t more anthologies this good. Before it came out, a large contingent of comics fans were harping on the percentage of reprint and excerpt material in the book. Luckily, when it comes to recent comics, I’m pretty poorly-read (due to lack of funds) – thus, most of the book was new to me!
One thing that did strike a sour note was the preponderance of the “self-loathing” theme… though I suppose I should have expected it with a Chris Ware-edited anthology. And I know it’s become a cliche to rant against “sad, sensitive artist” comics! But people just keep pumping them out (not like I’m not guilty of the same offense.)
Ware’s book-slip comic was particularly culpable… and you’d think he’d have mined out this particular vein in his work already. On the flip side, his piece from the actual anthology was some of his strongest work to date. Most of the text pieces in the book, like those by Ware, “This American Life’s” Ira Glass, Michael Chabon, Glen David Gold, and Chip Kidd, also revolved around the “sad bastard” theme. Several recounted childhood experiences with comics of the life-scarring, painfully geeky sort. Ira Glass’s piece even closed with something like “sad, barely-read losers need art (i.e., comics) too.” Whew!
The stronger pieces: Kim Dietch’s piece on a death row inmate sparked my interest, though he usually leaves me lukewarm. David Heatley’s piece was weirdly compelling. Ben Katchor and his pseudo-historical anecdotes are always welcome. The Charles Burns, Joe Sacco, and Chester Brown excerpts cemented my decision to pick up their latest books as soon as financially possible.
On the maybe side: Jeffrey Brown’s work is always charming, but he’s in a serious rut. We don’t need three books about his girl troubles! R. Crumb is a demigod, but even he’s fallen prey to the “Sad Bastard” theme in this piece.