Ivan Brunetti's second anthology promises stories that comprise more of a family of sequential art tales rather than keep the singularity of theme and individuality of the first collection from a year or so ago. "Family" really comes off as another word for the more accurate phrase "diversity of styles and themes but still all bound as sequential art," but one can hardly fault Brunetti for his phrasing. His last anthology was a little too centered on the theme of loneliness, in my opinion, so it is good to see him branching out.
The best things about this anthology are that the stories come not only from a multitude of artists but a multitude of generations as well and that many of the stories are highly readable.
This is not like the "Best of 2008" anthology reviewed here in early November in that here one can read works from Winsor McCay, Art Spiegelman, Jaime Hernandez and Phoebe Gloeckner in the same volume.
However, I find at least a fourth of the volume to comprise dubious choices for inclusion. Some are simply unreadable, either via clarity of style (I'm just not one of those fellows who likes intentionally messy cartoons), reproduction size, or the element of neurosis the selection reveals. (Am I the only one who is starting to feel like he got kicked in the head every time he reads another sequential art narrative that illustrates how depraved cartoonists seem to be, or at least how depraved they think we are as a species?).
There are some real gems in the anthology, to be sure. The last quarter of the book is a delight and includes some heavy hitters of cartooning. And I must say, as I flip back through the book, there are some stories I just don't remember reading -- they just didn't stick with me -- but there are others, like the selections from Lynda Barry and Jessica Abel, that I'm thinking I must have glossed over. They seem fresh and exciting. But how did I miss them the first time?
So far, my favorite selections are Mack White's parable "The Nudist Nuns of Goat Island" and Jim Woodring's "Particular Mind," which has a great scene where an uppity young female artist tells a cartoonist (unbeknownst to her) that creating comic art is "different" for her -- she really sees it as an art form. I also appreciated being exposed to artists like Gloeckner whom I hadn't paid much attention to in the past.
Overall, this is a good, but not really jaw-dropping, anthology. It is a bit pricey but probably worth the having simply because so many others will have seen it. I prefer the Best American Comics of 2008 anthology to this one but admit that not giving it higher marks is more Brunetti's tastes being different from my own than my drastic disenchantment for the bulk of its material.