Edited by Chris Ware
Its a hardcover book, its a mini-comic, its the funny pages…
But there is no Superman. It is the alternative comics issue of
McSweeney’s, Number 13.
As an object, it really is a beautiful thing. Heavy paper cover,
embossed design on the book’s cover, smooth pages, and the reassuring
heft that comes with a book comprising a goodly number of pages. Chris
Ware designed and edited this issue.
With collections, there are always questions of what is included and
what is left out. The artists included contain most of the usual
suspects in non-superhero alternative comics publishing today: Ware
himself, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Seth, Ben Katchor, Gilbert
Hernandez, Debby Dreschler, Chester Brown, Richard Sala, Lynda Barry,
John Porcellino, and Joe Sacco. (No Craig Thompson or James Kochalka,
though, two big figures in alternative comics. Then again, Top Shelf
isn’t listed as a place to go for more, as are Drawn & Quarterly,
Highwater Books, and Fantagraphics – a curious omission.)
There are contributions in prose by Chipp (the nearly-omnipresent book
designer) Kidd and Michael (he even write comic books into his novels)
Chabon. Ware also includes articles about and reprints of developments
in comics history, from arguably the first comic writer to Charles
Schultz’s preliminary sketches. And there is Art Spiegelman, of course,
alternative comics claim to responsibility – whether he wants it or not
– because Maus won the Pulitzer.
I picked up this book for two reasons. The first is that I’ve read the
work of only a few of the contributors, so I was curious, and this
seemed like a good way to see a lot of new material. The other one has
to do with my attraction/repulsion to the idea of McSweeney’s (Dave
Eggers is the publisher) and my idea that the folks who put out
McSweeney’s probably think of themselves as too clever by half.
What I discovered is that they are capable of putting out a
high-quality book, and introducing me to work I liked. I enjoyed
Porcellino’s mini-comic, David Heatley’s stories about his dad, Ben
Katchor’s excerpts, the amazing amount of detail Joe Sacco packs into
each page, Chris Ware’s stories, and Lynda Barry’s struggle with
Recommended. Considering that graphic novels and anthologies often cost
upward of $20 for so much less in softcover, this is a good deal even
at full price.