Best American Comics Criticism Roundtable: Capturing the Experience

Posted by on August 24th, 2010 at 12:31 AM

Opening contributions from Ng Suat Tong, Noah Berlatsky, Caroline Small, Jeet Heer, Brian Doherty and BACC editor Ben Schwartz; responses from Caroline Small, Ng Suat Tong, Jeet Heer, Noah Berlatsky and Ben Schwartz.


From Stupid Comics, ©2006 Jim Mahfood.


Given that I’m in The Best American Comics Criticism and I exchanged some e-mails with editor Ben Schwartz about the content of the book while he was putting it together, you might think that I’m not the person to comment on it. But actually my little inside glimpse into the editing process helped clarify my judgments of the boon, since Ben quite wisely didn’t listen to most of my suggestions.

My idea for Ben’s book was that it would be a collection of what is normally considered to be criticism: essays and reviews from a wide range of publications (TCJ, the New York Times, etc). But when Ben started putting together the book, it became clear that he had a more expansive sense of criticism than I did: He wanted to include interviews, panel discussions, reader reviews, a legal document, as well as some comics. I thought this was a mistake since it would dilute the impact of having the best critical voices writing at their peak powers.

Now that we have the book at hand, I can safely say that Ben was right and I was wrong. Ben was a much braver and innovative editor than I would have dared to be. His great insight was that comics criticism comes in many forms. When we think back to how our critical judgments about comics are formed, we’ll inevitably remember not just prose essays but also what we can call para-criticism: interviews, comics about comics, etc. For myself, my education in comics was shaped by the many great interviews that The Comics Journal has run, as well as the way cartoonists like Seth and Spiegelman have commented on the history of the medium in their own works.

So in assessing The Best American Comics Criticism I think the main quality that has to be singled out is the editorial bravado that Ben displayed. By thinking about comics criticism in such a broad and inclusive way, he’s made a book that actually captures the experience of how we think and talk about comics.


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