Thankless jobs

November 8, 2006

Publishers Weekly has released its list of Best Graphic Novels of the Year, and Heidi MacDonald links to Amazon’s choices. I love this time of year, as it provides so many rich opportunities to nitpick.

In fairness, it’s impossible to say “That choice is empirically wrong,” or “I can’t believe they excluded (fill in name of excellent choice here),” because so many books come from so many sources that the level of subjectivity is automatically high. And the best thing about these lists is how they function as a springboard for discussion and maybe alert readers to books they haven’t read yet.

On the discussion front, Tom Spurgeon offers some initial impressions of the PW roster, and Johanna Draper Carlson goes through the list in more detail. Both note the fact that 2006 isn’t quite over yet, and that only one translated manga title (Tokyopop’s Dragon Head) made the PW cut. Two licensed properties made Amazon’s list: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Abandon the Old in Tokyo (Drawn and Quarterly) and Hiroaki Samura’s Ohikkoshi (Dark Horse).

I think Dragon Head is an interesting choice. It was front and center in the negative reaction to Tokyopop’s on-line exclusives initiative, and it’s a critical darling that seems to enjoy retailer support. I like it a lot, though I don’t even know if it would top my list of post-apocalyptic manga. (Viz’s Drifting Classroom and Dark Horse’s Eden are currently vying for the top spot in that niche.)

But again, it’s subjective. When I contemplate the possibility of putting together my own list of the year’s best, I’m gripped with a combination of weariness and anxiety. There are so many books I’ve liked this year for so many different reasons that I would be hard-pressed to develop a single set of criteria for the year’s best.

Is Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni Press) as good as J.P. Stassen’s Deogratias (First Second)? If forced, could I pick among :01’s Deogratias, Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, and Joann Sfar’s Klezmer if I wanted to share the wealth and limit myself to one book per publisher? Do the collections of Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics), Ode to Kirihito (Vertical), or Get a Life (Drawn and Quarterly) count, just because they’re new to me? Are the ways I enjoyed Polly and the Pirates (Oni) comparable to the ways I appreciated Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)? Do I really want to go so far as to develop a unified critical theory when I know perfectly well I’ll violate it at the first opportunity?

So I’m grateful to the people who will actually commit to a set list of the year’s best, because, if nothing else, they provide plenty of food for thought and grist for blogging.

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The other thing that particularly caught my attention in this week’s PWCW was just how hard it is to find someone who’ll come out and criticize Kurt Hassler without the benefit of anonymity. If MangaBlog’s Brigid was troubled by the anonymous sniping in ICv2’s report, her reaction will probably be magnified by the bevy of veiled critics quoted in PW’s.

That’s not to say that I’m encouraging criticism or praise for Hassler. It’s just curious to me that the power of the position he’s left still has people taking the Deep Throat route when they assess his performance.

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Updated to add: David Taylor settles into his new MangaCast digs and takes a thorough look at all of the manga-related content in the latest PWCW.