Anyone who has even looked at a page or two of Black Hole understands that if someone has earned the right to flip the bird at the comics gods and get away with it, it’s Charles Burns. The guy’s thick black lines never back down and he is about as deft and apparently facile in his command of comic vocabulary as anyone. But, the wild claim that he makes in his introduction for the newest installment of the absurdly titled Best American Comics is alarming. Burns writes, as an explanation for his choices as the “editor” for the most recent edition (the celebrity editor, by the way, who surveys a shortlist, presumably culled by the series editors, Matt Madden and Jessica Abel):
“For the most part, the artists in this book were already well known to me-that’s just the way it works; these days, if you’re a reasonably talented cartoonist, it’s hard to stay under the radar for long.”
Will all due respect, Mr. Burns: Bullshit. One of the things I really appreciate about the comics world is apparent smallness, the seeming approachability of even some of the most revered creators, the respect for little books, homemade projects, and the general friendliness (rather than nervous competitiveness that is more apparent among writers) of the community. So I appreciate where Burns is coming from. But he has taken this feeling to an unfortunate conclusion: the assumption that this small community is all there is. I can personally guarantee there is a whole slew of wonderful work that has yet to come on to his “radar.” The amount of good work being done is growing exponentially, but outlets are still limited and hierarchies still exist, let’s not pretend they don’t. There are trends and fashions and work that people are more comfortable with and other that faces greater resistance. (This should go without saying.) By ignoring this, we’re creating a dangerous precedent for our critical understanding of what comics are. Burns and Madden and Abel certainly put together a book of excellent comics, but to claim this is all there is, that’s profoundly unfortunate.