I can’t imagine a better editor for “The Best American Comics 2012” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 360 pp., $25) than Françoise Mouly. Co-founder (with her husband Art Spiegelman) of the legendary “comix” magazine RAW and long-time art editor of the New Yorker, she has been on the comics scene since before there was a comics scene, and is a key figure in the ongoing evolution of the form.
As she explains in her introduction (itself a four-page strip that appropriates the styles of, among others, Maira Kalman, Roz Chast, Ben Katchor, Charles Burns and Lynda Barry: “When I started RAW magazine, in the '80s … there were mostly superheroes, a few children’s comics … and the dirty, intentionally lowbrow, underground comix. And now … comics can tackle any topic.”
Not all these artists appear in “The Best American Comics 2012,” but they do suggest a context for the book. Essential to that context is Mouly, whose sense of comics extends beyond the traditional.
Indeed, some of the most exciting work here is the least expected, such as Leanne Shapton’s watercolor series “A Month of …” First published in the New York Times, these impressionistic paintings capture in quick strokes a woman swimming, a man sitting in a chair before a bookcase — in other words, “the banalities and quotidian details of daily life.”