Best American Comics — the arbiter of the year end's best and most innovative cartoons, illustrations, strips and graphic novels — will be getting a new look, a throwback to '50s mainstream culture with a subversive punk sensibility.
Created by Raymond Pettibon (best known for his poster and album cover work in the '80s punk scene, which became integral to its aesthetic), the cover of the 2015 volume of Best American Comics features a Brylcreemed average Joe with classic X-ray glasses staring, both crazed and intently, at a black painting; the entire affair is reminiscent of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 spectacle or an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Of course, to say that the anthology series has been previously stilted in its design and presentation would be hyperbolic — Best American Comics brings on someone new every year to work on the cover.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Best American Comics series editor Bill Kartalopoulos described the process in choosing which of Pettibon's illustrations — all of which served as allusions to classic pulp comic strips like Bazooka Joe and Dick Tracy. Kartalopoulos went on to recap how he and Lethem picked the final image for the cover:
The image says so much ... it's a collision between cultural signifiers of mid-century America, the high point of both modernist art and the comic book as mass medium: we see a confrontation between high art and popular art; the argument between abstraction and figuration; the sly suggestion that the comic book refugee is "seeing through" the high art. This is all underlined by the triumphant comic book-inflected figuration and text-image integration of Raymond's own work, which enjoys such a congenial position in the art world today. What could be better for a comics anthology in 2015?
The next installment of the anthology is edited by Jonathan Lethem, author of the New York Times bestseller Fortress of Solitude, a sci-fi literary crossover. In edition to the new aesthetic of the Best American Comics' latest cover, Lethem is the first prose writer to serve as a guest editor.
Kartalopoulos was quick to assuage any skepticism this choice could entail.
"Some might anticipate that Jonathan, as a novelist, would have favored work that hews to 'novelistic' literary structures and effects, but that turned out not to be the case," said Kartapoulos, "He is smart enough to recognize that there are things that comics can do that he can't do in his chosen medium."
Check out the image below of the next volume below, set to be released in October 2015.