The five most criminally ignored books of 2008: No. 1, Most Outrageous
Every year there are those comics that, for whatever reason, don’t get their just due. Perhaps it’s the subject matter. Perhaps it’s because the book seems to be targeted at a niche audience. Perhaps it got buried under a ton of other releases. Perhaps it’s just dumb, bad luck. Whatever the reason, a book or comic that otherwise deserves acclaim receives little attention at all.
This week I’m going to try to rectify that. Each day I’ll be looking at what I feel were five criminally ignored or little regarded books. They weren’t necessarily titles that would have made it to my year-end “best of” list. Just works that I felt for whatever reason didn’t get their fair shake, either saleswise or in the press.
I suppose I’m cheating a little with my first pick, Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsely and Chester the Molester, by Bob Levin (published by Fantagraphics). It’s a prose book, and even though it’s ostensibly about a cartoonist, it’s not some in-depth examination of the artist and his work, in the way Blake Bell’s critical evaluation of Steve Ditko is.
No, this is a dark and uncompromising look at an artist who made cartoons mocking the most unforgivable crime of the modern era, child abuse, only to see those cartoons used against him as evidence when his daughter accused him of molesting her.
I won’t go into into full review mode here — I already did that here. (Also, Tom Spurgeon’s review is here and Steve Duin of the Oregonian recommends it here if you’re looking for more voices). Suffice it to say that Levin weaves a complex tale about family, art and just how difficult it ever is to successfully determine the truth in matters like these that is nothing short of haunting and captivating.
It’s not terribly surprising that, apart from those smattering reviews above, Most Outrageous got little attention. It’s a book about an extremely uncomfortable and painful subject matter and it’s main character was a cartoonist for an gutter-scraping porn magazine — Hustler — who made a career out of thrusting unwanted taboos into the reader’s face in an uncomfortable a manner as possible. Also, I don’t think that plain brown wrapper cover design helped matters any.
Yet as I think of the best books I read the past year, the books that truly moved me and refused to vacate my brain space, there’s no question that Most Outrageous took up and continues to take up a good deal of mental real estate. Levin is unflinching here, but never without the grace, skill and sensitivity (for all parties) that has come to mark his writing. This book merely underscores what I previously suspected — there’s no one better writing about the comics industry today.