Okay, so the headline does elicit a “duh” from comic readers, but still, it bears repeating.
If you’ve already made your way through your holiday gift copy of Jess…er, Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, and are still jonesing for some literate comic book thinking and criticism, check out Michael Chabon’s latest book, Maps and Legends: reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, his first nonfiction book, which collects his essays on a variety of subjects, including a loving look at Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! – “The Killer Hook: Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!” – a version of the introduction he supplied for Dynamic Forces’ recent collection of issues #1-#14 of American Flagg!. It’s good, good stuff, and encapsulates in a way I’ll never be able to, why Flagg! is just so damn good, and should be recognized as the foundation (or at the very least, one of the pillars) that modern comics stand on, and why Chaykin should be a household name both within and without comics.
Also in Maps and Legends: a version of his Eisner 2004 Keynote in which he spoke about kid’s comics (and the way that everyone seems to get them wrong), his “Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner,” “Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes” and many more on subjects very familiar to comic book and genre fans. Topping it all off, or rather, covering it all up, a gorgeous Jordan Crane cover – or three covers, each showing a part of the scene (and the reason why the book is shrink-wrapped in your local Barnes & Noble).
A few more thoughts about Maps and Legends, which I can’t wait to read slowly:
1) It fits solidly in the category of what Alan Moore talked about with his ABC line of books way back when, of being a beautiful little object. Hold Maps and Legends in your hand, and tell me it just doesn’t feel…right.
2) I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tickled by the notion that someone who might come to this book due to Chabon’s literary prestige may come away from it with a hankering to find some American Flagg!. Normally, I hate the term “ambassador to comics,” but I think it applies here.
3) I still think (and some of this is colored by having met him) that Chabon does the high-wire act really well. Where many can come off with an amazingly condescending attitude towards comics and fans when they talk about them to an outside audience, Chabon comes across as your really smart friend who just digs comics, and isn’t ashamed about it.
4) This has nothing to do with Maps and Legends, but I will never, ever give up my autographed copy of Kavalier and Clay. Ever.
5) And while I’m off topic, I love how Chabon includes comic folk in his other works, like Chaykin and Mike Mignola providing spot illustrations for the McSweeny’s collections he edited, and getting Gary Gianni to do the same for Gentlemen of the Road.
6) Finally – Maps and Legends published by McSweeny’s, so the print run isn’t huge – and given that it’s an essay collection, orders probably weren’t that large either. It’s been out since May, so I’d recommend grabbing it when you see it.