Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Comics of 2009

It's come at last, at last it's come. I really went back and forth on whether or not I was going to do a "Best Of" list this year. The strongest argument for my not doing one is that I haven't read NEARLY enough 2009 published comics to honestly present a fair and accurate list of the "best," thus the "Favorite Comics" heading seen above. In the end, I decided that it couldn't hurt to point out ten great books (well, twelve, counting one tie and an honorable mention) that I read and enjoyed this year.

I considered all types of comics when compiling this list, including serialized comic books, graphic novels, archival collections of older material, everything. The list is ranked, with the number one choice being the comic I most enjoyed this year. It was a fantastic year to be a comics reader (it's gotten to the point where I truly feel SORRY for people who don't engage the medium at all), and I hope that in 2010 I can get caught up on all of the worthy 2009 releases I have not yet had a chance to read, and do a better job of keeping up with new comics as they are published.

10. West Coast Blues by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette: The first in Fantagraphics ambitious publishing plan to present American readers with the work of French cartoonist Jacques Tardi. A masterfully constructed crime story with an unlikeable protagonist caught in an unlikely circumstance, this very French graphic novel is superior to anything I've seen in the genre from an American cartoonist. I also really like the design of this and other books in the series by Adam Grano.

9. Abstract Comics edited by Andrei Molotiu: Handsomely designed and smartly edited, this anthology of non-narrative comics was one of the year's most unique releases. Featuring contributions from cartoonists both famous and obscure, I appreciated all of the "stories" to one degree or another, and the cumulative effect of "reading" them all together was thrilling.

8. Prison Pit Book One by Johnny Ryan: And now for something completely different. I'll cop to being one of those who has perhaps been too dismissive of Ryan's cartooning chops in the past. You can bet I (and probably a lot of others) will be paying a LOT more attention to him in the future, following this expertly cartooned story of an ugly bruiser's violent encounters on a prison planet. Refreshingly devoid of any literary or artistic pretensions, this first of what I hope will be many, many volumes nevertheless comes across as somehow one of the smartest and well crafted books of the year. No, really.

7. The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 and The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 by Charles M. Schulz: Well, what can I say? What hasn't been said? I enjoy Peanuts more than just about anything I read in a given year, and these volumes are maybe the last covering the strip's late 60s- mid 70s golden era (although I look forward to being proved wrong on that point in subsequent volumes). Really strong stuff here, including the "Charlie Brown wears a sack on his head to summer camp" sequence, surely the "Poison River" of Peanuts. These two volumes also featured some of designer Seth's best covers for the series, with the bright yellow background of the Sally cover, and the visual gag of Woodstock's diminutive proportions on the latter volume. I also just love that Woodstock got a cover.

6. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli: This was a lot of people's number one book, and I don't begrudge it that ranking. A fine graphic novel from a master of the form, thoughtfully constructed and emotionally powerful. Every line, every color is here for a reason. Form is substance, medium is message. Comics. Read it.

5. Multiforce by Mat Brinkman: Years ago, after having read a few of these strips in some old issues of Paper Rodeo that a friend lent me, I put the collected Multiforce on a list of comics projects I most wanted to see published. This year, the extraordinary publisher PictureBox made it happen with this under publicized and unpretentious release. I don't know if we're going to see a lot more comics from Brinkman (I'd love to be wrong), which makes this comic all the more precious. Really funny and well drawn.

4. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb: I know some people were disappointed that Crumb didn't take more liberties with the source material, but for my money, his restraint and fidelity to the text made this work all the more powerful. I don't think anyone can argue that this isn't one of the most beautifully drawn books of the year, probably of the decade, and the subtle ways in which Crumb teases out characters and themes through facial expressions and body language are a wonder to behold, but you have to be paying attention. Fortunately, it's a book worth paying attention to, a true "bookshelf" book, one any serious comics fan will want in her library.

3. BodyWorld by Dash Shaw: Dash Shaw is one of the most exciting and talented cartoonists currently working, and this is the best thing he's done so far. I don't read a lot of webcomics, but I'm glad I took the plunge with this really funny and subversive science fiction story when it's serialization was completed early this year. Shaw's depictions of telepathy, his use of color (my GOD that color!) and the way in which the alien invasion plot slowly comes into focus in the background while never taking away from the story of the hapless protagonist who couldn't care less all contribute to making this one of my favorite comics of the year. Look for the book in 2010.

2. The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit: Man oh man did I enjoy this book. Rickheit has flown under a lot of people's radar (myself included) for years, so I was pretty well blown away by what a confident and talented cartoonist he proves himself to be in this bizarre and haunting graphic novel, about two brothers whose strange experiments alienate them from the people in their lives and eventually from each other. Reminiscent of the best work of David Lynch, there are a lot of powerful themes humming just beneath the surface of the creepy and dreamlike narrative. This one hit hard, and I can't wait to read it again. Really, really impressive.

1. Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa & Osamu Tezuka, co-authored with Takashi Nagasaki: No surprise to anyone whose had the (mis?)fortune of discussing comics with me this past year, I decided pretty early on that Urasawa's brilliant re-imagining of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy would take the number one slot on this list. I've already reviewed the series on this blog, so I don't want to repeat myself too much here. I'll just reiterate that there was not a comic I flat out ENJOYED reading more this year. The best example of it's type, I don't understand why all "mainstream" comics aren't like Pluto, or at least why they don't try to be. Extraordinary.

Honorable Mention: Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I'll be damned if I could figure out how to place Urasawa's OTHER genre masterwork, about a group of friends whose childhood fantasies come back to haunt them as adults, on this ranked list. It's ALMOST as good as Pluto (and, judging by the just released sixth volume, stands a good chance of surpassing it), but it didn't seem right to rank it over Squirrel Machine and BodyWorld. Didn't seem right to have it too far away from Pluto on the list, either. Didn't want to take away from Pluto by having the two works share the number one slot. Gosh, these lists are silly, aren't they? So, honorable mention. Read this too, along with all the other great books I didn't mention. Ah, comics! Ah, life!


Blogger Jamie Alder said...

Thanks for putting Abstract Comics in your top ten.
Happy trails,
Bill Shut

January 2, 2010 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

Solid list. I just found your blog, and I'm enjoying it.

January 7, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

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