First, my apologies for the lack of a Top Five last Saturday. Holidays…
Second, I was hoping for a Top Five Spirit stories to run today in conjunction with the opening of the Frank Miller feature film. But there just hasn’t been time to even glance through twenty-four Spirit Archive volumes, so I’m going with a more traditional Best of the Year listing, split over two weeks. This week, because I’m a sucker for these great newspaper strip and other classic comics reprint projects, I’m focusing today on the best Archival reprint comics of 2008. (And I’ll hope that the NYPL can fulfill my request for Bottomless Belly Button, just so I know if I can consciously include or exclude the seemingly most praised book of the year from next week’s Top Five Current Books of 2008.)
Hey, we’re living in a golden era for Golden Age comics. Don’t miss out on the books that laid the groundwork for everything we love about comics today; you’ll find that many of yesterday’s best are superior to the watered down comics of today.
5. American Flagg!, by Howard Chaykin. Image/Dynamic Forces.
It’s the smartest and most graphically challenging comic of its time, and one of the greats of all time. Dissecting culture and consumerism, offering cutting edge graphics, and providing one of the most nuanced and lovable rogues in comics history, Flagg!‘s collection has been a long time coming, but it’s been worth every minute of the delay. Chaykin’s probably never done anything better, which is impressive given the body of work he’s accumulated in the last twenty years. The hardcover is well put-together, with a new story by Chaykin. The last two chapters, with art by others, doesn’t reach the peak of the first twelve issues, but those first twelve issues are the reason Flagg! is still beloved today.
4. Nexus Archives 7, by Mike Baron & Steve Rude. Dark Horse.
Still the smartest, best drawn superhero comic of them all, Nexus is in top form here, with more moral quandaries for Horatio and his allies, more psychotic villains, and more beautiful Dude artwork. This volume and the previous might be the series’ highest point, with Rude at the peak of his powers and Baron capturing the complexities of the human condition. The moral quandries in this book are among the best ever attempted in comics. Dark Horse could only improve on these by releasing them more often.
3. The Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966, by Jules Feiffer. Fantagraphics.
The first decade of Feiffer’s Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoons comment on relations between the sexes, between the classes and between the political haves and have-nots. Astute strips capture the complexity of modern life and break it down to its most absurd levels, asking us just how we let out society get to this point. Intelligent, funny and timeless, Feiffer’s always worth revisiting.
2. Popeye vol. 3: Let’s You and Him Fight, by E.C. Segar. Fantagraphics.
Hilarious and adventurous, Fantagraphics’ Popeye edition is a yearly highlight. The over-sized format shows off the Sunday pages wonderfully, while allowing an entire week of dailies to run on a single page. The strips are fun and funny, full of outlandish and exciting characters, superb slapstick violence and grammatically astounding English mangling. The introduction, however, is cumbersome and ungainly, intelligent, yet better placed in a journal than prefacing these outrageously over-the-top strips. It completely misses the fun of Popeye.
1. Terry and the Pirates vol. 2-5, by Milton Caniff. IDW.
Though I think I might like Popeye’s content (minus the so-so Sappo strips) just a hair more than Terry, I think Dean Mullaney and IDW’s Library of American Comics did a superlative job with these editions. The introductions frame the time and circumstances of the original publication, as well as that of Caniff’s life properly, the chronology of the dailies and Sunday pages are maintained, the Sundays are recolored from Caniff’s color guides, and the bindings are tremendously sturdy. Plus, the strips themselves are incredibly fun and basically the blueprint for every action comic since.
What comics reprints do you think are the best of the year?