Drum roll please. I didn’t feel like trimming this down to only five, so you’re getting a top elevent titles. It’s purely based on a) what I actually read (meaning the copy of Bottomless Belly Buttom that I checked out from the library Tuesday, but haven’t had time to read and anyway, the column was mostly already written, didn’t make it), and b) the books that I thought the most entertaining, well told and creative based purely on my own, admittedly, personal biases concerning these things.
The top eleven are in alphabetical order. I liked different books for different reasons, and I wasn’t really happy with any of the orders I placed these titles in. So rather than letting the snake eat its tail … oh, let’s just get on with it.
Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope, by Emmanuel Guibert. First Second.
Guibert’s biography of expatriate American G.I. Alan Cope is simply stunning. Illustrated in soft, gray water tones, perfectly suited to capturing the haze of memory, the book depicts the spiritual and emotional maturation of a remarkable man. From a brief stint on the battlefields of World War II to life as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army in Europe, Cope’s life is eye-opening and challenging. Guibert’s elegant artwork suits the tenor and majesty of the story to a tee.
The Alcoholic, by Jonathon Ames & Dean Haspiel. DC/Vertigo.
Vertigo announced a graphic novel initiative in 2008, and we didn’t see much evidence of it before the calendar turned. However, we did get The Alcoholic, a brutally hilarious comedy of writer Jonathon A.’s descent into chemical abuse following a break-up. Potty humor, ruminations on human tragedy, and outstanding artwork make it a clear winner. I only hope Vertigo has more in the pipeline and that is can live up to this standard.
Berlin vol. 2: City of Smoke, by Jason Lutes. Drawn & Quarterly.
The second installment of Lutes’s trilogy detailing the fall of the Weimar Republic, City of Smoke finds Marthe wrapped up in Berlin’s hedonist nightlife, a group of African-American jazz musicians dealing with duplicitous business partners, and struggling Jewish and Communist workers (and sympathizers) eking out subsistence livings. It’s a remarkably virtuoso performance, funny and tragic, political and artistic, exciting and mundane. Berlin remains one of the great portraits of human social existence, captured in all its nuanced beauty by the elegant lines of a master cartoonist.
The Education of Hopey Glass, by Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics.
Jaime’s back with more of the gang in Hoppers, this time focusing on Hopey’s current relationship struggles and her belated attempt to try adulthood. Meanwhile, one-time Maggie beau Ray Dominguez copes with his own maturing process. Beautifully drawn as always, The Education of Hopey Glass finds Jaime at his peak as a writer. The struggles of adapting to no longer being a kid have never hit this hard on a comics page.
Deitch’s Pictorama, by Kim, Seth and Simon Deitch. Fantagraphics.
Though it’s not quite the revolution in graphic storytelling that Deitch seems to hope for, this collection of illustrated prose is just another testament to the powerful imagination of Kim Deitch. Works by his brothers are solid, but it’s Kim’s art and Kim’s writing that propels this collection of short, mind-bending, surreal fiction onto this list. Deitch has been warping reality with his blend of hyper-reality and throwback pop entertainment for a long time now, and he manages to somehow get better every single year. Pictorama’s a winner.
Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella, by Lewis Trondheim. NBM.
Hilarious one-page observations on life by the master cartoonist, Little Nothings is one of the sharpest and funniest books of any year. Taken from Trondheim’s online webjournal, each strip finds Trondheim displaying his hypochondria, celebrating the pleasures of lightsabers, or pranking journalists at Angouleme. Reading this will be one of the most pleasurable and positive afternoons of any reader’s life.
Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati. Drawn & Quarterly.
Although he does fish in this hilarious and tear-jerking book, Paul’s biggest quest in this book is the pursuit of fatherhood. Rabagliati’s ability to render the crushing heartache of a failed pregnancy draws readers right into the pain faced by Paul and wife Lucie, while Rabagliati balances the narrative with a delightful narrative about an extended family vacation. The story transitions comfortably into several sidetracks that illuminate the characters even more.
Rabbi’s Cat 2, by Joann Sfar. Pantheon.
The sequel is worthy of the original. Sfar’s continuing parables of an African rabbi, his talking cat, and their extended family is another eye-opening look at religion, African lore, love, faith and all the things that bind up together. Witness Malka of the Lions’ history told and then untold, building the legend of his fictional character while simultaneously revealing the simplicity of his true self. The longer narrative is a religious pilgrimage, a quest for a mythical Jewish holy land, tucked away in Ethiopia, protected from prying eyes. It’s a tale of love, loss and outrageous behavior by delightful, exciting characters, and through it all, Sfar’s car observes the truths of man.
Three Shadows, by Cyril Pedrosa. First Second.
Pedrosa’s gripping parable about a father’s attempt to save his son’s life is tragic, affecting and beautifully drawn. Reading it is like falling into a Miyazaki film you never knew existed, full of whimsy and magic, dark scary places and brittle human hearts.
Usagi Yojimbo 22: Tomoe’s Story, by Stan Sakai. Dark Horse.
Usagi’s long-time ally Tomoe Ame gets the spotlight here, encountering imaginative supernatural threats based on actual Japanese folklore and a vast conspiracy to undermine Lord Noriyuki, Tomoe’s lord and ruler of the Geishu province. Sakai does great action, embedded in wonderfully researched histories, and the finale of the book, a re-creation of a classic Japanese tea ceremony, is among the best stories Sakai’s produced in twenty-plus years of Usagi comics.
What It Is, by Lynda Barry. Drawn & Quarterly.
Barry’s comic book essay on creativity and activity book to help the creative process flower is probably not among the most fun titles released this year, but there’s no way to argue against what she accomplished. The book is clever, well designed, and full of great ideas and insightful theories in Barry’s own life and how her experiences have shaped her creative impulses. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and a stand-out in any year.