Thursday, January 01, 2009

Top Twenty Comics of 2008

It's that time of year again, to provide the required "best of the year" list. Truth be told, I love doing this sort of thing. It's a highlight for me, a culmination of everything I've read (and posted about) all year long. With fewer exceptions than ever, I feel like I got to read pretty much everything I wanted to in time to provide an accurate list. Some of the rankings may seem silly, with the usual mix of superheroes, manga and original graphic novels arranged in a way that may raise some eyebrows, but I've been completely honest with myself. I'm not going to put The Education of Hopey Glass or the latest Acme Novelty Library on my list if I enjoyed another book more, no matter if some people may scoff at a superhero book nudging them down the ranks (or off the list, as happened with those two titles). So, without further adieu...here are the best comics of the year!
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20. Okko: The Cycle of Water (Hub) - This action-packed book from French artist Hub contains beautiful, lush artwork as we follow the ronin Okko and his band of demon hunters across a fantasy landscape. The mini-series came out in individual issues in 2007, but it wasn't collected until early this year when I got my hands on it. Read the full review here.
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19. American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka (Book Three) (James Kochalka) - I feel like James Kochalka's sketchbook diaries get kind of overlooked now that he's well into the project (he reached his ten year anniversary this year). But Kochalka's funny, silly, strange daily strips are just as charming and enchanting as ever.
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18. Cul de Sac: This Exit (Richard Thompson) - A family living in the suburbs star in this excellent current comic strip, the first collection of which arrived in stores this year with a big seal of approval in the form of Bill Watterson's (Calvin and Hobbes) introduction. Full review here.
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17. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 (David Petersen) - As much as I liked David Petersen's first Mouse Guard mini-series, his follow-up is superior in terms of story and, despite the desolate landscape of Winter, even more beautifully-rendered. This is one of the best all-ages books currently coming out and it's one of those books that's so beautiful, you want to savor each page. Read my review of the first issue.
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16. (Tie) Monkey High (Shouko Akira) & Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara) - These two shojo titles from Viz wormed their way into my heart this year, featuring love, loss and good times with new friends. Both titles feature awkward lonely girls struggling to make friends and hold on to love, despite the obstacles in their way. Often funny and sometimes tragic, these shojo titles are some of the best examples of manga this year. Reviews here and here.
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15. Terry Moore's Echo (Terry Moore) - I'm not a Strangers In Paradise fan, but damn, Terry Moore can write a great superhero story. What makes this so good is probably the same stuff you'll find showcased in his earlier work: the characters, dramatic situations, and dialogue. And the art on this series is really quite fantastic. First issue reviewed here.
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14. Fluffy (Simone Lia) - This book about a little bunny adopted by a human daddy is utterly adorable, but also quite insightful. There a lot of layers underneath its immediate "cuteness" factor that will surprise some people. I loved every moment I spent with this book. Review here.
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13. The Goddess of War (Volume 1) (Lauren R. Weinstein) - This creative, lavish comic comes in a beautiful oversized package and features all sorts of strange creatures in the life of a former Valkyrie turned Goddess of War (who's grown quite bored of her role over the years). A fun new title with lots on energy. Full review here.
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12. The Complete Little Orphan Annie (Volume 1): 1924-1927: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? (Harold Gray) - As part of IDW's fantastic Library of American Comics imprint, Little Orphan Annie gets the star treatment in this lovely package with a compelling introductory essay by Jeet Heer. The troublesome orphan with a big heart can now charm new readers in a book that I'm not quite finished reading (it's mammoth!), but would have been a crime to leave off of a best-of list.
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11. The Good Neighbors (Book One): Kin - One of my favorite cartoonists, Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin), teams up with best-selling children's author Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) for a seamless blend of mythological creatures into a modern setting in this dark fairy tale boasting Gothic environments and art from Naifeh that's never looked better. Full review here.
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Halfway there!!!
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10. The Phoenix Requiem (Sarah Ellerton) - This is a first for my "best of the year" lists: a webcomic! This fantasy takes place in a Victorian-esque village where a mysterious sickness is claiming the lives of some of the townfolk at the same time as a stranger stumbles upon them. Full of magic and illustrated stunningly (Sarah Ellerton's come a long way already since Inverloch), this book is a compelling, cinematic read. My review of the first volume is here, but go ahead and read it for yourself for free here.
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9. Sky Doll (Allessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa) - The first offering from Marvel's partnership with Soleil (a popular publisher of genre comics in France) has brought a fantastic universe of science fiction and fantasy to American audiences. Featuring a robot named Noa with a great destiny, worlds torn by religion and oppression are illustrated beautifully in a funny, magical story. Review of the first issue.
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8. The Lagoon (Lilli Carre) - This haunting, atmospheric graphic novel is breathtaking, bizarre and quite pretty. There's a real magic and wonder to Carre's storytelling here, making for an impressive full-length graphic novel debut. Full review.
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7. Kramers Ergot 7 (Edited by Sammy Harkham) - One of the most ambitious publishing endeavors of the year was Buenaventura Press's impressive anthology featuring some of the most exciting creators in the industry including Jaime Hernandez, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Richard Sala, Seth, Josh Simmons and Kevin Huizenga, all printed on massive 16" by 21" pages. The price tag may have scared some people off, but the result was one of the best comic anthologies ever produced. Read the full review here.
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6. Nana (Ai Yazawa) - Some major developments in the acclaimed shojo manga lead to some very compelling stories as emotions run high for the Nanas and their friends. It's hard not to read this on the edge of your seat, fervently flipping page after page of fashionable, heart-wrenching, gorgeous drama. Hands-down my favorite manga of the year. Read my review of volume ten.
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5. The Order (Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, Khari Evans & Javier Saltares) - Out of Marvel's Civil War and Tony Stark's 50-State Initiative comes a California-based team full of celebrities in a Harvey-nominated book full of action, great characters and drama. Not too many superhero books made this list (see my separate list for best superhero books of the year for more), but this is easily the best of what the genre had to offer, and it's damn good. Which is probably why it's been canceled. But on the upside, it's all collected. Here's my review of the first volume.
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4. What It Is (Lynda Barry) - This very inspiring book of comics and collages is part instructional, part autobiographical, and absolutely fantastic. Lynda Barry is honest about her struggles with writing and offers advice to budding writers through funny stories, personal insecurities and life lessons. This is a dense read from one of the best creators in the biz, but deeply satisfying. Full review here.
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3. Bottomless Belly Button (Dash Shaw) - Like I said in my earlier review, this graphic novel "felt very realistic, and was able to fully capture the mood and feelings associated with a life-altering moment." This beautiful book follows the reunion of a family as three siblings' parents plan to get a divorce later in life. It's fast-paced, human and quite the emotional ride, well deserving of all of the praise it's been getting over the year. For quite a while, I thought that this would end up at the top of my list, but a few others snuck in.
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2. Capacity (Theo Ellsworth) - Capacity is positively bursting with creativity. It's at once moving, disturbing and inspiring as Ellsworth relates (like Lynda Barry did with What It Is), his experiences with writing and the creative process in general. Ellsworth's drawings are amazing: intricate, ornate and thoughtful, and also very pretty. This book felt like a journey through a whimsical mind and left me breathless, with the feeling that I could take on anything. I really, really enjoyed this dense, complex, bizarre book and can't recommend it highly enough. Full review here.
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1. Tamara Drewe (Posy Simmonds) - This is a dense update/retool of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd illustrated through Posy Simmonds's breathtaking watercolor comics. The book takes place in a small village outside of London where there is a writers' retreat hosted by the efficient Beth and her renowned writer of a husband. Tamara Drewe's arrival in a nearby house serves to stir things up a bit in the rural community of fantastic, confused characters. This graphic novel is full of suspenseful, dramatic situations that play out spectacularly against the backdrop of a wonderful environment that compliments Simmond's drawings. I was caught completely off guard by this book, which is quite clearly the best book to come out this year. Full review here.
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That's all! I hope you enjoyed the list and discovered some books that sound interesting to you. I can only hope for as great of a lineup of comics and graphic novels from such talented writers and artists next year!

3 comments:

DBM said...

Did you read Therefore Repent? It's my current top pick, and I several of our pick are similar so you will probably dig it. My #2 is Bottomless Belly Button.

Dave Ferraro said...

I haven't read that one. I've seen it at work but haven't so much as flipped through it yet. I'll have to give it a look.

Spiwi said...

hey there - i just posted an interview with james here.

You should check it out. he wrote a new song as well!