Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Top 20 Comics of 2011

I look forward to doing this all year, the culmination of all of my comics reading, highlighting the best and the brightest the medium had to offer over the past twelve months. These are my favorites of 2011, including manga, superheroes, graphic novels, reprints, etc. I try to be as true to how I feel about a book as possible when ranking them, which is why it may seem odd for some to see a superhero title hardly anyone read rank over an acclaimed graphic novel. If I enjoyed my experience of reading it more, it was placed higher on my list. I did feel odd including a book like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Deluxe Edition, since the comics are fairly recent, and it's not like people couldn't get their hands on it, unlike something like Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strips, which really needed to be collected.  It felt more like I would be ranking its new packaging more than anything, so I left things like that off of my list (even though I enjoyed it a lot).  Anyways, these are my favorite twenty comics of the year.  I hope you enjoy my list, and hopefully check out some books that may have eluded you.

Honorable Mentions
The Armed Garden and Other Stories (David B.)
No Longer Human (Usamaru Furuya & Osamu Dazai)
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Shigeru Mizuki)
Paying For It (Chester Brown)
Three Thieves (Book 2): The Sign of the Black Rock (Scott Chantler)

20. Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang) - Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero out there, and it seemed like no one was able to write a great comic featuring the Amazon.  Well, Azzarello and Chiang have combined forces to create an amazing new incarnation of the beloved hero, making the old-world mythology part of her character seem cool and fresh again, as it is balanced with the modern world.

19. Angel & Faith (Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs) - Gage and Isaacs struck the perfect balance of keeping true to the source material and making it their own.  Gage captures the voice of the characters so clearly I can hear the actors recite the dialogue he provides for them in my head as I'm reading, while bringing them to new, interesting places in terms of plot and character.  Isaacs also captures the actors' physical likeness enough that they are recognizable, yet makes them her own so that they're not stiff and photo-referenced, but rather fluid and natural, in a fun romp of an adventure story.

18. Sibyl-Anne vs. Ratticus (Raymond Macherot) - Part of Fantagraphics' effort to bring high-quality European comics to American audiences, this Franco-Belgian story about forest animals is masterfully told in a nice, kid-friendly story that introduces us to kind-hearted Sibyl-Anne, as well as the scheming, lazy Ratticus.

17. Smurfs (Peyo) - Papercutz' successful reprinting of Peyo's smurfy little blue guys is always entertaining, and I just have a blast whenever I'm reading them.  This year saw six volumes of smurfy tales come out, including The Astrosmurf and The Smurf Apprentice, and the highly-anticipated introduction of Smurfette to Smurf Village.

16. Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 3): Research (Thomas Siddell) - Antimony Carver's adventure continues in this wonderful fantasy series, collecting more of the fan-favorite webcomic about a girl that goes to a school full of magic and wonder.  This book is chalk-full of great supporting characters and has a nice, rich mythology built up by this point.  Very original and always a treat to read.

15. Hark! A Vagrant (Kate Beaton) - I've really enjoyed Kate Beaton's on-line comics over the past few years, and they have been collected in a nice deserving hardcover from Drawn & Quarterly, boasting razor-sharp wit and featuring literary figures and historical figures in humorous situations, as well as Beaton's take on what's taking place on the cover of classic Nancy Drew book covers, which never fails to amuse me.

14. FF/Fantastic Four (Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Greg Tocchini, Juan Bobilo, Barry Kitson & Others) - Hickman's FF debuted this year, focusing on the extended cast of the Future Foundation and bringing Spider-Man into the book, as well as Fantastic Four's triumphant return by the year's end.  Elements that Hickman has been building toward since he began writing the title are beginning to pay off in big ways as the story becomes nothing short of epic.  Hickman takes great classic elements from the Fantastic Four's history and gives them a fresh take, while drawing things together neatly.

13. Animal Man (Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman) - This dark superhero title was my favorite of DC's New 52, as well as my overall favorite superhero title of 2011.  Lemire attaches really neat elements to Animal Man's mythos, and gives the title more of a horror vibe than anything, including some really freaky monsters, with great designs by Foreman.

12. The Arctic Marauder (Jacques Tardi) - Jacques Tardi's impressive body of work continues to be translated, with consistently high quality material.  This gem is a mystery that takes place in the Arctic, where ships are sinking for no apparent reason, that may have ties to the recent death of a young man's uncle.  As usual, this is really beautifully illustrated and cartooned by Tardi, a master of the medium.

11. Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: "Race To Death Valley" (Floyd Gottfredson) - Fans have been holding their breath for years for this classic comic strip to be collected, one of few noticeable missing titles in this golden age of comics strip reprints.  This is an adventure strip featuring a rascally Mickey Mouse, and is just a lot of fun to read.

10. Gil Jordan, Private Detective: Murder By High Tide (Maurice Tillieux) - This engaging detective story featuring the competent Gil Jordan and his assistants really took me by surprise.  Another Franco-Belgian comic, this is just a really high quality mystery that looks great, and completely sucks you in.  It makes you wonder what other gems are out there just waiting to be translated.

9. Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "Lost In the Andes" (Carl Barks) - This is another one of those series that people have been waiting for a nice deserving series of reprints for, and Fantagraphics has stepped up to the plate again, with a beautiful package.  These comics are fantastic all-ages stories, full of adventure and humor, and executed masterfully by a legendary figure.

8. Lucille (Ludovic Debeurme) - This fluid story about two very damaged individuals coming together is illustrated sparingly with lovely linework, and without panels for a sort of dream-like quality.  The characters are very realistic, and the story is tragic and beautiful.  It feels very raw and innovative.

7. Wandering Son (Shimura Takako) - Wandering Son follows two transgendered children, depicted realistically in a gentle story full of subtle but powerful storytelling.  The main characters are very appealing, as is much of the supporting cast, and the soft art style compliments the riveting journey of these children nicely.

6. Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 (Jaime Hernandez & Gilbert Hernandez) - Gilbert Hernandez' King Vampire is quite the contrast to the story that Jaime is telling in this volume, but it's drawn beautifully, with his second story, And Then Reality Kicked In, leaving quite an impression.  Jaime is doing something very different from his brother, continuing the story of long-time characters, that can't help but earn an emotional response from readers.  He fills in details from their past, as well as fast-forwarding into the future, showing the brutal and tender moments of his characters' lives in an amazing, and insightful, display of artistry.

5. Princess Knight (Osamu Tezuka) - This epic story of a princess born with both a male heart and a female heart set the tone for shojo manga, and is the god of manga, Osamu Tezuka, at his very best.  Full of action and suspense, we see the brave Princess Sapphire face adversity, like a scheming ruler, a jealous goddess and an evil witch, in her quest to win the affection of her true love, the neighboring Prince Charming (who faces his own challenges), while striving to reclaim the throne that is rightfully hers. This manga has everything you could want in a story and keeps going in new interesting directions, keeping readers in suspense throughout the struggles of the very likable Princess Sapphire.

4. The Drops of God (Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto) - I know nothing about wine, but this manga that centers around the subject is fascinating and utterly engrossing.  Beautifully illustrated, with a premise that propels the story forward to continue educating readers about wine, this book enchanted me into becoming my favorite manga of the year.  While most of the scenes are those of the characters talking to one another, Okimoto manages to make even that look lovely, and draws some drop-dead gorgeous scenes when the taste of wine seems to transport people to other places or memories.  Without the advantage of being able to taste the actual subject they discuss, they come close enough to getting the sensation across that it's staggering.

3. Habibi (Craig Thompson) - Another epic graphic novel, this beautiful story about the lives of two children growing up in the Middle East, and their shifting relationship with one another as they grow, is rich in mythology with many insightful metaphors and a fascinating comparison of stories from the Qur'an and the Bible.  The characterization is top-notch and the shifting tale keeps bringing these characters to amazing places for more great storytelling.  Thompson has certainly proved to fans of his acclaimed work Blankets that he has more spellbinding stories to tell.

2. Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips (Volume 1): 1949-1950 "Through the Wild Blue Wonder" (Walt Kelly) - Walt Kelly's beloved comic strip seems fully-formed from the get-go.  It's cartooned with amazing skill, and the Sunday pages are colored beautifully.  This strip sees forest creatures interact with one another, with everyman Pogo Possum at the center of the story, but with all sorts of memorable supporting characters such as Albert the alligator, Porky Pine, mischievous Seminole Sam the fox, and rascally Rackety-Coon.  It just amazed me how fantastic this comic is.  The language can be a barrier at first, but you quickly pick up on it, and then it only adds to the overall charm of what is an stunning accomplishment.

1. Cursed Pirate Girl (Volume 1) (Jeremy A. Bastian) - Cursed Pirate Girl delighted me from the first panel to the last, as this girl sets out on a quest to track down her father, a pirate king.  Bastian maneuvers this cursed pirate girl through all sorts of beautiful environments, with eye-popping art that really steals the show.  I noticed Bastian as the stand-out artist in last year's anthology Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, where his art was absolutely stunning in his short tale.  In Cursed Pirate Girl, he has free reign to arrange elaborate, lovingly constructed panels on the pages, and enchants readers with his attention to detail in creating this amazing, magical world.  The pencils here are stunning and lively, with a real energy, and it's completely unique to anything else out there.  Sometimes it can be haunting, and other times it can just possess you to stop and admire the art depicted on the pages.  Jeremy Bastian truly is a great find, and Cursed Pirate Girl is, in my opinion, a masterpiece, and easily the best book to come out in 2011.

And that's it, for another great year of comics.  I also did separate top ten lists for my favorite manga and superhero comics of 2011, a few of which appeared on this list, in case you can't get enough, and want more recommendations.

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