Today marks the ten year anniversary of Comics-and-More! To celebrate, here's a look back at my favorite comics from each of the past ten years!
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet
Not only did Kerascoet illustrate the excellent graphic novel Beauty this year, but the artist team is responsible for the stunning art of my favorite graphic novel this year, Beautiful Darkness. In this grotesquely beautiful fairy tale, we see the little people who live inside of us as they abandon the corpse of a little girl who dies unexpectedly, learning to survive in the world around them. The little creatures interact with nature, which is unforgiving, and form cliques that can be as ugly as the rotting corpse that they live around. The watercolors are utterly fantastic, and the fact that they are so pretty contrasts deliciously with the darkness and decay that pervades the story in a wonderfully perverse way. There are shocking moments and plenty of disturbing images scattered throughout this book, which easily tops my list for best of the year.
Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki
Shigeru Mizuki is known for specializing in stories about yokai, and this collection really showcases his strength in that area. A Japanese pop culture figure, Kataro is a one-eyed monster boy with special powers, and a knack for dealing with pesky yokai. Mizuki weaves wonderful stories here, full of monsters and demons, some genuinely creepy with images that will stay with you, and others more light-hearted and funny. This impressive omnibus edition that Drawn & Quarterly has released is the perfect introduction to this rambunctious character and the crazy life he leads, earning the title of my favorite comic of the year.
Building Stories by Chris Ware
This ambitious work by master of the medium Chris Ware easily tops my list for the best comic of 2012. This box of comics comes with newspapers, a little golden book, and mini comics, as well as full books of comics. Most of the stories surround an apartment building, exploring its residents, although some side stories explore Branford, a bee outcast from a nearby hive, and continue examining the lives of characters after they've moved out of the building. It's all fascinating stuff, as Chris Ware has a knack for getting at genuine emotions through his characters, in stories that ring true and are powerful. A lot is packed in to the pages here, and I love the dense stories, and how some little moments mentioned in one comic will sort of carry over and appear in another. Reading this is an experience, and it's designed in a stunning package that does justice to its content.
Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian
This is an utterly beautiful book. A quick flip-through of the collection and I was immediately impressed by the art, but after reading the entire thing through, I would say with certainty that this is the best book of the year. The story has the sort of whimsy and imagination that stories like Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz were able to capture, but it feels fresh and original here, probably mostly due to the imagination of the creator, and his enchanting main character, the cursed pirate girl herself, who is a very capable young girl on a quest to find her father, a pirate king. Along the way, our protagonist meets any number of strange creatures, and gains some good friends, as she maneuvers through pirate-infested waters and causes a good deal of mischief along the way. While I love the feisty pirate girl and the adventure she's on, it's really that amazing art that drew me in and won me over completely. Bastian has a lovely, intricate drawing style that draws on the best properties of cartooning and detailed, realistic artwork. It almost has an epic, mythic feel to it all, not just because of the scope of the story, but due to the art and its amazing little details that can be found on each page and the often lovingly-arranged panels that are sometimes complex and flowery and just really quite striking. I love the elaborateness of Bastian's art and how he really takes advantage of the artform to do fun and imaginative things with the panels while advancing the story. This is a rich, amazing world, and really, I can't recommend Cursed Pirate Girl highly enough.
The Littlest Pirate King by David B. and Pierre Mac Orlan
My favorite comic that I read this year is David B.'s comic adaptation of the prose story by French writer Pierre Mac Orlan. The story is a simple one, about a pirate ship manned by an undead crew, who wish for nothing more than to end their existence once and for all, that is until they come across a human child, whom they raise as one of their own and plump him up in preparation for the day they actually make him one of them. It's really David B.'s beautiful pencils that transform this story into something really magical. From the first scenes of the pirate ship cresting swirling waves, to the ship's trek underwater with all manner of sea creatures floating by, to the amazing designs of the pirates themselves, David B. elaborately illustrates this world with amazing mastery of the craft. The coloring, the pacing and panel arrangements, and the world of these pirates pillaging ships and being general menaces all make for a fun, engaging experience. This book contains some of the most beautiful panels that I've seen in years, and confidently sits at the top of my list for best of the year.
The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit
A quirky, beautiful, sometimes frightening graphic novel, The Squirrel Machine is a stunning tale about two shunned brothers living in a small town and the grotesque art that they create that the townsfolk don't understand. It has a really eerie vibe all throughout, with some disturbing images that could have easily stumbled right out of a David Lynch film, culminating in some pretty shocking scenes. But the story is oddly sort of touching, despite the overt oddness of the brothers. There are some panels of the book that I'm still not sure what to make of, or how I feel about them, like one of my favorites of one of the brothers dressed in nothing but a boar's head covering his own, and some sort of a musical device with a crank covering his privates, with a proper young woman reaching out to touch it. It feels wrong, but is still very striking, and the whole book raises a range of emotions in me that often contradict one another. But one thing can very easily be said about this graphic novel, and that is that Rickheit's art is phenomenal. From the arrangement of panels, to the elaborate designs of the brothers' creations and the secret rooms of the mansion they live in, to the execution of the characters as they move through environments full of atmosphere and often, a good amount of tension. The Squirrel Machine is a haunting story that won't soon leave readers, with many images left burned in this reader's mind. And it's quite deserving of the title of best comic of the year.
Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds
My first thoughts upon flipping through Posy Simmond's (Gemma Bovary) new graphic novel Tamara Drewe was that it was extremely verbose. I was expecting the work to be a lot of descriptions of what was being depicted in the panels. That's not the case however. I found the prose to accentuate what was happening in the comic, kind of serving as word balloons do in some comics, getting inside of character's heads and really flushing them out. And to quite a spectacular result. Tamara Drewe is a comic originally serialized in Britain's The Guardian newspaper, and is an update/retool of Thomas Hardy's novel Far From the Madding Crowd. It follows a group of characters living in a rural community outside of London. Not much really happens there, so the teenage occupants are always bored and the littlest things can cause an uproar. It also makes for the perfect setting for a writer's retreat, which is what Beth and her famous writer husband Nicholas have established. A variety of writers arrive to be waited on and picked up after in perfect solitude where they can concentrate on writing amid a country setting. Things really get stirred up, however, when Tamara Drew arrives next door. The beautiful columnist knows just how to dazzle people and sets into motion some circumstances that end in misunderstandings and, through some meddling of the locals, death and scandal. There's a lot of turmoil going on in the lives of the people of this quiet town and it plays out pretty damn brilliantly, with life-like characters, engrossing situations and conversations, and very pretty watercolored art. This is a very strong work, so it's no wonder that it recently won the Grand Prix de la Critique Bande Dessinee. This was an absolute delight to read. Highly recommended.
Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
This is a damn good book. I’m not surprised that Adrian Tomine is quite often compared to the Hernandez Brothers, since I was pretty much thinking that all the way through this graphic novel. Shortcomings follows Ben Tanaka, as he struggles with relationships and race issues filtered through an extremely cynical viewpoint. A lot of interesting things are examined through the Asian characters that struggle with stereotypes, and the fine line between pride of heritage and overpraising things merely because they’re related to their heritage. This is a work full of beautiful art and stimulating conversations, with complex, interesting characters that make for a really rich finished product. Even if the main protagonist is a complete ass, it’s an absolute pleasure to spend time with him being a smartass (though you may want to slap the guy a few times). It’s easy to imagine myself rereading this several times to re-experience the fantastic dialogue and the situations that feel realistic and hit pretty close to home. I think anyone can really relate to some aspects of the book, even if they don’t find themselves in very similar circumstances. It’s pretty universal, and expertly told. I feel like so much has been said about this book that I don't really have anything new to add, but I have to encourage people to seek this out. Anyone who hasn't yet read this book is really missing out on one of the best offerings of the year
Adventures In Oz by Eric Shanower
This is a spectacular achievement. Eric Shanower (Age of Bronze), who's huge into Oz fandom along with his partner, continues L. Frank Baum's Oz series here in this illustrated book from IDW Publishing, collecting his five Oz tales under one cover: The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz and The Blue Witch of Oz. That's 256 high quality pages that could for all intents and purposes be sequels to the classic works. This is what Abadazad wishes it were: a magical, wacky universe with loveable characters in a beautful all-ages fantasy, crafted with a real love for the material. I'm sure that this book serves as an absolute treat for any fan of Oz, but has worked backwards for me and made me a fan Oz. I fully intend to read Baum's works in wake of this fantastic read. Shanower brought the characters of Dorothy, Scarecrow, The Cowardly Lion and others to life with a craftsmanship that could have only made Baum proud, making the life in the bustling Emerald City seem to breathe, transporting any fortunate reader to its streets and off the beaten path on the adventures the characters partake. I will admit that this collection begins with the weakest story, but The Enchanted Apples of Oz serves as a great introduction to the series and is still miles ahead of anything like it. Everything beyond that story, in my opinion, is pretty much perfect. I really didn't want this book to end.
Anyone who's read Age of Bronze knows what gorgeous art Shanower can produce, but this fantasy setting is perfectly suited to his abilities: rich, detailed environments, vibrant colors and top-notch cartooning make this an experience wholly unlike any other as the tenants of Oz battle witches, Ice Kings and trolls, and navigate through uncharted swamps and tundras. I'm surprised that I haven't heard much about this book in wake of its release, but commend IDW for their taste in reprint material, with the new Chester Gould's Dick Tracy also hitting shelves in a beautiful package. I give this book my highest recommendation and really can't convey what a wonderful experience this was to read. Anyone who loves comics has to find something to love about Shanower's phenomenal accomplishment.
Ultra: Seven Daysby The Luna Brothers
This was probably unexpected. It was for me too. This book was sitting in my to-read pile for months before I finally got around to reading it. And I was utterly blown away. This is seriously the best superhero comic I've ever read. Although, there's more to it than that. It's more of a drama than a superhero story, following a woman named Pearl who works on a police squad of superheroes as Ultra. The superheroes of this universe are celebrities and Ultra is one of the biggest, having dated the perfect man. This book examines her relationships with other superheroes, with the spotlight, and how she tries to feel normal despite the fear and inadaquacy she feels. Full of twists and shocks, as well as touching scenes and realistic dialogue, this book is a perfect ten, well-deserving of its title of best of the year.
From the creator of Midnight Secretary, Spell of Desire follows Kaoruko Mochizuki, whose mother left her when she still a baby. Her grandmother raised her, but passed away two years earlier, leaving her an herb and tea shop. A mysterious handsome man, Kaname, appears one day and claims that Kaoruko's mother is a powerful black witch, and that she stored her power within Kaoruko. As her mother is the leader of witches, Kaname has been assigned by her to protect her magic within Kaoruko. Kaoruko doesn't believe him at first, but when instances of her powers become apparent and get to be too much for her (especially her own emotions inflicting lust upon people), Kaoruko decides that there is truth to his words after all. How does she get her powers temporarily under control? Through a kiss from Kaname. At first, he forces them upon her, but soon she rather comes to enjoy them, which really gets her emotions running out of whack.
A lot of this book is in Kaoruko's head. She wonders if what Kaoruko says about her mother is true, and why magic was more important to her mother than her own daughter. She wonders if Kaname's kisses can be something more, or if he's only there because he was ordered to be. And she wonders if perhaps it's her own powers that are manifesting so powerfully. Kaoruko is a rather passive character, and the sexuality of the book is a little intense and a little uncomfortable, frankly. Kaname is just as much a blank slate, so it's really hard to feel much for either of the characters.
The art in this book is beautiful and romantic, which is fitting, but I think the best thing about this title is the atmosphere. The herb and tea shop out in the country has this nice quaint feeling to it, and it's illustrated just the right amount to give the reader a good sense of the place. Throw in the magical elements and suddenly the herbal shop has a mysterious quality to it that makes you want to know more about it and spend more time there.
This isn't the most successful manga, but there are fleeting moments of romance, and enough of a mystery to keep readers interested. Kaoruko's past and the shop are the most striking aspects of the book, but really, there are much better books out there to get lost in.