Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Thirty-Three Notable Graphic Novels of 2006

Well, it’s that time of year again, the time where I write the previous year on all my checks, realize it’s actually a different year now, scratch out the previous year and scribble the new one next to it, muttering a swear word under my breath.

It’s also that time of year where we look back at the previous one and analyze everything that was good and bad about it which, here at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com, means a list of the best comics of the year. Regarding the format, I went with the Thirty-Three Most Notable Graphic Novels of 2006. Now, I don’t necessarily regard these books as the best of the year (although most of them are), nor do I necessarily consider them my personal favorites (again, although most of them are; two I actively hated reading).

As for criteria, I chose graphic novels that could be read and enjoyed individually, which cut out some favorite ongoing series, like Fables, Y: The Last Man, most of the manga I’m currently reading, and pretty much everything Marvel and DC publishes. I define “graphic novel” here as any work of long form sequential art released in 2006; some of these are collections of comics strips, some of them are collections of comic books, some are collections of short stories and some of them are original graphic novels. In many cases, the actual work was originally done and published in previous years, as far back as the beginning of the 20th century.

Finally, I did not read everything that was released this year. Dramacon and Curses are still sitting there in my “to read” pile, for example, and I haven’t worked up the interest in Cancer Vixen to give it a read yet, despite overwhelming media coverage of it.

Now, onto the list…

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill and Wang), by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon Easily the most goddam boring thing I’ve read all year, and a real pain in the ass to slog through. And yet, at the same time, slog we must because, like it or not, this is a novel use of the graphic novel format, and it does have some valuable insights (like that timeline) into the day, even ones that the prose report lacked. Now, what the hell is “a graphic adaptation,” exactly?

Abandon the Old in Tokyo (Drawn & Quarterly), by Yoshihiro Tatsumi The second collection of this old-school manga-ka’s surprisingly twisted and yet occasionally mundane stories of day to day life in Japan isn’t quite as disturbing as The Push Man (I still get a little ill when I think about the sex slave story, or the rat story from that first volume), but it sure has it’s moments (After reading the story about the guy and the dog, I actually said “Wait a minute!” aloud to myself and had to go back and reread it to see what happened). Despite the tone, the art and storytelling are superb, and it’s mind-blowing just low long ago Tatsumi was writing and drawing these short stories.

The Abandonded (Tokyopop), by Ross Campbell Some weeks it seems like zombie comics are closing in on superheroes for genre dominance of the market, and this is by far the best one I’ve read this year. Only Walking Dead boasts a script as gripping of this (and it’s hard to include WD in such a list as this, because it spans the years, and this year’s installments aren’t very good if you haven’t read previous years’ installments first), and no zombie book has art. Scary, sexy, populated with gay protagonists with a cool sense of style and a variety of body types and possessed of a blunt yet elegantly expressed “Big Idea,” this is a perfect horror/zombiesploitation story.

The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 (DC/Vertigo), by Various I go back and forth over whether or not Neil Gaiman’s Sandman run constitutes the single greatest comic book story ever told (on the negative side, he didn’t create it from whole cloth, and owes quite a bit to quite a few past DC writers…but it’s certainly the single greatest comic book story ever told within either of the Big Two fictional universes). The stories in this book, however, may constitue the weakest of the lot.

Action Philosophers Giant-Size Thing Vol. 1 (Evil Twin Comics), by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey Anyone out there in blog-reding land who reads everything I write (like my mom, for example) may notice that I can’t shut up about this book; I’ve reviewed it for Las Vegas Weekly, Best Shots @Newsarama.com, BamKapow.com, and That Certain Altweekly That Fired Me Last Christmas After It Was Bought Out By An Evil Media Corporation. So I feel sort of weird including it here to. Will people start to worry that Van Lente is bribing me to talk him up all the time (Well he’s not; I haven’t even got a comp of this thing)? Will people think I’m this book’s bitch? Well, there’s no way around it—I am this book’s bitch (see the next book on this list for further evidence). It’s one of the funniest, smartest and most clever comics available, and I’ve just about run out of different ways to say “It’s awesome.”

Action Philosophers Giant-Szie Thing Vol. 2 (Evil Twin Comics), by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey See?

American Born Chinese (First Second), by Gene Luen Yang Behold, it’s the book that broke the Internet in half! Or at least gave comics bloggers something to buzz about for a week or two. After a Wired staffer took umbrage with ABC being nominated for a traditionally prose award, the comics rallied to Yang’s defense. Hopefully they all read it in the process too. I’m not sure if it deserved the award or not (comics and prose are two mediums after all, so there’s an argument to be made for them not sharing one another’s prizes, but Wired’s Tony Long didn’t bother to make it), but it certainly deserves some award. Beyond being named one of EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com’s Thirty-three Most Notable Graphic Novels of 2006, of course.

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories (Yale University Press), by Various You could teach a college class on comics with this as the text book. Or, if you’re not a college professor, you could learn an awful lot about the medium by reading it in the comfort of your own home.

Bardin the Superrealist (Fantagraphics), by Max I will forever hate this “Max” fellow for thinking of using the characters of that famous nightmare painting as he does here—it’s an idea that so good that it should have been mine! Even if I’d never be able to draw them one one-thousandth as well as Mr. No Last Name does. Seriously, get off the Internet and go read this book. Right now. You’ll hate Max afterwards to, he’s so good.

Billy Hazelnuts (Fantagraphics), by Tony Millionaire Huh, I knew Millionaire was an incredible artist, but I didn’t think he’d be all that amusing if you took him away from his alcoholic monkey and crow. But what do I know? This fairy tale is charming and disturbing in a way that only Millionaire could pull off; a funny and surprisingly thrilling bit of magical realism told in—ah dammit, what’s the point of even bothering complimenting Millionaire any more? Matt Groening said it better than any one else will ever be able to. I’m not even gonna try anymore. Just read the book if you haven’t already, okay? It’s really good.

Brownsville (NBM), by Neil Kleid and Jake Allen This compelling gangster epic of told the true-ish story of the golden age of gansterism, from the ‘20s to the ‘40s, giving us some compelling characters that played both hero and villain, depending on the scene.

Can’t Get No (DC/Vertigo), by Rick Veitch I didn’t care much for this meditation of the American myth in the wake of 9/11; the tie-in to the disaster just seemed a little too cheap and a little too exploitive. But if it’s a failure, it’s an ambitious and fascinating one, not to mention a good-looking and well-deigned one. And it looks lovely sitting on the shelf.

Chicken With Plums (Pantheon), by Marjane Satrapi Now that the story has bounced around my brain for a few months, I’m more tempted than ever to say this is Satrapi’s best work to make it to the U.S., but I still hesitate—the size and scope of Persepolis, particularly when taken as a single work, still seems more relevant and important, but Satrapi manages to do so much more with so much less in this powerful book. If it were sentient and could self-locomote, I’d put it in a box with Fun Home, Lost Girls and Pride of Baghdad, and whichever book killed all the others and crawled out of the box I’d declare the best of the year (I dare you to blurb that, Pantheon!)

Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (Ballantine Books), by Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm Poor artist Gary Dumm; he busts his ass beautifully illustrating this American Splendor off-shoot (Pekar appears, but is not the focus of the book), and he doesn’t even get mentioned on the cover , the spine, the title page or on Amazon.com. This is a very difficult work to even describe. Michael Malice is a brilliant asshole with dubious morals but an answer for everything (kinda like Tony Stark. See, even this list is a Civil War tie-in!). I hated him and I loved him, depending on the panel, and I couldn’t stop reading about him.

Emo Boy Vol. 1: Nobody Cares About Anything Anyway, So Why Don't We All Just Die? (Slave Labor Graphics), by Steve Emond As with Action Philosophers, I’m reluctant to include this here, as I’ve spoken of Emo Boy’s virtues for just about every print and electronic publication I’ve written for in the past two years, but what the hell—this book is a lot of fun.

The Five Fists of Science (Image Comics), by Matt Fraction and Steve Sanders Pretty much any story dealing with the rivalry between Nikolai Tesla and Thomas Edison grabs me, but Fraction took their rivalry to giddy heights in this hilarious, League of Extraordinary Gentleman-esque riff on the period. Mark Twain and Tesla (yes, that spells T ‘n’ T) team up to take on the evil Edison, J. P. Morgan, Anthony Carnegie and bumbling Guglielmo Marconi, whom the endnotes reveal wasn't really a stress-eater, but "it was funnier than making him a fascist." This definitely belongs in the fun pile along with Scott Pilgrim and Sidescroller.

Flight Volume 3 (Ballantine Books) I used the galley copy (that’s the photocopied interiors made available to critics) of this anthology as wrapping paper on my Christmas gifts this year (the real McCoy sits on my shelf), and every single person I gave a gift to remarked on how cool the images on the paper looked.

Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin), by Alison Bechdel I resisted this book for a few weeks on account of the title, but I was blown away. When I did pick it up, I was planning on just reading a chapter or so before getting on with my day, and ended up spending the whole afternoon in a chair in the corner devouring it whole. This book is racking up accolades left and right now, and it deserves every single one of them.

Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Menace 1953-1954 (Fantagraphics), by Hank Ketcham Now that I think about it, this might not even qualify as sequential art/comics, since Dennis is a one-panel cartoon. Hmmm, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disqualify this second volume of Ketcham’s elegantly drawn slice-of-life cartoon, as much as it pains me to do so—I was genuinely shocked at how good the first volume of this series was (Dennis had long since become nothing more than the kid on the DQ sundae cups to me), and this second one is similarly shockingly funny, in addition to incredibly well-drawn. And, like the Peanuts books, these just look great sitting there on the shelf.

The Left Bank Gang (Fantagraphics), by Jason Picture an alternate dimension, where Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and other luminaries of literature aren’t poets and novelists, but cartoonists. And look like Jason’s typical dogs and birds. There’s something deep to be said about the struggle of a newer art form to gain the respect afforded the older ones, but I never got over how funny it was to hear these down-and-out cartoonists who eventually turn to a violent crime caper refer to one another by the names of the guys they make you study in college.

Lost Girls (Top Shelf Productions), by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie Hey, have you heard about this one yet?

Meathaus Vol. 8: Headgames(Alternative Comics), by Various So…much…awesomeness! There are a few stories in here I absolutely hated, actually, but they are so far outweighed by the number of awesome ones that I have a hard time even remembering the ones I didn’t like. Seriously, this is like a who’s who of great comics talent, some of whom have yet to make the big splashes they’re bound to.

Moomin Book One (Drawn & Quarterly), by Tove Jansson There’s something Winsor McCay-like in the storytelling, something Dr. Seuss-like in the design style, and something Charlie Brown-like and Eeyore-like in the main character, yet these somethings are all small somethings, flecks in Jansson’s astounding work here. Reading the long, meandering stories in this oversized book simulated the experience of dreaming, a strange experience that no other book, comic or otherwise, has ever given me.

New X-Men Omnibus (Marvel Comics), by Various The greatest X-Men story ever told—and probably the only X-Men story worth non-X-Men/Marvel Universe fans’ time—collected in one gigantic book that I can’t afford to buy.

Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E Volume 1: This Is What They Want (Marvel), by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen This admission may earn me the ire of fellow Best Shots shooter Sarah Jaffe, but I did not buy a single issue of this series, despite a rather embarrassing addiction to monthly superhero comics. I’d tired of Ellis’ slow pacing on the last 40 or so books I’d read of his, and he was one of those writers who had become so prolific that the more of his stuff I read, the more it all started to seem the same (of late, this has also happened with Brian Michael Bendis and Garth Ennis). But when I found the hardcover in a 50% off pile at local Discount Paperbacks, I figured I’d be a fool not to give it a try. And damn if this didn’t channel all of Ellis’ hatred of superhero comics into a hilarious package. Immonen’s graphics are also to die for; the panels of Dirk Anger in his giant phone or on his giant gun are just priceless. This is that rare Marvel comic book for people who both love Marvel comics and hate Marvel comics, and everyone in between. While it seems it will likely continue in some form, the saddest bit of news about the cancellation is that it means we won’t bet getting monthly installments of the solicitation copy—bizarre little tongue-in-cheek marketing poems that were perhaps the greatest writing being done by anyone at Marvel this past year.

Popeye Vol. 1: I Yam What I Yam (Fantagraphics), by E. C. Segar One more beautiful collection of classic, influential comic strips that would be lost to time if it weren’t for Fantagraphics. Seriously, what would the medium do without Fanta?

Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo), by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon Surprise, surprise right? Well hell, it’s certainly earned all its accolades. One of the most talked-about books of the year, and yet it doesn’t seem at all over-hyped upon reading. If I ever meet you and you tell me you didn’t read this book, I’ll punch you in the face. Swear to God.

Project: Romantic (AdHouse Books), by Various Cool Creators Is this really the last Project anthology? Because if so, that sucks! I think I may have enjoyed this more than Flight, which seemed a shoo-in for best anthology of the year. It certainly looks better sitting on my shelf, which is a criteria with surprising weight now that we’ve reached the end of 2006, and I find myself glancing at the spines of all the books I read this year, rather than rereading them all to write this.

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Oni Press), by Bryan Lee O’Malley By far the best comic of the year with the world “Infinite” in the title. Draw faster, O’Malley!

Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1 (DC), by Various These giddy Silver Age stories no doubt read very, very different now that adults in the year 2006 are reading them, considering that they were written for children half a century ago, but they’re crazy-good. They may not be as sophisticated as many of the stories that followed, but this is the superhero comic at it’s most pure and primitive level, science fiction-flavored tall tales that only grow more surreal and mythic as the decades pass. I think it’s no surprise that the very best superhero book of the year has been All-Star Superman, which takes it’s cues from these very stories.

Sidescrollers (Oni Press), by Matthew Loux Hmm, I wonder if I would have been so enraptured with this book if I didn’t also grow up in a small suburban town, obsessed with video games, teen movies, cartoon movies, kung fu and toys? I suppose it hardly matters since I did, and thus fall squarely into the key demographic that this book seems written for. Loux’s art is incredible, and his character designs and expressions are priceless. I eagerly await his next work.

Vampire Loves (First Second Books), by Joann Sfar I’m almost ashamed to say it here, but this was my first introduction to the work of Sfar, an incredible creator I voraciously started reading as soon as I put this book down (The Rabbi’s Cat is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read, and reading the Dungeon books on my lunch breaks was one of my fondest comics-related memories of ’06).

Vimanarama (DC/Vertigo), by Grant Morrison and Philip Bond The team that brought you Kill Your Boyfriend reunite for an apocalyptic romantic comedy. It’s books like this that make me wish Morrison would quit fucking around in the DCU and get back to important comic books (of course, at the same time, books like 52 and the Seven Soldiers minis make me think “Thank God Morrison’s fucking around in the DCU! I wish he’s write more mainstream superhero books!”).

War-Fix (NBM), by David Axe and Steve Olexa Not quite as cuddly are fabletastic as Pride of Baghdad, this powerful graphic novel nevertheless took a good, long, hard, scary look at the Iraq War, and found some rather startling and important truths in the process. I was really surprised not to have heard more about this book during the last year, especially considering the fact that just about any graphic novel mentioning Iraq, 9/11 or the Bush Administration almost automatically warranted a mainstream media mention somewhere.

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