Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Ten Best Comics I Read In 2008

So I compiled a so-called "Top Ten of 2008" list for my regular gig as a contributor to Comic Book Resources, but I'm kind of wary of labeling it as such because there are about 10 million awesome comics that came out during the year that I haven't had a chance to read but know I'd really dig if I'd had the time (or will dig when I get my hands on them). Off the top of my head, I can remember that I haven't read all of the second volume of Jason Lutes' Berlin, a new "Paul" graphic novel from Michael Rabagliati, new issues of Captain America I'm way behind on, a new Acme Novelty Library, probably like 48 radical manga volumes, a bunch of Kevin Huizenga projects and probably way more stuff I can't think of.

Anyway, I just thought I'd note that. The way CBR does their list every year involves awarding contributors picks a point value based on their placement in the list, so that's how I came upon my order, but after looking back over it to re-post I kinda dug how they fell. So there you have it. If you want to see how my ponies fared, check out CBR's Top 100 comics of 2008 by clicking on Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V. Or you can just scroll below to see my ten picks.

10. Final Crisis by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, et al. (DC)

Fanboy kvetching about the inconsistencies of "Countdown's" plotting and mock indignation about J.G. Jones' deadline troubles aside, DC's mega event has delivered more original, creepy, thought-provoking moments of sheer comics insanity in five issues than any event has the right to accomplish. Morrison's syncopated script style and Jones and company's surprisingly consistent art work wonders together with a genuine sense of dread and uncertainty bubbling up through the shiniest of all of comics' heroes. Sure, we've got two (or three depending on how you look at it) issues next year waiting to show whether or not "Final Crisis" will triumphantly payoff or collapse into a pile of unfulfilled ambition, but as far as 2008 is concerned? So far, so great.

9. Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

Nate Powell's career in zines and mini comics has remained largely (if unintentionally) overlooked by even the most ardent alternative comics pundits, and they've been missing out. Powell's past short form work went a long way in evoking a wide range of emotional responses through a careful balance of assured, scratchy cartooning and sharp attention to detail when it came to life's little moments. With "Swallow Me Whole," a semi-spooky feeling and memorable romance set against the heartbreaking reality of mental illness, the artist has finally started to get noticed outside of the music and D.I.Y. circles, and the comics crowd will only be the better for championing his talent.

8. Too Cool To Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf)

A 40-something smoker attempts to hypnotize away his habit and improbably lands back in his high school days where he took his first puff. A set up like that could take off in any number of clich├ęd directions from goofball "Back to the Future" style shenanigans to the inane, nostalgic naval gazing that dominates too many comics projects, but in the hands of cartoonist Alex Robinson, Andy Wicks trip through time sings. By carefully examining the missed truths of young Andy's personal relationships, Robinson delivers a story that illuminates the effects our formative years have on us in a way that only a insightful veteran can accomplish.

7. Love & Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1 by Los Bros. Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

On the cusp of hard economic times and industry uncertainty, comics greatest family join release a book that boldly declares they're absolutely unstoppable. Embracing a new annual graphic novel format without blinking an eye would be astonishing enough for longtime pamphlet serializers Los Bros. Hernandez, but not to be outdone, Jaime, Gilbert and Mario back up their commercial smarts with fresh, engrossing art. After spending the past two years dishing out new comics like a priest hands out Eucharist on Sunday morning, Gilbert fires off more exciting and varied stories than most cartoonists could dream up in five years. And what's left to say about Jaime's gorgeous Penny Century superhero tale aside from the fact that it puts Marvel and DC's output to shame and has fun doing it?

6. The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best (First Second)

Since landing at First Second, Eddie Campbell's output includes an intensely experimental and somewhat obtuse memoir in "The Fate of the Artist" and perhaps the best ever attempt at crassly turning a movie pitch into a graphic novel to whet Hollywood's appetite in "The Black Diamond Detective Agency." With "Monsieur Leotard," Campbell and Australian writer Best straddle the line between passion project and commercial concern to perfection while delivering the funniest book of the year. The tale of the mustachioed heir to a famed trapeze legacy and his misfit circus troop's misadventures through history somehow coalesces into an affecting tale of what happens when high ambition meets low talent. Plus: farting elephant jokes.

5. Chiggers by Hope Larson (Simon & Schuster)

Hope Larson's first long-form graphic novel, a sweet and subtle summer camp tale, doubtlessly captures the young adult comic of the year award. Rather than fall back on unbelievable YA plot contrivances, Larson's easy story of Abby and her summer of falling for Dungeons and Dragons nerds, losing old friends to burgeoning adulthood and gaining new friends with complicated problems captures the fleeting days of a summer in adolescence without dripping with saccharine nostalgia. Go and buy this for every 12-year-old niece in your family.

4. Kramers Ergot 7 edited by Sammy Harkham (Buenaventura Press)

Over its short life as the most darling anthology in the alternative comics world, "Kramers Ergot" grew into THE destination for a new generation of cartoonists to strut their stuff, however in a world where every up-and-coming cartoonist has a webpage chock full of comics, scads of minis to hock at conventions and a graphic novel deal in the works, Sammy Harkham's ubiquitous collection of ground-breaking comics started running the risk of being a superfluous gem. With its seventh installment published in the giant 16-by-21-inch size of golden age newspaper comics like "Little Nemo," "Kramers" challenged its contributors to deliver something unique and beautiful. The A-list talent rose to the occasion in stunning form from Kevin Huizenga's jaw-dropping, meditative strip to Seth's super-dense exploration of the comics form. Worth both the price and the wait.

3. RASL by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

How does one of the cartooning geniuses of a generation follow up his life's work? If said cartoonist is Jeff Smith, he does it by flipping the proverbial bird to the young adult trappings and funny animal homages that made "Bone" an international comics phenomenon. The opening pages of his new sci-fi serial "RASL" introduce readers to the hard living, hard drinking world of its titular interdimensional art thief. And from the murder of a prostitute who may be the only person to understand him, RASL's story only grows deeper both in terms of its emotional character development and engaging plot dynamics. After only three issues of Smith's signature cartooning mastery, "RASL" is instantly addictive and possibly the last great indie serial we'll ever see in comic shops.

2. Batman by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, et. al (DC)

With the much-anticipated "Batman R.I.P." story line, Morrison's "Batman" broke his run with the Dark Knight out into a level of storytelling comparable with his best superhero efforts from "Seven Soldiers of Victory" to "All-Star Superman." In spinning the story of Batman's struggle to retain his own sanity and control in the face of the jaw-dropping double crosses perpetrated by mystery foes Dr. Hurt and The Black Glove, Morrison and rising star Tony Daniel delivered a pitch-perfect balance of pot-boiler mystery, horrific suspense thriller and over-the-top superhero tale all viewed through the prism of Bruce Wayne's greatest psychological strengths and weaknesses. Easily the best "Batman" story in a decade.

1. Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)

There is rarely anything more exciting than watching a young cartoonist drop a massively ambitious and engaging effort on the masses, and this year we got TWO such comics from Dash Shaw. But while the 25-year-old's surreal sci-fi web comic "Body World" continues to work itself out on a daily basis, Shaw's mammoth 720-page graphic novel "Bottomless Belly Button" proved he can deliver an emotional family epic capable of connecting with a broad section of readers while retaining his cartooning idiosyncrasies from wildly expressive lettering to detailed, graphed layouts. The emotional highs and lows the Loony children experience in the wake of their parents announcing a divorce after 40 years of marriage strike hard and leave a mark in the best way possible.


Rickey said...

Dag, Kiel. Great list! The more quality lists I see like this, the more I think I can't commit enough to 10 books. I mean, like you said in the intro, I haven't read EVERYTHING I wanted yet. Geez, I've only read 4 of your 10!
Still, great list, dude.

Ben Morse said...

You've given me a roadmap for indy books I want to read in 2009. For tat, I thank you.

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