As the end of the year is looming, it’s time for all of those annoying annual “best of” lists you don’t care about. My plan is that I’ll do separate lists on movies and music as well, but since my main focus this year has been comic books, I’ll be doing multiple lists for that medium (Best mini, best ongoing, best graphic novel, etc). Some lists may be “Top 10″, some may be “Top 15″, “Top 3″ etc. Depends on the list. Also, this shouldn’t need saying, but this is MY opinion, and MY opinion only. What’s “Best” is highly subjective, and so I give you my favourites.
My first list is quite vague, but what I’m referring here are collections of existing or rare material, or English translations of existing work. It doesn’t matter when the source material was originally published, and so the inclusion of a title on this list could be because of the quality of the original material (20th Century Boys or Xenozoic comes to mind), or it could be because of the design of the collection itself (Batwoman, Beasts Of Burden, Wednesday Comics). In addition, some of my choices here have some new material in them as well, and many of these are the first time much of this work has been collected for western audiences.
15) King Of The Flies Vol. 1 by Mezzo and Pirus (Fantagraphics)
This is an oversized collection of loosely connected short noir/horror stories, originally published in France. Fans of the witty writing and eccentric art detail of Charles Burns will find much to love here,
14) Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon (Archaia Press)
With all of the press that greeted this last year as the first graphic novel created expressly for the Amazon Kindle, it became easy to overlook the fact that this was an extremely well-written, hard-boiled crime noir. Lovers of Criminal, or The Last Days Of American Crime should run to pick this up.
13) Tall Tales by Tom Sniegoski and Jeff Smith.
Those of you who have been waiting for new Bone material for the past 6 years might want to wait a little longer; There’s new material here, but not a lot. What this is, is essentially a reprinting of “Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails”, a prequel of sorts to Jeff Smith’s hugely influential Bone series, with a new “framing” story, and some other new adventures featuring that mythical figure mentioned in the original series, Big Johnson Bone. While there is enough new material to justify owning both versions, I would only recommend this to die-hard Bone fans.
12) Torpedo Vol. 1 & 2 by Enrique Sanchez Abuli & Jordi Bernet (IDW Publishing)
Torpedo is a series of gritty, but fun little crime tales that feature a thoroughly deplorable, yet highly entertaining villain. No, not Gordon Campbell. The stories are set in depression-era, crime-ridden New York, and Abuli and Benet hold a master class on how to tell small, action packed crime stories. Very good translation as well.
11) It Was the War Of The Trenches by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
Although Jaques Tardi is probably most well-known for his Adele Blanc-Sec series of comic books, it’s the War Of The Trenches that has solidified him as one of the world’s premier comic book creators. Objectivity is NOT the point here, and it’s one of the best treatises about the horrors of war that I’ve seen in comic book form.
10) The Original Johnson Vol. 1 by Trevor Von Eden (IDW/ComicMix)
Yes, THAT Trevor Von Eden. Of Batman, and Green Arrow fame. The Original Johnson was a recent discovery for me, and I’m so glad that I stumbled across it. It turns out that Von Eden has been busy creating this original graphic novel for the past few years for the ComicMix website. This paperback edition collects the first half of the series for the first time. It’s the story of Jack Johnson, a staggeringly important figure not only in the history of American boxing, but also in the history of American race relations. Readers familiar with Geoffery Ward’s magnificent Unforgivable Blackness won’t find much new here, and one gets the impression that Von Eden isn’t really interested in critical analysis so much as he is in penning a love letter to one of his heroes. That being said, the revelation of Von Eden as major force to be reckoned with in the field of graphic biographies is exciting news, and I would say that this is one of the best looking books of the year, despite the simplicity of the soft cover edition. I can’t wait for volume two, which promises material not released online yet.
9) The Amazing Screw-On Head And Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
There aren’t many single issue stories that justify the hardcover treatment, but this seminal 2002 humour/horror/adventure story is definitely one of them. Although I can’t say this that owning this would be essential if you already own the original, the inclusion of other rare Mignola material was more than enough to include it on this list.
8) Xenozoic Tales by Mark Shultz (Flesk Publications)
Another recent discovery by me, and one that I’m kicking myself for having missed out on for so long. This is a softcover collection of a fantastic late mid to late 80′s adventure series by Mark Shultz. It has everything you’d want a post-apocalyptic adventure serial to have: Curvy women, muscle cars, and rampaging dinosaurs. I loved the hell out of this book, and the Tarzan influences throughout made this one of the most entertaining adventure comics I’ve read this year. Perfect for new and old readers alike, as it contains all of the original run.
7) Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics)
This Detective Comics arc was one of the most critically acclaimed comics of 2009, and for good reason. First of all, let’s discuss the art: Game changing. Seriously. J.H. Williams has raised the bar here in regards to how superhero comics can (and arguably should) look. Second of all, let’s talk about the art some more: It’s not many artists that can upstage Greg Rucka’s tightly plotted scripts. That’s not what happens here, but this is arguably one of the best looking superhero comics in recent memory so you can see how people would get that impression. In regards to the writing: Rucka’s Kate Kane is a likable, engaging character, with back story leaking from every page, and while I’m looking forward to the new series that JH Williams is doing next year, I worry that it won’t be the same without Rucka. This new hardcover edition is essential for superhero fans.
6) Beasts of Burden – Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)
Another one of 2009′s most recognized mini series is finally collected, this time with the original BOB stories from Dark Horse’s vaunted “Book Of….” Horror Anthology series from a few years back. The gist of this concept is this: Gang of talking dogs fight team up to solve paranormal crimes. Goofy right? Yes. But no. These stories ooze heart, and if you can read these without shedding a tear or two it’s quite possible that you don’t have a soul.
5) The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl (TX Comics)
One of the most amazing comics on the interweb finally gets a hardcover collection. This one might be tough to track down, but it’s worth the price and effort. It deals with the adventures of a mute Sasquatch, and the talking animals that live in his forest. Fans of Bone, LOTR, or Narnia, would be well advised to give this a try, and Kershl is quickly becoming one known as one of the most unusual artists in the medium for a reason.
4) Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juajo Guarnido (Dark Horse)
This is a collection of 3 stories originally published in Belgium and France. While 2 of them have been published in North America before, the third is seeing an English translation for the first time. Sucks if you already have the first two (guilty!) but awesome for new readers. Don’t let the talking animals distract you: These are slick, but gritty detective stories that any noir fan could appreciate, not to mention featuring some of the most beautiful artwork that you’ll see in a comic book this year.
2 & 3) Pluto/20th Century Boy by Naoki Usawa (Viz Media)
These are two VERY different series, with very different subject matter. But because they are by the same creator, and because they are being seen by western audiences by the first time, I thought it made sense to put them together (Pluto is 8 volumes, and the last of those came out this year, 20th Century is about 12 volumes into a 22 volume story). Pluto is a reimagining of the seminal Astro Boy manga from the early ’60′s, while 20th Century Boys is a slow-building, conspiracy laden potboiler, with secrets and mysteries on every page. Highly recommended for those who love their mysteries peeled back slowly, but this is about as good as mystery comics get.
1) Wednesday Comics by various creators (DC Comics). This beautiful hardcover collection of one of 2009’s most exciting mainstream comic book experiments is one of the most beautiful books I own. Truly indispensable, not only for its experimanental exploration of the medium by some very interesting comic talent (Paul Pope, Karl Kerschl, Brian Azzarello, and many more), but also for some truly engaging superhero stories that are superior to most of what’s on the stands right now.
Next up: My favourite comic book mini series of the year!