Favourite Comics of 2010: Best Original Graphic Novels

To qualify in this category, a book would have to be published between December 2009 and December 2010, and basically have a spine. It’s that simple. Although Mangas would technically qualify, I put them in the reprint category. I think this is the category where some of the strongest and most original works was done this year.

15) Set To Sea by Drew Weing (Fantagraphics)

A unique adventure story that skirts the line between high concept art book and ribald adventure tale quite well. Weing’s patient pacing, and unerring knack for maximizing panel space make him an interesting talent to watch out for. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

14) Scott Pilgrim’s Final Hour by Bryan O’Malley (Oni Press)

While this was definitely a fitting and satisfying end to the story of the greatest Ontarian slacker since my friend Donovan, this book had a definite sense of inevitability about it, and there weren’t that many real surprises. One gets the impression O’Malley might be a little tired of post-hipster world that he’s created, and is looking to move on to better and bigger things.

13) Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story by Mat Johnson and Simon Gane (Vertigo)

It appears as if “Crime stories set in Katrina-era New Orleans” is the new black, at least in regards to comics. Dark Rain is the story of a small time criminal who realizes that an upcoming storm set to hit the Gulf Coast might be the perfect time to rob the New Orleans bank that he used to work in. It’s an extremely optimistic human interest drama, which is admirable considering that it’s set against one of the most horrible disasters in recent North American history. Although this meanders a little more than I would want in what is essentially a heist story, and the “villains” are extremely 2 dimensional compared to how nuanced all of the other characters are, this is still a great snapshot of the great lengths people can and will go to in times of great stress and trauma. I could see Simon Gane being called up by DC to work on some of their more mainstream books very soon.

12) X’ed Out by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

Ah, the king of the trippy mindfuck is back. If early ’50’s EC horror comics and Herge’s Tintin books had a baby, this book would be the vomit that came from that baby. Burns is one of the true unique geniuses working in comics today.

11) Wilson by Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly)

Believe it or not, this is Daniel Clowe’s first original graphic novel, and he takes advantage of the form well, though this would have worked just as well as a page a day web comic. While Clowes is mining territory that he’s combed over many times before (bitterly lonely middle-aged shut-in unsuccessful tries to reconnect with the outside world), his stylistic choice of treating each page as a separate chapter, with a beginning, middle, and end makes for an interesting variation on the theme.

10) Area 10 by Christos Gage and Chris Samnee (Vertigo)

Holy smokes. This book surprised the shit out of me. I know that Gage has been getting a lot of credit for his superhero work, but it’s the first work of his that I’ve really spent any time with. The guy is a plotting monster, and this one of those rare mystery novels that I found myself being legitimately surprised by. Gage’s Law & Order background serves him well here, and in fact the numerous red herrings and surprise twists at the end really reminded me of the best episodes of that venerable TV show. Highly recommended for people who love crime fiction, and also for people who like to poke holes in their head in order to gain superpowers.

9) Crogan’s March by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)

Chris Schweizer’s open-ended “Crogan” series is a relatively new discovery for me, but I’m hooked, and  can’t wait for the next one. The premise is deceptively simple: Each book starts and ends with a framing tale in which a modern-day father imparts life lessons to his sons by telling them a story featuring one of their ancestors. The hook is that all of their ancestors seemed to live raucous lives of adventure and danger; one was a pirate, another a solider, etc. March is the story of Peter Crogan, a member of the Foreign Legion fighting for France in 1912 North Africa.  Although I’m used to great all-ages adventure comics from Oni Press, this book still surprised me with its emotional complexity, especially for a book that is geared towards kids. In short, this is about as a good an all-ages adventure story as you’ll find in the comic book medium this year. I should also mention that Schweizer’s art seems to have improved immensely book-over-book.

8) ACME Novelty Library Volume 20: Lint by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)

By now it’s becoming a little redundant to praise Chris Ware for his imaginative and innovative cartoon-as-design approach to comic books. It’s become a given that if he puts out a new piece of work that it’ll end up on a lot of lists like this. Although Lint is similar to Rusty Brown, Jimmy Corrigan, and other characters in the Acme Novelty Library family on the surface, I liked how much of a roller coaster journey into his character that Ware takes us on here. Beautiful book to look at (as per usual with Ware) but it’s an engaging character piece as well.

7) Two Generals by Scott Chantler (McClelland & Stewart)

Chantler is probably best known for his ambitious Northwest Passage graphic novel, and it’s great to see him attempt to raise the bar here. Two Generals is the story of Chantler’s grandfather and his best friend, specifically dealing with their experiences fighting for Canada in WW2. This is an ambitious work, and one that deserves much praise for it’s scope, but also for how tight Chantler keeps his focus. This isn’t a story about WW2, it’s about one person’s WW2 experiences. If this book has a flaw, it’s that because Chantler relies so much on autobiographical material (Journals, letters, etc), it feels at times that we are only getting half the story. Major events seem glossed over to an extent, and although I hate to say this about a work that feels so personal, it’s possible that this great graphic novel might have been better served with some minor artistic licence. That being said, this is a great addition to a subgenre of graphic novel that doesn’t get much attention.

6) Duncan The Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (AdHouse)

This is the closest 2010 equivalent to last year’s brilliant Asterios Polyp, in that the way this story is told is as important, and possibly more important than the story itself. Duncan is set in a world where animals can talk, and the novel is an exploration of what our world would look like if our primary source of food could pipe up and debate Chomsky and Dwyer with us. Although not for the casual reader (It’s a whopping 400 pages, and is only the first in a planned 9 book series) I’ll say this without hesitation: This is the most ambitious graphic novel of the year. There is so much to digest here: From the actual questions the book raises about animal cruelty, to the way Hines combines pencils, acrylics, and collage (and other art forms) to create a very leisurely sort of tension, to the fascinating and diverse characters he creates.  If you need your comics to challenge and provoke you, this is a must own.

5) Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)

Steampunk, 19th Century alternate history geo-politics, and talking animals: How could I NOT love this? It’s the follow-up to Talbot’s ambitious Grandville OGN from a few years back, and this might be that rare sequel that transcends its original source material. Our hero: LeBrock, a talking badger detective. Our setting: Grandville, an alternate version of Paris, where Britain lost the Napoleonic war and was invaded by France. Our story: LeBrock attempts to recapture his old enemy Mad Dog Mastock, and as a result finds out that there is a conspiracy that goes to the highest level of the British government. Talbot has created one of the most interesting self-contained universes in comics today, and if the first two volumes are any indication, is on the verge of creating a true classic.

4) Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg & Jim Maruca (AdHouse)

A love letter not only to Blaxploitation films but also to 1970’s Marvel Comics, Afrodisiac deftly manoeuvres between comedy, kung-fu action, and ’70’s sci-fi mumbo jumbo. It’s the story of Afrodisiac, a janitor by day, superhero by night. It’s also the story of Afrodisiac, the humble janitor that uses his pimp stick Mackjolnir to fight evil aliens. It’s also the story of Afrodisiac, a skinny white kid who gets turned by the US government into a black super soldier. And so on. This is a collection of short stories in which Afrodisiac fights the usual gang of villains: Aliens, Nixon, Death, etc. The temptation to not take this too seriously should be resisted, although from a sheer entertainment standpoint this can’t be beat.

3) Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo)

Revolver is yet another reason why Matt Kindt is quickly becoming one of my favourite contemporary comics creators. It’s the story of a guy who is pretty much at a dead-end in most aspects of his life. He has a girlfriend and a job, and likes neither. Mediocrity is the order of the day until the world starts to fall apart. He starts to hear about a massive avian flu epidemic, the economic system is close to collapse, and by the end of the day several US cities have been destroyed. Things look bad. Until the next day, when his world goes back to the way it was. He then starts to alternate between the two realities, for no apparent reason. As I’ve said before, this is a sci-fi classic, and an incredible work by a young artist/writer at the top of his game. Kindt blends emotional resonance with intricate storytelling here, and is one of the creators I’m most excited about in comics right now.

2) Footnotes In Gaza by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books)

This came out in December of last year, but I’m going to let it slide. Like Ware and Clowes, Sacco is a common name in these types of lists, and for good reason. Although others have started to blend comics and journalism, nobody seems to be able to do it with the subtlety and depth that Sacco does. His latest project sees him back in Palestine, trying to get to the heart of a bloody massacre perpetuated by the Israeli military that happened in Rafah in 1959. It’s his most ambitious work, and as such deserves more praise than I am qualified to give. It’s a stunning work of journalism, both fearless and humble at the same time. It may be true that those who can not learn from the mistakes of the past will be doomed to repeat them, but this book makes a strong case that those mistakes should never be forgotten.

1) The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

Yes. This is the follow-up to Cooke’s The Hunter, and not only does it not disappoint, but it may even surpass the original. Both graphic novels are adaptations of the “Parker” crime novels of Donald Westlake, and as such are brilliant examples as to why crime noir and comic books seem to go hand in hand. It’s also my favourite comic book experience of the year. It’s got everything: Great characters, a fast moving plot, and some of the most beautiful art you’ll ever see in a comic book.

Favourite Comics Of 2010: Best Ongoing Comic Series

The rules are for this category are a little vague as well, as the very concept of an “ongoing” series is changing all the time. Here’s the rules I used for this category: If it’s over 10 issues, and at least 2 of those issues took place in 2010, it’s an ongoing. Some of these are new series, and at least two of them ended this year. The way the industry is going I could see half of these being cancelled next year, so make sure you get and out and support the comics you love.

20) Birds Of Prey by Gail Simone and Ed Benes (DC Comics)

Gail Simone is back on the dance floor, with a relaunch of the comic that brough her to the party in the first place. Nobody writes kung-fu treachery like Simone, and this is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stagnant swamp that is the DCU.

19) The Sixth Gun by Calen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

The team that brought us the criminally underrated The Damned is back with a weird western ongoing that combines horror, action, and western bad-assery. Combining supernatural horror and western gunfighter drama is a tricky proposition, but Bunn & Hurtt do a bang up job of keeping the tension up.

18) Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (Marvel)

I can’t believe I bought a Punisher comic. On purpose. It’s been years since I’ve read anything about this utterly 2 dimensional character that interested me, but I’ve heard so much about this version that I thought I would give it a try. And I’m glad that I did. For those of you unfamiliar with Punisher Max, the concept is this: Man has wife and kids. Mob kills wife and kids. Man spends 30 years killing mob. Mob isn’t happy. That’s all you need to know. No superheroes, no mutants, no nothing other than pure, violent revenge. Enter the Kingpin. Aaron introduces the Kingpin mythos into the Max format so effortlessly and so realistically that you end up believing that this was the origin the character should have had all along. Jason Aaron is quickly becoming the next big name in comics, and for good reason.

17) Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge & Chris Samnee (Marvel)

Um, sorry?  Like a lot of people, I didn’t hear about this until it was cancelled. It’s a shame, as this is a perfect title for both kids and adults, the likes of which are becoming quite scarce. It’s a retelling of the origin of Thor, but done in such a bright, optimistic way that makes you miss the feeling you had reading superhero comics as a kid. Anybody that complains that “they don’t make comics the way they used to” hasn’t read this.

16) The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Although I can’t say that I’m as hardcore about this book as a lot of people, I do think it’s actually improving in quality, and I’m now at the point where I can give this book my highest compliment and say that I can’t wait to read what happens next. It’s the story of Tommy Taylor, the son of the author of a fantasy series so popular it dwarfs Harry Potter, Narnia, and Twilight combined. When the fiction of the novels start to seep into Tommy’s real life, he freaks out. A lot. Like I said, I’m enjoying this a lot, but maybe not as much as I hoped I would, considering how much I like Carey’s two previous Vertigo ongoings (Lucifer, Crossing Midnight). That being said, if you stopped reading comics after Sandman was cancelled, this might be your way back in the door.

15) Secret Six by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore (DC Comics)

A book so good you won’t believe it’s published by DC. Gail Simone seems to excel (prefer?) operating on the outer fringes of the regular DCU, and this book is one of those rare superhero books that seem to get better with every issue. Every superhero writer should use this book as a textbook on how to build interesting characters.

14) Justice League:  Generation Lost by Judd Winick, Keith Giffen, and Aaron Lopresti (DC Comics)

I had resigned myself to never following a book with the word ‘Justice” in the title again, and then along came this superb team book, resurrecting some of DC’s most beloved, yet most maligned characters, the JLI. Although this book is very continuity heavy, and no non-DC fan would have any idea what is going on with this extremely plot heavy book, Winick also makes sure that character motivation is the books priority. This group always works best as a group of underdogs, and Winick pushes that aspect of their history heavily. Lots of fun and action.

13) Echo by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

I’m not entirely sure that this should have gone past issue 12, as this is starting to ramble a little. But Moore’s attention to character detail still make this science fiction drama worth following as it comes to an end next year.

12) The Sword by the Luna Brothers (Image)

Argh! This was probably the most disappointing end to a comic series I’ve read in years. Not because it was so bad (it really wasn’t), but because the rest of the series was so damn good. After one of the great reveals in recent comic book memory, this action packed series ended with an issue of monologuing so hackneyed that even Doctor Doom would have been embarrassed to spout it. The series as a whole still stands up though, and I can’t wait to see what the immensely talented Luna Brothers come up with next.

11) Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)

Whew! This was a close one. This was one of 2009’s best comics discoveries, but started to rapidly decline in quality after its initial arc. Thankfully Layman has toned down the “HOLYCRAPDIDIDYOUSEEWHATHEJUSTATE!!???” hijinks and replaced them with some nice character building instead. There are still some pacing problems, but it’s definitely still worth your time and money. Still the best gastro-detective story on the market.

10) The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (Image)

Still around? Yep. Still great? Yep. New TV series that happened to launch as the most successful cable show of the season? Yep. This was Robert Kirman’s year, and it’s a testament to his commitment to the girl who brought him to the dance in the first place that he’s worked so hard at keeping the greatest zombie comic of all time as good as it’s ever been.

9) Unknown Soldier by Joshua Dysart and various artists (Vertigo)

One of my favourites of 2009 ended this year. Unfortunately, I feel as if it dropped a little in quality, as the last 2 arcs just felt rushed. There were still enough great moments to put this on the top 10 this year though. There aren’t that many fiction comics that deal with current events in believable ways, and unfortunately two of them (this, along with Ex Machina) closed up shop this year. Think Manchurian Candidate meets Hotel Rwanda.

8) Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

This may be the most depressing post-apocalyptic road movie never made. This year brought new depth and back story to the great characters that Lemire introduced last year, while still creating a sense of cautious dread about what’s to come. The joy never evaporates completely though, and small sense of optimism is growing as Lemire’s mini-epic continues.

7) Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming (Icon)

Although this book has departed quite a bit from its original “Normal cops in a superhero world” concept, Bendis and Oeming’s hearts are still in this book. Although the books gets increasingly more “superheroey” with every arc, it still very much a “character first” book. Bendis and Oeming remain one of the most dynamic teams in the business.

6) Rasl by Jeff Smith

The only reason this isn’t higher on my list is its infrequency, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking up this little sci-fi gem of a potboiler. Due to the strength of Bone, Smith has become of one of the grand old masters of the comic book form, and deservedly so. What’s most impressive about Rasl is that it’s so intentionally different from the work that Smith is most well-known for. Smith is taking some serious creative risks here, and it’s paying off. If you like your sci-fi tense, smart, and character driven, this is the book for you.

5) Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image)

Vancouver native Stokoe is doing some innovative world building here, and this has become one of the most unique books on the stands VERY quickly. It’s the slow-burning story of One-Eye, an orc with one eye (Ha!) that’s just struggling to get by in an orc-eat-orc world. This is modern fantasy storytelling done right, with artwork that threatens to jump off the page and punch you in the junk. Poxa Gronka!

4) Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris (Wildstorm)

A case could be made that this should have ended 2 years before it did, but then we might not have gotten such an appropriate, bittersweet ending. This may be the best political comic book of all time, and I really hope that Vaughan and Harris do something together again soon. There are things about the ending that I liked, and things that I liked not as much, but all in all I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

3) Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra (Vertigo)

With all due respect to Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, Scalped remains the best crime comic on the market, and for good reason. This book is a masterclass in tension-building, and I can’t count the times that I’ve been hesitant to turn the page in fear of what these horribly flawed characters are going to do to themselves next. I know that Aaron is becoming quite popular for his superhero work, but I hope that he never loses his dedication to this crime fiction classic.

2) Scarlet by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Icon)

I hate you. Yes, you. You are the person who reads Avengers, and Ultimate Spider-Man, and pretty much everything else that Brian Michael Bendis touches and turns into superhero gold. Why do I hate you? Because you are the reason why he doesn’t have time to do more books like this. This was my favourite “new” ongoing of the year, and might have even taken the top spot if it had more issues under its belt. This title is that rare comic beast: It’s based on current events.  There aren’t enough comics that tackle social issues. I don’t mean in a “Don’t do drugs kids!” way, but in a meaningful dialogue that acknowledges that most difficult problems have difficult solutions. It confronts reality head on, with very little filter. If my sole measuring stick was how big my emotional response was to a comic, this would have been number one. Not to mention that this is as well crafted a comic as you’ll see this decade. Oh, and Alex Maleev is a frickin’ genius. There are the only 2 people on the planet that could have produced this comic book, and I’m glad that they did.

1) Northlanders by Brian Wood and various artists (Vertigo)

The best Viking anthology comic of all time is still that good. In fact, this series seems to be getting better with every arc, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. I think that Brian Wood’s trick is that there is no trick. Just plain old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve said elsewhere that Brian Wood is probably my favourite writer in the business right now, and one of the main reasons is his utter fearlessness in terms of challenging himself, by telling stories that may be out of his comfort range. As a result, his style keeps evolving, and his books just get better and better.

Honorable mention: New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen (Marvel), Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey, and various artists (DC Comics),  X-Factor by Peter David and various artists (Marvel), King City by Brandon Graham (Image)

Next up: Best original graphic novel!

Favourite Comics Of 2010: Best Mini-Series

The rules for this category are a little arbitrary but it’s probably the simplest way to do this one. Basically a mini-series is eligible if it’s between 2-10 issues long, and ENDED in 2010. Which means great minis like Kody Chamberlain’s Sweets won’t be eligible until next year. As the comic biz changes, I’m finding that this is quickly becoming the category to watch in terms of where real innovation is found.

15) Hellboy: The Storm by Mike Mignola & Duncan Alfredo (Dark Horse)

Hellboy, in happier, two-eyed times.

Any comic that has Hellboy stab his own eye out has to be worth your time, although I can’t say this was quite as engaging as previous Hellboy minis. That being said, I’m still look forward to its follow-up, “The Fury”, which is coming out in 2011.

14) BPRD: King Fear by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis (Dark Horse)

My love of the Mignolaverse knows no bounds, and a strong case could be made that the B.P.R.D. mini-series are the equal (if not occasionally better) than the flagship Hellboy books these days. Come for the epic plots by Mignola and John Arcudi, stay for the incredible art by Guy Davis

13) Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Christopher Golden, Mike Mignola, and Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)

Yep, three Mike Mignola books in a row. What can I say, he’s had a prolific year. This is a sequel of sorts to a vampire novel that Mignola and Chris Golden wrote last year, though it stands alone very well as a creepy vampire adventure story. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what artist Ben Stenbeck has in store in the future.

12) Blackest Night (DC Comics) by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

The only thing even remotely like a big “event” comic on any of these lists. This started out extremely well, but as most of these big events seem to go these days, it crashed and burned pretty hard near the end. DC got greedy, and what should have stayed as an 8 issue mini eventually crossed over into dozens of other titles, thereby diluting what could have an amazing superhero epic. That being said, I don’t want to live in a world where dead Aquaman commanding a group of zombie sharks to devour an Atlantean army is a bad thing.

11) Last Days Of American Crime by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini (Radical Comics)

Probably the best high concept pitch you’re ever going to hear all year: 15 days before the American government will start broadcasting a signal that will prevent any citizens from doing anything they know is wrong, a group of small time criminals decide to pull off one last big heist. Great concept? Yes. Great execution? Yeah, sure. I liked this quite a bit, but based on just how strong the original concept was I felt a little underwhelmed by the end. Still very much worth a read.

10) Four Eyes: Forged By Flames by Joe Kelly & Max Fiumara (Image)

An extremely underrated series that I would have ranked higher if not for the fact that most of this series came out in 2009. It’s the story of a boy, the crime family his father worked for, and his dragon. Probably the title on this list most in need of a follow-up.

9) Stumptown by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth  (Oni Press)

Take one down on her luck female lead, add a hint of lesbian flirting, and throw in a dollop of criminal intrigue, and you’ve got yourself a Greg Rucka classic. You’re not going to find much in Stumptown that you haven’t seen in other Rucka stories, but it’s still a very engaging little crime story that I hope to see a sequel for soon.

8) Marvelous Land Of Oz by Eric Shanhower & Scottie Young (Marvel)

Although Shanhower & Young’s follow-up to last year’s wonderful Wonderful World Of Oz may not garnered quite as much praise as their first collaboration did, that’s probably more of a fault of the source material than of Shanhower & Young themselves. Dorothy isn’t in this one, but this is still a fantastic work for kids, and I really hope that Marvel lets these guys play in this sandbox for as long as they want.

7) Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness by Bryan Clevinger & Scott Wegener (RED5)

This has everything you could possibly want in a comic book: Vampires, gigantic Japanese robots, and evil talking dinosaurs. Comedy is the order of the day here, but there’s also plenty of heart in this book. A new Robo mini has already started  so expect to see that on next year’s list.

6) Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank (DC Comics)

Although J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth 1 got all the mainstream attention this year, this is the Superman origin story that you should have been paying attention to. And while a case could be made that a new reimagining of Superman’s origin wasn’t really necessary, this was still a great mini series, and one of my favourite superhero books of the year. Gary Frank may be my favourite superhero artist in comics right now.

5) Joe The Barbarian by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy (Vertigo)

Caveat one: Yes, I’m cheating here, in that the final issue of this still hasn’t come out.

Caveat two: I really resent the fact that Grant Morrison wrote something so brilliant that it makes me feel bad for how much I hate most of his work. I’m not trying to be funny here. Most of the time, the fact that Morrison is arguably the most popular writer in mainstream comics boggles my mind. I’ll never understand it, and most of the time, I’m happy to be in the minority. But once in a long while, Morrison writes something so fun, so different, and so unlike the rest of his work, that I feel the need to raise my Morrison flag high. Joe The Barbarian is a fantasy story in the truest sense of the word (Gaiman fantasy, not Tolkien fantasy, though there’s some of that too), and Sean Murphy is a superstar artist in the making.

4) Criminal – The Sinners by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (Icon)

At this point, praising Criminal is about as redundant as making fun of Glenn Beck. I could spout out clichés about how this was the best Criminal mini so far (I think it was), but I’ll probably say that next year, so I’ll just say that Ed Brubaker is at the top of his game. He spins noir tension like a web, and probably the only negative thing I could say about him right now is that he’s spending too much time on the superhero stuff, and not enough time on brilliance like this.

3) Demo Volume 2 by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan (Vertigo)

Brian Wood is probably my favourite writer in mainstream comics right now. The main reason is how different all of his work is. His latest Demo series isn’t like anything he’s doing right now, and trust me when I tell you that’s no mean feat when you’re putting out the some pretty incredible stuff that Wood is (Northlanders, DMZ) right now. I could tell you that Demo is 6 separate stories of teenagers that are dealing with the discovery that they have superpowers, but I’d be lying. What it’s really about is the study of six different, and incredibly interesting characters that HAPPEN to all have superpowers, and it’s about as engaging a read as you’re going to find in comics right now.

2) Bulletproof Coffin by David Hines and Shaky Kain (Image)

Depending on which day of the week it is, this could easily fill the number one slot for me. It’s the story of a man who attempts to escape his mundane existence by dressing up as his favourite superhero character and traveling to other dimensions. So essentially it’s about my friend Leo. This is a love letter to comics of the ’50’s and ’60’s. From EC horror stories, to romance books, to Steve Ditko’s Randian objectivism, it’s all here, and it’s all glorious. Hines and Kain are a perfect fit together, and I really hope they do more soon. This book is a tribute to metatextual writing, and it’s amazing.

1) Daytripper by Gabriel Moon & Fabio Moon (Vertigo) – A masterpiece. Pure and simple. There were a lot of great comics this year, but this is as close to perfection as it gets. Daytripper is the story of Bras de Oliva Domingos, a Brazillian writer. Actually, it’s not the story of Bras, it’s 10 different stories, about 10 different Bras’. I really can’t tell you more about the plot without giving a lot away, but I what I can do is tell you is what you WON’T find here: Superheroes. Or pirates, cowboys, gangsters, aliens, or any of the usual cast of gaudily dressed characters that we usually find in our comic book world. What you will find, is stories about people. About you. About me. About life. If that’s not enough for you, then this book is not for you. But for me, this is one of the most well-crafted comic books I’ve read this year.

Honourable Mentions: Locke & Key: Crown Of Shadows by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW), Spider-Man: Fever by Brendan McCarthy (Marvel), The Light by Nathan Edmondson & Brett Weldele (Image), Thanos Imperative, and Tom Strong and The Robots Of Doom by Peter Hogan & Peter Krause (Wildstorm)

Favourite Comics of 2010: Best Collections, Translations, & Reprints

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!