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.

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Wednesday Woundup: Revolver by Matt Kindt, Dark Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, and Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6!

So each week I’ll be reviewing new comic books and graphic novels I’ve read that week.

I am very lazy.

The goal is for this to come out on Wednesday or Thursday. So probably Saturday.

This post is actually an edited collection of reviews I’ve written recently for friends of mine that don’t actually deserve the benefit of my opinion. Starting next week I’ll start posting new stuff.

Revolver by Matt Kindt. Published by Vertigo.

Revolver by Matt Kindt. It's very good.

Matt Kindt is quickly becoming one of my very favourite comic creators. Any serious comic lover needs to read his 3 Story or Super Spy graphic novels immediately. DC seemed to have realized how good he is, as they gave him a pretty sweet gig with this Vertigo book, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he starts writing superhero books for them.

Unfortunately.

I say unfortunately because there’s no way DC is going to let him write smart, original stuff like this in their books. 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, that he doesn’t really like. He has a job that he pretty much despises. He goes through this mediocrity until one day when 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. He ends up sequestered with the boss he despises waiting for things to get better. They do.

And they don’t. The next day, his world goes back to the way it was, but the only person who knows about the other reality, is him. He then starts to alternate between the two realities, drifting back and forth between these two worlds: One where he’s bored but safe, and the other where he’s in constant danger but happy. Eventually, he has to choose which one he’d rather live in.

This is a sci-fi classic. It’s an incredible work by a young artist/writer at the top of his game. Kindt’s pencils are getting cleaner and tighter with every project, and while this might not be as intricately plotted as his masterpiece Super Spy was, his focus here is on emotional resonance, and I’d say that he succeeds nicely. He blends raw emotion with genre storytelling in a way that’s rarely seen these days. Going to be on my best of the year list for sure.

Rating: A

Dark Avengers Vol. 2: Molecule Man by Brian Bendis and Mike Deodato. Published by Marvel Comics.

Dark Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. I once saw him ride his bicycle to get groceries in Portland. He doesn't mention that in here.

This might end up being the last Avengers trade I ever buy, partly because I’m trying to save space, but mostly because the mainstream superhero stuff is boring me to tears. That being said, I really liked this little series, and in fact I wish they had kept Norman Osbourne in charge of the Marvel U for a little bit longer. Also, when did Mike Deodato become the best penciller Marvel has? Holy crap did that guy ever get good.

Rating: B+

Scott Pigrim’s Finest Hour: Vol. 6 by Bryan O’Malley. Published by Oni Press.

After 7 long years, one of the best comic series of the past decade
comes to an end.

This is Scott Pilgrim. It's his finest hour.

The advantage O’Malley has had with Scott Pilgrim is that the early volume’s successes have made it possible for him to take the time to ensure that the later volume’s don’t drop in quality. In anything they improve with every volume. Not only that, but because they are released as big manga-style volumes and not individual issues, I find that the plot is much tighter than many similar sized stories. Basically, this is as close to a perfectly consistent comic story as you can get, in terms of pacing, and tone, and like Matt Kindt, O’Malley deftly blends real pathos with genre ass-kickery. The final volume wraps everything up about as nicely as you could hope, with Scott learning valuable lessons, and getting the girl.

Rating: A-