Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best comics of 2006, part one

I was 3/4 of the way through my "best comics of the year" Graphic Lit column last week when my editor turned to me and said, "I need it as short as you can get it. The section's really tight this week."

As I was already way behind deadline, I simply cut out all the descriptive text and just submitted a lengthy list of comics I liked, no explanations given. A shame, but you make do with what you have.

But certainly, there need be no limitations on the lovely Interwebs! So I present to you my own personal "Best of" list as originally imagined. Or as close as my tired slacker ass will allow me to come to it.

Now, 2006 was a banner year for comics regardless of what type of comics you preferred. From the super-powered exploits found in “All Star Superman” to the literary aspirations of “Fun Home,” there was something for every taste and type. Culling a best-of list from such expansive pickings is extremely tough.

That being the case, I decided that rather than confine myself to one teensy top 10 list, I would subdivide and offer four lists instead: one for original work, one for collected or reprinted material, one for manga or manwha (Korean comics) and one for other foreign material.

Is this cheating? Of course it is. But I hope spreading out the wealth like this will give you an idea of the staggering number of top-drawer books that were published this year.

Because it's late and I'm tired, I'll post the first list today and piecemeal out the rest over the rest of the week. Besides, I like dragging this shit out for as long as possible.

Ok then, in no particular order:

THE BEST ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS OF 2006

1. “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel.
Everyone and their uncle seems to be jumping on the Bechdel bandwagon and I see no reason not to join in. Some folks have criticized the book for feeling stiff and pretentious. Those charges strike me as odd. The book is all about an emotionally stunted family and a father who can only communicate with his child through books. It's supposed to come off as stiff in order for the reader to fully appreciate the family dynamic.

Plus, I really enjoy the way Bechdel lays out the entire tale in the opening chapters then circles back and around again, constantly revealing more details. It's something I haven't seen done before in comics and I was quite floored by it. "Fun Home" is a great memoir, and not just because of its subject matter.

2. “Ninja” by Brian Chippendale.
And on the other side of the fence there's this extremely large, extremely odd, extremely wonderful book that finally gives those who never got a gander at one of those rare copies of "Maggots" a door into the hyper-rendered world of Mr. Chippendale. It's quite the hallucinatory experience, as a child's comic becomes an elaborate fantasy world which in turn becomes a rant against gentrification. And certainly, the 11 by 17 inch size ensures it will dominate all the other books in your home.

I hope to do a more thoughtful, lengthy review in the coming weeks, but trust me when I say you've never read a book like this before. And that's a good thing.

3. “Lost Girls” by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie.

Like "Fun Home," this massively ambitious endevour was met with much scorn by the comics congnisenti, earning not one but three negative reviews from the Comics Journal and a dismissive review from Dirk (and man, I hope I never become so jaded about porn that an image of a girl jacking off a horse while being fucked by a farm hand elicits little more than a proverbial yawn).

Anyway, I really liked the book, flaws and all, enough to add it to this list. The one thing that struck me, and that I don't think most critics, both positive and negative, really commented on, is the way the book constantly subverted your expectations, attempting to alternatively arouse and repulse you (or at least dampen your arousal), often on the same page. It's the sort of hat trick that can only be done in comics.

4. “The Ticking” by Renee French.
Gender issues seemed to be the big theme in 2006, what with the Minx line and whatnot. So I found it rather interesting that most of the best books done this year were by women. Like this book, for example. It's easily one of French's best and most moving works. She's disturbed and haunted me before, but she's never broken my heart quite like she did here.

5. “We Are On Our Own” by Miriam Katin.
And speaking of broken hearts, there was this extremely moving memoir, which few people seemed to remember. Katin's tale of how she and her mother avoided Nazi capture during the final days of World War II is a gripping, provoking tale of how extreme circumstances can leave you entirely at the mercy -- or utter cruelty -- of others.

6. “Sloth” by Gilbert Hernandez.
Hernandez's first stand-alone graphic novel proves the master hasn't lost one ounce of his game yet.

7. “Billy Hazlenuts” by Tony Millionaire.
God, Millionaire would be a fanatastic children's author if he ever decided to leave comics. "Billy Hazlenuts" is evidence of that.

8. “Girl Stories” by Laura Weinstein.
Man, this book made me howl with laughter, and then immediately cringe with pain, and that's not easy to do. Weinstein re-examines her high school years with a piercing gaze, but never falling into any maudlin trap. She's is a smart, funny cartoonist and readers would do well to keep an eye out for what she does in the future.

9. “The Fate of the Artist” by Eddie Campbell.
Eddie Campbell wonders what happened to Eddie Campbell and what he discovers isn't very pretty. There's so much to love about this book -- the way he combines text, photos, and mashes up a variety of styles; it's thoughtful consideration on the imperminence of art and the capriciousness of history. If First Second does nothing but publish Eddie Campbell books for the next five years, they'll be one of my favorite publishers.

10. “The Left Bank Gang” by Jason.
Jason is just goddamn cool, and that's all there is to it.

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