The usual caveat should probably be in place here– this isn’t any kind of objective or all-encompassing list but it is the stuff that came out in 2008 that I consider my favorite reads of the year. If pressed, I’d probably say that a few of these weren’t the “best” books of the year but these are all the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most and can see reading over and over again as the years go on.
It’s odd to say but there’s a real sense of story and development in all of these comics. In some ways, if I knew about these books at the beginning of 2008, I probably wouldn’t have sloshed through 75% of everything else while looking for these jems. I think that, in some ways, I would have been happy and content if these had been the only new books I had bought all year.
There’s no webcomics and only a small sampling of manga here. That’s mostly just due to my own lack of knowledge in these areas. One of my resolutions for 2009 is to write more about both categories.
Here’s the list in no particular order other than these are in the order I thought of them:
- The Education of Hopey Glass (review)– Sure it’s made up of stuff that’s come out over the past couple of years but Jaime Hernandez’s two-part graphic novel was one of the best things to come out all year. He’s got a great cast that’s stuck between wanting to grow up and hoping to always remain young at heart. This book showed how two characters approached the issue in different ways.
- Essex County: The Country Nurse (review)– Ghost Stories was on my list last year and that still may be the strongest of Lemire’s stories but The Country Nurse nicely brings everything together and wraps up his Essex County stories as one larger narrative.
The whole Essex County trilogy is a wonderful story. The minicomics that Lemire published this year were pretty spiffy as well (review here.)
- All Star Superman (review)– Ty asked me the other day why, in my opinion, this series is already as highly regarded as it is. I think that Morrison and Quitely got as close to the arch-typical Superman as could possibly be done nowadays. You either get a Superman that’s so tied into multi-title continuity which make the book impenetrable and forgettable or you get alternate takes on the character, like what would happen if the rocket ship landed in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. Morrison and Quitely were able to tell a Superman story using all the familiar tropes and characters and make it feel fresh and new without altering the concept at all.
- Naoki Urasawa’s Monster— The English adaptation wrapped up this year but I still haven’t read the last volume to know how everything ends. Monster showed how Urasawa could create a large cast and have their stories weave in and out of the main narrative. There were volumes where Tenma, our main protagonist, was hardly even featured. With both Pluto and 20th Century Boys beginning in a few months, I think Urasawa is going to be on the “Best Of” list for the next few years.
- The Damned: Prodigal Sons (review) — Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have created a fun world within the pages of The Damned. The story in Prodigal Sons shows how malleable their world is and how any kind of story can be worked into the world of The Damned. The Damned is one of the best and most enjoyable blending of genres around.
- Acme Novelty Library #19 (review) — I may be one of the few people who had trouble making it through last years ANL, a story separate from the larger Rusty Brown tale that Ware’s been telling so it was a lot of fun to read this book, featuring one of the best retro-sci fi stories of the year. “The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars” lands this volume on the list as Ware channels his inner Robert Heinlein to tell a story that reminds me of Heinlein’s early juvenile books.
- Casanova (review #13, #14)– I would easily give up every Marvel book that Fraction has written just to have Casanova back. While some of his Marvel stuff has been a lot of fun (particularly Iron Fist,) most of it has lacked the imagination and energy of Casanova, a book where Fraction is free to be Fraction. The last gender-bending storyline, particularly the last issue, was remarkably touching and demonstrates a heart in the storytelling that hasn’t been present in a lot of Fraction’s other current writing.
- Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack— Any Tezuka is good Tezuka, at least that’s what I’ve been learning over the past couple of years. After getting involved in a couple of Tezuka’s longer works, Black Jack is a nice, serialized bunch of stories. It’s very episodic and shows a bit of character development through the book. And then there are parts of it that are just plain creepy like Black Jack’s sidekick Pinoko. I’ve just started the second volume and it’s already odd with a story about Black Jack’s one-time friendship with a killer whale.
- Criminal (review #2, #5) — Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Val Staples just create a complete sense of time, place and mood with this book. Criminal is one of the few monthly books that sweeps me up each and every time I read it. It can be ugly; it can be brutal and it can be trashy but it’s consistently the strongest book that Brubaker’s currently working on. I just finished rereading their old Wildstorm series Sleeper and am now thinking that the team of Brubaker and Phillips is the strongest writer/artist paring working in comics right now.
- Larry Young’s The Black Diamond #7 (review)– Almost a year after the conclusion of this miniseries, Young’s ending to this story has still perplexed and delighted me. The abandonment of regular comic narrative was a brave choice as a voice of God type of narrative takes over for the conclusion of the story.
- Northlanders: Sven the Returned (review)– I enjoy Brian Wood’s writing but a lot of it sounds the same to me. The voice behind Local or Demo or even DMZ doesn’t change that much from project to project but I found his voice more lively on Northlanders than in a lot of his other work. The concept of a modern man in Viking times (thanks to Tim Callahan for pointing that out somewhere) works well with his structure and style.
- Rasl (review #1, #3) — After the nice and sweet tales of Bone and Shazam, who knew that Jeff Smith had a bizarre experimental twist to him? Rasl isn’t the best writing around but I’m enjoying the storytelling Smith is using here. It really reminds me of Tezuka, the way that he’s changing up an already distinct storytelling style.
- Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! (thoughts here with a review still in the draft stage)– Yeah, I’m calling a 20+ year old book one of the best of the year. The beauty of AF! is the way that the book still resonates with its audience today. This was one of the most currently topical books that I read this past year. I still get excited about any new Howard Chaykin project but this is easily his crowning achievement.
- Nat Turner (review )– A lot of the books I enjoyed this year were brutal and ugly but Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner was a gut punch, looking at a savage period during American history.
- Paul Goes Fishing — I hate to say but I had forgotten that this had come out this year until I had seen it on someone else’s “best of” list. Michel Rabagliati’s thinly vieled autobiography is a loose book of memories and happenings that kind of cover up the story about Rabaliati and his girlfriend trying to start a family and have a child.