Here’s the books that have stayed with me throughout 2012. These aren’t necessarily the “best” books but they’re the books that didn’t let me finish with them with the last page. These are the books that I’ve thought about during the year over and over again. One thing that I’ve realized as I’ve been writing up this list is that there’s a strong emphasis on how the stories are told in these books. There’s a strong sense of authorship in these stories, where the words and pictures combine to create a haunting experience. Sometimes it’s the discover of an artist; other times it’s getting lost in their artwork as they show me their world.
- Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland— Harvey Pekar is Cleveland and Cleveland is Harvey Pekar. For one almost last time, Pekar takes us on a tour of something that he finds interesting, in this case his home city Cleveland, and ends up revealing more about himself. The city and the man are both easy to overlook but have a wealth of history once you dive into them. (written about here and here.)
- RL Book 1— Tom Hart’s story about the death of his young daughter just tore me apart the first time I read it. I didn’t want to go on but each page just had so much pain and emotion on it that I couldn’t help but click through, just thankful that my own son was upstairs sleeping soundly as I read about the real-life horrors Hart and his wife went through. (written about here.)
- Building Stories— I’m going to find any list that doesn’t include Chris Ware’s Building Stories to be highly suspect. In this collection of stories, Ware recreates the sensation of memories, of reliving events in no particular order. Only their randomness creates the links from one story or memory to another. (written about here.)
- 20th Century Boys— With no news on his Billy Bat being translated into English, it looks like there will only be two more volumes of Naoki Urasawa books in 2013. The past year of 20th Century Boys has been full of questions, revelations and a mad dash toward Urasawa’s final confrontation with the mysterious Friend. Where his Monster and Pluto were smaller and quieter stories, 20th Century Boys has been full of brash storytelling, told on a huge canvas of characters.
- Ed the Happy Clown— I’m still not too sure how comfortable I am with Chester Brown’s book but it’s a book I’m still thinking about it months later. Ed the Happy Clown is an exorcism of the demons in Brown’s head. It’s ugly and gross and horrid but Brown never gives you any room to get out of this story. (written about here.)
- Creepy Presents Richard Corben— Until recently, I never “got” Corben. This book is like a master course in his short stories. The ugly images (at least that’s how I used to categorize Corben’s artwork) are really quite beautiful in a grotesque kind of way. His figures always have mass and shape to them that’s really off putting when you’re used to the flat and weightlessness of Marvel or DC comics. Honorable mention also goes to Ragemoor which shows how gracefully Corben’s artwork has aged.
- Multiple Warheads— This could easily be a tie with King City but the tiebreaker is the ease and comfort that’s found in Multiple Warheads. Brandon Graham’s words and lines just flow so easily in this series that the plot almost doesn’t matter. There’s joy to be found in words and pictures and that’s what Graham expresses in this series. (written about here.)
- American Barbarian— Tom Scioli love song to 70s Kirby rises above been just homage as Scioli just embraces the Kirby aesthetic and lets his imagination lead him in his story about a warrior fighting creatures that can only come out of a head fueled by the heyday of bronze age comics. There’s as much Starlin and Gerber hidden in these pages as there is Kirby. Even the coloring invokes a simpler but wilder time.
- The Underwater Welder— This book makes all of Lemire’s other recent work just seem that much less special because it shows us just how a cartoonist can actually create a universal story out of the inhabitants of a small Canadian town. Every line in his drawings convey the pain of the characters. The artwork contains the heart of the story as it’s the perfect visual representation of the essence of his characters. They’re ugly; they’re painful; they’re hurt. But they shouldn’t be that way because there’s also a purity represented in his art that gets you to believe that there is hope in Lemire’s comics. (written about here.)
- The Song of Roland— Michel Rabagliati simply captures life in his comics. From the quiet moments to the silly moments to the painful moments, Rabagliati shows us the ins and outs of everyday life. This book starts out being about the joys and trials of his wife’s family but then becomes about the death of his father-in-law and how his family struggled with those events. I don’t know if there’s ever anything revelatory or surprising in his comics but Rabagliati is a cartoonist I continue to read because he’s interested in life and the little daily happenings that we all experience. (written about here.)
- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 2009— I think this was the installment of LoEG that made me a Kevin O’Neill fan. Just the way that he drew Orlando throughout this book, a character beaten by the 20th century and limping into the 21st, created a heaviness to the story that wasn’t there in the Victorian or swinging 1960s settings of the earlier volumes. While the story is Alan Moore’s own treatise about the sad state of fiction in the age of Harry Potter, O’Neill simply crafts these pages and shows us the decline of modern civilization as represented through our fictions. (written about here.)
- Rasl— I’ve had the joy over the last few of years of rereading Bone with my son a couple of times, rediscovering the pure joy of Jeff Smith’s storytelling abilities. From that high fantasy, Rasl’s hard edged science fiction was quite a shock to the system that just proved that Smith can tell almost any kind of story. Art thievery, quantum physics, alternate realities and a love story are all packed into this small series. Smith’s crisp and clean cartooning of Bone works just as well in a gritty, more personal story.
The Honorary Matt Fraction Honor Roll 2012: Hawkeye, Casanova: Avarita, Sammy The Mouse, Goliath, The Sixth Gun, All New X-Men, O.M.A.C.,
- Flashmob Fridays: Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland
- This Canadian Life– thoughts on Michel Rabagliati’s The Song Of Roland
- The Wednesday’s Haul Least Objectionable Comics of 2010 (aka: The best of 2010)
- The Wednesday’s Haul Least Objectionable Comics of 2009 (aka: The best of 2009)
- Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009