The Best of 2011
John Hogan’s Picks
by Craig Thompson
Set in a timeless era within a nameless Middle Eastern country, Habibi is a magical fantasy, an enormous epic, and a brilliant tale. It is a true graphic novel in the ultimate sense of the phrase—that is, it is a perfect marriage of words and pictures that continually reward each rereading. As it mines the overlapping imagery of the Bible and the Quran, it strives for true greatness in the graphic format—and it achieves it. I previously stated about Habibi that it is the best graphic novel of the year, if not the past decade. I stand by that.
by Vera Brosgol
Anya is a little bitter (and wonderfully jaded) in Vera Brosgol’s winning tale about a girl who falls down a well and finds the remains (and the ghost) of another young girl. Soon the ghost and Anya are best friends and everything is great…until it turns out that this ghost might not be as friendly as she originally seemed. Slightly dark and subversive, Anya’s Ghost is vivid and imaginative.
by Nate Powell
How do we “learn” war and violence? Why do boys turn so many toys into guns? These questions, and far deeper issues, are explored brilliantly in Nate Powell’s latest book. Set in the same fictional town in which Swallow Me Whole transpired, Any Empire follows a small group of kids and then revisits them years later, with a wealth of insight into human nature packed into every page.
Around the World
by Matt Phelan
Just as Matt Phelan did in his gorgeously illustrated The Storm in the Barn, he vividly captures a time and place and evokes its spirit in Around the World. In the 1880s, three adventurers independently set off to circumnavigate the globe, and as Phelan details, each one had an amazing story.
DC Comics: The New 52
Fifty-two comics, all in one enormous volume—this was the biggest DC event of the year, one of the biggest events in comics history, and a massive success. Now all the #1 issues have been collected here, which is mammoth and almost unwieldy. But if you want to get the complete story of every relaunch, this is the place to get it.
Fantastic Four, Vol. Four
by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta, and Mark Brooks
The death of (spoiler alert) The Human Torch may seem at first glance to be another comics “event,” but in these pages unfolded a truly moving tale of heroism and one that paid honor to the great superteam and one of its members. Even the aftermath of the death was handled with emotional depth and aplomb.
Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly
You’ve never learned history like this. Kate Beaton is a wildly imaginative and hysterically funny chronicler of literature, history, and more in Hark! A Vagrant, which will make you laugh out loud at her wry observations and unique artwork.
Infinite Kung Fu
by Kagan McLeod
Do you remember your first kung fu film? If you do, and you found it both fun and mind-blowing, Infinite Kung Fu is the book for you. It’s incredibly difficult to capture on paper the energy, motion, and self-effacing humor that define kung fu films, but Kagan McLeod does just that in this longform tale.
The Influencing Machine
by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld
Brooke Gladstone (host of On the Media) and Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge) teamed up to explore the hows and whys of the media, and what is good and bad about it. Never once coming across as heavy-handed or overly pedantic, The Influencing Machine instead was a highly entertaining education in media matters and how they affect our daily lives for better or worse.
by Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Mangaman captures why you fell in love with comics in the first place. A character from manga accidentally steps into the “real” world and struggles to adapt to a life that doesn’t seem at all natural to him. It’s a joy that is aimed at young readers but offers a ton of reading pleasure for adults as well.
Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Once again, Chester Brown exposes his unique views on life and love—this time by chronicling his sexual history with prostitutes. Because of his honesty, his take on love and sex—whether you agree with it or not—is profound. You can argue, you can disagree, but what Brown presents is his truth, and because of it, it’s captivating.
The Sky Over the Louvre
by Bernard Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carriere
A beautiful combination of art and story, The Sky Over the Louvre came about as a partnership between NBM and the Louve. Incorporating timeless pieces of art with a story about the origins of the museum itself, the graphic novel tackles the very elusive nature of art itself.
by Jennifer Hayden
When Jennifer Hayden was diagnosed with breast cancer (she survived and is doing very well now), she turned to comics to document her life in all its politically incorrect glory. The biting wit of Underwire is more about life in marriage and middle age, as well as being a parent, and Hayden does not shy away from presenting it in all of its messy truth. Because of that raw honesty and humor, she presents a truly unflinching book.
by GB Tran
GB Tran grew up in America, distanced both physically and emotionally from the land his parents came from. But Tran learns much about his family and his heritage in trips to Vietnam that he takes in his 20s, which he documents here.
by Brian Selznick
The magic that Brian Selznick began in The Invention of Hugo Cabret continues in Wonder Struck. This isn’t strictly a graphic novel—in fact, it’s part prose novel, part wordless tale told in beautifully haunting images—but it’s a brilliantly told, incredibly moving story. Two stories, actually, each set half a century apart but wonderfully intertwined. This is what the magic of graphic storytelling is all about, and it’s perfect for all ages.
A Zoo in Winter
by Jiro Taniguchi
Jiro Taniguchi chronicles his life as a young man in Tokyo (through the eyes of character Hamaguchi, who stands in for the creator in several pivotal life situations). The tale is soft-spoken and charming as it’s broken down into different vignettes, beginning with Hamaguchi’s first job in the business world—but when he’s tasked with chaperoning the boss’s daughter, who has fallen in love with a man her father does not approve of, he begins to get an education in emotion. From there, he goes on to become a manga creator (later, he will become a legend in the industry). A Zoo in Winter is gently stated, which is how, with just a simple turn of phrase, Taniguchi can break your heart, as he does much later in the book, when his tales masterfully come together and we see how some of life’s simplest events can have the greatest impact.
Dark Tower Omnibus
by Stephen King, Peter David, Robin Furth, Jae Lee, and Richard Isanove
Three huge volumes all handsomely packaged in one case make this an ultimate treasure for fans of the series, as well as one that new fans (and if you’re not reading, you should become one of those new fans) can use to jump onboard in style. You don’t have to be a fan of Stephen King’s prose epic (although it helps), but you do have to appreciate haunting stories well told (and beautifully drawn). This collection does them justice.
Echo: The Complete Edition
by Terry Moore
Independently published in magazine form for three years (and previously collected in trades), Echo was finished in the summer of 2011, which allowed Terry Moore to release the beautiful Echo: The Complete Edition. Now readers can enjoy the story from start to finish in all its epic glory. Reading this book in one sitting reminds us how thrilling comics can truly be. This is incredibly vivid sci-fi storytelling and an epic that will stand as a classic.
by Daniel Clowes
Daniel Clowes’s characters in Mr. Wonderful are quiet and unassuming, and so is this book, but that only adds to the great charm of it all. On the surface, it’s about looking for love “at a certain age”—and with certain baggage—but within its story lies a truly heartfelt and honest look at what life is really like and how our cravings for emotional fulfillment define us.
Too Much Coffee Man Omnibus
by Shannon Wheeler
Five books in Shannon Wheeler’s popular Too Much Coffee Man series are collected here, spanning 20 years in Wheeler’s life and times. Filled with raw, insightful opinions and observations, the omnibus also includes some current reflections from Wheeler on his past work. For new and old fans alike, this is a fantastic collection that showcases how Wheeler has become such a prominent chronicler of life in all its myriad facets.
Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910–2010
by Michael Kupperman
The Someday Funnies
by Michel Choquette
The Incal Classic Collection
by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius
As far as prestige, hardcover collections go in 2011, it would be difficult to topple Humanoids' edition of the classic Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. One of the often cited most influential comics of the past 30 years by both writers and artists, The Incal is a fascinating, albeit at times equally frustrating, reading experience due to the sheer volume and magnitude of the story itself. Yet it should be required reading for anyone seriously studying the power and potentials of sequential art.
Last Gasp/Knockabout Books
Completely devoid of text except during the shorter, inset sequences transpiring with Jiminy Cockroach, Pinocchio is exemplary visual storytelling at its finest. Definitely not the safe-for-children Disney version, this modern interpretation replaces the little wooden boy with a robot yet still remains true to the original Italian source material in its deviance and dark, sinister humor.
by David Hine and Shaky Kane
Simply declaring this work "meta-fictional" does not begin to grasp the warped and nuanced reality-shaping experiments devised by David Hine and Shaky Kane. Multilayered fictitious worlds, an autobiographical treatise on the comics industry, and a tribute to Jack Kirby and the forebearers of the medium, Bulletproof Coffin is a genre-defying and intensely thought-provoking work on the structure and process of graphic storytelling.
by Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano
Top Shelf Publications
Most of the time, noir comics receive an exasperated groan of yet another grainy, black-and-white recycled plot solely called “noir” because of the artist's usage of chiaroscuro lines and tones. Not so with Liar's Kiss. Original and gritty, it combines all the flavors of a classic Bogart film with the soulless debauchery of a Jim Thompson novel. Liar's Kiss is a must read for fans of Brubaker, Azzarello, and other crime aficionados.
by Ray Fawkes
An exercise in challenging conventional sequential form and design, One Soul brings together several interrelated but also distinctive stories about life from creation through death. Cast in stark black-and-white line art, the pages themselves take on an additional character as Fawkes uses the borders and gutters to bleed seamlessly between the individual panels he is constructing. One Soul establishes a benchmark in design and story development.
by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
Stylish, bizarre, memorable, and heartwarming, Daytripper is a collection of one-offs or day-in-the-life vignettes about the frailty of life and the connectivity between humanity. Surprisingly, one of the book's strongest features is avoiding cliche or trivializing the events surrounding death to achieve shock or sensationalism as readers are introduced to different stages in one person's life. Captured brilliantly by Moon and Ba, and winner of a Harvey, Eisner, and Eagle award in 2011, Daytripper is a must read.
Casanova, Vol. 1: Luxuria
by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
Written by one of the most popular contemporary superhero authors, Casanova Luxuria illustrates the diversity and power of Matt Fraction's scriptwriting skills. Blending espionage and science fiction, classic James Bond suaveness and high action, Casanova is a quirky, intelligent, and humorous in ways often mimicked but seldom reproduced in comics.
Batman and Robin: Batman Must Die! Deluxe Edition
by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving
The final installment of Morrison's yearly run on the Batman R.I.P. spinoff, this volume pits Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne against not only the Joker but also the architect of Bruce Wayne's demise, Dr. Hurt. United with a resurrected Wayne, Batman and Robin topple the Black Glove and give rise to the formation of Batman Incorporated, another Morrison-driven venture. Although previous volumes showcased impressive artistic contributions, Batman Must Die reunites Morrison with Irving from the 2005 Klarion miniseries. The results are astounding, particularly in Irving's design of the Joker and color palette for Professor Pyg. Even more, the last chapter brings together Irving, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Burnham on a single story, which is a seamless and impressive feat itself in the transitions between sequences.
The Definitive Irredeemable Hardcover, Vol. 1
by Mark Waid and Peter Krause
One of Mark Waid's first projects for Boom! Studios, Irredeemable became a treatise on Waid's love and admiration of the superhero genre. More, however, than simply an elegy or reverence for the capes and tights, Waid's trademark wit and succinct, emotive writing finds new venues as he explores the sinister side of the equation of a Superman-esque figure becoming unrelentingly evil. As unforgiving and twisted as the story may get, the series (the first 12 issues are collected here) is grounded by the collaborative art duties of Peter Krause and Diego Barreto, who give the book a uniform yet still distinctive visual presence.
The Rat Catcher
by Andy Diggle and Victor Ibanez
Vertigo Crime Editions
The strongest offering yet by Vertigo in their 2008-launched crime imprint, The Rat Catcher is anything but simplistic genre recycling. While Diggle utilizes staples of the crime-fiction canon, he does so in such intriguing and interesting ways that the unfolding mystery is a delight to decipher.
TIE FOR GONE TOO SOON in 2011:
Superboy the Boy of Steel by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul
Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
When it comes to modern comic art, most would be hard-pressed not to recognize the contributions of Francis Manapul and JH Williams III for their truly innovative panel and page layouts, dynamic line work, and stunning eyes for visual narration. Two experiments by perennial DC favorites Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka that were unfortunately short-lived launching pads for solo new series were the relaunched Adventure Comics collected as Superboy and a run in Detective Comics published as Batwoman. This was some of Johns' most creative storytelling in recent memory that became intertwined with the Blackest Night event toward the end of his commitment to the series. Rucka's resurrection of the Batwoman character and infusion of real-world drama through expanding the sexual diversity of the often static DC lineup with Kate Kane's open lesbianism is anything but token shock value.
2011 Best Graphic Novels for Early Readers:
1. Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray (Toon Books)
2. Squish 1: Super Amoeba and Squish 2:Brave New Pond by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm (Random House Books for Young Readers)
2011 Best Graphic Novels for Young Adults:
1. Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill (First Second Books)
2. Bad Island by Doug TenNapel (Scholastic)
3. Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil (First Second Books)
4. The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay (Dark Horse)
Peter Gutiérrez's Picks
by Craig Thompson
Both timeless and timely, Thompson’s latest opus continues to make the case for why graphic novels are literature—period. And if you needed a refresher course in this creator’s genius, 2011 also saw Top Shelf reissuing a hardcover of his seminal Blankets.
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
by Dave Roman
“Well, I thought I was programmed for destruction.” With its “school + sci-fi” setting, this could be the most diverting manga ever that actually isn’t manga. Recommended for all precocious kids and/or those precocious kids who just happen to be living in adult bodies.
Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s
by Richard L. Graham
“Hi, kids! Here’s a story about civil defense.” One of the year’s most unusual archival collections is also one of the most valuable to scholars and geeks alike—and one of the most satisfying.
Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Bracingly honest, this is page-turning graphic nonfiction at its finest. Quite simply, a new landmark in the genre.
I Will Bite You!
by Joseph Lambert
Lambert is a singular talent who deserves to be far better known. Somehow simultaneously recalling the work of Winsor McCay, Gahan Wilson, and Jimmy Gownley, the stories in this slim volume are ripe with dark wonder.
by Brian Ralph
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Think the zombie craze has run its course? Think again: This collection of funny yet chilling second-person tales (the reader is a character) revives the dead–and our dread—in ways that are never less than disarming and memorable.
Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
adapted by Ron Wimberly
Hill and Wang
Black-and-white small-town expressionism at its most effective: masterful storytelling meets a masterful story.
The Next Day
by Paul Peterson, Jason Gilmore, and John Porcellino
A graphic novella about attempted suicide sounds heavy, but Porcellino’s celebrated light touch allows the book’s themes to touch and move readers without weighing them down. We need more titles like this one.