Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
So blogger Dick Hyacinth (Who Used to Hate Your Blog, But Doesn’t Seem to Any More) tabulated all the Best Comics of 2007 Lists he could find.
Excluded those lists with more than 50 or less than 5 entries, lists that were framed as gift givinh ideas, and lists that seemed to focus ONLY on one type of comics, such as Manga lists or lists containing only Marvel and DC + Buffy.
He then ran ‘em through some Arcane Mathematical Formula, and came up with a Best of 2007 meta-list. It’s a work in progress, since the List-tastic Comics Journal best of the year isn’t out yet, but he did reveal the Top Ten as of right now.
(Sidebar: I also note that several Big Gun bloggers, including Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon haven’t given us there best of the year list. I dunno… This whole project doesn’t really feel done ’till Spurgeon ways in, y’know.)
And I thought it would be instructive to take a look at ‘em.
Format here is pretty simple. Name of Work, (Format of Work) Cartoonist or writer /artist, Number of Points derived from the Arcane Mathematical Formula, PICTURE OF WORK, Relevant links to any bloggers who I read who put the work on a Best Of List, except for Buffy who nobody thought was best of the year caliber and good for them, and Commentary.
Alright? Let’s begin.
10. The Arrival (Original Graphic Novel): Shaun Tan 353
What Is It? A wordless, near photo-realistic story about how New York is full of surrealistic monsters. Having been to New York, I’ll verify that this is completely accurate.
Was It Good? *Jaw drop*. Almost certainly would have made my Best of the Year list if I’d read it before yesterday. It’s just.
And Tan treats us to some of the most deftly creative visual storytelling of the year t’boot. There were a few times when I lost the plot ’cause I was marveling at the visuals, but other than that I don’t have a single complaint.
Why is it on the List? Because amazingly brilliant. It’s also been recognized, repeatedly, for being amazingly brilliant: It snagged the Best of the Year Award at the AngoulÃªme International Comics Festival.
I think the question here is “Why isn’t it higher? on the list?” And I’m chalking this up to it’s author’s Australian origins, confusion over the essential non-comic-ness of the project. Jog aptly compares it to silent film, and Tan, on his website, refers to his work as Picture Books, not comics.
Basically, it doesn’t LOOK a damn thing like Superman or Maus Bone, despite the rapturous pull quotes from Jeff Smith and Art Spiegelman on the back cover, and that might cause some comicheads to pass it over.
Also I believe it’s currently out of print in the US, and I couldn’t get it through Diamond where I live. So that could be another strike against it.
9. The Immortal Iron Fist (Ongoing Floppy) Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker (w) David Aja (a) 357
What Is It? Monthly Marvel comic based on seventies era Karate movie fad is, I’ll be damned, actually pretty good.
Was It Good? It’s the only “regular” Marvel Universe book on my pull list. And it does somewhat salve the long, lonely wait between issues of Infinite Kung Fu. It would probably be a notch better if removed from the constraints of the regular Marvel Universe, but the book does manage to mix-up a sense of sprawling historical scope with that cheerful insanity that marks most of the best superhero (ish) comics.
Why Is It On the List? There’s a general, tenuous agreement among comic blog cognoscenti that this is one of the very best superhero-type book. (You’ll get no argument from me.)
8. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories (Collected Webcomic) Nicholas Gurewitch 426
What Is It? Take one sweetly drawn comic strip full of smiling, white, blob people. Season liberally with evil.
Is It Good? I dunno. The art is top-notch, and there’s an instantly recognizable and surprisingly compelling visual unity to the strip.
But I don’t think it’s usually very funny.
Ok, Except for this one.
Why Is It On The List? Because a lot of people DO think it’s funny, and I totally see why. Perry Bible Fellowship is full of Far Sidian “Somebody’s gonna get it” humor, except even stranger, darker, and MUCH better drawn. Probably doesn’t hurt the ranking that this collection was published by Dark Horse, neither.
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (Ongoing Floppy) Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan (w) Georges Jeanty, and Paul Lee (a) 541
What Is It? Monthly continuation of the really good geek-popular TV show, in convenient comics form!
Is It Good? ‘S alright. I wrote pretty extensively about it here. There was a reader submitted category in our best of the year list for “Best Comic that sold more than 100,000 copies an issue.” And it’s probably that. But sheesh man, it’s not even CLOSE to being as good as anything else here.
And while I’m not prepared to argue it was better, I thought All Star Batman and Robin
was way more entertaining.
Why It’s On the List: I guess some people consider a decent comics adaptation of a TV show to be the pinnacle of comics potential? I’m not surprised that it’s ON a lot of Best of the Year Lists… But since Dick Hyacinth removed those lists that were only mainstream comics, I’m surprised that it’s still here.
On the other hand, I’m gratified that the worst comic on the list (by a lot) is only this bad. Could be, like, Civil War or something.
6. Criminal (Ongoing Floppy) Ed Brubaker (w), Sean Phillips Artist 640
What Is It? A buncha vaguely inter-related crime fiction stories set in the same city about “these artificial families that people create around themselves, to make up for the fucked up ones they were born into.”
Is It Good? Hell damn ass shit yeah! I’ve only read the first (of two) trades, but I called Coward the Marvel book of the year. A full scale review is beyond the scope of my little list here, but lemme highlight some subtle, random, things I liked:
(A) The lurid, sorta water-color-y coloring. Specifically, the difference in the coloring between scenes set indoors and outdoors, highlighting the thematic interplay between freedom and (inexorable) confinement.
(B) Teeny panels: In the age of the big-ass splash page, there’s an awful lot of story per page. I approve.
(C) The ending. The whole thing reads almost like an EC style morality play, just with a lot more moral greyness tossed into the mix. But it does my heart good to see Marvel publish something so un-self consciously nasty.
It’s hardly original, mind: We’ve all seen this kind of thing done before. It’s just very rarely done this well.
Why It’s on the List: A damn near perfectly crafted comic by the unofficial, blogshere anointed best writer in comics (2007 edition?)
Or let’s put it another way: It’s a Marvel book and I’M giving it “Best of the year” scale props.
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Original Graphic Novel) Bryan Lee O’Malley 659
What Is It? Canadian slacker comedic love story/video game on paper.
You kind of have to be there.
Is It Good? Yes. But. It’s not my favorite kinda thing. Last time we talked Scott Pilgrim around these parts y’all comment-taters did help me work through some of my reservations about this series. (Oh. We’re NOT supposed to like Scott. Good.) But previous volumes JUST exceeded my “cute” tolerance, and this one’s jes’ more of the same, although
(A) Scott does, as the title suggests, get it together a little. Which means that he’s less annoying this time around,
(B) the plot catches a bit of “middle of the series open-ended disease, and
(C) There’s a cool ten-page color section in the beginning.
O’Malley’s a cheerfully competent, creative cartoonist, but here he’s re-re-re-retreading the same old ground as the last four Scott Pilgrim volumes. Wish he’d try something a little less lightweight.
Why Is It On the List? It’s entertaining fluff, but it seems like it was the right entertaining fluff talking about the right things at the right time to connect with a lot of people. And, maybe more importantly, there wasn’t really anything else even remotely like it in American comics when it first appeared.
And this volume is… More of the same. So all the fans who liked the first three volumes are nice and placated, and there are more of them popping up every day.
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks (Hardbound reprint anthology) Paul Karasik 668
What Is it? A collection of the deeply, almost disturbingly strange comic stories by forgotten forties comic artist Fletcher Hanks, and an afterword where Karasik tries to track his subject down.
Is It Good? Fletcher Hanks’ work isn’t good, but it succeeds in a lot of ways that make comic art worthwhile: It gives the audience a completely unique experience, it reveals something about the psyche of the artist, and it’s genuinely funny in an “I can’t BELIEVE anyone might have taken this seriously” sorta way.
Why is it on the List? The afterword. Hanks’ work is definitely worth preserving and worth seeing, but the real meat of the book comes in the last ten pages, where Karasik interviews Fletcher Hank’s son and finds out that the kind of fella who can be aptly described as a Giant Raging Rectum of a Man who beat the shit out of and then abandoned his young son for more time alone with the bottle. This raises some serious moral questions about the triangular relationship between the audience, the artist, and the art produced, and I saw a lot of good, smart replies and responses to this book.
3. All-Star Superman (Ongoing floppy) Grant Morrison (w), Frank Quitely (a) 802
What Is Is? Out of continuity Superman stories drawn by the same team that gave us Curious Cat and Declarative Rabbit.
And we learn the difference between Superman and Spider-man fans: SUPERMAN fans really, really, like it when their comics regurgitate material from the seventies.
Is It Good? Well, Quitely can freaking draw: I’m not sure any current mainstream artist puts more thought into panel composition. And Morrison’s smoothing out some of his more annoying writing tics: His past problems with pacing, dialog… And, hell, general coherence are all minimized here.
In a weird sorta way, All Star Superman reads more like Chester Brown or old-school Craig Thompson than anything else in the mainstream. There’s plenty of Geoff Johns style recycled continuity, but All Star Supes is using the past to build a mood piece, to accentuate the nostalgic wistfulness at the book’s core.
That said: There’s plenty of people who do this kind of thing better, Brown and Thomspson among ‘em. And while Morrison’s unparaled gift for creating F*@% Yeah! Moments is on full display here, he seems to have abandoned many of his strengths as a writer. The gift for metaphor? Gone. The go-for-broke enthusiasm filtered through knowing ironic distance? Deeeparted.
And Cronin HATES when we say this, but it’s not even close to as good as WE3 or Flex Mentallo.
Why Is It On the List? I may have said different in the past, but for better or for worse All Star Superman is it’s own unique animal, unlike anything else in the Mainstream. It takes the cheerful irreverence of Weisinger era Supes and looks for the emotional core. Which gets a strong response from Comic Review-dom assembled. Even Tom Spurgeon is singing this book’s praises. And, well, like Dick Hyacinth says, “It’s the token superhero choice.”
2. Shortcomings (Hardcover Collection of Story Arc) Adrian Tomine 922
What Is It? Quietly moving “semi-autobiographical” tale about an Asian-American theatre manager, and the relationships around him, from the most depressing writer in comics yes even more than Chris Ware and that’s saying something.
Is it Good? Again, yeah. The problem with reviewing all these books is that I keep saying stuff like “phenomenal craftsman” and blah, blah, blah, but Tomine really is – If not THE best writer working in American comics right now then he’s- Ah, hell. I’ll go with “the best.”
There are better artists, better cartoonists, better creators better world-builders, and better thinkers… But I don’t think anyone else working in comics who can utilize the tools of fiction as effectively as Tomine. While I wasn’t AS completely melted by the craft in this book as I was by his shorter works, it’s still a pretty-damn spectacular piece of writing.
And, what’s more, I kind of liked this comic. As good as his previous work has been, craft-wise, everything since Tomine’s Mini-comic days has been too relentlessly, pointlessly, depressing for my palate.
Shortcomings is still not a cheerful book, but at least Tomine gives his characters some LOL-funny lines. (At least I laughed out loud at “Blue Balled by the Pee Girl”) and ends with the possibility of some of the characters shaking off their soul-consuming hopelessness, (in one case, almost a certainty.)
Why Is It On the List? You figure there are always gonna be a handful of cartoonists who’s work is a shoo-in for these type of lists. Tomine’s one of ‘em. AND this book was good. Hence number 2.
1. Exit Wounds (Original Graphic Novel) Rutu Morgan 1000
What Is It? Poorly named story of an Isreali cab drive and his father’s lover trying to track down the ol’ man, who might-or-might-not be dead in a suicide bomber.
Is It Good? Yeah. What Exit Wounds does is tell a sweet little semi-love story but at the same time VERY subtly show us all these other sweeping, off-screen narratives (, the overall Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Koby-the-cab-driver’s family struggles, Koby’s father’s offscreen adventures) that aren’t really part of the plot, but do serve to make Exit Wounds fictional world feel REAL, in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a comic.
Why Is It On the List? (And Why Is It Number One?) Well, it’s a great book, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the one I would have guessed would be received as THE GREATEST WORK OF THE YEAR by the critical hive-mind. It’s a different kind of good than the labyrinthian narrative wizardry of Fun Home, or the jaw dropping art of Black Hole. A quiet, distanced story like this one about the small battles played out against the sweeping tide of history feels like a completely different kettle o’ chowdah.
Tell you the truth, I’m kinda stumped why this book is so well received. Ask me again in ten years, when I’ve got some historical background. But, heck, it’s always nice to see really good books being celebrated.
And let’s end with a couple more lists.
1) Alice in Sunderland (This was on EVERYBODY’S list, wasn’t it? Sure as hell was on mine.)
2. Casanova (I’ve only read one issue of this, but a lot of people liked it.)
3. Mister Wonderful (New Dan Clowes! I haven’t read this either. But it’s serialize by the New York Times Magazine for free, so I figured everybody else had.)
4. Manga. All of it. (And European Comics, too. Yotsuba Volume 5 would have made my personal top ten list, if I’da made one.)
5. Dogs and Water (Maybe just ’cause it was mostly a reprint, but I didn’t see ANYONE talking about this neat hardcover. He’s not Tomine or Clowes level but isn’t Anders Nilsen a pretty big deal now-a-days?)
8. Scott Pilgrim
7. All Star Superman
6. Iron Fist
5. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
2. Exit Wounds 1. The Arrival
And I’ll abstain on Perry Bible Fellowship.
Ok, I’ll probaly check back when we get the full list. It’ll be interesting to see what moves up and what moves down once all those Comics Journal lists are processed.
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