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My Top Ten Comics of 2009

A whole lot of great comics came out in 2009, making it very difficult for me to narrow it down to my top ten. The amazing talent that did NOT make the list is, well, amazing. Garth Ennis, JW Cotter, Ed Brubaker, Alan Moore, Darwyn Cooke – some of my absolute favorite writers and they did not make it. However, ultimately, I got it down to ten (and no ties for number ten – that’s cheating!), so enjoy!

10.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle

Amazingly enough, while I think Michael Kupperman actually had a better issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle this year than last, I still ended up placing him further down my list than last year. That’s how good this year was, people!

In any event, Tales Designed to Thrizzle continues to be a brilliantly absurd comic book every time out. Mark Twain and Albert Einstein acting out various genres of comic books alone would be worth the money, but there was so much more!

9.

The Muppet Show

Roger Langridge is one of my most favorite writer/artists in the entire comic book industry, and while I would love to see him do his own stuff, his work on Muppet Show has been awe-inspiring. Can you imagine someone actually making a comic that literally translates the Muppet Show…and works?

And yet that is what Langridge has pulled off with this book, and really, upon retrospect (and only upon retrospect, as at first I certainly didn’t think it would work this well), the idea of a sketch show in comic book form fits really beautifully.

Of course, that wouldn’t matter if Langridge weren’t so creative and such a talented cartoonist – but he is, so Muppet Show is a fabulous book.

8.

Batman and Robin

This book is pretty much the definition of “sometimes less is more.”

If I judged it by just the first three issues, it would be high on the list. However, there were six issues of the book out this year, and three of them had poor artwork on them – artwork so bad that the books were only barely “good.”

However, the early issues of Morrison and Quitely were so note perfect that I figure the combo still gets them on to the list!

7.

Scott Pilgrim

The latest Scott Pilgrim volume by Bryan Lee O’Malley capitalized on the interest we have been building through following these characters for five years by bringing out a much darker volume than normal, but because it is firmly based in the development of these characters, it totally works.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, there is still plenty of over-the-top excitement and outrageousness, but it has a firm basis in the reality of these characters’ interpersonal relationships, so when Scott is fighting twin brothers who have his friend Kim trapped in a cage, there is actual sadness involved, not wackiness.

The maturation of this title has been a joy to follow.

6.

Achewood

I wasn’t sure where to rank this year’s worth of Chris Onstad’s great web-comic, Achewood, so I actually sat down and re-read the year – and this sounds about right.

From a teenager from our present selling the people of 17th Century Wales items like the bra or (as the above strip depicts) the nacho to a romance novelist working erotica into the Williams-Sonoma catalog (leading to a Sapphic Fiction Write-Off between the founder of Williams-Sonoma and a character from the strip – both in elephant costumes, of course, so no one could tell them apart), Achewood continued to deliver on laugh out loud absurd premises and practically insane character conversations.

And, as typical, Onstad will occasionally slip in serious stuff, just to screw with our minds (like a quick realistic depiction of crippling depression). I await this year’s Christmas strip with delight (and a little bit of trepidation).

5.

Little Nothings: The Prisoner’s Syndrome

Little Nothings consists of Lewis Trondheim’s blog entries about, well, you know, the little nothings of life. However small each story might seem at first, when you read over 120 of them in a row, it creates this wonderfully complex detail of Trondheim’s life.

The name of the title comes from a psychological syndrome that affects people who spend their days not doing anything for long periods of time (like prisoners). When you constantly don’t do anything, you grow more and more tired and eventually lose the desire to ever do anything. Trondheim tries to avoid this syndrome by constantly keeping busy, and his various misadventures all over the globe are related in his blog entries, which are collected into these volumes.

Last year’s volume made my Top Ten, and so does this year’s volume!

The way Trondheim opens up his life to us is staggering, but also an engrossing read. And his water color artwork is beautiful.

4.

Ganges

In this year’s edition of Kevin Huizenga’s tabloid-sized book, we again get two stories, both about the trouble with getting to sleep.

The first story is mind-boggingly, as Huizenga shows off all of his comic book storytelling skills to depict Glenn Ganges dealing with insomnia. Eventually, Glenn effectively enters his own mind as he is developing the thoughts – the fact that Huizenga is actually DEPICTING this is just remarkable. Absolute top notch sequential work.

Then we get a much more subdued story about Glenn dealing with what goes on when he decides to just stay up and gets some stuff done, but rather than listening to music with headphones, he puts noise-canceling headphones on his sleeping wife. Hilarity ensues.

3.

Stitches

David Small’s Stitches is an astonishingly haunting comic memoir that, as great as it is, I wonder if some of you might wish to skip this one. It is not for the faint of heart to see a young boy be given radiation by his doctor father for years to help cure some sinus problems he had had for some time only to have the radiation cause a tumor to grow in his throat, leading to a horrific operation, a gross scar and a lack of the ability to speak for years!

And that might not even be the most messed up aspect of Small’s life story!

No, that’s the undercurrent of oppression that goes on in his household, which we see vignettes from from over the years.

Small is a great artist, and he does a superb job of depicting the stark horror of his life when he needs to.

This is a wonderfully horrible book.

2.

Scalped

I’m just going to use what I wrote about Scalped last year…Jason Aaron delivers the goods in this series issue after issue, with brilliantly in-depth looks at complex characters caught up in an inter-related plot that brings to mind the work of David Chase on Sopranos or Matthew Weiner on Mad Men.

Scalped is unflinching and heart-rending, and it is one of the most dependably good comics you’re going to read this year.

This year was no different, with the High Lonesome being the biggest arc of the year – it helped bring a great deal of character development to a head (through a series of spotlights on different characters), but also set up a bold new situation for the book which is currently unfolding in the latest arc, The Gnawing.

The artwork by RM Guera is as perfectly moody and evocative as always, and Davide Furno and Francesco Francavilla fill in nicely when needed.

1.

Asterios Polyp

I know it’s a conventional choice, but I think there’s a very good reason why – it’s because it is really, really good!

David Mazzucchelli has been working on this book for literally years (multiple years), but all that time and effort shows in what can only be called one of the most brilliantly designed comic books ever.

The design work on this book is on par with the best of Chris Ware, and since Chris Ware is one of the best comic book designers there is, that’s heady praise indeed.

Characters, settings, times – they’re all depicted by specific colors, making it a unique and rewarding reading experience.

The main character of the book, Asterios Polyp, sees his apartment destroyed by lightning, to the point where he takes a bus and goes to a whole new world in another part of the US, and as he goes on this journey, we learn all about his past, including his broken marriage (we’re guided on this journey at times by Polyp’s never-born twin brother, which is just one of many dualities within the work).

The plot of the book, strictly speaking, is not the key to this work. It’s about how the characters interact with each other and how Mazzucchelli depicts these interactions with his art, and even his lettering – each person gets his or her own hand-lettered font. We’re talking about a serious labor of love here – a labor of love that I think is my top book of 2009.

51 Comments

That (aside from the seemingly-all-but-obligatory Asterios Polyp) is quite a unique list. Good for you, too.

Hey! I recognize half of these! I’m improving.

The decreased update rate would make me put Achewood down a notch, but then again there’s so much stuff in the Fanflow that I’m not getting.

If Roger Landridge doing his own stuff means that he doesn’t have time to do Muppet Show, then . . . well, sorry Roger. It’s amazing how the closely the book reads as an episode of the show.

So I should pick up Asterios Polyp I guess. Tales to Thrizzle sounds like something to track down as well.

I really don’t get the hate for Philip Tan. …Especially given his predecessor was Frank Quitely.

The Crazed Spruce

December 18, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I haven’t even heard of Asterios Polyp ’til it started showing up as everyone’s pick for comic of the year. I’m gonna have to check it out some day.

Sage: I don’t get what you mean. His predecessor was the greatest comic book artist working today(not named JH Williams III), and you’re confused why the quality went down? LOL

Frank Quitely = best mainstream artist right now

Philip Tan = typical filler junk

I’m not a big fan of Quitely, but i thought his B&R 1-3 was amazing!

NO Young Liars? On such a unique list? I’m disappointed

Can you do a Marvel/DC list?
cuz this list sucked donkey nads.

Right. Because any art that doesn’t come from a corporation, and be packaged to LOOK like it came from a corporation is automatically inferior.

I dunno Trey. It’s cool to make really stupid comments all the time, but have you tried thinking up some new and original really stupid things to say instead of saying the same stupid things over and over? ‘Cause saying the same thing over and over is kind of stupid.

Although I guess I understand, as an American, where Trey’s coming from.

I’m Ignorant! And if I don’t shoot my mouth off, some people won’t know how ignorant I am!

” I AM FUCKING DUMB AS SHIT!”

*Hums the Star Spangled Banner.*

Yeah, if the dumb fuck even knows how that song goes.

You do gotta admire that we have a song about bombs bursting in the air and rockets red glares as a national anthem. America the Beuatiful >>> Star-Spangled Banner, a song thats actually about how beautiful and great this nation is, but oh no, we got the song about blowing shit up. Kick, Splode(this is what they want).

Well, I haven’t read any of these, and I’ve never heard of most of them. But that’s pretty much what I expected.

I would’ve put Ganges in first place personally, but this is a very good list.

Jeremy’s insight into our national anthem is terribly depressing.

I got Asterios Polyp for a gift and I’m on roughly my 1 1/2 reading of it (in the sense that I haven’t done a second sequential reading, but I’ve jumped back and forth through various bits of it), and it’s definitely very interesting.

Even on the cover you can see what Mazzucchelli is trying to do: the title is presented twice: one a relatively literal presentation with hard rectangular shapes in cyan (a color used to represent the main character), the other a more abstract presentation with softer circles and triangles in magenta (a color used to represent another character), and only by combining them together do you get the full effect and the title. And all of this is done via the use of negative space.

I didn’t read any of these books (although the first Batman and Robin hardcover is on my must-buy list, as soon as it comes out). But I can’t argue with them, either.

Goddammit, where is the Dark Phoenix Saga?!?!?
:D

Asterios gets an E for effort but seemed like alot of style but not much substance. Some gorgeous art but plot was just kinda soso.Scalped shoulda been number one IMO

@djsweet: Actually, I’d argue that Young Liars’ best stuff – issues 6 to 12 – came out last year. Not that this year was bad but I don’t think the final arc really hit the heights that the second did.

@Thok: You just destroyed my brain! I’ve looked at that cover probably 100 times and never even noticed what’s going on with the presentation of the title! I had to scroll up and look at it again. That’s incredible and the use of negative space is the most impressive part. I’d heard how great the design work was in this book (and I was always gonna get to it eventually) but you just convinced me I need to make that sooner rather than later.

Hmm… only one of those has made my preliminary-for-CBR list… Ganges is probably in my top twenty, but it didn’t do much more me on anything more than a technical level for the most part. (Aside from knowing what it’s like to have problems sleeping.) Batman and Robin doesn’t make my top twenty based largely on the second arc killing it a bit.

And yes, Steve is right, any list without The Dark Phoenix Saga on it clearly has no credability with the audience of this blog!

Nice burns, guys.
List still sucks donkey nads, tho.
When is Mazzucchelli doing Batman again?

You people who think Asterios Polyp is all flash and no substance, did you read the book? Because that’s what it’s about, flash vs. substance. That’s the plot, the theme, and the characters all rolled into one. Sorry to be all militant in my defense, but I REALLY liked that book — I think it would top my “best of” list, too. Although the MODOK one shot was amazing…

Thanks for the list, Brian. I always enjoy seeing the comics tastes of the authors of the blog.

Wow, pretty good list, Brian. I admit to being shocked there’s only 1 superhero comic. For some reason I’ve always assumed you were a much more mainstream Marvel/DC type of guy. Glad to see there’s a lot more variety and depth of interest.

(And I love Ganges, too.)

Ah, what the heck. Actual comments:

Haven’t Read Little Nothings. Like I said last year, at least so far, I’ve liked Trondheim’s longer diary strips a lot more.

Isn’t Out in Trade Batman.

Have out of the Library, Haven’t Read: Stitches. The first 13 panels were establishing shots, which made me mad.

Would Have Bought: Ganges but it didn’t come through my shop.

Was a little disappointed by The Muppet Show. Fin Fang Four isssssss… yeah, my favorite Marvel comic of the decade. But I don’t know if I’ve seen an episode of this is 20 years, so I might not be the target audience.

Really Liked: Everything else. Tales Designed to Thrizzle wouldn’t be top ten material for me, but it’s always solidly funny. Achewood took me a while to get into, but now that I got it I think it’s the funniest comic strip ever. (Although that’s probably my favorite strip of the year.)

Scott Pilgrim. I dunno. I still don’t care much for the last four volumes, but this one was darker and better.

I might be giving up on Scalped just ’cause it’s too damn dark. But it’s brilliantly executed – I absolutely agree that it’s the best big two book.

And Asterios Polyp might well be # 1 on my imaginary top ten list. (At this point. I always find my favorite comics of the year in, like, September a year later.

Yeah, the art – more the design sense than the figure drawing – is stronger than the writing. But that doesn’t mean the writing isn’t really strong – just that Ap is, on the level of pure craft, way-far above anything else I read this year.

“Because any art that doesn’t come from a corporation, and be packaged to LOOK like it came from a corporation is automatically inferior.

It’s cool to make really stupid comments all the time, but have you tried thinking up some new and original really stupid things to say instead of saying the same stupid things over and over? ‘Cause saying the same thing over and over is kind of stupid.”
But he’s right – where are all the good DC titles like Action Comics & Supergirl?

Buy Ganges, Mark. Pretty pretty please.

Asterios Polyp is wonderful. It’s currently loaned out to my buddy’s girlfriend. I brought it over him and was describing it, and she claimed it before he was able to take it!

The plot is good. Asterios becomes more mature, is able to work with people better, and grows to make better decision. It reminded me of The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

I just leafed through Stitches in the library; I’ll have to pick it up.

Ganges is great. St. Louis represent!

Tales Designed to Thrizzle is hilarious. This and Action Philosophers! are his favorite things in modern comics. The man has taste!

Joe Sacco has a new (thick!) book out, Footnotes in Gaza. How come I’ve heard nothing about it? Did anybody read it? Any Sacco work can be considered a candidate for best of anything.

Hey Brian, I know you’re very busy on this blog, but it seems I see less of your reviews than I used to. I always enjoy them–please try to bring them back!

Whoops, the man mentioned above is my father. Hi Dad!

For what it’s worth, part of what I’m puzzling over in terms of how good I find Asterios Polyp is what I would call the negative plot; basically what is happening with Hana. (I call it the negative plot because it works similarly to negative space: you aren’t actually told a lot of what she’s thinking or doing and have to intuit it from Asterios’s reactions and the events that you are shown.)

Where the hell is Born Again? That should be on this list also. And it better be ranked higher than DP, cause if it isn’t, then the world is just retarded or something.

Brian, I’m just curious, since this list is mostly super-hero free, what are the super-hero comics of 2009 you’d recommend? Not just DC or Marvel…I have a feeling Hercules would be one…

Nice list, Brian, though I’m only familiar with half of the stuff on it. Of course, that’s part of the point of a good list: to turn others onto the stuff you loved. Isn’t it odd, then, how lots of us seem to want lists that match our tastes exactly, and get strangely offended if your list doesn’t synch up with mine.

To that end: Where’s Detective Comics? I’d call Williams’ and Rucka’s Batwoman the best comic put out by the big two.

@Thok: I agree, and that has a lot to do with why I’m torn over the ending. While it works very well from a structural perspective, especially for Asterios’ history, I think it robs Hana of any agency she might have had in the story. For most of the story I thought that there was a kind of feminist undertone to the book, but by the end she really does seem to be there to drive Asterios’ character than to fulfill her own arc. That makes me go back to the art, because while it is beautifully designed with an eye for architecture, this almost hurts it in a way. While I was reading it, the art seemed to be inviting the reader to see the world through Asterios’ eyes –where everything is constructed, mathematically, from simple principles of parity– while the narrative proved how that same understanding of reality is woefully inadequate. However, by the end the narrative is in fact symmetrical and the art seems, in hindsight, more the result of Mazzucchelli’s inclinations and limitations than and almost too contrived in its relationship to the story. I still like the book a lot, and I’m excited to return to it, but I’m not sure if its the game changer some people have made it out to be.

I agree with Rebis and think Detective Comics is something of a glaring omission to the list. Especially in light of how much Tan marred the later half of Batman and Robin.

Wait … I thought INCREDIBLE HERCULES was the mandatory pick on every top ten list this year.

Kidding aside, this is a great list. It gives me lots of stuff to track down and read.

My LCS never has Tales Designed to Thrizzle, and every time I’m at another comic shop I forget to look at it. I need to track some issues down. It looks great.

To that end: Where’s Detective Comics? I’d call Williams’ and Rucka’s Batwoman the best comic put out by the big two.

It’d be on a short list, but behind Driven By Lemons, A Drifting Life, Echo, Parker and a few others (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, perhaps – maybe Criminal and/or Incognito – likely Crossed).

Warren Ellis is the most glaring omission to me – I liked all of his work this year, just not anything enough to put it in my top ten.

Dan: I ordered Sacco’s new book, but it hasn’t arrived at my shop yet. When it does, I’ll get a review up at some point!

“Joe Sacco has a new (thick!) book out, Footnotes in Gaza. How come I’ve heard nothing about it? Did anybody read it? Any Sacco work can be considered a candidate for best of anything.”

Will def have to check this out. I got the trade of “Palestine” a few months ago, and it was great. I definitely recommend that.

I recognize all of these, but have only read three. That’s why I don’t make “Best of” lists for one year, as I’m always hopelessly behind.

I loved the noise-cancelling headphones in Ganges.

The one thing I would strongly recommend that isn’t on this list (but is in a similar vein) is Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia.

I was REALLY surprised not to see Drive By Lemons. (Not that I’ve read it. But everyone says it was better than Skyscrapers.) Or Seaguy. Or Parker.

I would have had Invincible Iron Man, Incognito, Parker & Fables (granted the great Fables crossover, didn’t help).
I have the first three trades of Scalped sitting waiting to be read, I tried last summer, on a plane, to read the first Scalped trade, but I couldn’t stay awake… I need to give these another go!
Still think Fables is the best monthly on the market…

Invincible Iron Man was really, REALLY good. I’m not sure what I’d bump from this list, but it’s gotta be the best superhero book on the market right now.

Invincible Iron Man was also on the short list. I actually meant to specifically note Fraction among the various great creators who I left off the list, but I don’t think I ended up doing so.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm

I really don’t get the hate for Philip Tan. …Especially given his predecessor was Frank Quitely.

You partially answered your own question there…

Can you do a Marvel/DC list?
cuz this list sucked donkey nads.

Yeah Brian, re-pick your favourite ten comic on the list, but get rid of the eight that aren’t published by a publisher Trey reads, and put in comics you don’t consider to be as good!

Stop treating your top ten list like it’s a personal preference damn it!

My LCS never has Tales Designed to Thrizzle, and every time I’m at another comic shop I forget to look at it. I need to track some issues down. It looks great.

I got the colour collection, and it’s pretty good, but I’d imagine it reads better serialised – it gets a bit samey if you read it through.
(Which is bizarre as the first issue felt like one of the most random, yet hilarious, things I’d ever read).

It gets even more samey if you go back and read Snake and Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret. Kupperman is best returned to in small doses. Also, while I’m eventually gonna get the color collection, I really just like the pamphlet format and monotone woodcut impressions for the book. Something about that strikes me as more natural for it.

[...] crítica e público. É o segundo lugar no Top 10 do crítico Brian Cronin, do respeitado blog Comics Should Be Good, nono lugar na lista do coletivo Comics Alliance e sai recheada de menções entre as melhores do [...]

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