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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.