Friday, February 10, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: no. 1

To recap:
14. Sailor Twain
13. The Lions of Valletta
12. FF/ Fantastic Four no. 600
11. Rachel Rising/ Terry Moore's How to Draw series
10. Batwoman
9.  Star Trek
8. Scapled, Book 8
7. Ruse: The Victorian Guide to Murder
6. Sugar & Spike Archives
5. The Shade miniseries
4. Kevin Keller/ The Simpsons no. 183
3. Habibi
2. Pogo Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Yonder
And the No. 1 comic of last year:
This thing is a monster, in every way. Close to 40 years in the making, this is the only comic I know of that contains work by Vaughn Bode', C.C. Beck, Fellini, Frank Zappa, Will Eisner, Barry Smith, Wally Wood, Trina Robbins and Tom Wolfe, which is but a small sampling, to give you an idea of the book's scope.
The volume measures a hefty 5.7 x 11.8 x 0.9 inches and weighs over four pounds. The initial concept as proposed to Rolling Stone was to have cartoonists create work that summarized their views of the 1960s as the decade drew to a close. The project was tabled for a labyrinth of reasons, and just finally saw print this last November from Abrams Books.
Another noteworthy touch: the editor, Micheal Chocquette, asked that the creators leave blank space in each of their stories. He then returned to the stories and filled in those holes, illustrating his escapades in getting the book out in panels contained in the other narratives.
I had a hard time deciding which pieces to include in this entry, but here's the Frank Zappa page.
And I'll brook no complaints about the pages being crooked. Given the size of this bear, it's a miracle I got it on the scanner!
And here's the Eisner story, always a welcome treat.

 A new Spirit story.
That alone is an event worth celebrating.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, the text of the foreign language strips is printed in the original text, with a section in the back devoted to translations. And the editor even has the courtesy to refer to the late Jeffrey Catherine Jones by her proper name and pronoun, despite her work having been submitted before she came out.
So what does it say that the two best comics of the year were reprints? Was there really such a dearth of worthwhile new material? Did I just not see the best stuff? Did my limited exposure for the first half of the year taint my judgment?
Or was that just the way it worked out?
Some combination of those factors, I suspect.
2012 looks to be a promising year for comics. I'm enjoying the stuff I've been reading all along- CHEW, Unwritten, Terry Moore's stuff- and some old favorites are reappearing- the first new issue of The Twelve for almost two years- so I have hope for a good year in comics.
Thanks for sticking with me through this painfully protracted process. Much faster next year!

Best Comics of 2011: no. 2: Pogo

two to go, both tonight!
First up, a book decades overdue.
I'm using this as one of my comic history textbooks this semester. We'll know in a couple weeks how it goes over, but I can't imagine it not being beloved by anyone!
Like Habibi, this is a beautifully made book whose content warrants the care used.
The blemishes are on the scanner bed, not on that lovely blind stamp cover!
And beyond the delight of the book as object, its content needs no explanation to those of us "in the know". To the rest, Pogo began as a comic book and moved into the strips. Walt Kelly offered social and political satire along with commentary on the human condition through the animal  denizens of Okefenokee Swamp.

The book is historically significant too. The strips above are the first of the classic Christmas carol strips, from Pogo's original run in the New York Star (the strip ended its initial run when the paper folded).
The commentary framing the strips is equally remarkable. Mark Evanier's essay on Welly's coloring for Sundays and his process in working with the separators at the printer gives deeper understanding to the lush end product, properly reproduced in this volume, arguably for the first time since their original appearances.
Fantagraphics has been doing a great job with their Peanuts reprint series, and this looks to be an equally successful run. I give them laurels for doing such a phenomenal job with such delightful material.
Up immediately: No. 1

Best Comics of 2011 no. 3: Habibi

Yes, yes, I know it's on everybody's lists, and Craig Thompson is the darling of comics circles this year.
While I didn't much care for his previous magnum opus, Blankets, I did attend a lecture he gave at the school where I teach, Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I was sufficiently impressed to buy the book and get a spiffy signature and sketch.
And yes, it's a richly layered text, with multiple meanings interspersing tales of love and loyalty with lush and intelligent page design inspired by the Koran. The mathematics of the design are consistent with Islamic beliefs and serve as a framework for structuring the emotionally rich narrative.

And I am quite impressed with the layout and the dense, involving story.
The beauty of Thompson's page design is not lost on me.

But true though that all is, it's not the biggest reason it's on my Best list.
I love books.
I'm not talking about content, I'm talking about form. There's something satisfying about a well-crafted book. The beauty of a good tight binding, elegant end papers, a design and strategy to the physical properties of the volume itself that reinforces the content without calling undue attention to itself. these things inspire me and leave me awestruck.
So when Thompson talked about delaying getting Habibi printed for several months while he located a printer who could fulfill his specs on the volume, and then toured the printer and the bindery(!), I was hooked.
This is an elegant book with exquisite contents.
Few volumes of comic narrative are this well bound. This holds a proud place on my shelf next to the single volume limited edition of Bone, the lovely collection of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's LOCAL, and my limited edition first printing of Eisner's A Contract With God.
Great books should be a joy, either open or closed. Habibi is such a book.
Friday, Feb. 10: the final two of 2011.