20. Boy’s Club #4, by Matt Furie (Pigeon Press) / Night Business #3, by Benjamin Marra (Traditional Comics)
I don’t know if there are any other comics around I feel more simpatico with than the flagship series of Matt Furie and Ben Marra. In Boy’s Club’s stoner/slacker sight gags and quote-laden dialoge, and in Night Business’s overpowering love for trash and sex and violence, I see myself. In some alternate earth, I’d be making comics exactly like these. Fortunately for me, I live on this earth, where someone else is there to do the work and I can just sit back and enjoy it.
19.Fandancer, by Geoff Grogan (self-published)
Taking advantage of the large scale of its pages better than any comic I read this year this side of Absolute All-Star Superman, Grogan’s latest self-published stunner crams Jack Kirby superheroics into the history of mid-to-late 20th century art and feminism by any means necessary. Inscrutable, personal, beautiful.
18. B.P.R.D./Hellboy, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, Duncan Fegredo, and others (Dark Horse) / Invincible, by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley (Image)
I read and enjoyed a lot of superhero comics this year: Captain America, Secret Avengers, Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier, The Marvels Project, Incognito, Atlas, Marvel Boy, Gorilla Man, Thunderbolts, Hulk, Incredible Hercules, Prince of Power, Chaos War, Fantastic Four, Invincible Iron Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Enemy/Mystery/Doom, Powers, Green Lantern, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, The Flash, Superman: Secret Origin, Action Comics, Astro City, Joe the Barbarian. But here’s the thing: No superhero comics (with the exception of one you’ll find later in this list) deliver the feeling that anything, anything, can happen in their pages the way that Invincible and the comics of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe do. When I begin to read the latest issue of these series, it’s with that same visceral thrill I used to get from The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and Twin Peaks: I simply have no idea what is going to happen to the characters this time around, no idea what will happen to their world, no idea if they’ll even make it to the end of the issue. Their creators play by no rules and are manifestly having the time of their lives doing it. That’s the feeling I wish I could get from every single other superhero comic I read. Even the good ones.
17. Afrodisiac, by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca (AdHouse)
Far more than just a superhero/blaxploitation parody – although it’s both of those things, and awesome at them besides – Rugg and Maruca’s cleverly written, beautifully drawn, impeccably edited and designed collection of short stories about their ghetto superhero is also a rich meditation on the interplay between artist, audience, subject, and society.
16. It Was the War of the Trenches, by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
French master Tardi does to the Great War what the Great War did to the bodies of millions of young soldiers: blow it wide open and root in the mess. Depicted primarily in an unyielding onslaught of widescreen panels, it’s like a slog through the trenches itself. Furious and full of contempt for war and its masters.
15. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, by Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics)
I gasped aloud repeatedly while experiencing the sheer loveliness of this book, a collection of short stories from throughout the decades by shoujo-manga pioneer Moto Hagio. Best of all, there’s a cake beneath all that icing, as Hagio’s stories are frequently sophisticated, moving, and unwilling to pull punches.
14. The Troll King, by Kolbeinn Karlsson (Top Shelf)
Top Shelf’s Swedish invasion yields one of the happiest surprises of the year, an exploration of queerness and monstrosity that gives a method to the illustrative madness of contemporary artcomix. I have a feeling this one was underseen and underread: By all means, see it, read it, enjoy it.
13. Prison Pit Book 2, by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics)
Johnny Ryan journeys deeper than ever before into his inner ickiness and returns with an action-horror hybrid it’s almost impossible to “enjoy” in the traditional sense of the word – and which thereby takes those two genres in stunning new directions. Put it this way: In Fantagraphics’ Spring 2011 catalog, his next comedy collection is described in “Prison Pit’s awesome, but did you know he made humor comics too?” The tide has turned and his star is made.
12. Closed Caption Comics #9, by various (Closed Caption Comics) / Death Trap, by Lane Milburn (self-published)
2010 was a fine year for art-comics anthologies: The Fort Thunder reunion Monster, Zack Soto’s beautiful West Coast showcase Studygroup12 #4, the charming and bold British import Mould Map #1, Marvel’s increasingly tonally daring Strange Tales II, a strong year from Fantagraphics’ Mome…and that’s without even having read the newsprint anthologies pood, Diamond Comics, and Smoke Signals. Similarly, alt-horror had another tremendous year, with uncompromising and disturbing work from Renee French, Lisa Hanawalt, Michael DeForge, Nora Krug, Noel Freibert, and more besides. But my favorite examples of these two subgenres came straight outta Baltimore’s Closed Caption Comics collective. The latest installment of their flagship anthology is its most ambitious, bleakest, and best one to date, with truly horrifying work from Mr. Freibert and Conor Stechschulte and an array of never-better performances from the rest of the group; meanwhile, member Lane Milburn’s Xeric-winning solo showcase combines the best of creature-feature and grindhouse horror, delivered with gorgeous, meaty cartooning.
11. Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
A war comic like none you’ve ever read, Megan Kelso’s ambitious alt-fantasy is concerned not with conflict’s immediate carnage, but with its lasting effects on the societies engaged in it – economic, cultural, religious, familial, even geographical. I found it humanistic, unsparing, and fascinating.
10. Weathercraft, by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)
It’s always darkest before the dawn, and the psychedelic body-horror of Jim Woodring has never been darker than it gets here. His hapless, villainous Manhog is made to suffer like you’ve seen few comics characters suffer before in any style or genre…only to emerge enlightened and overjoyed on the other side in a final act that feels like that first breath of fresh cool air after you’ve hidden your head under the covers in terror for minutes on end.
9. If ‘n Oof, by Brian Chippendale (PictureBox)
The Fort Thunder/Lightning Bolt noise warrior creates his funniest, most action-packed, most accessible comic yet, one splash page at a time. It’s a bracing combination of science-fiction worldbuilding, Dark Tower-style glimpses of a larger superstructure behind it, buddy-movie laughs, action-movie pacing, and Chippendale’s typically under-the-radar melancholy. This is where he shows he really is one of his generation’s greats.
8. Big Questions #14-15, by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
Anders Nilsen’s decade-in-the-making flagship series concludes with an ending as explosive and uncompromising as its art is delicate and vulnerable. Elsewhere I’ve called this the best and most important funny-animal comic since Maus. I’m sticking to that. If next year’s collected edition isn’t on top of my Best of 2011 list, then will have been some kind of miracle year.
7. Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer (Fantagraphics)
Underground-comix journeywoman Joyce Farmer returns with a 200-page chronicle of the decline and death of her aging and infirm parents, with nearly every meticulously crosshatched panel drawn as if her life depended on it. Maybe it did. This is a magnum opus no one expected to read, a brutally frank depiction of what it’s like for full lives you love to end, and it has the most painfully happy ending of the year. It made me cry. Don’t do what I almost did and ignore one of the year’s most moving comics.
6. Wilson, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly)
I think this is Clowes’s meanest book, but not for the reasons you think – it’s not Misanthropy On Parade like a lot of his old, witheringly sarcastic rant comics were. No, what’s mean about Wilson is that Clowes keeps giving his loudmouth, obliviously cruel protagonist a chance, right down to the often incongruously cute cartooning, and Wilson keeps slapping that chance away. Sympathetic portraits are often the most unflattering ones; no wonder so many people wanted to look away.
5. X’d Out, by Charles Burns (Pantheon)
Pure Burns. The Black Hole author pares his visual and thematic obsessions down to the bone, revealing a colorful waking nightmare of holes, fetuses, wounds, polaroids, Tintin, and red and black nothingness. Short, sharp, shocking.
4. The Batman comics of Grant Morrison (DC)
Dark, witty, mysterious, eerie, thrilling, and endlessly re-readable, Grant Morrison’s Batman books — Batman and Robin, his three issues of Batman proper, Batman: The Return, and Batman Incorporated — featured career-best art by Cameron Stewart and Frazer Irving and got me pumped for the experience of reading new comics like no other books. They’re exactly why I read superhero comics. The only problem is that they’ve kind of spoiled me for other ones.
3. Wally Gropius, by Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)
The first great comic of the Great Recession. Tim Hensley’s breakout graphic novel, previously serialized in the Mome anthology, seems like a send-up of silly ‘60s teen-comedy and kid-millionaire comics on the surface, but beneath lies as odd and accurate a cri de coeur about capitalism and consumerism as I’ve ever read. It also does things with body language I’ve never seen in comics, and is funny as hell to boot. There’s nothing else out there like it.
2. High Soft Lisp / Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, by Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
This year I read nearly every comic ever created by Los Bros Hernandez; what a pleasure to discover at the end of my immersion that their two most recent comics are also two of their best, and thus two of the best comics by anyone. Gilbert and Jaime both tear furiously into love and sex in these two collections; what they find inside is ugly; what they do with it is beautiful. I’ll never forget that panel and those words — in both books.
1. The ACME Novelty Library #20: Lint, by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)
The most influential cartoonist of the past quarter century assigns himself the task of chronicling an entire life, from birth (and before) to death (and beyond?). In so doing he takes an unsympathetic bit player from his massive Rusty Brown storyline and crafts his single finest and most moving stand-alone work to date around him; launches a virtuosic, pyrotechnic display of formal mastery yet still manages to make the most important parts the stuff he never shows you. It culminates in a final page so dizzying that I actually felt physically stunned, as if someone had taken the book from my hands and struck me in the head with it. Not just the best comic of the year, but the best comic I have ever read.
For more information on and reviews of these and other great comics from 2010, check out all 31 of my Comics of the Year of the Day entries.