* I bookmarked enough year-end best-of lists and special-feature marathons to merit their very own Carnival. I hope you’re hungry!
* Here’s CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2011 master list. My own top 10 was factored into the voting. While superhero comics are more dominant toward the top than they were last year, and while I don’t really understand why people would vote for half a story which is basically all that all of DC’s New 52 comics have produced so far, I’m still happy to see books like Love and Rockets, Garden, and Big Questions make the Top 5, Top 20, and Top 25 respectively on a staff-voted list for a superhero-driven site like CBR. Lists like these are also useful for seeing which non-superhero books were “the one” that superhero readers not only felt behooved to read but enjoyed as well — this year it looks like Hark! A Vagrant and Habibi take that title.
* You can also find my personal 20 Best Comics of 2011 list among Robot 6′s favorite comics of 2011. Unsurprisingly to me I’m most simpatico with Chris Mautner’s strong list, but I I’m interested in it as much for the difference as for the similarities: I just couldn’t get into Yuichi Yokoyama’s Color Engineering (his painted work has little visual appeal for me and the decision to relegate the translation of the text to literal footnotes completely negated his comics’ normal immersive appeal), I didn’t include any archival reprints, there are certain old-school-style alt-comics that didn’t hit me in the same way, and I never got to read that Winshluss Pinocchio, to my chagrin. However, the real gamechanger in this post is Matt Seneca, who ranks his own comic as the year’s third best, behind only Yokoyama’s Color Engineering and Garden and seven slots ahead of Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. In this light I wonder if I should revise my list to include my webcomic Destructor, which using the Seneca scale of “Los Bros + 7″ would rank as the Negative Sixth Best Comic of the Year. On the other hand, perhaps I should follow Matt’s lead and allow that as many as two comics published in 2011 might well have been better than my own. I wouldn’t want to be gauche!
* Robot 6 celebrated its third anniversary with a comically massive amount of very exciting interviews and previews and news and so on. You can find the complete list of anniversary posts here. I’ve already linked to my contributions; here are some of the highlights from my colleagues.
** Tim O’Shea interviews Tom Scioli about his webcomic and forthcoming AdHouse collection American Barbarian. Though I’d never thought of this in quite this way before, this quote is dead on:
AdHouse’s line seemed to me to be carefully curated. Each release really counts. It’s gotten to a point where each new AdHouse book is kind of an event, you know? The Josh Cotter books, then Afrodisiac, then Duncan the Wonder Dog, Pope Hats, Forming. I feel like AdHouse has had this great track record of quality, where I’m benefitting from that goodwill, that American Barbarian is the next AdHouse book and that that means something. I think it’s a great way to have your work presented.
** Here’s an exclusive preview of Fantagraphics’ stunning-looking Is That All There Is? by Joost Swarte. Super-excited to see a near-comprehensive Swarte collection in English.
** And here’s an exclusive preview of Fantagraphics’ equally comprehensive collection of Diane Noomin’s DiDi Glitz comics, Glitz-2-Go. I love how unapologetically underground it looks.
** AND here’s an exclusive preview of Fantagraphics’ latest big Jason hardcover, Athos in America, an all-new collection that contains a prequel to The Last Musketeer.
** Finally, Robot 6 asked a plethora of critics and creators what they’re most looking forward to in 2012. The responses from Campbell, Inkstuds’ Robin McConnell, and Rub the Blood co-editor Ian Harker stood out to me. On a personal note, my friends Ben Morse, Justin Aclin, Jim Gibbons, Rick Marshall, and Ryan Penagos also all weighed in.
* My Comics Journal overlords Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler listed their favorite posts from their first year running TCJ.com. Interviews, reviews, features, columns, journalism, you name it — it’s a terrific selection from a huge range of writers. Just don’t read the comment thread, wherein TCJ.com message board Lost Causers make like Faulkner writing about the last moments before Pickett’s Charge.
** Tom interviewed Peter Birkemoe of the acclaimed Toronto comics shop/art dealership/TCAF co-sponsor The Beguiling. It’s easy to see Birkemoe as one of those people involved in the retail end of comics who has created a center of gravity around which a whole vision of comics can coalesce, like a Rory Root or Tony Shenton. However, as I pointed out on Robot 6, he also sounds a warning bell about how digital comics and books will take a toll even on an enlightened shop like his.
** Tom interviewed Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics, primarily but by no means solely about his efforts in translating and publishing European comics. Getting Jacques Tardi over with American audiences is a Top 20 achievement in comics publishing since the turn of the century, for sure. (Man I love the way Tardi drew Julie in You Are There. Hubba hubba.)
** Tom interviewed Secret Acres co-publishers Barry Matthews and Leon Avelino. I had no idea that Avelino was a Highwater Books baby like Randy Chang, or in all honesty like I like to sit around daydreaming that I myself was. The picture that emerges from both men is one of intense consideration and thoughtfulness in terms of what books they publish, the way they work with their authors, and their relationship to the comics market.
** Finally, Tom interviewed my Robot 6 and Comics Journal colleague Chris Mautner about the year in alternative and art comics. I found this interview truly reinvigorating. It’s pretty much a list of a couple dozen reasons to be excited by comics right now and explains why they’re exciting, and those reasons once again run the gamut from old hands to new blood. (On a personal note, I’m also pleased to see I helped get Jonny Negron on his radar.) I like Tucker Stone a lot, and his straightforward comics writing is among the best in the business, but his his vituperative interview with Tom about the year in mainstream comics knocked the wind out of my sails like you wouldn’t believe. Immoral and unethical business practices are one thing, but the Kirby/Shuster/Friederich 2011 hat trick of horror aside I just don’t associate the act of reading comics, or interacting with people involved in their production and reception, with misery and rage like he does. It’s a conception of the art form and interacting with it as a critic (especially since it seems so closely tied to really going after individual artists whose work is seen not to pass muster) that’s totally alien and unpleasant to me, even when I’m writing about comics I don’t like and explaining why. It’s even more dispiriting when I see how many critics and cartoonists seem to love that approach and feel the same. Plus, Tucker’s such an incongruously sweet guy in person that it just makes me want to make like Wesley and rescue his Princess Buttercup from the Prince Humperdink of daily interaction with a business and its products he hates. After all that, Chris’s interview really felt like the wind beneath my wings. (And it’s not as though he minces words about the stuff he doesn’t like, mind you — the overall tone is just so much less geared toward what an Imperial official might refer to as finding a weak point and exploiting it until the whole thing blows up.)
* Any list that names the actual best comic of 2011 as the best comic of 2011 deserves our support, and as such I’m happy to direct you to ComicsAlliance’s 11 Best Comics of 2011, which ranks Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 at Number One. Like the CBR list it’s insufficiently snobby for my pinky-in-the-air tastes — the titles run along CA’s usual lines of “I’m not a regular nerd, I’m a cool nerd,” i.e. smarter genre work from the Big Four publishers plus accessible work from the arthouses — but each entry is passionately and intelligently argued, and illustrated with well-selected and beautiful art samples. It’s probably the best looking of all the best-of lists I’ve seen; Laura Hudson’s picks for Finder in particular are a “hey, I should check this out” batch. And even though I disagree with writer Jason Michelitch’s argument that you absolutely should not read New Stories #4 until you’ve read all of Jaime’s Locas work, I’m psyched that he made that argument and really went to bat for it. There are a lot of ways to approach that book and it’s exciting to see them explored in a rigorous way like that, especially since the comic’s so emotionally moving (see Mitchelitch’s write-up for an example) that you could get away with just cheering for it.
* At the Cool Kids Table, Ben Morse picks his (mostly) Big Two best.
* Finally, George R.R. Martin looks back on his amazing year. It started with him in the hospital after nearly dying, and ended with him married, with the best sales and best reviews of his career, and with both TV and publishing phenomena to his name, and with more personal moments of recognition that clearly meant a lot to him. It all makes for heartwarming reading.