Well hell. This has been sitting here as a draft for two days. Pretend that didn't happen.
Yes, everything is shiny and new in 2011 and my hose is abuzz with the sounds of my girlfriend tossing things out to make room for all the
junk sweet loot that we were presented with over the last week or so. Time to look back on 2010 and lay down some opinions on just what the very best graphical literature to come out over the course of the year was.
I made up a list that was about a million items long and managed to whittle it down to the ten comics, graphic novels, trade paperbacks or whatever that brought me the largest amount of joy this year - no other judging criteria were used. Also, they will be presented in alphabetical order because I am far too lazy to go through the agony of numbering them in either ascending or descending order.
Hey, it's this again! Yes, it may have just came out a couple of weeks ago but this trade definitely deserves its place on the list of greatest joy-givers. The team of 6 year-old Malachai Nicholle and his 30 year-old brother Ethan produce some of the most legitimately hilarious comics I have ever encountered. You can tell that every idea that Malachai puts forth is chosen for its complete awesomeness and delivered with supreme enthusiasm, while Ethan displays not only impressive technical ability (translation: his drawings are totally sweet) but is an important secondary storyteller as he chooses when to interpret what his brother says literally and when to embellish or downplay in order to create a smoothly-flowing narrative.
Plus, you know, it has a scene where everyone in London soils themselves simultaneously, which is pretty funny.
Huh. Oni's website claims that this came out last December. Well, no matter, because I didn't see it until February and it's great and I love it.
Crogan's March is the second in the Crogan Adventures by Chris Schweizer, the first being Crogan's Vengeance which came out in 2008 and the next being Crogan's Loyalty, which can't come out soon enough. The series takes place as a series of stories that a father tells his two sons about their ancestors - in this case a member of the French Foreign Legion - in order to teach them lessons about life.
The tale of Legionnaire Peter Crogan and his days in the desert is filled with characters who exemplify a series of world views: loyalty, cowardice, colonialism as stewardship, colonialism as bullying. This makes every character in the book compelling and delightful, while also lending weight to both the humour, horror and pathos of the tale. I can't recommend this one enough.
This should be no surprise, as I've been going on and on about this series all year. One more time: this is a comic by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá, about the life of a man named Brás. Each issue takes place at a point in his life between childhood and old age and tells a self-contained story, and each issue ends with Brás' death. The art is as amazing as usual for Bá and Moon, and the portrait of Brás that you develop over the course of the series - complete with multiple potential paths, a web of relationships and enough ambiguity to satisfy but not enrage - is entirely worth the read.
Grandeville: Mon Amour
Another late entry, but Bryan Talbot has scored a decisive hit on my psyche with this series. In case you missed it, here's the skinny: in the late 1800s, the books follow DI LeBrock as he unravels world-shaking plots in an England that has just emerged from the domination of a monarchical French empire. There are fascinating tidbits of alternate history to unravel, bizarre spins on real-world politics, nods to the Euro comics of my youth and genuinely exciting action sequences - a winning combination for ensnaring Johnathans. Plus, everyone is an anthropomorphic animal of some kind, if you like that kind of thing.
This one is simple: I like weird stories about the supernatural, I like girl detectives and I like Mike Allred, so I like I, Zombie. That might be where things ended but Chris Robeson has really been delighting me with his writing, starting with the aforementioned girl detective stuff and introducing a fairly delightful cast of characters to act as allies and foils to zombie Gwen and her pals as they attempt to solve the problems that she acquires along with the gooky sustenance that she derives from her monthly meal of human brains. Plus: one of the better explanations for the supernatural that I've ever encountered.
Joe the Barbarian
There is some conflict raging in my mind of the inclusion of this one. On the one hand, I've been living in suspense while waiting for the final issue for so long that I'm inclined to be spiteful, but on the other... there's a reason for the suspense, and it's that the comic is just so damned. good.
This is, of course, another one that I've been going on and on about this year, but in case you're new or have been tuning me out: the titular barbarian is a youngster named Joe with a semi-troubled life that includes an absent father, money woes and school bullying. He's also, as of the first issue of the series, going into diabetic shock on a massive scale. In one sense, that's all that this book is about: a kid going downstairs to get a can of pop so that he doesn't die. BUT. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy have taken that mundane-if-important trip and dramatized it as an epic journey through a disaster-stricken fantasy land, a quest to find and defeat Lord Death. The action changes perspectives between the real and fantasy world frequently and introduces a fair amount of doubt as to whether the other world is real or just some sort of diabetes hallucination. Morrison and Murphy have done something wonderful here; now I just need it to end and I'll be just as happy as a clam.
I think that the first issue of Orc Stain came out in January last year. It was early 2010, anyway. The important thing is this: I knew that it would be on my Best of 2010 list as soon as I read that initial comic. James Stokoe has created a world that is filled with detail and crazy creatures - some of them functioning as everyday objects like safes or beverage containers - and societies and then filled it with his take on the classic fantasy orc: wild, drunken, violent, nameless savages that ravage the countryside in search of loot and ladies, but now with their own society and with a sympathetic edge that most low-HD humanoids lack. The first six issues have been concerned with getting protagonist One Eye, a thoughtful and talented orc of few words, in way over his head as a potential pawn of the power-seeking Orctzar as he attempts to unite the chaotic orcish tribes and conquer the entire world.
Parker: the Outfit
Richard Stark's Parker novels are basically amazing: the titular Parker is a near-emotionless and entirely ruthless career thief who spend each book meticulously planning and executing a robbery, as well as (usually) dealing with some bullplop that he never asked for. There are very few people who I would have considered able to adapt the feel of those books to a comic page, but any list that I might have made up would have definitely been topped by Darwyn Cooke, so it's a pretty good deal for me that he started adapting them a couple of years ago. Not only has he nail the mid-Sixties style of the first few books perfectly but his strong character design skills ensure that the books' cast of interesting characters make the transition to the illustrated page without becoming the usual smear of bland sameness.
The Sixth Gun
And alphabetically last: The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. An innocent girl is dragged into a conflict between an amoral wanderer and an undead Revolutionary War general as they attempt to gain control over a set of six enchanted pistols older than the human race. The Wild West is given a supernatural history that is unique and thematically appropriate, the art looks amazing and seven issues in I'm still trying to puzzle things out. In a good way, not a bad writing way - I know that someday I'll reread these earlier issues and have astonishing retroactive insights and be well pleased. Plus: cowboys!
And that's the lot. Tune in tomorrow (and yesterday, dang it) for supplemental lists of runners-up.