Best of 2008

As I sent them to Publishers Weekly at the end of last year. I know this is terribly late to post, but on the other hand, it’s never too late to talk about good comics.

This was supposed to be a graphic novel list, but I couldn’t resist including manga (because I think separating the two is a kind of protectionism, due to manga outselling American graphic novels in most cases, and I enjoy reading both) and Sinfest, a webcomic that’s simply outstanding (and has just been collected by Dark Horse, so look for it on next year’s list as well).

In building this list, I tried to consider both new works and reprints. Of course, my taste features as well — I wanted to include books that I enjoyed fully and would want to reread in future years, books that showed me something new about people or art or both. While I’ve described them briefly, I’ve also linked to my reviews for more in-depth information.

  1. Nana
    Ai Yazawa’s addictive manga series had six volumes, 8-13, released in English in 2008. It’s a briliant blend of character development — as the two young women who are its title characters learn about love and what they want from life — masquerading as a rock’n’roll soap opera.
  2. Sinfest
    Beautiful cartooning by Tatsuya Ishida that comments directly on the foibles of modern life, including beliefs, politics, and gender, available daily at sinfest.net (plus full-color longer Sunday strips!). Takes my breath away both with the stunning art and the deep-reaching insight and perspective. So right and yet so unexpected.
  3. Zot! The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991
    We live in a wonderful time, with so many superlative works from all eras becoming available again in book form. I’ve anticipated having Scott McCloud’s series in more permanent form for years, and now that it’s here, it still makes me cry. Only this time, it’s as much his new story notes on the trials of the struggling cartoonist he was then, and the conflict between aspirations and abilities, as it is the touching “Earth Stories” exploring teen struggles with coming out, alcoholic parents, and realizing you’re not going to make your dreams come true.
  4. Love and Capes: Do You Want to Know a Secret?
    Who would have thought you could turn a new twist on the superhero romantic comedy, inspired by Superman and Lois Lane? Thom Zahler did so by concentrating first on two adults in love, and the realistic struggles with family and career that result from joining two lives. Plus, very funny in creative ways, with new jokes about this favorite topic!
  5. Aria
    Tokyopop picked up this gorgeous, pastoral manga by Kozue Amano from ADV, republishing the first three volumes and finally continuing the series. It’s a reflective meditation on the joys of simple living, as told through the daily work of an aspiring gondola pilot on a flooded Mars. It takes me to another place and refreshes my mood whenever I read it.
  6. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
    The best of 25 years of Alison Bechdel’s lesbian soap opera in a handsome single hardcover volume. It also, not so coincidentally, serves as a modern history of liberal aggravation and cultural wars.
  7. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures
    WIth graphic novels finally achieving a permanent place of recognition, next was needed a complete textbook on how to be a cartoonist. This is it, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.
  8. Magic Trixie
    Jill Thompson’s painted fantasy for children captures magic for all ages. The message, that the aggravation of family life is ultimately rewarding, is predictable but still worth getting, and the artwork sings.
  9. Tamara Drewe
    It’s Posy Simmonds’ delicate illustrations that make her complicated tales of modern manners, inspired by classic novels, so attractive.
  10. Black Jack
    The legendary series by manga master Osamu Tezuka, about an unlicensed doctor and his amazingly inventive operations, comes to America. It’s as crazy as you’ve heard, but well-suited for a culture obsessed with the autopsy porn of CSI.

I’ve archived my past lists on my page of must-read comic classics.


10 Responses to “Best of 2008”

  1. Don MacPherson Says:

    One pet peeve of mine about many Best of the Year lists is the penchant for so much reprinted material to be included. Black Jack I get, if 2008 was the first time it was released in the U.S.

    But the Zot book, for example, is old material. I can see it qualifying as the Best of 1988, but is it fair to qualify it as among the Best of 2008?

    Thankfully, the industry is in a phase right now in which a lot of important and strong material is being released in archive editions. I applaud that. But isn’t the Zot example like awarding an Emmy to a Seinfeld rerun?

    Not trying to be difficult here, just looking to discuss…

  2. Kenny Cather Says:

    Johanna,

    You and Matt Brady should team up for a tag team review of Tezuka work or something, because you’re both so awesome!

    My only gripe is I would have moved Magic Trixie up a few spots and included Kramers Ergot 7, Ganges 2, and Or Else 4 instead of Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, Love and Capes and…*cringing*…Dykes to Watch Out For. But I’m an unabashed Huizenga fanboy, what can I say?

    Anyway, to further Don’s discussion point, I can see a reason for Zot because it was a beautiful collection. It’s the same as with Dykes to Watch Out For, while the material is excellent, the collection itself is also top notch.

    I love the idea of a Best of 2008 list in July! So cool!

  3. Johanna Says:

    Good questions, Don. Zot has been out of print for many years, the comics are still better than much of what I read last year, and with McCloud’s commentary, this particular collection puts the contents in new perspective. If this had been a straight reprint of comics available as single issues last year, I’d agree with you.

    Kenny, I appreciate Huizenga’s craft, and I’m waiting to see a comprehensive collection of his work. The Ganges and Or Else are single issues, yes? With this list, I was aiming to include more graphic novels and other substantial works.

    I really like Love & Capes for bringing a new approach to a genre I thought was totally played out, superhero humor.

    Thanks for not calling me out for too much procrastination. :)

  4. The road to San Diego « MangaBlog Says:

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  5. Kenny Cather Says:

    Hey Johanna,

    I’m sorry, I’m not trying to call you out and be all like put Huizenga on this list “or else.” (ooh, I made a funny! ^_^) I just feel like if I’m going to say “I liked this work…” then I need to follow that with “…more than that work.”

    But a comprehensive Huizenga collection would be the bees knees! And why didn’t I notice your list was graphic novels and collections? Because the lesson, as always, is that Kenny is an idiot….

  6. Johanna Says:

    Kenny, I really appreciate that you were providing your own suggestions. You’re right, that’s key to intelligent disagreement when it comes to lists and rankings.

  7. Kenny Cather Says:

    Johanna, I think I really should provide a better reason for knocking your choices off than I’m an unabashed Huizenga fanboy, even though it’s true. My biggest problem with Drawing Words & Writing Pictures was the amount of white space on every page. There were pages where I could plant my hand and spread my fingers out and only cover white space and my hands are *huge*. Love & Capes just didn’t strike my fancy. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it was more I just didn’t think it was better than a lot of other stuff I read. Dykes to Watch Out For…I didn’t read! Nothing against it, it just wasn’t at my local Barnes & Noble and I cut way back on the amount of books I’m buying. I feel like a bad person for not reading it, though, because I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about it.

  8. No More Magic Trixie » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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