- Posted by Johanna on January 5, 2010 at 9:10 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel News
I am honored to have been asked to participate in the PW Comics Week critics’ poll for its fourth year. (It started in 2006, and I’ve put in my list every year.) This time, I combined entries from my 2009 best manga and my 2009 best graphic novels lists — but for some reason, I only got quoted when it came to the manga.
For those disappointed by too many “best graphic novel” lists that ignored manga, you should be happy with this combined list, with manga ranking in third place and continuing to be mixed in with the rest.
With the exception of the manga and Masterpiece Comics, everything else on my list, I was the only person to vote for. Good to be an independent thinker, I guess. There are lots of great titles on that single-vote list, too — time to put together a shopping list. Here’s my combined list, as submitted.
1. Pluto – This manga series by modern genius Naoki Urasawa is simply astounding, a meditation on the nature of what it means to be human in a time of war, told through a gripping robot murder mystery. It’s beautifully illustrated and all the more impressive for being based on a plot from Astro Boy.
2. Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Fumi Yoshinaga hits new heights of achievement and insight with a series of stories set in a male harem in an alternate historical Japan. The concept is immediately intriguing, and the stories are deeply observant. Lovely but heart-breaking in showing love betrayed.
3. Johnny Hiro – Imagination-packed adventure set in a crazy New York City, made more poignant through the hero’s self-awareness and love for his girlfriend. One of those books where you find new things in it every time you read it. Fred Chao’s thin-but-confident linework is impressive as well.
4. Masterpiece Comics – Brilliant mash-ups of classic literature with well-known comic characters, told with excellent mimicry by R. Sikoryak. Only in comics could the impact of the combinations be this immediate.
5. Sinfest – Dark Horse has collected the first 560 strips of the online comic, my nominee for the best webcomic out there. Beautiful cartooning by Tatsuya Ishida comments directly on the foibles of modern life, including beliefs, politics, and gender. I’ve never seen such humor and insight drawn so well. Who else can brag of a cast that successfully combines a regular guy, a dog, and a cat with God, the devil, and the occasional living calligraphy symbol?
6. Nothing Better: Into the Wild – Odd-couple roommates Katt (free-spirited art student) and Jane (religious but seeking) learn about life and tolerance as they go through typical college experiences. It’s realistically well-observed by author Tyler Page, with welcome touches of humor.
7. Drawn to You – This comic collaboration is like reading a combination interview and letter exchange. Lucy Knisley and Erika Moen, two strong young talents, sent each other pages back and forth, creating them jointly while having their characters discuss the strengths and weaknesses of autobiographical comics (including how much to reveal about oneself or one’s partner), gender distinctions, sexuality, and their appreciation for each other’s work. They make their conversation visually interesting, too, with a terrific grasp of expression and attitude.
8. Kabuki: The Alchemy – David Mack’s story of an assassin has changed and grown as the artist has, concluding here with a mind-bending postmodern exploration of the nature of creation of both self and art. Similarly, his drawn art has become strongly designed collages and assemblages of found art. There’s nothing else like it in comics, a unique blend of text and image to tell the story of a self reinvented as storyteller.
9. 20th Century Boys – The second Naoki Urasawa work on the list. Arguing over which is better is a popular activity among readers, with answers often depending on which chapter of which series has most recently been released. This series is wider-ranging than the other, with a weirder cast of characters and more time-jumping to explore what it means to live up to your childhood dreams in light of a murderous cult trying to change the world.
10. The Color of Earth, Water, and Heaven – Kim Dong Hwa retells his mother’s childhood in rural Korea through floral metaphors and nostalgia for simpler coming-of-age struggles and first loves. It’s kept from being too precious by the girl’s mother’s quiet expressions of sexual longing.