- Posted by Johanna on January 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel News
As is typical, my choices didn’t gain a lot of shared support. (I’m not that expected kind of critic any more; I tend to seek entertainment over artistic achievement these days, which makes me more middle-brow.) Out of the top consensus books (four or three votes), I only read AX: The Alternative Manga Anthology, which I didn’t care that much for, and X’ed Out. I know Charles Burns is a critical favorite, but I don’t understand how you can name as best of the year the first piece of an unfinished story. It would be like naming a Best Novel based only on the first two chapters.
Once we get down to two votes, I’m in more comfortable territory. Even those I didn’t vote for, I appreciated, and I was quoted on three of those I did pick. You’ve already seen my Best Graphic Novels of 2010 and Best Manga of 2010 separate lists, but here’s the combined ranking I submitted. (My reviews of Castle Waiting and Hereville are coming soon.)
1. Castle Waiting Volume 2 by Linda Medley
The simplest actions — moving into another room, raising a child — are enlivened by being placed in an exceptionally illustrated fantasy environment, full of unusual outcasts who’ve formed a family. The cast is immensely appealing, both visually and through well-written dialogue. These recognizable fantasy characters act as people we might know, thanks to Medley’s exceptional work. Always a pleasurable read underlined by a genius level of artistic skill.
2. All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga
The focus on the daily lives of women of all ages is still a rare subject for American comics, so this single-author manga anthology was a breath of fresh air. Yoshinaga, through a series of interlocking short stories, explores the mother-daughter relationship, considering how difficult it can be for parent and child to learn to relate as adults, each a person in her own right. Powerful in its emotions, the book also frequently surprises in showing unusual decisions with the confidence of knowing what’s right for oneself, regardless of what others think.
3. Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
This fantasy suspense story is made unusual by its cast — a beautifully illustrated gang of dogs who protect their neighborhood from ghosts and other monsters. It’s cute horror, underlined by a touching sense of camaraderie and humor. Scary, creepy, and ready for petting.
4. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
The book’s subtitle, “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”, captures the complex blend that makes this fable so appealing. It’s a portrayal of another culture, peppered with plenty of Yiddish terms (conveniently translated on each page), but it’s also a classic tale of a young hero who seeks to fight monsters, illustrating how basic elements can be made fresh when placed in another cultural context.
5. Two Generals by Scott Chantler
Chantler’s grandfather’s journal of his service in World War II translates into an excellent graphic memoir of a time when everything, especially ethical decisions, seemed simpler. Chantler’s skilled selection of moments to illustrate makes it clear that life was no less complicated then, although self-sacrifice was far more expected. The gorgeous presentation and outstanding design make it a pleasure to read of these painful past events.
6. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Who would have thought that losing your front teeth would make such a wonderful subject for a graphic novel? Telgemeier’s dental trauma is really a story of navigating adolescence, as her developing and returning smile mirrors her journey through her teen years into high school. Her cartoony style makes this approachable by all ages, although it’s so easy-to-read it belies the extent of her skill.
7. Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita
A charming story of a young man who unexpectedly becomes a parent, as he adopts his grandfather’s previously unknown six-year-old daughter (his aunt). The humor stems from realism, as both have some challenging growing up to do, but there’s a lot deeper feelings shown than just “isn’t parenting wacky?” What would have been a sitcom in this country instead is almost poetic in drawn form.
8. Scary Godmother by Jill Thompson
Bless Dark Horse for bringing Thompson’s gorgeous modern fairy tales back into print in such handsome fashion. Thompson’s painted art is uniquely suited for her Halloween-based stories of young Hannah Marie and her magical Scary Godmother, exploring the fun of monsters and being scared in considerate, family-oriented fashion. This collection of four stories and extras deserves to become a holiday classic, read and re-read across years and ages.
9. Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga
Yoshinaga’s other single-volume story collection takes a much different tack from All My Darling Daughters, a more light-hearted approach involving self-parody and illustrated restaurant reviews. Although the American reader won’t sample the actual food lovingly portrayed, the fun is in living vicariously, both through the tastes described and the friends gossiped about over the meals.
10. Underground by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber
It seems like it would be easy to do a good thriller, but it’s immensely more difficult than you’d expect, especially in comics, when the reader can simply flip ahead a few pages to cheat. This story of park rangers trying to protect the caves they respect from both commercial exploitation and a couple of killers turns on a suspenseful, claustrophobic chase scene where the reader truly feels what it would be like to be trapped in a life-or-death situation underground. Lieber’s art is never better than when he’s exploring extreme environments, as he did in Whiteout, and both he and Parker demonstrate continuously improving talents unfettered here by the restrictions of superhero comics. This is the kind of story that shows the potential of comics, taking readers somewhere they’d never otherwise be able to go.
Also, I submitted some comments on the year’s trends. Go to PWCW to read them, and then come back here to discuss, if you want.