Best Graphic Novels of 2011
Here’s what I thought were the best graphic novels of 2011, in order, based on what affected, entertained, and enlightened me. For more information on any of the following titles, the links take you to my reviews.
- Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil
I simply adore this series, and yet it invariably makes me feel inferior, because I do not have the language or ability to tell you how incredible it all is.
- Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
I was most impressed this year, visually, by the way Gulledge assembles her pages and the artistic choices she makes in this semi-autobiographical story of a young artist finding herself. This is the kind of book you can return to year after year and find new insight and inspiration.
- Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
What a great year this was for graphic novel debuts! This is one of three on my list (along with Page by Paige and Picket Line). As with the title above, this is a story of a teen girl coming of age, but where Page by Paige emphasizes creativity, Anya’s Ghost is more fantastic and sneaky. The book’s characters scheme, as does its author in how she surprises the reader.
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Funny, educational, modern, insightful, unique.
- Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley by Floyd Gottfredson
I was astounded to discover that once upon a time, Mickey Mouse comics were really good! And exciting! The EveryMouse battles shyster lawyers and thieves, travels widely, is unjustly imprisoned, and generally acts like a scrappy go-getter during the Depression. Plenty of good background material puts it all in context for the new reader, previously unaware of this strip or Gottfredson’s skill. I haven’t had a better adventure read this year, in sheer “I don’t want to put this down!” desire to find out what comes next. This was the book I was most pleasantly surprised by this year, in terms of comparing expectations to the high enjoyment I got from it.
- Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Archie noir, as versions of those classic characters are used in a tale of addiction, murder, nostalgia, and desire. A fascinating example of a story that only works this well in comics, given the allusions to familiar properties and the way the flashbacks are drawn in different artistic style.
- Picket Line by Breena Wiederhoeft
This year was full of good surprises, and this is another. I was impressed by how well Wiederhoeft balanced themes of personal responsibility, business decisions, family struggles across generations, and the desire to protect a plot of old-growth forest from development. A substantial, thought-provoking work.
- Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
I was surprised to see some of the quibbles that were made in response to this graphic novel about a certain faction trying to censor a favorite fantasy series from the local library. It seems that some readers found the situation unrealistic in some aspects; on the other hand, I’ve known well people who want to keep others from enjoying anything they disagree with, so I found it an authentic portrayal of a certain kind of small town personality.
- Love and Capes: Wake Up Where You Are by Thomas Zahler
- Amelia Rules! The Meaning of Life… and Other Stuff by Jimmy Gownley
These two are old favorites who never fail to entertain and impress me. It’s easy to get caught up chasing the new and overlook the skill it takes to provide consistent enjoyment book after book in a series.
Here are some additional books, listed in alphabetical order, that were also recommended by me this year, and I wanted to remind you of them.
- Bake Sale
- Blink: So Far
- Just the Usual Superpowers
- Owly & Wormy, Friends All Aflutter!
- Psychiatric Tales
- Same Difference
- The Sugar and Spike Archives Volume 1
I also considered The Influencing Machine, but while the material was great, as a comic, it was too much illustrated lecture. And I haven’t read yet Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, although a little bird told me it’s in one of the packages under the tree.
For previous years’ lists, see my page of must-read comic classics. (And bravo to me this year for getting all the reviews done BEFORE this list was due! That’s a big change from 2006, when it took me two years to finish afterwards.)